Developing a plan in the context of the institutionâ€™s strategic plans
An important consideration for anyone planning an OER implementation at an institution or organization is the cultural, logistical and financial fit with the institution or organization's goals. If you are leading the project there are some important questions to consider.
Smaller institutions that lack financial and human resources should think carefully about the costs and benefits of publishing OERs. A basic question to ask is: "What resources (if any) should be published under open licenses?" The following are some factors that can help answer this question.
Factors influencing the decision of an organization to produce or use OER
Expertise and reputation
If the institution has knowledge and expertise in a particular field, it is likely that OERs for that subject will attract more attention than a general course such as "Introductory Economics.â€
Also, what are the areas in which the institution would like to be known as a thought-leader? OERs provide an opportunity to showcase knowledge and improve the reputation of an institution. If the OER project helps create a positive public image for the institution, it is more likely to find support from the administration and, possibly, open up access to internal or external funding.
In which curriculum areas does the institution have special expertise or a special mandate to serve its community?
For example, a university in southern Africa might be doing work on land management that is highly relevant to other universities in the same region. On the other hand, this university might also offer a course on a particular aspect of colonial history that is studied in other parts of the world. Defining where sharing knowledge would have the most positive influence for the institution and its immediate community can help select which resources to publish. This does not need to be a question of either/or, but rather of which resources should come first.
"The British Columbia BCcampus OER initiative targets development at credit-based, fully online learning courses in areas of high student demand and labour market need." OER stories: BCcampus (Stacey,P. 2007)
There may already be high quality OER projects available in a particular subject area. Rather than duplicating efforts, new projects should find areas for which content is not yet widely available. A thorough search for existing resources should help the institution to decide which resources to publish.
There will be some faculty and instructors who already publish materials openly, but who would benefit from extra support. They may need advice or help improving the design of their HTML web pages, but most of the work will have already been done.
Working with faculty and instructors who are truly interested in the idea of open education will make the job easier, increase the amount of OERs that can be published (within the budget), and attract others by setting a positive example.
Some courses may be both unique and relevant, but they use materials for which the copyright is owned by others. Clearing these copyrights may not be worth the effort (especially with a limited budget), and publishing the course without providing access to these resources might not make senseâ€” although this depends on the target audience. For example, self-learners would probably not have access to academic journals to find missing content. On the other hand, if the main goal of the project is to provide course materials, it might still be worth publishing the course.
Courses, courseware or modular learning resources?
There is a large body of literature on modular learning resources, often called learning objects (small, reusable pieces of content that can be recombined in different ways).
However, creating and organizing learning resources in a way that makes them easy for others to reuse is a challenging task. Self-learners are likely to need context and structure in order to make use of resources. New projects interested in experimenting with open education may find it easier to publish whole courses, although there are also efforts to create OER modules that could serve as alternative examples.
"To be re-useable in as many other educational settings as possible, these resources needed to be developed into the smallest possible 'granules'. In this way, future users may choose to pick only the materials they need to develop their own courses. However, if we develop the context and the activities within the context in too much detail, we may end up with a very exciting and authentic story as the backbone for our course, but future users may get stuck with an 'all-or-nothing'. It's the old debate around learning objects: how much meaning (context) do you need to add to make it a learning object? When reusability goes up, contextualisation goes down (Stephen Downes)." OER stories: New Zealand OER Project (Wyles, 2007)
Distance learning pedagogy
Many OER projects publish content that they use in their on-site or online teaching activities. MIT publishes the resources their instructors use to teach in the classroom. The UK Open University makes available "self-contained study units" designed for online and distance learning.
Smaller projects in institutions that do not have a history of distance education often lack the resources to re-work their materials for individual distance learners.
Activity: Consider the strategic factors for using OERs in your institution
Which of the strategic factors described in this section of the workshop would apply best to your institution or organization?
Begin to make a list of the strategic factors you will need to consider as you build your own OER project plan.
Use the table below to list and assess the strategic factors in your institution or organization that will affect your OER strategy.
Training and support
An OER project manager will need to design a training plan that helps academics and students prepare for participation in the project.
Areas to cover might include some legal background for copyright and licensing issues, HTML editing skills and subject knowledge.
If the institution has an existing training program that includes some of the relevant skills (for example, basic ICT training or e-learning focused training), it may be possible to add modules on OER to these sessions. In addition to initial training, ongoing support must be available for the academics and students involved.
Finally, consider how training could fit into human resource policies. For example, in South Africa, universities can apply to the state to obtain a subsidy for certain types of training to cover the costs. In the case of the University of the Western Cape, a member of the training team is paid by the institutionâ€™s human resources department, and is also supported by government funds.
The project team
The staffing needs of an OER project are varied. It depends on the number of OERs to be published, whether the project has a research aspect, the budget available, and the amount of support available from other university employees.
After staffing needs have been identified, the human resources department can usually help determine the best strategy for finding suitable staff. Hiring new staff or assigning the time of existing staff may be options. Working with existing staff familiar with the university can reduce the need for training.
Consider the staffing, support and resource needs available to you at your institution or organization for use in developing an OER project. As you read the description of staffing needs and resources that follows, consider whether you have access to these kinds of people or resources. If you have the staff and resources, make a note of these resources. If not, consider how you might obtain the necessary people or resources.
Staffing needs for a medium-sized OER project
Subject matter expert (SME)
Learning designer (instructional designer)
Course Production Assistant
Activity: Begin to list and organize your project resources
Use the table that follows to list the people or resources that can assist with the functions required to operate an OER project.
Rawthshorne, P. (2007). Using open educational resources for international curriculum development. Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. Available: http://www.rawsthorne.org/docs/PeterRawsthorne.OERProgram.pdf
Stacey, P. (2007), BCCampus case-study, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:_BCcampus
UNESCO (2009). UNESCO OER Toolkit Draft. Available: http://wikieducator.org/
Wyles, R. (2007), New Zealand OER Project case-study, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:_New_Zealand_OER_Project