‘In the OERu, education is something that grows as it shares’ – an interview with Haydn Blackey

Further to my earlier blog post about the POERUP-OERu case study, and the highlights from my interview with Wayne Mackintosh, I would like to share a few highlights from my interview with Haydn Blackey. Haydn is Head of the Centre of Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the University of South Wales, and is responsible for liaison between and the OERu (Open Educational Resources university).

Haydn Blackey (image from USW website)

Haydn Blackey (image from USW website)

The University of South Wales is the new name for the former University of Glamorgan, which recently merged with the University of Wales. They were the first UK university to take the innovative step of joining the OER university. (While senior leadership of UK universities has been watching the development of the OERu network with interest, their engagement has been characterised by a wait-and-see attitude and a concomitant reluctance to join the consortium. For a summary of the issues involved here, see my blog post from the TOUCANS project ‘UK HEIs and the OERu: Snog, Marry, Avoid?’ Since USW joined however, the Institute of Technology of Sligo in Ireland has also become an anchor partner, so this may be gradually changing.)

As in the interview with Wayne Mackintosh, the notion of widening participation in higher education is a central theme in Haydn’s responses to my questions. This is clearly a key principle for him on many levels – personally, from the perspective of his institution, and from a national perspective:

The purpose of the OERu is to make use of open education as a way to make a significant contribution to social change and development internationally, and I think what attracted our institution to the OERu… was that sense of giving back to the community, and … widening access… You know, we have eight times more widening-access students at our university than any other Welsh university does… That’s why… particularly in the context of Wales, where we have a Labour Party government which would be to the left of the Labour Party in England, [and] while we’re a small nation right beside a very large nation and so on… there’s a sense in which Welsh institutions are encouraged to take a much more egalitarian perspective on the engagement of learning and teaching than might be the case in a more market-dominated model, which might be more prevalent in England… The OERu is our route into a community of people who interact with those sets of values and context on an international scale rather than just on a local one.

Haydn elaborates on this point when I ask him whether the purpose of the OERu is clear to all members:

I think the institutions that are committed to [the OERu] are committed to it exactly because of that philanthropic contribution to the development of education that is genuinely open and is genuinely world-wide. I’m pretty certain they wouldn’t be putting their names against it without that.

And again when I ask him whether OERu members have any special sense of group identity:

I do think that the majority of people who are part of the OERu are… there… because of its value sets, that sit aside from the value sets around the venture capitalist approach to education. There is a view about education as something that grows as it shares in the OERu, which you don’t get the sense of from participation perhaps in other things which are more focused on what value you can gain… I think the OERu holds some of those values quite strongly, and people who belong would feel that they would want to be emoting those values.

One of the major contributions which Haydn sees the University of South Wales making to the OERu community is in terms of the sharing of their expertise in accreditation of prior learning with other consortium members:

Accreditation of prior learning, particularly learning that might have happened in the workplace, is something that we’ve built a whole raft of experience in. And as a widening access institution over the years … where we might have people who have over 30 years of experience but no qualifications beyond getting their school-leaving certificate … and so we’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy developing systems that accredit learning that takes place in employment, that accredit learning through flexible approaches which aren’t simply credit sharing in the kind of European Credit Transfer approach. And certainly in the dialogue that we’ve been having with the [OERu] network with that set of questions, when the wiki raised those, it was interesting to see that our contribution was actually quite a long way through that journey, where many of the American, Australian and New Zealand partners were beginning to explore the possibility, but it certainly hadn’t become part of what they already do.

If you’d like to hear more about the University of South Wales’ participation in the OERu, please see the full transcript of my interview with Haydn. Many thanks to Haydn for giving of his time to participate in this study.

Blog post written by Gabi Witthaus for the Institute of Learning Innovation at the University of Leicester.

CC-BY licence

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