Some Examples of Best Practice in Open Educational Resources

Gray, Frances and Bossu, Carina (2013). Some Examples of Best Practice in Open Educational Resources. DEHub, University of New England, Australia.



The examples of best practice in Open Educational Resources (OER) that follow typify a change in learning and teaching practices that has been ushered in with the development of and increased access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). These developments have been occurring over the past fifteen to twenty years in tertiary educational institutions around the world. Open courseware, open access, open practices, that use OER, have become a state of the art orientation towards teaching and learning for many teaching and research practitioners and students. This is the case above all in the area of distance education, where online and electronic delivery of courses has become commonplace.

Of course, debates have arisen over the nature of open learning, open educational resources, open courseware, open access, open practices. What do such terms mean? What implications does 'open' have for tertiary education, for educators, authors and researchers, and for students? What theory can underpin OER? What does OER mean in relation to distance education? What does online and open education mean for studentlecturer relations (Anderson, 2011)? Such debates are not unusual in educational theory. If they follow the pattern of other educational debates, they will reach their peak, ferment, be dismissed and glossed over, be resurrected, be transformed. Whatever the case, they occupy an important place in the pedagogical imagination, particularly in light of the marketing of education within a global context. And marketing is an important issue in itself: funding, sustainability, advertising and promotion, all have implications for the integrity of teaching and learning, and for attracting students. Along with this is the idea of the student as a consumer or as a client, language transferred across from the consumerist society in which many of us live.

OER does not exist in a morally neutral world. This is reflected in the socio-ethical concerns of the four cases of OER practices presented. Each of the four providers of OER is deeply aware of their social obligations to indigenous and/or disadvantaged groups within their sphere of educational influence and interest. A recurring theme is that education ought to be available to everyone, that such education ought to be the best available, and that it ought to be free. This amounts to what could be seen as profound idealism. Such idealism is especially evident in the documentation and web-sites of Athabasca and OpenLearn.

That said, the examples of practice in OER discussed here reveal implicit assumptions about the ubiquitous nature of information and communication technologies. It is not the case that information and communication technologies are available equally, or even at all, in every place in the world. Class, race, ethnic and gender distinctions operate in many societies. These distinctions preclude universal availability of education of any kind to every social group, never mind those that rely on computers and computer technologies (themselves dependent on the availability of electricity and other services regarded as basic to the privileged in affluent societies). Nor is it the case that everyone actually wants a tertiary education. These are debates not addressed here. Further information about each subject in these examples of OER adoption can be found by following up the bibliographic information.

The examples of practice in OER are an explicit result of the availability of open access to various web-sites and documents on the web. Hence, there is a direct relation between what each institution aims to do and the possibility of producing a document such as this: open-ness in terms of freely available enabled this research and is an indication of what can be done within an educational research environment that is committed to collaboration and dissemination of information and insight.

Four examples of best practice in OER are explored in this document. They are: Athabasca Open CourseWare from Athabasca University in Canada, OpenLearn initiative from the Open University in the United Kingdom, Otago Polytechnic OER from the Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, and OpenCourseWare UOC from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalunya) in Spain. Each example follows a similar structure. A rationale for choosing these examples was that these were successful cases of OER adoption at the time of this research. Also, it is believed that these institutions represented a diverse range of educational providers located in different countries and continents. Thus, they also provide a diverse, and so richer, range of insights in relation to the adoption of OER.

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