The OER15 conference


Chilling with Catherine Cronin, David Kernohan and Laura Ritchie 

This week I attended the OER15 conference in Cardiff. It was held in the Welsh College of Music and Drama a fabulous venue. The conference was excellent, lots of things to take away. As you might expect the online presence was really good, an excellent website, including an interactive programme and lots of people twitting. Here are some of the key highlights for me.

The overarching theme of the conference was taking OER mainstream, with the point being that now we have around 15 years of OER, it is time to scale things up and look at how we can better integrate OER.

Cable Green, director of global learning, was the opening keynote. He structured his talk into the following themes.

  • First, he discussed what kind of OER infrastructure we need. He referred back to the Hewlett definition of OER and in particular the emphasis on the need for resources to reside in the public domain for free and also referred to David Wileys 5 Rs of OER (reuse revise remix redistribute retain). However, he warned against open washing, i.e. resources having the appearance of being open source, while continuing to have proprietary practices.  
  • Second, he argued for the need for an OER value proposition, i.e. open as a tactic rather than a goal, and the move towards more open pedagogies. He suggested the following things were needed:
    • Reduce barriers to education including access cost language and format
    • Transforming teaching and learning and enable open practice and pedagogy
    • Enabling free access
    • Enhancing educational opportunities to foster development and more productive free societies
    • Re professional teaching
    • Connecting communities of educators
    • Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of public funds spend on education
    • Introducing Internet and digital technologies into education
  •  Third, he discuss OER research and in particularly referencing the Open Universitys  OER research hub. He highlighted the following findings from OER research:
    • 37.6 % of educators and 55.7 % of leaders say using OER improves student satisfaction
    • New learning experience
    • Motivational
    • Saving money
    • Try university content before signing up
    • Knowing where to find OER is difficult
    • Only 12 % use CC
  • Fourth, he discussed the OER momentum, pointing to a number of key initiatives, such as: Opening up Slovenia, the European open edu policy project, Z degree in the States, and Josie Frasers work with schools in Leicester.
  •  Fifth, he argued for the need for an OER vision, which would include  all publicly funded research to be open as default and textbooks etc. should bel free and in editable formats and available in different languages. He pointed to the work being done as part of the  open policy network and institute for national leadership. He argued that we need to shift to a position where OER are continuously updated by teachers and learners, and where constructivist, connectivist, open practice pedagogies dominate. He reminded us of the Cape Town and Paris OER declarations which set out a vision for the future of OER.
  • Finally, he suggested it was time for an OER implementation strategy, and in particular a focus on what is needed to achieve change and mainstream OER? He invited us to look at and comment on a consultation document on OER Key highlights from this included:
    • Market penetration
    • Top strategic priorities
    • Discovery and reuse
    • Better communication about the value of OER
    • OER challenges - linear rate of growth, absence of standards, insufficient awareness, difficulty of discovery and use, inconsistent breadth and doth, lack of evidence, questions about sustainability, unfulfilled promise of reuse, poor branding, perfect as an enemy of the Good, lack of OER heroes
    • Demand - build the evidence base, improve communications, engage key constituencies, empower the grassroots, coordinate demand with supply, embed OER in the teaching profession
    • Productisation of continent
    • Tools for discoverability and reuse
    • Build supply to meet demand
    • Accessibility
    • Open up existing platforms and resources
    • International growth
    • National mainstreaming
    • Open as an aspect of digital in education
    • Government funding

Gabi Witthaus gave a presentation on our OpenCred project, commissioned by IPTS, The project developed a typology of institutional practices for the recognition of open learning in Europe. The research included desk research, six interviews with key stakeholders and analysis.  Key findings were:

  • That there was no monolithic recognition of informal learning spectrum from no recognition to continuing professional development credits (5 levels)
  • Three factors were identified as having the greatest impact: robustness, affordability of access, and leaners eligibility for assessment (no assessment to insist exam or RPL)
  • Four dimensions of recognition were identified, leading to several different diamond-shaped models across different OER initiatives.  

Chrissi Nerantzi described the work they were doing in her institution on open cross-institutional Continuing Professional Development. She described how they were using Wengers concept of a patchwork strategy (Wenger 2009) and a link to a presentation she had done on this.

Josie Fraser was the second keynote, entitled OER on Main Street. She referred to the disruptive business models that have emerged as a result of OER and MOOCs. She empahsised the importance of digital literacy social inclusion and social engagement. Her role at Leicester City Council is head of technical strand of the building schools initiative. She described how she was working with 2000 staff in 23 schools across Leicester as part of the project.

She outlined two main themes that have emerged from this work:


  • In terms of mainstreaming, she questioned how we could do this, referring Martin Wellers book The battle for open. She suggested that we think of mainstreaming as inclusive, valuing difference; and that the Internet is now part of everyday life.
  • She argued that there was an ‘eternal September’ since 1993. It will never end. New people, new services and sites, overwhelming existing practises.

She argued that basic digital literacy skills need to be developed. She describe how Identify gaps and strengths across the city, city level, school level and individual level. She emphasised the following aspects of OER:

  • Finding evaluating and organising
  • Sharing and creating

She said that they had found a lot of gaps around understanding ofcopyright. Most teachers hadn’t heard of open licensing, OER or Creative Commons and many were not aware of IP issues.

The positives that emerged were that there is a massive culture of informal sharing by teachers, and high quality excellent resources are being produced and built on. She suggested that there is a need to produce accessible guidance for school staff, which supports staff in understanding and making use of open licensing and creating and sharing OER. She described a set of guideline that they have produced, which consist of the following aspects:

  • What are OER? What is the relationship between OER: legal freedom, education and participation, technical freedom?
  • What is an open licence?
  • How can teachers find and remix OER?
  • How can OER be open licensed and what is the best way of sharing resources?

Her definition of OER included the following:

  • Open education community
  • Accessibility of text
  • Licence recommendation
  • Legal position of staff 

She said that they had found that schools were concerned with what is an open licence and how does it work?, IP and employment, and utility, control, and management.

The following things emerged as important:

  • Licence types
  • Key questions for schools around open licensing and OER. How can we support staff in adopting more open practices.
  • Issues: awareness and licensing agreement
  • Students: modelling practice, curriculum opportunity, and IP rights management,

The remaining two keynotes were Sheila MacNeill and Martin Weller, both excellent talks as well, but by this point I stopped taking notes and just listened. All the keynote were recorded and are available online. As usual, in addition to the formal sessions, there were lots of good discussions in the coffee breaks and at lunchtime. Next years conference will be held in Edinburgh. So to conclude, a great conference, lots of good papers and talks, and a lovely community.








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