Open Educational Resources International Symposium: OER and institutional change

Producing OER materials doesn’t just require institutions to change – it can change the nature of the institution itself. At the afternoon ‘OER and institutional change’ session, members of University College Falmouth and the University of Nottingham explained how both organisations had started a process of transformation as a result of their work in OER.

University College Falmouth is the first organisation in the world to create the first fully online MA in professional writing. But it’s also a small, geographically remote university with a low profile. As part of a move to increase interest in its course and awareness of the university itself, it decided to release some of its material on its web site as OER.

‘We saw the future coming,’ says programme manager Christina Bunce. ‘Online is the way to go.’ To do this though required a huge organisational shift, she says. As well as the training needed to allow course tutors to create content, since many of them only work part-time for the university, their man job being in the creative industries, the content they use in their courses is very much their ‘bread-and-butter’ according to lecturer Alex di Savoia.

‘We’d not indulged deeply in the nitty gritty of IPR before,’ says Bunce and di Savoia says there’s ‘no quick fix’ to dealing with it. So to understand all its legalities, Falmouth partnered with specialists including the University of Loughborough, resulting in the resources being released with a licence that made the coursework shareable but with no commercial usage or derivative works allowed.

‘If someone produces a derivative work of lesser quality, that can affect the person who produced the original work,’ says di Savoia.

The advent of OER at Falmouth is also causing a change in all the university’s internal systems and making it re-evaluate how it runs courses. Contracts for new staff are being reconsidered to look at IPR; the university is looking at the possibility of MA courses that don’t require tutors; OER could even become part of the norm for all courses and the first phase of a mobile learning application is being planned. The university is also looking at how to fund these changes, with MIT’s donation model being one option considered, alumni being asked to donate small sums to support the move.

However, the university is clear on one thing: to develop meaningful OER, it has to come from the tutors, says Bunce – without them, it wouldn’t have the quality.

Steve Stapleton of the Open Learning Support Office at the University of Nottingham says his university has had considerable successes with OER since starting ‘U-Now’ in 2007. He found that to get adoption of OER required senior management, academic boards, and teaching and learning committees to buy into the idea. Importantly, OER also had backing from the pro vice chancellor, who even recorded a YouTube video backing the idea: ‘When people asked, “Can I really give this away?’, all I had to do was point them to the video,’ says Stapleton.

As a result of the U-Now initiative, the university’s school of politics has agreed to publish all of its handbooks and reading lists online, and it already has YouTube Edu and iTunes U channels carrying original content. Across the university, 150 academics are now engaged with OER, with open learning workshop teaching new academics how to find and publish material correctly and legally. It has also developed tools for creating OER content, including Xerte and Xpert.

Both Falmouth and Nottingham are at the beginning of a revolution. Neither has yet been able to work out a way to calculate a return on investment, although both have anecdotal evidence that OER is helping them. But neither are they sure what the long-term effects of OER will be, other than to change the institutions themselves. Says Bunce, ‘It’s going to take us into the future and places we don’t even know about.’