Curriculum, IPRs and OERs

I recently had a useful discussion with colleagues at Beyond Distance about how curriculum, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and Open Educational Resources (OERs) relate to each other. Let me try to summarise the main themes.

First, we discussed where various OERs that we knew about (such as the ones from the OTTER project) could be placed in a 2 by 2 chart something like Fig. 1.

Admittedly, we ran into some trouble in defining what we meant by the terms, but for ‘Altruistic’ we had in mind institutions that created OERs for the benefit of learners who might not otherwise be able to access such knowledge. ‘Commercial’ was plainly the label for institutions that wanted to profit financially, at least indirectly, by creating OERs. ‘Supply-driven’ stood for institutions that created OERs despite the lack of solid evidence that learners would use and benefit from them, while ‘Demand-driven’ described institutions that respond to known demand for OERs by creating them.

When we discussed OTTER, it seemed to us supply-driven: the University of Leicester accepted a contract from JISC to create the OERs. Altruistically, the university will make these freely available to those who want to use them. If there is a commercial motive at all, perhaps it lies in the university’s hope that the OERs will ultimately attract more registered (paying) students.

OpenLearn, at the Open University, is similar to OTTER, but demand for (downloading of) its OERs has been considerable, so is it more demand-driven? TESSA, the altruistic OER programme for teacher education in Africa, leans towards being demand-driven as the governments of the countries involved have all asked for the OERs to be available to their students, including serving teachers for upgrading.

Our discussion then moved towards whether and how the curriculum can be influenced by OERs and how these two relate to academics’ intellectual property rights (IPR). Figure 2, a rough sketch, reflects some of our thoughts.


It occurred to us that academics, in protecting their intellectual property rights (IPRs), probably restrict the curriculum; they also restrict the OERs that can become part of the curriculum in their university and beyond. Individual authors may have the power to include their books and articles in the curriculum, or to exclude them. Yet the creation of OERs is a process that can weaken or challenge the authors by asking them to sign a Creative Commons licence that allows learners to use the OER materials for nothing. The more we looked at the sketch, however, the more we thought that the OER could inform, enhance and amplify the curriculum – at least the policy if not the practice. Certainly that’s the intention behind the general OER movement.

This is a hurried note of quite a lengthy and detailed discussion aimed at clarifying what we hope to write up this month in a paper for a journal. My thanks to Ale and Sahm.

David Hawkridge

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The Curriculum Lifecycle

A couple of days ago, my colleague Terese Bird was wondering if it was polite to tweet during lectures. Much could be said about how appropriate or desirable it is to tweet during lectures, the kind of pedagogical contracts that need to be in place for students and tutors to be comfortable with that practice, and the extent to which tweeting in class may be conducive to enhanced learning. And of course, whether or not tweeting in lectures is polite.

Conferences are a different kettle of fish. Participants normally tweet during sessions and are often encouraged to do so. For example, I am in Manchester at a two-day JISC event on Curriculum Design and Curriculum Delivery. At the start of the first session, we were told: “those of you who are twittering, please use the #jisccdd hashtag”. This has been the case at every conference I’ve attended in the last 18 months or so.

Much is being discussed in traditional face-to-face manner at this event, but interesting debates are taking place on Twitter as well. Very interesting hybrid conversations take place as a result of bringing the contents of tweets into one’s discourse during sessions (and at the bar) – and the other way round. One aspect that straddles all discussions is the proposed lifecycle diagram that attempts to capture the curriculum design-delivery processes in institutions. The draft diagram is part of the Design Studio web-based toolkit and has been included in a publication called Managing Curriculum Change that benefits from a quote by our very own Gabi Witthaus (see page 5).

As you study the lifecycle diagram in detail, you’ll realise that it has a number of strengths and weaknesses. JISC welcomes feedback on how to make the model better reflect what actually happens in curriculum design and delivery today. As the tweets suggest, much of the debate has revolved around this draft model, which may well evolve in the next few weeks and months. I invite my DUCKLING colleagues to please get involved.

Dr A Armellini
13 October 2009

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