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“The Gathering”

“Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos “, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina Image Source: Mariano,, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos “, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina Image Source: Mariano,, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

OEPS will be attending the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) event “The Gathering” on the 22 and 23 of February 2017 with a stall (near the entrance) and a workshop on the 23 of February at 10 am. Why are we operating in this space, after all OEPS is an HE project isn’t it?  The short answer is many of OEPS key partnerships are with Third Sector organisations, and we have something to share about our experiences. Our starting point was research in widening participation which suggests the most effective way to draw someone distanced from learning into education is through partnerships with organisations they trust – see a recent OEPS post about Barriers to participation in online learning. So, we also have plenty to learn from attending.

Rather than reflect on OEPS interest, perhaps a more interesting thing to consider is why the Third Sector is operating in this space. When we consider the role of the Third Sector, we typically think about their role in filling gaps, the spaces left by the public and private sectors, structural holes often experienced most acutely by the most vulnerable in our society. Exclusion is experienced across a range of axes, and these can layer over and accentuate each other.  Our partners tell us education is one of these, and access to good quality free and open as a resource for educators and learners is vital.

We will share our experience of partnership working and using approaches informed by participatory design to develop approaches to engaging people in the design, production and use of OER. Partners from Parkinson’s UK and Scottish Union Learn will be on hand to share experiences. However, we are also aware our experiences are partial, a snapshot.  The workshop is an opportunity for us to share the issues but also to share the questions and learn together. In particular looking at what a future which assumes education and information is free and open look like for Third Sector organisation and for learners/clients they support.

We still have a few spaces left. You will need to register for “The Gathering”  (which is free) before being able to book the workshop.

We look forward to seeing you at the event.

Ronald Macintyre

OEPS working with Scottish Union Learning Education Champions

by Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project)

Participants discussing Goffmans “All the word is a stage” and reflecting on their own role as Union Learning Representatives

Participants discussing Goffmans “All the word is a stage” and reflecting on their own role as Union Learning Representatives

Over the last 6 months the OEPS team has been working closely with Scottish Union Learning (SUL) to explore the use of Open Educational Resources. Specifically we have been looking at the role that Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) might play in enabling the use of free and open online education materials.

Readers of this blog may not be familiar with the role of a ULR so it is worth saying a little bit about them. Trade Unions (TU) see engagement with learning as an extension of their role representing their members. Trade Unions have a right to have a ULR in a workplace.  Once selected and they have been through training the ULR has a functional statutory ability to survey learners needs, arrange training and support and liaise with the employer about learning. ULRs typically see their role as about reaching those learners who are hard to reach or target learners who are often neglected within staff development programmes. It is a complex role, and certainly a tension exists between ULRs providing training and support to people and the role of the employer to provide appropriate on the job training so that people can fulfil their role.

For OEPS the opportunity to work with SUL started with the shared sense of wanting to reach out to those distanced from education and the recognition of a familiar pattern. Just like training in the workplace the benefits of free open online content tended to be accrued by the educational haves, the very people who employers tend to and society already has invested in anyway. We wanted to look at models of how we might broaden the social and economic base of who benefits from free open online learning. We had been to the SUL annual conference at the tail end of 2014and ran workshops on OEP and Open Badges. URLs had a general level of awareness of OEP, and we had detected a great deal of interest in the use of free and open materials, some fledgling approaches and some trepidation.

Based on the feedback from these sessions it seemed that potential barriers to use were partly about content, and like many in the widening participation (WP) community we wondered whether the style and subjects matched the needs of those distanced from education. We also felt it might be about models, and wondered whether the TU ULR focus on collective learning might provide an extra dimension to the use of free open and online materials, enabling the benefits of free open and online materials to be experienced more widely. With SUL we agreed to attend each of the area learning forums in Scotland (n=8). We ran two workshops at each venue, one series in June and one in October. During those we worked with just under a hundred ULRs.

The first workshop introduced free and open material and pointed to some of the sites they might be using like Wikipedia or YouTube more generally and specific sites like OpenLearn, FutureLearn, Coursera etc. It then made use of a short bit of free and open video on Goffman’s theory of performativity and asked participants to reflect on the role of a ULR in light of Goffman’s “all the worlds a stage” (see Erving Goffman and the Performed Self) to explore the roles they perform and the different faces they might wear. People drew out some of the tensions noted earlier, between serving the needs of those distanced from education but being careful not to end up compensating for staff development policies and practices that did not meet the needs of employees – the ULR is not the HR Department. People also wondered about their role in relation to the values of the TU movement, while people might want “holiday Spanish” ought they actually deliver classes on employment rights. However, the most difficult discussions concerned the role ULRs perform in relation to educational materials. Some saw their role as collecting the data, putting in applications to the learning fund and organising rooms for paid tutors. Others felt they had a more pastoral role, exploring routes into learning, formal and informal, in small groups and facilitating learning opportunities.

