Reflections: Making Open Educational Resources happen (ALT-C 2011)

By Matt Cornock

This is the first of a series of blog posts covering my reaction to the ALT-C 2011 conference sessions.

OERs are plagued with a reputation for being great in number, questionable in content and rarely reused. As elearning evangelists, OERs is often the one area of our work which we can sometimes feel our throats clenching as the seeds of doubt about the true cost-benefit rise in our minds. Much money and time has already been put into the development of OERs, but now we must focus our attention on actually reusing and repurposing the OERs out there.

Developing Open Educational Resources (OERs) for Interprofessional Education

Ming Nie, Alejandro Armellini, Rob Howe, Jacqui Williams University of Northampton, University of Leicester, DeMontfort University, JISC


‘The (Transforming Interprofessional Groups through Educational Resources) TIGER project is a consortium project at the Universities of Northampton, Leicester and De Montfort and is funded by JISC and the Higher Education Academy.’

From what I gather from the TIGER project, one of the fundamental factors to ensuring use of an OER is its quality, not just in terms of its content but also what Nie et al describe as a “pedagogical wrap-around.”

Pedagogical wrap-arounds

Nie detailed how these wrap arounds supported the teacher’s use of the resources by providing both written and verbal guidance on how the resource may be use and has been used previously. It includes non-prescriptive examples of how the OER has been used in context with the general aim to reduce the barriers of specific curriculum and local nuances. In my view, any consistently applied approach to delocalising an OER, making it subject specific but context generic, and importantly, providing a framework of how the OER could be repurposed or reused creates a very strong resource.  The development of the OER used the CORRE Workflow Model [PDF] developed by the University of Leicester through the OTTER project.

Evaluating an OER project

Nie outlined a three-pronged approach to evaluate OERs:

  • Consideration of the pedagogic design
  • Challenges and problems in the process (from creation to repurposing to actual use)
  • Student use and interpretation of responsibility

To me, this helpfully looks at the three key components to study: teacher-student-content, and as such are at least good starting points to help work out whether OER usage is appropriate for a particular teaching and learning situation. This is a good, straightforward way of assessing the way an OER has been used in order to form a case study too.

Designing for learning with open educational resources

Alejandro Armellini Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester

This talk drew upon Leicester’s successful staff-engagement programme, Carpe Diem, which looks to encourage staff over a two-day period to develop courses or activities in a structured way based on sound pedagogy. A video explaining this is available through the link above.

Design and Delivery

I’m going to plagiarise Armellini here, but purely because I cannot better the way this was presented in the session:

Design vs Delivery 2x2 matrix. Good design and good delivery is the best. Good design with bad delivery is a wasted opportunity. Good delivery with bad design is a 'recovery' position.

This representation shows how design and delivery, as two separate processes, lead to different responses in the classroom. Identifying these two processes as independent is important, particular when considering the role of OERs, even though the students’ learning experiences are wholly dependent on both design and delivery being good. The argument is that bad design may be ‘recovered’ with good delivery, but good design is lost with poor delivery. I would like to challenge however that bad design can only be ‘recovered’ to a certain extent (less so than what can be portrayed on a 2×2 matrix), and that the overall experience would still be significantly marred by a lack of careful consideration about the learning process a student is going to undertake. Similarly, depending on how well designed an activity is, sometimes the delivery mechanism can be completely independent and the students, if so motivated, will find their own pathways to making the learning design happen (I’m thinking here of examples where an online forum may be used, it crashes or has a poor interface, resulting in students simply chatting over coffee or, dare I say it, use Facebook).

The process of developing an activity or course

Armellini outlined the approach taken to developing a course, with learning outcomes and assessment aligned throughout, and with activities (addressing learning outcomes) paired with assessment instances. This “aligned” structure is referred to as the “scaffold” upon which content sits. Armellini pointed out that normally the approach of teaching staff is to start with the content and then fit in activities and assessment points, however using the alignment theory approach, the content gaps are identified more easily. This has clear benefits for when content is provided by multiple teaching staff. As suggested by Armellini, OERs can replace the “stuff” that normally is downloaded or obtained from another source and instead, in a variety of media forms, slot into the scaffold. The scaffolded approach also lends itself to the idea of “pathways” for learners. As Armellini mentioned, learners are suggested to go down a certain pathway through the course material, but at the same time they may end up choosing their own route. OERs may be selected to offer multiple routes or multiple ways of presenting the same information.

The role of cost-benefit analyses

One of the quotes by Armellini that jumped out for me was the idea of “low cost, high value”, and although we often talk of cost-benefits, the mapping of our activities on such a scale can really draw attention to the gains (and theoretically) losses of elearning (Marion Manton showed an example of how this was applied in her Department at the University of Oxford in a later talk). If we were to look for a ‘taking stock’ approach to evaluating OERs or any other online learning investment, this is an essential tool to use. The only problem is that it is done after the fact, and you can be left in a ‘so what?’ situation.

Two short, short papers

Just to point out too that the session included a brief overview of other projects.

Supporting Openness and Sharing in an Institutional Context

Tim Linsey, Academic Development Centre at Kingston University, London

This group have done extensive research on the interoperability of major OER content production tools with major VLE import/export mechanisms. I think anyone who intends to create OERs and distribute widely amongst the community should investigate creating the most flexible and cross-compatible OER they can. The group have also looked into a “federated” (or what I calll uber-meta) search, which allows searching of institutionally created learning materials from the VLE content system, library resources and the institutional research database. This I think will be a very powerful tool, however I wonder whether staff will actually engage with adding meta data to their learning resources in a consistent and meaningful way. Personally, I think this may fall foul of the ideal practice vs practice limited by timescales argument.


A University of Leeds, OER, JISC, HEA Bioscience project

Commencing with what can only be described as the best use of chalk and board I have seen in a while, with an analogy of OERs to rocket science, this short overview made two very key points about OER development and deployment:

  • First that small, versatile packages (and indeed OER management in general) are more likely to be adopted, reused/repurposed by others as they don’t become unwieldy goliaths. Being small, they are also likely to be easier to pick apart and won’t have as many internal contextual references.
  • Secondly, that it is legitimate to provide a few, selected, very high quality OERs that have supporting material, rather than attempt to provide vast amounts that require a teacher to trawl through. The mantra ‘quality not quantity’ springs to mind. Tagging onto this, the project also included not just how to use the resource but the discussion and rationale behind the creation of the resource which practitioners again can use to inform how they may customise the OER for their own use.


My cynicism about OERs won’t subside overnight, however I see that now there are future programmes on the horizon to encourage use and create order to the chaos that is mass-produced and poorly catalogued OERs. I think the biggest message from this session though for me, as my role as an elearning advisor, is to do some of the leg work first. I intend to find the most appropriate OER catalogues for my subject, which provides the appropriate level of background detail for the staff I work with. Then, using a model similar to the Leicester Carpe Diem two-day workshops, encourage staff to think about the learning process first rather than content. Though that may seem like a backwards step to introducing OERs, I think this may be one of the key ways to approach course development overall into becoming a more efficient process. I wonder if teaching staff have become preoccupied with content (I know that I do when I write short courses), and that we have become inherently trapped in the one-way transfer of knowledge to automatically shut ourselves off to collaborative and progressive learning activity models. If we start with no content at all, we focus instead on how the student should learn rather than just what.

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