The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) asked me to answer a few questions to feed into a short discussion paper for their upcoming OER workshops in Cape Town and Windhoek on 26 April and 3 May respectively (See http://www.col.org/progServ/programmes/livelihoods/Pages/eLearning.aspx#workshops ).

 They are particularly interested in two key issues related to OER in Higher Education, namely quality assurance and sustainability.

So here are the questions and the answers I gave them.

 
1. In the light of your experience, how well has the development and sharing of OER improved the quality of teaching and learning materials at your institution? (How is it possible to tell this?)
So far our OER initiative has not made much impact on the academic or pedagogical quality of or educational materials but it has contributed much more to issues of technical quality and research into pedagogy. Given the efforts put into educational material development within the OU (see below) there have been few instances to date where OER from elsewhere have influenced the academic or pedagogic quality of educational materials for students. We were able to pioneer or extend a number of e-production technologies on OpenLearn that are now widely used for standard educational material development. A major example is the XML based structured content schema used for our OER. Another example on the pedagogic research front is that we have been able to adapt a research led web-based mapping tool (see http://compendium.open.ac.uk/) for general use on OpenLearn as Open Source Software and version it again for use in a Learning Design project (http://ouldi.open.ac.uk/) looking at how academics within the Open University can use such a visual mapping tool to help  construct their materials and courses. In essence we expect the major impact of OER over time to come more from the way they cause academics and support staff to review and improve their educational practices away from more closed to more open educational practices where consideration has to be given to the much greater number of people who will see the material and want to use it for some unforeseen purpose in their own context.

2. What processes has your institution established to assure the quality of OER developed and shared by your institution?

The Open University has well established quality assurance procedures for the development of educational resources for student or teaching project use. All educational materials for modules and courses are developed by teams and peer reviewed internally, by academic colleagues and also by an independent external assessor (before first student use) and examiner (during student use), for both academic rigour and pedagogical design. The technical quality of these educational materials is managed and reviewed by our professional technical and media staff in our Learning and Teaching Solutions division while student surveys are used as evidence in annual reviews while in presentation to help drive continuous improvements.

All OER released by The Open University are derived from these already quality assured materials and follow an integrity model whereby as few editorial changes as possible are made to the substance and structure of the content with most change being in how the material is delivered to the learner (e.g. text in print as an educational resource to be used by students, text on screen as an OER for OpenLearn; separate audiovisual files on DVD changed to embedded MP3 files online) and only require limited further academic or technical review before publishing. Once published users can rate or review the OER or comment in forums on the quality of the resource which can lead to changes.

3. How has your institution’s OER initiative been funded to-date? (If possible it would be useful to know approximately how much and over what period of time you institution has received funding from donor agencies/government/alumni/commercial organizations etc.)

Just considering our flagship OER initiative OpenLearn (see below for other projects) funding to date has been as follows:

£4.65 million for 2006-2008 from Foundations (the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation)

£3 million for 2009-2012 from a Government Agency (The Higher Education Funding Council for England)

About £3 million to date of internal investment (it is not always easy to account for all expenditure across 5 years of activity and this does try to account for all direct and indirect expenditure associated with just OpenLearn and not related OER activities e.g. iTunesU).

4. In the light of your experience has OER assisted in generating additional funding for your institution and if so can this be quantified?

Yes but mostly in terms of grant funding rather than revenue funding.

In terms of revenue we have tracked users of OpenLearn and some have gone direct from the site to register on a course online in the same session thus contributing through course fees. We calculate this to be in the order of 4,000 registration a year (but noting that we have over 200,000 registration each year) and of course OpenLearn may only be a partial factor in students choosing a course. Separate investigations indicate that a bit more than this figure positively quote OpenLearn as a reason for requesting a prospectus or making an enquiry to The Open University (these equally raise a related issue that OER can help lower some costs, particularly around promotion and marketing).

In terms of grant funding the figures above indicate that we have gained significant external grant funding from different sources against internal investments directly for OpenLearn related work. However this does not account for more than £5 million of grant funding in the last 3 years to more than 10 other R&D projects that we are involved with that relate to aspects of OER, such as TESSA (www.tessafrica.net), OLnet (www.olnet.org) , OPAL ( see http://www.icde.org/ICDE+to+play+key+role+in+Open+Educational+Quality+Initiative.9UFRzW5W.ip) and iCoper (http://www.icoper.org/). The funding for these many projects variously comes from Foundations, UK Government Agencies, European Agencies and alumni in roughly that order of importance).

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