Musings on UKOER

oer_logo_EN_1 by btrautweinjr, on Flickr

I’ve read a few things over the past while that have got me thinking on and off about OERs and the #UKOER programme  and particularly about it’s impact and contribution to the area of online learning in medicine and other subject disciplines.  I’m not sure exactly how much has been invested in the various phases of the UKOER project, this piece on the Glasgow Caledonian website indicates tens of millions, how many tens though? £50, £60 million … or more?. I asked on Twitter if anyone knew and David Kernohan replied

So maybe not as much as I was beginning to think, but I’m still interested to know whether this has been a worthwhile investment, has it been value for money and what’s been the impact on the academic community and what’s the level of awareness and engagement like amongst staff in HE?  What will the longer term impact be?

It was interesting to see Simon Thomson’s (@digisim) Storify of the recent UKOER12 event, where he says

After being involved in a phase one project (where I was very much heavily involved in OER networks) I am now more aware that beyond the ukoer network the volume at which OER is heard is significantly lower.

I think Simon is right and wonder if in some places the volume is actually off and it’s never been turned on. Simon asks if the OER community has failed in some way to evangelise beyond its borders.  Maybe it has been too inward looking, with the same old crowd following the circuit of OER meetings. How effective has the communication and dissemination of UKOER activities been?  In the words of Spandau Ballet has it been a case of ‘Communication let me down’!  Those of us engaged online via twitter and blogs can follow what’s going on to some degree but even then trying to keep up with all the projects large and small seems like a full time job in itself.  But what about those who aren’t engaged online and aren’t part of online networks, what’s the strategy to get these academics thinking about OERs.  Now the funding has come to an end what’s going to be long term legacy, what are the sustainability issues and what do we do to try and raise the profile of OERs?

Is the communication issue outside the OER network the only thing that’s affected the volume?   Has UKOER met the needs of academics at the digital chalkface ie resources that can be reused in multiple different contexts?  Is there lots of high quality content that academics want to use and assimilate into their teaching?  If there was wouldn’t we all be talking about it and generating a lot of noise?

Despite dipping in and out of Jorum and subscribing to the RSS feed for new resources I’ve yet to reuse anything because I’ve not seen anything that meets my needs.  Consequently it’s somewhere I rarely bother to look.

The big issue in developing online resources in medical education that I see, day in and day, out is the need for reusable illustrations, animations and videos.  These are the types of OERS that we’re always on the look out for.  Along with other members of the team I work in, I’m frequently presented with storyboards for online resources full of medical illustrations etc taken from a Google image search.  Clinicians are often a bit taken aback when we say we can’t use them because they’re copyrighted and then when we run an advanced search they look crest fallen as invariably what comes up is nothing of any use.  They’ve put time and effort into trying to source images and all to no avail! The good quality images worth using tend to come from the big textbook publishing houses and so can’t be reused to develop our own learning resources let alone new OERs.  We end up scouring wikimedia commons and creative commons image banks in the hope we’ll find something we can reuse that fits the bill.  For anatomy illustrations my first stop was always the Health Education Assets Library – HEAL – based in the US which has a great collection of illustrations shared by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.  The problem now is that HEAL has been down for months and who knows if it will ever come back online.  I often think if only some of that UKOER money had been spent on core resources like images and animations, what sort of impact would that have made?  Would we have had the beginnings of a bank of learning assets that would have been really useful and reused in medical courses and in the life sciences here in the UK and elsewhere that met an identifed need?

My philosophy is very much there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel when someone’s already done it and I’m a big supporter of OER and try to raise awareness amongst colleagues where I can.  We make use of lots of OERs and we’re always on the look out for things that we can pass on to clinicians to review to see if it’s something we can reuse in local teaching and point our students to.  Some of these OERS do include videos that have been funded by HEA grants like the St George’s Medical School clinical skills videos, but the vast majority of OERS we use have been sourced from YouTube, Vimeo, TED, SlideShare, iTunesU, iBooks, blogs and the like.  These have typically been developed by keen and enthusiastic academics.  There are also sites like GetBodySmart developed over a number of years as a labour of love by Scott Sheffield and probably used by medical students the world over.  We’ve also seen our own students developing OERs and students elsewhere have done similarly.  These are the sorts of resources that we can use to build and create our own teaching narratives and learning activities and present them in the context of our own curriculum and reuse in different ways in a range of learning resources.

So as the UKOER round of projects comes to a close I’m left thinking what’s the impact been in different subject disciplines? What do others involved in medical education think?  There have been some projects that seem to have become well established such as HumBox. What’s the general level of awareness of these subject specific OER repositories and how many resources are actually being reused?  And what about  Jorum, the national UKOER learning repository, whilst well known in some circles I still come across many colleagues who’ve never heard of it (something I’ve mentioned before) and that’s with my institution having signed up to it before the days of OER funded projects!

