When two worlds don’t collide: can social curation address the marginalisation of open educational practices and resources from outside academia?

Perryman, Leigh-Anne and Coughlan, Tony (2014). When two worlds don’t collide: can social curation address the marginalisation of open educational practices and resources from outside academia? Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2014(2), article no. 3.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/jime.ab


A canyonesque gulf has long existed between open academia and many external subject communities. Since 2011, we have been developing and piloting the public open scholar role (Coughlan and Perryman 2012) - involving open academics discovering, sharing and discussing open educational resources (OER) with online communities outside formal education in order to help bridge this gulf. In 2013 we took the public open scholar into Facebook (Perryman and Coughlan, 2013) to reach an international audience of autism-focussed Facebook groups in India, Africa and Malaysia, with a combined membership of over 5000 people.

Performing the public open scholar role within Facebook led to our learning from group members about new resources produced outside formal education, for example by voluntary sector organisations, government and professional bodies. These resources are surprisingly numerous and compare favourably with those from universities. Seeking to source more such resources we conducted a systematic large scale search of free online courses, recording not only the number of learning materials available but also how easy it was to find them.

We found that provision from formal education, especially universities, dominates the returned results when searching for free online courses. Consequently, resources from outside formal education, while they exist, are difficult to find. Indeed, most aggregators and repositories proudly state that the free online courses they list are from 'Top Universities', appearing oblivious to provision from outside formal education. We extended our research to cover e-textbooks and found a similar situation, with content from formal education again dominating provision.

On the basis of these findings we suggest that the prominence of university-provided content within search aggregators not only marginalises externally produced resources, relegating them to even more obscurity than has been the case thus far, but also marginalises the open educational practices that were involved in the production of these resources. We propose that the OER movement’s questions about ways of involving end-users as co-producers may be answered by looking to external communities and, accordingly, we should be supporting and learning from these communities. In addition, there is a need for further research into the open educational practices of external subject communities, who are clearly more than just passive consumers of resources and are involved in both producing and adapting OER.

Our research has also led to our further developing the public open scholar role to include curation as a part of the process, on the basis of evidence indicating that online content curation has the potential to help increase the discoverability of resources and awareness of open educational practices from beyond academia. In particular, we suggest that ‘social curation’ ( Seitzinger, 2014) - which foregrounds sharing curated collections as a component of the curation process - has a key role in this regard. We suggest that further research in this area could be beneficial, for example in exploring the potential for librarians to become involved in curating OER from outside academia.

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