We gave them a series of scenarios and asked them to sketch out a more informal approach to what facilitating learning opportunities might look like. These scenarios focussed on informal learning with one asking them to consider how to facilitate a group exploring digital literacy, another looked at how numeracy and literacy issues affect use of online resources, and another was more political scenario looking at discourses on poverty and inequality in the mainstream media and how free and open content might help a facilitator to structure a discussion. The scenario’s allowed us to tease out the potential role of a ULR in enabling the use of free and open content, and also began to touch on the barriers. Not just workplace barriers around getting space and time to explore these issues, or even barriers to learners, but critically barriers for ULRs such as barriers based on their own confidence and ability to take on and develop an unfamiliar role. We closed by pointing to them a far from perfect online resource about how to use OpenLearn to facilitate learning.

What we learnt about engaging with free open and online resources, outcomes of the second round of workshops

What we learnt about engaging with free open and online resources, outcomes of the second round of workshops

Then we waited, and in October we ran a series of follow up workshops, by this time we knew that most of the ULRs, despite good intentions, had not worked their way through the course or picked up a “Badge”. We decided rather than simply asking them to study the module we would use non participation to explore what enabled and what stood in the way of online learning. We asked people to draw out the peaks and troughs of their learning journey and their engagement with the resource. To think about why they never started, why they gave up, why they wanted to get to the end. Then take their personal experience of (non-)completion and reflect on what it had taught them about supporting others. For those in Widening Participation some familiar themes emerge, “life gets in the way”, it was “not for the likes of me”. Time was a big factor, as was structure, being able to study any time meant never studying, others missed support. Some thought about their peers who they knew were also doing it and wanted to finish it, some wanted a badge. Structure came up frequently, a sense that without a structure and a group of peers to interact with it was difficult to say motivated. Others talked about their own inexperience in this world and then extended it out to ask questions about how to effectively communicate the benefits of digital participation to learners. This stretched into reflections on how one might sell this to employers increasingly reluctant to provide time and space for learning. Others wondered about the role of the URL as a facilitator of learning, about whether they had the skills to facilitate learning.

From these discussions emerged a sense of what an approach might look like: where a group of learners worked with a ULR to identify a subject area, looked for suitable free and open content. Where a ULR role was about facilitating the opportunity to discuss content. Creating a structure, finding space and time and working with the group to structure discussion. It was a facilitation role.

We still have a lot of questions to address around how this is going to work and what support ULRs might require but we have a group of interested ULRs who want to work with us to develop our understanding of how collective approaches to learning in the workplace might broaden the socio-economic base of those using free and open educational resources.



Finding good resources for Work-based learning

By Anna Page (OEPS project)

OU Social Partnership Network logoUnion learning representatives (ULRs), Workers Education Association (WEA) tutors and other workplace learning facilitators may find a new free online guide useful to help them signpost learning opportunities in the workplace to colleagues. The OpenLearn Learner Guide for Social Partnerships Network helps facilitators develop skills to find relevant resources in OpenLearn which can be shared with work-based learners.

OpenLearn contains over 11,000 hours of materials including more than 800 courses, interactive resources, videos, academic blogs and podcasts in a range of subject areas. It has several useful features to support online learning. The new guide provides familiarisation with OpenLearn opportunities in a step-by-step format and offers a badge for anyone who completes all the activities.

The new OpenLearn learner guide has been developed by the Open University’s Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships (CICP) and is hosted on OpenLearn Works, which is a free Moodle platform where anyone can create Open Educational Resources to share openly.

You can find the OpenLearn Learner Guide for Social Partnerships Network at

Explore OpenLearn at

Create and browse OER in OpenLearn Works

OEPS weekly update – 6 March 2015

This is the first of what we plan to be weekly updates on the project’s partnership and outreach activity. Normally we’ll cover the last five days but this time we thought we’d include the previous week too!

In the week beginning 23 February we had a number of discussions about using open educational materials to support democratic participation in Scottish society. We’ll be pursuing these in the coming months. Pete Cannell had an initial meeting with the Poverty Alliance and joined a discussion organised by Scottish Union Learning where we shared ideas about the development of Open Learning Champions with project workers from some of the main unions in Scotland. We also hosted the regular meeting of the OEPS Steering group where we reported on the progress of the project to date, including the plans for the OEPS hub website. A written report will be published on this blog shortly.

