Towards Open Educational Practices

In recent years there has been a lot of interest in the creation and use of Open Educational Resources (OER), with the underpinning principle that educational resources should be free for all. The term OER was coined in 2002 at a UNESCO-hosted forum as:

The open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes. (D’Antoni, 2008, p. 7)

The rhetoric behind the notion of free educational resources and a vibrant community of sharing and scholarly practices is exciting and visionary. Despite this however, the actual impact on practice has been limited. Yes OER’s are being viewed and used by some teachers and some learners but they are not being used extensively. And evidence of actual reuse is even more scant. Such learning material is freely available and will often be based on well-tested and effective learning material. Organisations like UNESCO and the Hewlett Foundation have supported this movement and have provided considerable support both in terms of networking and funding.  There are now a plethora of OER repositories and many organisations have signed up to be part of the OpenCourseWare consortium (

The focus to date has been on the development of OER repositories. The naïve view was that if these were created and promoted that learners would use them and that teachers would repurpose them. However evaluation of the use of such repositories indicates that uptake is relatively poor (McAndrew, et al., 2009). Why is this? Well actually taken someone else’s OER, understanding it, deconstructing it and then recontexualising it is a complex cognitive process. Add to this potential technical and organisational barriers and perhaps the lack of uptake is not so surprising. In some research as part of the Olnet initiative ( we investigated why this was the case and looked in particular at how OER could be redesigned and used for collaborative learning purposes (Conole, McAndrew, & Dimitriadis, 2010; Dimitriadis, McAndrew, Conole, & Makriyannis, 2009). We found that practitioners found it difficult to understand the implicit design inherent in OER and found making choices about how to repurpose the OER for their own context was hard.

Would shifting away from a focus on the resources to the associated surrounding practices help? I.e. if we can better understand how teachers and learners are creating and using OER perhaps we can get a better idea of what the associated barriers and issues might be and hence put in place mechanisms to address these. This is at the heart of the OPAL initiative ( The overall aim of OPAL is to support Open Educational Practice. The belief is that if we can better understand the practices around the creation, use and repurposing of OER, we are likely to see better uptake and use. Further, the vision is that this will lead to improvement of the effectiveness of teaching and learning by enhancing the quantity and quality of Open Educational Resources that can be incorporated into higher education and further education provision.

To achieve this we began by gathered over 60 case studies of OER initiatives ( and from these abstracted a set of dimensions of what we are terming ‘Open Educational Practices’, which are defined as:

Open educational practices (OEP) is defined as use of OER to raise the quality of education and training and innovate educational practices on institutional, professional and individual level.

A database or repository of open educational resources is not open educational practice. The pure usage of these open educational resources in a traditional closed and top-down, instructive, exam focussed learning environment is not open educational practice. However, if OER are used to create resources which are more learner-centred than the ones existing before, if learners are involved into the creation of content which is taken seriously by the teachers/facilitators, if teachers are moving away from a content centred teaching to “human resource” based teaching, if learning processes are seen as productive processes and learning outcomes are seen as artefacts which are worth sharing and debating, improving and reusing, then OER might improve the learning process and then we talk about open educational practices.

Open Educational practices are having a “lifecycle” which is influenced by the entire open educational practice governance community:

·      Be it the national policy makers who are promoting the use of open educational resources,

·      The rector of a higher education institution who is initiating an institution wide open education initiatives in which teachers are asked to create, find, adapt and share OER in an institution wide OER repository, and in which educational strategies and models are collected and shared amongst teachers

·      The teachers who are encouraging learners to produce, share and validate content

·      The learners who are using open available content to create knowledge landscapes on study topics which better fit their needs than the available text book “one size fits all” style

Stakeholders of open educational practice are the so called open educational practice governance community. These are those actors who are involved into open educational practices from all perspectives, be it the policy making component in the field of education in which national, regional or local (communal) policies are shaped and implemented to stimulate the use of open educational practices, production and distribution of learning materials, the management or administration of educational organisations, teaching or providing learning environments, or learning in learning environments in which open educational resources are used to improve quality and access of learning.  We are focussing on higher education institutions and on educational organisations in the field of adult learning.

On refinement four OEP dimensions were identified: strategies and policies, tools and tool practices, barriers and success factors, and skills development and support. We used these as the basis to enable individuals and organisations to assess where they were in terms of level of OEP maturity (Figure 1).

Cube model

Figure 1: The OEP Cube Maturity Model

The cube model provides a system that helps in classifying the OER Practices. Innovation and quality that OPAL has set out to study resides within the blocks or between them – how the blocks relate to each other. To illustrate the use of the cube a couple of examples will be given. For example an organisation might be considered to be mature in terms of the dimension of strategy and policy if it has clear and effective strategies and policies in place about OER and this might be an example of an innovative business model for generating OER and making them widely available. Another organisation might be classed as mature in terms of tools and tool practices if there is evidence of  it having an online Web 2.0 environment to enable users to share and discuss the use of the OER. This might be considered innovative in terms of the use of Web 2.0 tools to support scholarly dialogue and good practice in terms of quality through peer reflection. We see the cube as having a number of uses: for benchmarking purposes, for guidance in terms of how to improve OEP and for reflection and comparison with others. The benefits of the use of the cube include: it enables and guides users in understanding how to think about the key issues, and it is flexible enough to cover the different stakeholders involved (including learners, teachers, managers and policy makters).

