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Call for special issue of Distance Education: Fostering social inclusion through Open Educational Resources (OER)

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Gráinne Conole
22 April 2011

Call for Papers in…


Distance Education Volume 33/2, 2012 (Themed Issue)


Theme: Fostering social inclusion through Open Educational Resources (OER)

Guest Editor

Professor Gráinne Conole, The Open University/University of Leicester, UK


Rationale for this Special Issue

This special issue explores Open Educational Resources and the ways in which they can be used to support social inclusion, one of the key challenges that needs to be addressed in today’s technologically rich digital environment (Conole, 2011). This fits well with the scope of Distance Education in terms of reporting on research in open, distance and flexible learning, as OER are a key mechanism for supporting these different types of learning, as well as learning across formal and informal educational contexts.


This call is timely as we are at a point in OER research where we need to move beyond the creation of OER repositories to consideration of how they can be used effectively. The OPAL project1 is a good example, as it is focusing on exploration of the practices around the creation, use and management of OER. There are now many repositories of good practice, however despite this research; their use suggests that learners and teachers are now using and repurposing OER extensively (McAndrew et al., 2008).


New social and participatory media that have emerged in recent years seem to have immense potential for use in learning and teaching, in particular to support new forms of communication, cooperation and collaboration (Conole and Alevizou, 2010). The key characteristics of these new technologies, such as peer critiquing, collective aggregation, personalization, networking and more open practices generally sit well alongside what constitutes good pedagogy and more learning- and learner-centered approaches - such as inquiry-based learning, scenario-based learning, dialogic and reflective learning and more constructivist and situated pedagogies generally (Mayes and De Freitas, 2004).


The vision behind the OER movement (promoted through organizations like the Hewlett Foundation and UNESCO) is that making educational resources freely available to all is a fundamental right. The hypothesis is that making OER freely available will lead to great use by learners and teachers, as well as enable them to be repurposed, hence promulgating good practice. In particular, new social and participatory media mean providing a range of mechanisms for sharing and discussing OER. OER are of particular importance in terms of addressing the challenges faced in developing countries, where it is evident that conventional approaches to education are not going to meet the needs of learners and teachers there (Daniel, 2001).


However despite the rhetoric about new social and participatory media generally and OER specifically, the reality is that their uptake and reuse in formal educational contexts has been disappointing. Furthermore, the ever increasing technologically rich learning environment in which today’s learners and teachers are immersed is raising issues in terms of social exclusion; the technological divide might be narrower but it is deeper - those not connected or not utilizing these new technologies are being left behind at an alarming rate.


Content of this Special Issue


This Special Issue calls for papers, reflections, reviews and reports focusing on the relationship between OER and social inclusion, as well as looking at ways in which OER might be used to promote social inclusion. We welcome both theoretical as well as positional papers, and also empirical case studies of practice. Key questions to address include:


  1. Who is using OER? Why? Where? What factors can explain the growth (or lack of growth of OER use)?

  2. How are new open, social and participatory media and OER being used in learning and teaching? In what ways are they leading to social inclusion/exclusion? In what ways can they be harnessed to promote social inclusion?

  3. What digital literacy skills do learners and teachers need to make effective use of these technologies and resources? To what extent are they evident and how can they be developed?

  4. What is the impact on organizations of these new technologies and resources? What are their implications for institutional structures and roles?

  5. How can we design OER more innovatively to harness the potential of these new technologies and resources? What new approaches might be used?

  6. How are the ways in which learners and teachers communicating and collaborating changing with the use of these technologies?

  7. How can we create effective new digital learning environments to promote the use of OER?

  8. How can informal learning using OER be assessed and accredited?

  9. What kinds of policy directives are in place to promote social inclusion through the use of OER and how effective are they?


Also welcome are

  1. Empirical studies of the use of OER and a reflection on the implications for promoting social inclusion.

  2. Empirical studies on examples of social exclusion or inclusion in learning and teaching using OER.

  3. Reports on case studies or educational programs using new technologies and OER in novel ways to enhance and support student creativity.

  4. Critical theoretical approaches to transferring modern social, community and private learning practices to educational contexts, and

  5. Explorations around the design and use of OER.


The Structure of this Special Issue


This special issue will comprise:

  • An editorial summarizing the key issues around OER and how they can be used to promote social inclusion.

  • Six to eight 6-7,000 word research articles, and

  • Reflections, reviews and reports


Success criteria

Success criteria for acceptance of a research article will include relevance and analytical rigor. Submissions will be subject to the normal review process adopted by the journal Distance Education.


Presentation and writing style


The papers should:


  • Provide new, original and valuable contributions to the theme of OER and social inclusion

  • Be written in a way that will stimulate and inform, not only distance educators or other academics, but policy-makers, planners, managers and practitioners in all sectors of education or training

  • Have a strong narrative that will engaged the readers and bring clarity, focus and structure to the developments and issues.

  • Include illuminating case studies of successful policies, procedures and practices, and equally importantly, report and comment on failures, shortcomings and other disappointments

  • Be backed up with relevant literature and empirical evidence to support the arguments being made.


Submitting your proposal

Please submit your proposal to Gráinne Conole (


Proposals should not exceed one A4 page. State the name(s) of the author(s) and the institutional affiliation(s). Explain the purpose, focus and scope of the paper. List other publications by the author (s). Authors will be advised of the outcomes by August 2011. First drafts of the complete papers will be required by October 2011 and completed manuscripts by February 2012.


Proposed Production Schedule and Timeline


May 2011

Call for proposals

July 2011


1 page submissions due to Guest Editors

August 2011

Confirmation of accepted proposals

August 2011

Reflections and books for review etc identified by Guest Editor

October 2011

Phase 2: Full papers due to Guest Editor

October 2011

Papers sent out for review by Guest Editors

November 2011

Reviews returned to Guest Editor

December 2011

Reviewer comments sent to authors

January 2012

Phase 3: Final (edited) manuscripts reflections, book reviews returned to Guest Editor

February 2012

Revised manuscripts, editorial and book reviews etc due in to the Executive Editor



Guest editor


Gráinne Conole


Gráinne is professor of e-learning at the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University, UK. She is taking up a position as Professor of Learning innovation at the University of Leicester in Autumn 2011. She has research interests in the effective use of elearning, learning theories and methodologies, strategies and policy perspectives with respect to promoting elearning and exploration of learner and teacher experience in the use of technologies. Current areas of her research interest include Open Educational Resources (OER) and new approaches to designing learning interventions. In terms of OER, she is involved in the Hewlett-funded Olnet project and the EU-funded OPAL initiative. She has presented and published extensively in the field, with nearly a 1000 research outputs to date. She had secured funding from a range of sources, including the EU, HEFCE, ESRC, JISC, and HEA.





Conole, G, and Alevizou, P. (2010), A literature review of the use of Web 2.0 tools in Higher Education, HE Academy commissioned report,


Daniel, J. (2010). Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: Achieving Education for All (The Open and Flexible Learning Series).


Conole, G. (2011), Social exclusion or inclusion in a Web 2.0 world, DeHub Summit, 18th February 2011, Sydney,


McAndrew, P.; Santos, A.; Lane, A.; Godwin, S.; Okada, A.; Wilson, T.; Connolly, T.; Ferreira, G.; Buckingham Shum, S.; Bretts, J. and Webb, R. (2009). OpenLearn Research Report 2006-2008. The Open University, Milton Keynes, England.


Mayes, T., & Freitas, S. d. (2004). Review of e-learning frameworks, models and theories, JISC e-learning models desk study, 2 Learning Models (Version 1).pdf

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