Ronald was putting the finishing touches to a report on the work we have been doing with rural schools in the Highlands using OER and OpenScienceLab, in part prompted by the upcoming deadline for OER15 where we are presenting on Wed the 15th of April, and partly so that we can assess what worked within the pilot and look at the next steps.

Ronald was also at the Scottish Union Learn Everyday Skills conference running a workshop to explore how we might encourage digital participation through and for education, it was a very insightful event and we learnt a great deal about how to support Union Learning organisers. It was a rich conversation and you can find more at the twitter hashtag #sules15

This week Pete met with the E-Learning Alliance and Pete and Ronald started discussions on how to produce an OER version of gender equality materials produced by the Teacher Education in Malawi project. Pete’s also developed a draft of a workshop and materials to support the development of Open Learning Champions which we will revise and refine following feedback from all those involved.

Looking ahead we have preparations to make around a series of workshops in Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, where we will be running a series of events in communities throughout the park using an enterprise OER Rural Entrepreneurship Scotland to structure a series of sessions exploring some of the complex problems facing remote and rural communities

Preparations for the OEPS Advisory forum on the 19th March are well in hand and we are looking forward to welcoming everyone who has signed up for this free event. We have space for a few more people to join us, so if you haven’t already booked your place, please register via Eventbrite. You can choose 2 of the 4 afternoon workshops to participate in as well as the project update and the keynote by Professor Laura Czerniewicz in the morning. For more information including workshop descriptions and the programme for the day, please read the Advisory Forum 2 blog post.



#openbadges Workshop for Scottish Union Learning

by Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project)

Recently the OEPS project was invited to run a workshop on #openbadges at the Scottish Union Learning Conference #sul14. The conference is attended by Union Learning Representatives (ULRS) from public and private sector workplaces all over Scotland. ULRs and activists were all familiar with non/informal learning: those wee bits of training that you get in work that you need to do your job but that mostly carry no credit or recognition. They also knew first-hand what is widely reported in the literature on work and learning: accredited or expensive learning in work tends to be focused on those with qualifications – the educational ‘haves’. Now here is where things might get difficult for greater use of Open Educational Resources in the workplace, as the big story of OER use is not so different from the work and learning one – educational ‘haves’ having more, and I was open about this.

The workshop did not shy away from the “what if”question. “What if” OER is just another example of learning that does not alter internal/external employability. Certainly it could be, and we wanted to test the proposition that recognition using #openbadges to account for small bits of learning might counter this and might enable something very different. As you can tell we were not in the room to sell #openbadges, but rather to consider whether they had a role in recognising informal and non-formal learning, and perhaps a route to credit.

I think there was quite rightly a great deal of suspicion in the room of what appears to be a bit of a techie solution, and perhaps even a dangerously faddish one. What fun collecting badges, but what if the fun obscures the underlying problems of inequitable access to training investment. After a quick presentation (10 minutes, see link below) for the next hour we broke people into 8 groups of at least 6. As we went round the tables we found plenty of questions around whether these badges could address the underlying issue of people with no “bits of paper” and how they find routes to those “bits of paper”. The answer seemed to be “it depends”. I do not want to labour the suspicion, as the “it depends” concerned constructive questioning of the approach. Questions like, who issues them, how do we trust the issuer, and how do we trust the quality – questions that are asked about everything open.

What seems to have happened in OER is those organisations with reputations (e.g. providing formal accredited learning) who have engaged with openness are seen as trusted sources, and in the room the sense I got was that if one of the Trade Unions, or an education provider they knew and trusted issued a badge then it would have value. Of course value was the next thing, it is not just the learner and the issuer who has to value it, it needs to be valued more widely if it is to have currency. Part of the sense of value and currency comes from who issues it, but overall what people felt was “it is only worth something if people think it’s worth something” – the inevitable comparison was with the pound issued by Scottish banks.

Did I convince people #openbadges solved the problem? I hope not, the intention was not to convince, it was to introduce an idea, share my own question and then listen. In the end people thought that having something that recognised smaller bits of learning that sit outside existing frameworks, either too small, or too specialist were useful, something stable and recognised as having value. That something could be #openbadges. People thought that if those “it depends”points were met the barriers to acceptance in the workplace would be low.

My big question was “where do they lead”, or more accurately “how do they lead to credit”. I thought a lot would hang on the idea of swapping them for credit, and the important enabling statement from SQA, amazingly/tellingly still doing the Twitter rounds one year later – but no. As ULRs their experience was that non-formal learning in the workplace was crucial to building skills and confidence, an important step that did not always need credit, but needed to be a route to formal learning and credit – those “bits of paper”. So, if we are going to link #openbadges and learning in the workplace we need to establish value and currency, not easy, and a lot rests on “it depends”.

You can find the workshop presentation and further information at