I had high expectations at start of the UKOER journey and now I feel a bit disappointed. Is the issue me, lack of engagement on my part, or am I just missing something?  I feel I’ve had the volume turned up but I know so many who haven’t heard the message.  More fundamentally I wonder whether the UKOER initiative has encouraged UK universities to promote and support the development of OERs and so build and sustain a community of sharing?  I’m not even aware if there are colleagues locally in other Schools who’ve been involved in any UKOER projects. I wonder too what those involved in the UKOER inner circle would do differently if they had the chance to run the programme again?  As usual lots of questions!

Image Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  btrautweinjr 


  1. You ask some very good questions. It’s probably a good idea to cast the funding calculation net a bit wider to catch previous OER-like projects eg TLTP (£75 m overall) Learning Objects funded projects

    Asking more general questions across a series of initiatives might generate light – how has funding helped in the creation of shareable resources? and in learning about the best ways to do it? what could have been better?

    My gut feeling is that most significant enablers of openness and sharing of informational and educational resources are Open Web Standards and Creative Commons licensing so it also might be worth looking at role of funding in those.

    Another important aspect will probably be community and social relations.

  2. There is a lot of different things at work, but I think wondering about the past is useful, but not always that great. In the end open practice was always likely to need to be individual choices, and so networking seems to be the key problem.

    I don’t think money will fix that.

    1. I agree money won’t fix it and that dwelling on the past too much isn’t a good thing. I do think though that it’s good to refelect and evaluate and learn from what’s been done and to identify what the issues are. If these can be openly discussed then perhaps we can develop and participate in creative ways to bring about change.

  3. Hi Natalie – a really interesting blog and I can’t possibly put everything I want to say in one comment box!

    UKOER is partly about producing the resources, but the goal is also to change university/college attitudes/ processes/support to allow learning materials to be mobilised in the future. So it might be there are not OERs in your particular area? But most universities now have processes / expertise / experience in place to continue sharing materials and stop working behind closed doors. The investment has actually been quite small compared to other UK funding programmes, and certainly peanuts compared to what other governments and countries are now investing in open education.

    Finding OERs?
    My approach is to find one or two sites that help and I keep going back. So yes, I use JORUM for my area which is bioscience. I also use MERLOT in the US, and OpenLearn. Check out JISC OER INFOKIT ( for a good list of where to find OERs. Also do a Google search. Also go in via your HEA subject centres – MEDEV team, STEM etc. If you are looking for particular media – video, photos, go to the file sharing sites and you can search by Creative Commons licence on some of them (e.g. Google Images, Flickr, Picassa, YouTube).

    Have we failed to evangelise beyond our community?
    At De Montfort staff and students have produced OERs in health and life sciences:
    VAL for lab skills
    SCOOTER for sickle cell
    HALS for lab sciences
    TIGER for interprofessional learning
    MORE for midwifery

    There has been a lot of formal dissemination (20+ papers and conference presentations in just over 2 years from us to education, tech and science communities). But nobody reads papers do they! So we blog about our OER (have had over 100,000 global visitors to our sites), and use social networking ( YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Posterous). New channels now include professional bodies and societies (well in my area). So I think communication has been good in the short time span, but have we got through to people – teachers, learners? Yes, I think students find and use OER, and I have many colleagues using OER although I think there is the age old problem here of academics just not having the time to do something new.

    Some of our sickle cell OERs have been translated into 7 languages for use in Africa and Brazil supporting education there and creating dialogue. We have had visiting academics from other countries here to share ideas. We have new research / education collaborations with external organisations all around OER. Employment / research opportunities for students. Our UKOER projects link into European initiatives.

    What has UKOER done for me and my students?
    I save heaps of time by using OERs to support my teaching and it is great to see other people’s ideas! Colleagues say that by producing OER for the web they are much wiser in terms of understanding copyright, technology and educational design. Students use OERs prior to labs so are much more prepared these days which helps with large class sizes. Students produce OERs which improves their academic skills (using CC license helps discuss copyright and licensing; talking about OERs helps them see the importance of critically evaluating stuff on the web).

    I hope I don’t break your blog! Feel free to contact me if you wish to chat!
    Viv 
    Twitter DMUViv

    1. Thanks for the comment Viv, I think because it had more than 2 links it ended up in the spam so sorry for the delay in publishing it!
      Great to hear that the OERS you’ve been involved in developing have been so successful and have led to collaborations and reserach opportunities. I look forward to taking a look at some of the OERs that have been developed at De Montfort 🙂

  4. I have some questions regarding OER in medical education:
    1. Why was the project funded? What were the desired outcomes?
    2. What was seen as the value of these desired outcomes?
    3. Who do you think are the more probable creators of OERs in medical education, the faculty or the medical students and why?

  5. Thanks for the comment Deborah. The project was funded as part of a UK inititative to fund OERs, there were strands of funding for different subject themes one of which was medicine and several UK medical schools received funding. The OERs that were developed have been shared via Jorum the UK learning repository, some Schools such as Aberdeen have also shared via their own website and iTunesU. I think both faculty students can be creators of OERs, institutional culture perhaps plays a role in this.

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