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The Changes and Challenges of Open Practice in the UK (panel discussion)

15 April 2012

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Robert Farrow
16 April 2012

Panel: Craig Mahoney (Higher Education Academy); David Mossley (Higher Education Academy); Jonathan Darby (SCORE); Megan Quentin Baster (University of Newcastle Upon Tyne)

CM: This is a turbulent time for education, but also a creative time with enormous opportunity.  We need to rethink and repurpose the didactic model of higher education which is prevalent in UK universities.  OER is going to be a part of this.  But we need policy leadership in universities, who are often unaware of how OER can be used and promoted.  There are examples of good practice, but they tend to be isolated and sometimes unsupported.  We need to rethink the way we make use of resources in constructive and critical ways if we are to encourage lifelong learners.  The Open University is the leader in the UK:  all the others are playing catch up.

DM: The HEA has produced a number of resources for senior mangers and policymakers, including a toolkit (  The approach of the programme has been diverse and student-focused (including an NUS survey).  Iniital results suggest that students respect academic who share.  The future is about enriching the student learning experience by going beyond the point of contact.

JD: The OU has changed the way it communicates and educates, sharing content in new ways (including 40 million downloads on iTunesU).  The OU has been a 'giver' rather than a sharer, historically speaking.  Now, when new courses are created in a structured way it makes it easier for OERs to be created:  sharing is embedded into the process.  The OU is also thinking seriously about incorporating OER into course delivery rather than creating everything from scratch, though progress could be made in this area.  One area where OER has made a difference in OpenLearn, which uses OER to attrach potential students at a 75% saving on recruitment cost.

MQB: Academics and institutions are worried about legal implications of being open.  Attribution is particularly tough with teaching materials.  Publishers are interested in working with HE institutions to be open, but in practice little has been delivered.  Negotiations can also be slow, meaning that academics often just act without securing legal permissions.  We need risk management tools and effective policies for the ways we reuse and remix content.  Furthermore, the publishing model is changing, with power shifting to resellers like Amazon.

Jackie Coulter (JORUM) asked about policy leadership and lessons learned.  CM said that there is a lack of convergence between political and institutional drivers which threatens the future sustainability of the sector as a whole.  JC responded by saying that we need to be better about collecting evidence about the successes and importance of using OER.  JD said that policy should be about removing barriers to being open, not about directing others.  (Tacitly, this suggests that openness is a default behaviour which takes over once barriers are removed.)

Antonio Martínez-Arboleda Leeds University and SCORE) asked about the Research Excellence Framework (REF) which does not seem to make provision for OER.  MQB said that she had raised this with REF panels, who said that they already had their work cut out and wouldn't be considering teaching materials at this time.  But activities surrounding enhancement might use open licensing in the future.  More importantly, authors need to start expressing a strong preference for being open in order to bring about change in research-led organizations.

The discussion went on to cover the possible role of top-down leadership (e.g. the Bologna process).  There was a suggestion that we need both top-down and bottom-up processes with policies that are not overly prescriptive, but can be endorsed by leaders.

MQB mentioned the way that institutions like the Wellcome Trust are moving to open access models, showing how change might come from open research rather than OER.  Judith Murray (Thompson University) wondered whether there are policy tools that could enable other types of open activities.  Cable Green (Creative Commons) noted that OER should be understood as having no cost at the point of  access and affording thelegal rights to make modifications.  He reiterated the basic policy principle that any publicly funded resources should be openly available resources, a principle which he hopes will be endorsed at the forthcoming UNESCO meeting in Paris.

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