Opening up for OpenLearn: issues in providing open educational resources

McAndrew, Patrick; Santos, Andreia and Godwin, Stephen (2007). Opening up for OpenLearn: issues in providing open educational resources. In: CAL07: Development, Disruption and Debate - D3, 26-28 Mar 2007, Dublin, Ireland.


The Open University is undertaking a major initiative (OpenLearn) to provide free access to learning material within an environment that allows learners to work with the material and use tools to help make sense of it, and also allows educators to rework and reuse the material in new contexts. This is a new direction to consider material as Open Educational Resources (OERs) (Nylen, 2006) and has meant adopting radically different positions on copyright and restrictions of use. The most interesting aspects though are what happens once the system reaches end-users: do people actually “learn” from open content and how can we make a model where access is free both sustainable and useful to the world? This paper considers the first six-months of the project as action research and discusses initial findings from trials and analysis of the system up to its launch in October 2006. The plans to develop appropriate models of use for the OpenLearn system and how these can be monitored will also be discussed.

The OpenLearn system offers a “LabSpace” supporting a contributing community of authors and reworkers of material feeding through to a “LearningSpace” of learners who can work through the material in a supportive learning environment. In doing this we need to understand both the issues for producers of material and for the learners. The initial content for the system comes from existing course material repackaged to fit online access and function in separation from tutor support and assessment. An approach was developed that aimed to retain the “integrity” of this material. This approach will be discussed and reviewed in terms of the pressures that were placed on those carrying out the transformation process and how academic integrity can be captured as patterns. An activity analysis will look at some of the contradictions apparent in the workflow as initially designed and the subsequent refinement and reordering of the process. Learner issues are also examined through trials prior to launch leading into large scale monitored use together with a programme of structured trials.

The results of the studies show ways to tackle the difficulties in providing content suitable for a new context while retaining integrity with original designs and quality standards. The learner trials have provided very encouraging responses to indicate the value and general usability of the system that has been developed while also revealing opportunities to take the system further and fully embrace the affordances apparent in the online environment. Some of the tools that might meet this need are being introduced at launch in the LabSpace aimed at those who are reworking materials.

The future plan for OpenLearn further develops tools and the route for contributed material. Our initial experience is that working with open content reveals complexities but liberates us to take part in new ways to reach learners and work with others to meet widening participation aims and extend collaboration in developing nations.

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