OPAL case study 27: BERLiN project, Nottingham University, UK

Funded by HEFCE/JISC/HEA this project enhances and expands Nottingham’s existing Open...

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6 May 2010

Funded by HEFCE/JISC/HEA this project enhances and expands Nottingham’s existing Open Educational Repository, u-Now, one of the first OERs in the UK and a member of the international Open Courseware Consortium. Through providing guidance and advice, BERLiN benefits the whole of the UK sector by disseminating our experiences, as well as the outcomes of the project itself which is aimed at exploring the issues raised in the wider take-up and development of an OER. The University of Nottingham is keen to do this because it is part of its culture of sharing and because it is seen as a catalyst for change in the practice of academics from all parts of the University.

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The great thing about U-Now is that it allows us to interact with different groups internationally in a number of different ways… prospective students can use U-Now to see what teaching and learning is like at the University of Nottingham; partner universities in other countries can use the materials on U-Now to get a sense of what we do and also if they find them useful, to use them in their own teaching. In that sense, U-Now is very consistent with what we say our internationalisation strategy is: ‘knowledge without borders’

Professor Chris Ennew, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Internationalisation 


The University of Nottingham has had a consistent commitment to all forms of e-learning since the early 1990s. This commitment has been led by senior management and implemented throughout the whole institution. The establishment of U-Now (one of the UK’s first Open Educational Resource repositories) in 2007 by a Pro-Vice-Chancellor was, therefore, very much a continuation of a well-established policy. U-Now’s creation should be seen in the context of the JISC funded SHERPA project (on open access institutional repositories, led by Nottingham and begun in 2002) and such contemporaneous developments as YouTube Edu[1], XPERT[2], OpenCAST[3] and the Open Courseware Consortium[4], in all of which Nottingham has been involved. Internally, Nottingham has been developing the award-winning Xerte[5] and investigating Second Life. It was against this background of established commitment to open access and senior support for a culture of openness that Nottingham made a bid for funding from JISC and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) to investigate the issues raised in the wider adoption and development of OER. The project was designated BERLiN – Building Exchanges for Research and Learning in Nottingham. Its central aim was to progress the vision of sustainable open learning by making 360 credits of existing learning resources freely available online by April 2010 and to reinvigorate academic engagement through a programme of work across schools throughout the University. 

As part of an institution-wide strategy for engaging with new technologies in innovative and effective ways, there are a number of features of the teaching and learning landscape at Nottingham that lend themselves to helping deliver a sustainable model for OER. In addition, Nottingham's international campuses in China and Malaysia are key strategic drivers for sharing learning resources, fostering use and reuse as well as encouraging mobility. 

Before BERLiN began Nottingham had signed a memorandum of understanding with OER Africa[6] formalising an agreement made by each organisation to support the other in their respective OER goals. As stated on their website OER Africa is “Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, under the auspices of the South African Institute for Distance Learning and was established to play a leading role in driving the development and use of OER on the African continent and beyond”. This mutually beneficial relationship was seen as a way of bringing together producers and consumers of open learning resources, offering a unique model in the UK at the time.

With U-Now already operational for two years when BERLiN began, three of BERLiN’s main aims were based around it: review; expansion; and integration with other distribution mechanisms. Further central aims of BERLiN involved the dissemination of experiences (both internally and externally), engagement with the wider UK and international OER community and this final public report, detailing the challenges, benefits and outputs from the project.

The review of U-Now included an examination of existing OER practices, the publication workflow and technical aspects of the U-Now website. Expansion included publishing 360 credits’ worth of Nottingham’s teaching and learning resources openly. Integration involved ensuring the resources published were available in both the U-Now and JorumOpen repositories.

Specific Objectives

  • Inspire a cultural change within The University of Nottingham, through publishing at least 360 credits of open learning content within the existing institutional repository, U-Now and the JorumOpen repository. 
  • Review the existing delivery mechanism ensuring open content is presented in a way that supports and encourages reuse 
  • Define sustainable processes to ensure continued publication of open content across all faculties and all campuses (including international) 
  • Investigate institutional attitudes to open learning materials, both as users and contributors 
  • Explore and document identified barriers to publishing open learning content 
  • Implement University-wide promotion activities to engage with University community and encourage adoption 
  • Support individuals and school-based initiatives providing open learning content    
  • Promote and support a growing community of open content providers 
  • Widely disseminate outcomes nationally and internationally 
  • Engage with international OER partners (OER Africa) to explore mechanisms and workflows to enhance the usability and reusability of open content within developing nations 
  • Communicate lessons learned from international/OER partner institutions to review and refine existing procedures associated with IPR clearance, approval and publishing

For detailed information on the background, methodology, outputs and results of BERLiN you can read the final report at http://tinyurl.com/berlinFinalReport


[1] http://www.youtube.com/education?b=400

[2] http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xpert/

[3] http://www.opencastproject.org/home

[4] http://www.ocwconsortium.org/

[5] http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xerte/

[6] http://www.oerafrica.org/

steven stapleton
07:56 on 9 June 2010

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