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Rob Farrow's design narrative: Visualising OER Research

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Robert Farrow
10 May 2014

Title When is a map not a map?

Narrator Myself, an education researcher at The Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University

Situation Working as a researcher on the OER Research Hub project, I'm part of a team that collects and reviews evidence about the impact of open educational resources (OER). Evidence about OER impact can be hard to come by: suitable metrics often involve institutionally sensitive information; interventions may not be evaluated consistently; and it can be hard to isolate the particular influence of openness.  This can make it hard to draw any conclusions about an overall picture.


Task I worked with a team of researchers and a programmer with expertise in data visualisation to design a data model that would be flexible enough to accommodate diverse evidence types (papers, survey data, infographics, video  clips, etc) and help make sense of the bigger picture for a range of different audiences. OER Research Hub is structured around 11 research hypotheses which also must be communicated to non-specialists. This task can therefore be construed as an exercise in learning design.

Actions I designed a data model which would include the polarity (+/-) of evidence relative to hypotheses as well as the geographical location. This meant that evidence could be recorded on a map and colour-coded to provide more of the metadata. Working with our developer we adapted a Sankey diagram to visualise the evidence base as a whole. Similar visualizations help users to understand the status of each hypothesis.


Results OER Impact Map is part of an ongoing project and still under development, but is already proving to be a useful tool for the research team and the wider OER community.  Consciously construing the resource as a pedagogical design enables it to act as such both for the researchers and the community they serve while the map acts as a shared artifact with many different pathways through the data.

Reflections This example is not taken from the classroom since I am not teaching at the moment, but I do feel it illustrates the importance of learning design for the creation of educational digitial artifacts.

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Yishay Mor
5:01pm 22 May 2014

Hi Rob,

Can you elabborate on the design process - which representations did you consider, why did you choose the Sankey diagram? What implications did that choice have in terms of implementation etc.? What obstacles did you encounter and how did you deal with them?

Do you have any evidence of the effects of the representation you developed, in terms of social and individual learning? What would you do differently in retrospect?



Robert Farrow
1:39pm 26 May 2014

Hi Yishay!  Thanks for your comment.  The full design narrative is available from  I can give you a more -up-to-date version if you like.

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