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Students as co-producers

The problem with students as co-producers is that they already are creators of value, we just need to recognise it

At the OEPS forum in Glasgow in late 2015 the final plenary was about what the OEPS project does.  On one level the agreement with the Scottish Funding Council details exactly this. Kerr Gardiner, from the OEPS steering group (you can read an interview with him on the OEPS hub) argued that OEPS would have only met the letter of the KPI’s if it only “made stuff”. I agree, educational practices are about doing things, and doing things to find out how to do things, to find answers, and to find out what the right questions are in the first place. One of the questions Kerr asked on that day was, why open educational practices are not leading to a world where students are recognised and valued as creators/producers of knowledge.

I said to Kerr at the end of the day that I had also wondered about this question and I would think about it further. The Thought piece: students Participation, Openness and the Curriculum is the result. In it I make some quite provocative claims. I suggest one of the problems is quality assurance, where student participation is part of a series of competition mimicking metrics and part of the application of private sector models to public goods. Academics are rightly suspicious of “tick box” approaches to measuring the value of education, as are many learners, and student co-production has become tarnished by association.  This links to treating learners as customers and approaches to student co-production drawn from contemporary narratives on “Service Design”, designing for and from end users, or “Design Thinking”, start with the assumption of learner as consumer. This approach fatally undermines participation, as even though learners sometimes behave as service users, learning is about more than this. Learners know this, as do educators.

Atención al cliente: Customer Service, Rahul Rodriguez, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rahulrodriguez/9160573259 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

Atención al cliente: Customer Service, Rahul Rodriguez, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rahulrodriguez/9160573259 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

I mention design, in part because I used to feel “Design Thinking” was part of the solution, I now see the assumptions about customers and how value is created do not map well onto education. However, what does apply is the sense of who is the expert, designers think of themselves as the experts in process and, even when listening to “customer”, the product. Likewise, educators have their own values. I noted above that this makes them suspicious of approaches to education that treat learners as customers and measuring the value of education through crude metrics. However, being the arbiter of quality and value in learning also makes it difficult for educators to “let go”. So while it is tempting to blame issues around student participation on the marketisation and metricisation of value in HE perhaps educator ego also makes a contribution.

“Letting go” is not easy.  For example, in community development, where educators have done so, they report feeling uneasy about their role and function. There are pressures from learners to be the expert, not to mention organisational resistance to change and the effect on career prospects. Learners are also at risk, opening up the curriculum means building learner capacity, it has resource implications and needs to be supported, and it has long-term risks around raised expectations, which go unfulfilled.

The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future, quote from Antione de Saint-Just, from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden “Little Sparta”, Little Sparta, https://www.flickr.com/photos/psyarch/3841401884 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future, quote from Antione de Saint-Just, from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden “Little Sparta”, Little Sparta, https://www.flickr.com/photos/psyarch/3841401884 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

These are fraught questions, clearly the technical affordances of digitisation and open licences offer the promise of opening up curriculum. However, as I argue above, and in more detail in the paper, [insert link] political, organisational and cultural issues, assumptions and attitudes embedded within the stories education organisations tell about themselves represent a significant hurdle to opening up curriculum to learners. As I indicated at the start, the issue with students as co-creators of value in education is that they already are; it is just we have trouble seeing it.

Thought Piece: Students Participation Openness and the Curriculum

Ronald Macintyre

Strengthening open educational practices in Scotland

The Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project is pleased to welcome you to our blog.  OEPS aims to facilitate best practice in Scottish open education.  It plans to enhance the Scottish tertiary education sector’s capacity and reputation in developing publicly available and licenced online materials, supported by high quality pedagogy and learning technology.

Funded for 3 years by the Scottish Funding Council, this project provides an opportunity for the higher education sector in Scotland to build on its collaborative ethos and establish a support network for best practice and innovation in developing open educational resources (OER).

There is a great deal of activity already going on in Scotland but it is often fragmentary and is not widely recognised or understood.  OEPS plans to build on existing work and resources, acting as a catalyst for developing a strong Scottish identity in Open Educational Practice.  OEPS will contribute to the new QAA Scotland enhancement theme on transitions.  It will also facilitate working across boundaries to develop new forms of engagement between higher education and third sector organisations, unions and employers.

The opportunities opened up by online resources raise important questions of equitable access and social justice, as use and participation is not automatic just because OERs are available.  The open educational practices (OEP) around development, use and reuse of OER can be more important than the content.  Working in partnership with organisations in the workplace and community settings, OERs can be used flexibly to offer new pedagogically sound models of learning and make them more accessible.

High quality online content is necessary but not sufficient for OER to contribute to widening participation. We will focus on practice and how can we make effective use of content, for widening participation, transitions and supporting social and economic priorities.  OEPS will attempt to model the principles embedded in the Open Scotland Declaration, and it also aims to bring communities of practice together.  This means joining learning technologists with widening participation practitioners, linking both to educational developers and all concerned with enhancing student learning.

The project is organised around six themes: widening participation, rural sustainability, transitions, schools, cross sector and economic priorities.  It has eight primary objectives which include sector wide analysis; events (awareness raising); online hub and development test bed for Scottish OER; targeted new or reworked content; quality, accreditation and badging; developing the concept of ‘open’; developing an evidence base and evaluation of economic models.

Work is being initiated across all these themes, including:

  • The creation of a space in OpenLearn Works that will provide a sandbox for development across the sector.
  • Exploration with HEIs and sector wide bodies into developing new materials and practices in the areas of energy, sustainability, marine science, NHS and Social Services.  These discussions are at various stages of maturity but are likely to involve both the creation of targeted content and partnership work to improve take-up of existing content.
  • The launch on June 9th of a new, badged OER for Carers, created in partnership with carers and carers organisations.  This is the first badge carrying the imprint of the OEPS project (it will be available in the early summer).
  • Development of additional material for the Self Directed Support OER[1] produced by the OU with support from the Scottish Government.
  • The launch of a new OER on rural entrepreneurship[2] and plans to pilot approaches to working with SMEs in the Highlands and Islands and South West Scotland.
  • The production of a series of Badged Open Courses (BOCs) on using OER, widening participation and employability which will be available to the HE and FE sectors for use and re-versioning.
  • Production of a scoping report on the state of play with OEP in Scotland.
  • Development over summer 2014 of a series of good practice case studies that will be shared through a variety of media including the OEPS website.

We welcome your comments and contributions to Opening up Educational Practices in Scotland. You can email us at OEPScotland@open.ac.uk and oepscotland@gmail.com or join the conversation by responding to this blog.


[1]http://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/social-care/social-work/foundations-self-directed-support-scotland/content-section-0
[2]http://www.open.edu/openlearn/money-management/rural-entrepreneurship-scotland/content-section-0