Research priorities for OERs #h817open

One of the tasks we’ve been asked to do on the #h817open MOOC is consider the research priorities around open education and OERs.

The preamble to the activity says:

Much of the research around open education has been derived from the OER movement. A number of key questions have arisen, which can apply to most aspects of open education, including:

  • Sustainability – many OER projects have received initial funding from organisations such as the Hewlett Foundation. How sustainable are they after the funding stops?
  • Pedagogy – are different ways of teaching required to make effective use of open education?
  • Barriers to uptake – what prevents individuals or institutions from either using or engaging with open education?
  • Learner support – how can learners best be supported in these open models?
  • Technology – what technologies are best suited to open approaches?
  • Quality – how can we assure the quality of open educational content?
  • Rights – how do we protect the intellectual property of individuals while encouraging wide distribution?

A number of my fellow MOOCers have already idenified sustainability, quality, learner support and accreditation as issues that need to be researched further.

My immediate thought on the issue of sustainability is why is there the view that funding from the likes of JISC, and the Hewlett Foundation required to make OER and open education sustainable?  Isn’t the whole OER movement about a culture of sharing?  I shared a previous post on my musings on UKOER and whether it had been value for money to the MOOC’s G+ community and in the discussion that followed I added:

…, I wonder whether the research focus in our institutions means that openness in teaching and learning just aren’t given the same air space or priority.  Many institutions have invested time and effort into developing their research repositories how many have done similarly with their teaching resources.  Most are hidden away in the bowels of institutional VLEs, and I suspect many are PowerPoint files.
Clear policies on OERs and highlighting their possible role for teachers to gain wider schoalrly recognition for their teaching which could support promotion would perhaps be a welcome step in the right direction. …

I’d be interested to hear what others think of this.

Focussing back on the task, what do I think are the priorities for research? Here’s my tuppance worth:

  1. Institutional strategy, policy and culture: I’d like to see some research done in the UK looking at what policies are in place in universities surrounding OERs and staff engagament in applying technology to their teaching.  Other than the OU, the University of Nottingham always springs to mind when I think of  institutions that support open education, with it’s open learning repository, presence on YouTube and iTunesU etc.  Are there others doing the same?  It was a bit disheartening to read on the OER13 conference blog that whilst De Montfort University includes OER in its institutional teaching and learning strategy, senior executives could not name any major instituional OER projects!What are institutional strategies around promoting and sharing OERs and not just outwith the instituiton but also on the inside too.  How many institutions support scholarly recognition for staff developing and sharing high quality OERs and include these in promotion criteria. In medicine there is lots of talk of evidence based practice.  What can we learn by looking at institutions that seem to be getting open education right, what mistakes can we avoid. Can we adopt an evidence based approach to to help equip those who want to become agents of change to facilitate change in their instituions.Linked to this is also the question of whether focussing on institutions is the best way to promote OERs and sharing.  Is there more chance of success when the drive for openness and sharing comes from a community as is being evidenced in medicine with the emergence of the free open access meducation (#FOAMed) movement.
  2. Methods of distribution and access: Traditionally we’ve had learning repositories that have stored OERs, so for example Jorum in the UK, in the US in medical education, the field that I’m involved in, there is MedEdPORTAL.  Are these the best places to share OERs or are social media sites like YouTube, Vimeo and blogs better ways of sharing OERs?  I’ve read some work on this recently published in Academic Medicine (1) which indicates that YouTube proved a much more effective way of sharing open video content.  Linked to this is the whole issue of usability which I think is key to reusability and something I’ve also mulled on before.
  3. Student engagement: Some of the sessions at the OER13 meeting also seemed to indicate that whilst some students were creating learning resources there was some reluctance to share these openly and particularly with individuals who weren’t fee paying students. Again in medical education there seems to be a slightly different view, and my own students are keen to develop resources that they can share as OERs or #FOAMed resources and see that they learn so much from the process of developing resources, including skills in interprofessional working, team work, communication and digital literacy.  In relation to this it would be interesting to see if involving students in the development of OERs helps to improve their employability and is an effective way of developing 21st century learning skills.


(1) Topps, David, Joyce Helmer, and Rachel Ellaway. “YouTube as a Platform for Publishing Clinical Skills Training Videos.” Academic Medicine 88.2 (2013): 192-197.


  1. Hi, Natalie.

    I think you have brought a great point with “…I wonder whether the research focus in our institutions means that openness […]”. It seems that educational institutions (mostly all over the developed world) are playing a kind of game such “do what i say, not what i do”… And nothing is done in the direction of an AOLOR (Absolutly Open Learning Objects Repository) or something like this. Everybody is talking about ways on creating, sharing spaces or platforms, etc… But in the last days I have read a lot of people pointing that open content´s repositories are stopped (I can actually point works—official works, ministry developments…— in these directions are practically frozen, here in Spain… So we are losing a precious time, i think…)

    Another view for this issue could be considering there is a War Of Contents between educational institutions, and each one wants to preserve its own natural habitat. E.g., the mistrustfulness of a certain number of universities with the MOOC phenomenon (in my opinion, spanish universities have a practical feeling of being under siege… sometimes it seems to appear in any moment an MOOC Inquisition University Court :-P) could be based on a real fear about losing a lot of “privileges on teaching”, including quality tags for contents, learning objects virtual libraries, etc…

    In any case, I think we are living a very interesting moment.



    1. Hi Luis
      I think the current financial climate means government money for OER projects has started to dry up, I guess for me the question is should we just be being open anyway and sharing the resources we produce. Some are still very wary of sharing, whilst some institutions have well thought out strategy and encourage open practice. MOOCS have entered the field and now everyone seems to be in the grip of MOOCmania.
      I don’t know too much about Spanish universities, but had some contact with the Open University of Catalunya about 10 years ago and thought they might have been involved more with open learning and MOOCs.

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