"Open" doesn't just happen... we have to make it happen (Webinar 06)

Day: Tuesday 28th September 2021

Language: English

Session: Webinar 06 – building capacity

Number of participants: 41

Countries of the participants: Included France, Ireland, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, United Kingdom

Key take-away: Open education doesn’t just happen – we have to make it happen

The four presentations in this webinar each described a local project that addressed particular obstacles identified by the presenters as hindering the advancement of OER and open education. While the problems they addressed were specific and different from each other, a clear unifying theme emerged from the webinar as a whole.

This theme was that open education doesn’t simply happen because it is a good idea. Instead, advocates of open education need to identify with precision the barriers to adoption of OER and OEP, then design thoughtfully targeted solutions that work in the context of the individual policy-makers, educators and learners.

Presentation 1: A framework for categorising digital materials

The prompt for Ben Jannsen and Robert Schuwer’s project was their recognition that the conventional dualistic language of “open” and “closed” resources does not reflect the reality that educators experience in the digital world: in practice, a spectrum of openness exists, in terms of both accessibility and adaptability. The absence of a shared vocabulary relating to this spectrum makes it difficult for educational institutions to have meaningful discussions about vision and policies relating to digital educational resources.

In response, Ben and Robert have developed a simple framework for categorising digital learning materials that recognises the “semi-accessibility” and “semi-adaptability” of many digital resources. The framework blends the concepts of financial and non-financial restrictions, in relation to access, with the spectrum of adaptation rights afforded by the various creative commons licences, to create several descriptive categories of resources.

This is a pragmatic approach that “open idealists” may not welcome. However, it can be argued that without a shared language to describe the choices that need to be made and the consequences of those choices, we cannot even begin to articulate the problems and solutions surrounding access to digital educational resources.

Presentation 2: Go open! Supporting higher education staff engagement in open educational practices

The Go Open project at Dublin City University brought librarians and academics together to devise a “beginner’s guide” to open education. The team recognised that even the best-known definitions of OER and open educational practices can be opaque and off-putting for those who are unfamiliar with the area, and that this can easily deter educators from exploring the potential of open education for their teaching and research.

To overcome these barriers, the Dublin team put together basic resources to raise awareness in their institution of OER and OEP, targetting those who had no prior knowledge at all. Through thoughtful curation of existing materials and writing of new ones, they have created a set of web-based resources and visual prompts which present the basic ideas of open education. These are designed to encourage teachers to explore further, through a user-friendly interface (libguide), engaging language and an emphasis on how open education can solve classroom problems such as a lack of access to textbooks.

An interesting observation from the presenters and other webinar participants was the significant contribution that librarians can make to promoting OER because of their connections with such a wide range of teachers and learners. In the Netherlands, for example, there is an active community of HE librarians boosting adoption of OER.

In discussion it was noted that many academics are overworked and do not have capacity to engage in activities beyond those related to academic productivity metrics such as publications or learner completions. The Dublin team hope that their focus on OER providing “solutions to existing classroom problems” will help overcome this barrier. A connection was also made to the discussion within this conference of the possibility for giving more professional recognition to OER contributions.

Presentation 3: Designing Infrastructures Allowing Higher Education Teachers to Reuse, Adapt and Exchange Open Educational Resources

Nadine Schroeder, Sophia Krah and Johannes Wendt’s research project was focused on the problem of designing OER repositories that support sharing, adaptation and collaboration. Through interviews with academics with varying degrees of familiarity with OER, they identified that version management was a key feature needed to ensure that the functionality of a repository matches the real-life practices of educators using OER. This would, for example, address concerns and interests relating to version control, updating content, keeping track of re-use, and facilitating feedback.

As a result of their research, the team has developed a prototype of a repository with version management features.

It was noted that GitHub contains some OER and offers version control, but it is mostly used by IT teachers, as its interface is not user-friendly for people who are unfamiliar with the platform.

Presentation 4: Pathways to Learning: International Collaboration Under Covid-19

Rob Farrow presented the findings of a research collaboration between the African Council for Distance Education and the Open University in the UK. This evaluated how two existing Open University courses were rapidly adapted and deployed to support African university staff in the rapid shift to online teaching prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Skills for 21st Century Learning and Teaching and Take Your Teaching Online combined OER-based online materials with interactive events and webinars to provide free professional development over a 12-week period. The evaluation of the courses identified many success factors, but in the context of this webinar perhaps the most significant were the ways in which the existing courses were adapted to make them genuinely accessible to the target audience. Key features were the additional structured support provided through webinars; peer support through social media (Telegraph app); design for mobile phone use; multiple modes of engagement; and asynchronous activities to ensure those with limited access to the internet or other time constraints could participate fully.

This presentation demonstrated that it is not enough to simply label educational resources as open; the learning design and delivery must also match the specific needs of the learners for the resources to be genuinely accessible.


In summary, these four presentations demonstrated that, at every level, thoughtful and deliberate design is key to ensuring the successful spread of open educational resources and practices. Recognising that policy-makers, teachers and learners are all individuals with specific contexts, aspirations and challenges is essential to ensure that “open” does not remain “closed” for all too many people.