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Open University module H817-15B Openness and innovation in elearning - Week 8 - Activity 7: Exploring OER issues

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dawn mannay
12 April 2015

Week 8 - Activity 7: Exploring OER issues

Hi everyone

This blog is written in response to my coursework on the Open University module H817-15B   Openness and innovation in elearning.

For McGill et al (2013a, p.4), it is important to question ‘how far open educational practice challenges or supports notions of traditional higher education’. Their study employed a range of methods, including a review of the existing evidence, interviews, surveys and an online poll.  In this blog, I will draw on this study to explore the three key issues in OER, which I feel are important and describe how these could be addressed.

Issue 1 – Involving Students

According to McGill et al (2013b, p.7), student involvement woth OER can be categorised in three models;

  1. Content approach- existing content repackaged
  2. Connoisseur approach' - students as reviewers
  3. Creative empowerment approach' - students as producers and actively critiquing peer OER

There is an argument that student engagement is becoming more widespread and that students are gaining added value from their involvement. However, the accounts of students do not always share this positive interpretation of their involvement with OER. Student’s involvement was often enforced through its tie to summative assessments, meaning that engagement was not voluntary but enforced. Studets were concerned that they were paying fees for their own study but being expected to create OER for other students that would be freely accessible. Furthermore, although they contributed to these OER, few students actually made use of them in their own studies, preferring to engage with self-directed activities, which aligned with the goals of assessment. These are salient points. Psychology departments have long used their student body as a research site, making ‘volunteering’ to be a participant in the departments research programmes as a percentage of grades on research methods courses. Tying the production of OER to students assessment could be interpreted as again using the student body as a commodity ad source of free labour; for me this raises ethical issues and the practice could be interpreted as burdening students with the pressure to contribute to projects for the institution (that they are paying fees to attend), which they feel are of little use to their personal learning and development. One way around this could be to involve students in a collaborative process, which is not ties to their official assessment in the undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. For example, Cardiff University has an optional employability award, which students can take alongside their studies. One approach to engage students could be the option of additional accreditation and/or ‘Badges’, which would mean that engagement was voluntary, not ties to summative assessment but having added value for students.

Issue 2 – Sustainability                               

McGill et al (2013b, p.9) question how far the work around OER will be maintained and sustained in light of current financial restraints. This is an important consideration as much development work has been supported outside and inside of institutions in a trial or start-up capacity. This engagement has also been tied to instrumental motivators such as institutional reputation. It could be suggested that sustainability will only continue if these motivations and pressures are put in place, and tied to university ranking, funding and corporate social responsibility; as arguably the move to Open Access Publications, since the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, has evoked institutional compliance with Open Access publishing (Mannay 2013). However, outside of these factors it should be acknowledged that McGill et al (2013a, p.8) found that many institutions experienced benefits from ‘greater external engagement, in terms of new partnerships, better relationships with existing agencies, new levels of understanding about collaborative working, improved dissemination, networking and learning opportunities’, which could also be motivators for increased sustainability.


Issue 3 – Trust

McGill et al (2013a, p.10) argue that ‘staff perceptions, expectations and understandings around learning resources and activities’ present significant and deeply embedded barriers to engaging with OER, which are often entrenched and supported by institutional, professional or subject discipline traditions. Academia is a competitive industry with strong disciplinary boundaries, sometimes unnecessarily evoked to main advantage in the market. Prior, to the Open Access publishing and data set requirements, the idea of ‘sharing’ itself has also been regarded with suspicion in many sectors of academia. Therefore, McGill et al (2013q, p.10) argue that institutions need to consider 'readiness' and the allow staff time to gain confidence in their own materials and mechanisms in order to share them. Despite the competitive and often individual nature of academia, in relation to OER, McGill et al argue that developing communities of practice is a solution to this issues, where transformative sharing of practice and release of content can be empowering at an individual level.

These are my three thoughts

Dawn J


Mannay, D. (2014) ‘Story telling beyond the academy: exploring roles, responsibilities and regulations in the Open Access dissemination of research outputs and visual data’, The Journal of Corporate Citizenship 54, pp. 109-116. Also available online at (last accessed 12 April 2015).

McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J.A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H. (2013a) Journeys to Open Educational Practice: UKOER/SCORE Executive Summary, London, JISC. Also available online at (last accessed 12 April 2015).

McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J.A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H. (2013b) Journeys to Open Educational Practice: UKOER/SCORE Tensions and Challenges, London, JISC. Also available online at Review tensions.pdf (last accessed 12 April 2015).

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