We have validated the cube through a number of workshops and expert panels. Overview feedback on its value is good. We hope to map the existing case studies to this and then encourage others to build on this over time.


Conole, G., McAndrew, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2010). The role of CSCL pedagogical patterns as mediating artefacts for repurposing Open Educational Resources’ in F. Pozzi and D. Persico (Eds), Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities: Theoretical and Practical.

D’Antoni, S. (2008). Open Educational Resources. The way forward. Deliberations of an international community of interest. Paris: UNESCO International Institutie of Educational Planning.

Dimitriadis, Y., McAndrew, P., Conole, G., & Makriyannis, E. (2009). New design approaches to repurposing Open Educational Resources for collaborative learning using mediating artefacts. Auckland: ASCILITE.

McAndrew, P., Santos, A., Lane, A., Godwin, S., Okada, A., Wilson, T., et al. (2009). OpenLearn Research Report 2006-2008.



4 Responses to “Towards Open Educational Practices”

  1. Cristina Costa Says:

    Grainne, this is a great piece of writing and ideas. thank you so much for sharing.
    I think you hit the nail right on the head in different points. I will comment on the one I am focusing more right now re: my own practice and research, and that is progressively moving on to new habits and approaches, and with it practices.

    “A database or repository of open educational resources is not open educational practice.”

    In many cases one’s online activity is nothing but a replication of practices carried out in a physical environment (storing things in a digital format, making people downloading stuff instead of grabbing it from one’s pigeon hole, etc. That’s technology alright, but not exploit to its full and meaningful potential!). In such sense, we do not become agents of change and innovation, but rather agents of continuity.
    As such, I do agree with you. It is necessary to put the ideas, and what research is telling us, into action, and involve all stakeholders in it. Only when all parties involved start communicating can effective and real change in practice and approach start happening. After all, social / participatory media (which in a way enables this new stage of open practice) is not only a way of broadcasting ideas or acquiring information, but rather a way of helping both ends of the communication channel to meet half way. Efforts have to be made by all parties involved. Even when the ideas are institutionally driven, the institution needs to make an effort to understand and work closely with its target audience.
    This is not the age of obedient employers, this is the age of creative minds. The key is in stimulating and supporting a shared vision!
    Just my two cents. Maybe even a bit off topic!

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Great points Cristina thanks!

  3. Chris Bigum Says:

    In this messy transition period that for now is the read only to read/write web (i don’t want to call what the next disruption may be) and the consequent rattling of the institutions which was presciently anticipated by Weston (1997), I wonder whether it might be useful to try and write about what is going on without “old” labels, i.e. try and be more anthropological, asking questions like what is going on around here? While I fully appreciate the need to understand the new in terms of the old and put old wine in new bottles etc. There are patterns here that might be more usefully examined without the baggage of 19th C educational labels.

    Let me cite an example from Stephen Hill (Hill, S. (1988). The Tragedy of Technology. London: Pluto Press.
    p. 44):

    A friend of mine who was present in the Upper Sepik district at the time (when Neil A walked on the moon) told of a native who returned to his tribe, having heard of the moonwalk on the radio in Port Moresby. … In the tradition of the people, he presented a masterful oratory on rockets and space capsules, and on men journeying through the skies to land on the moon that the people could see see above the skyline of their jungle habitat… The orator was heard in complete silence … At the end the people asked him two questions. The first was ‘Why did they go? –– was it for pigs or women?’ The second was ‘Who were they? –– Roman Catholics or Seventh Day Adventists?’

    It seems to me we are like the PNG folk, asking questions from what we know. While this is normal/natural as Marvin (1988) illustrates, it is really just noise in the bigger scheme of things. I think that there is an opportunity to ask more interesting questions, e.g. what does learning mean?, what does knowing mean? etc. I’d be happier to see a slower resolution or a more open ended answer to these kinds of questions than the rush to certainty that seems to characterise so much of the writing about computing and related technologies and education. These technologies are still happily on their exponential price/performance curves! This is not the time to be drawing a line under them, deciding how they will be integrated (education the only field that uses that verb –odd that). I think so much of this is horseless carriage thinking. The kind of thing Marvin so eloquently documents. Necessary to a point but nothing to get terribly hung up on. Groping in the dark is probably a more realistic way to think about this time and is closer to what I am trying to argue is a better account of where we are just now. And yes, I know this will not thrill the folk who reckon they have it all worked out.

    Marvin, C. (1988). When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Communications in the Late Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Weston, J. (1997). Old Freedoms and New Technologies: The Evolution of Community Networking. The Information Society, 13(2), 195-201. Retrieved from

  4. Gráinne Says:

    thanks for this insightful comment chris and the references will take a closed look

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