Using open educational resources in online welfare communities: Facebook as an arena for open scholarship across the Commonwealth

Coughlan, Tony and Perryman, Leigh-Anne (2013). Using open educational resources in online welfare communities: Facebook as an arena for open scholarship across the Commonwealth. In: Seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF7), 2-6 Dec 2013, Abuja, Nigeria, Commonwealth of Learning.



The benefits of open educational resources (OER) are extensively promoted, though in the UK they tend to be enjoyed by a well-educated elite. The provision of OER is also an exclusive affair, with universities releasing content on a top-down, higher-education (HE) focused basis rather than responding to the needs of potential OER users outside HE. Beyond the UK, whilst OER initiatives exist across the Commonwealth many perpetuate this approach with a focus on formal education that excludes people who could benefit most from OER. This paper reports research intended to widen access to OER throughout the Commonwealth and which builds on the authors’ work with online welfare community forums in the UK voluntary sector. This work resulted in the authors conceptualising a ‘public-facing open scholar’ role involving academics listening to community members’ needs then sourcing and sharing OER to meet those needs. The authors then looked further afield to explore what broadening access to OER might involve in welfare communities across the Commonwealth, where Facebook emerged as the preferred platform for online communities. The authors therefore selected several Facebook groups focused on the topic of autism, with which they performed an open scholarship role. The research revealed considerable potential for using Facebook groups to widen access to OER. The case study groups showed receptiveness to academics’ interventions and as sharing is embedded in Facebook culture it was an easy transition to broaden this to include sharing OER. However, the study also revealed challenges for open scholarship in that Facebook features behaviour patterns that have implications for the ways in which an open academic might work. In all though the substantial audience of receptive Facebook welfare communities encountered during the research study indicates the potential for broadening access to OER in this sector and in other non-HE spheres across the Commonwealth.

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