New global open educational trends – policy, learning design, and mobile


Beyond Distance PhD students and colleagues from around the world

To celebrate Open Education Week (begins 11 March 2013), Beyond Distance colleagues will be doing an online webinar to which you are cordially invited! We hope to have discussion, debate, and controversy! So please save the date and time —- more information and a link to connect will be blogged closer to the time.

Webinar title: ‘New global open educational trends: policy, learning design, and mobile’

Date and time: 11 March (Monday) at 12:30 -14:00 GMT

Presenters: Professor Grainne Conole, Gabi Withaus, Dr. Ming Nie, Terese Bird, Bernard Nkuyubwatsi

The webinar will be in format of a roundtable discussion. Informed by our work on various open educational projects of international scope (POERUPSPEED, TOUCANS, SPIDER, and iTunesUReach, among others) our team will share their perspectives and invite discussion on intercontinental policies for OER uptake, developments in the use of open resources and open practice in learning design, and issues around open practice in mobile learning, with a special focus on the view from the developing world.

Hope to virtually see you there!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow

Opening the doar to Open Research Archives

A question high on the agenda for academics on the OER workshops I ran in Afghanistan last month was how they could access journal articles written by University of Leicester academics and others in the UK. Their institutions, which are struggling for funding, could not afford journal subscriptions, and as a result, many of these academics felt isolated from the international knowledge-sharing communities in their disciplines.  They were therefore delighted to learn that it was possible to access near-final versions of journal articles freely, through open research archives which contain ‘pre-prints’ – drafts of papers that are subsequently published in peer-reviewed journals. The Leicester Research Archive is one such example.

To find open access repositories around the world, one only has to go to the brilliant directory, OpenDoar, or the Repository 66 website, which provides links to open access repositories by location. Here is a sampling of open access archives found through these sites:

Leicester Research Archive, UK:
Open University’s Open Research Online, UK:
University of Oxford, UK:
Pakistan Research Repository:
Open Access Agricultural Research Repository (India):
Stanford University School of Education, USA:
University of the Western Cape, South Africa:
University of Southern Queensland, Australia:
Athabasca University (Canada):

It is also possible to search for content in all the repositories in OpenDoar by keyword, by going to To find repositories by location, go to

In the SCORE workshop on OERs on 11 March, it was noted that for many institutions, the distinction between open research and open educational resources is becoming blurred. Both are part of a wider open access movement which aims to share knowledge openly and without discriminating against those in less fortunate countries. The Beyond Distance Research Alliance is committed to raising awareness among academics at Leicester and beyond of the value of open educational resources – both for research and for teaching.

Gabi Witthaus, 19 March 2011

Creating to share; promises and pitfalls

Last week I participated in a seminar organized by JISC in Ormskirk. The focus of the seminar was creating and sharing digital content with emphasis on the promises and pitfalls of Open Educational Resources (OER). Representatives from the CETL on Reusable Learning Objects, SOLSTICE, ROCOCO, Q-ROLO, Open Spires and ReFORM spoke about their projects and took part in discussions about the future of OERs. I came away from the meeting with a feeling that whilst Open Educational Resources offer a lot of promise there is the need for a concerted effort to debate and find solutions to some of the drawbacks that threaten the potential benefits of these resources to the HE sector. Here are a few things mentioned regarding benefits and pitfalls:

• Economies of scale in terms of cost benefit analysis
• Improved access and better use of existing resources
• Innovation in the design of teaching and learning materials

• Copyright issues
• Institutional barriers in terms of existing curriculum processes
• Lack of local content repositories
• OER literacy i.e. the capacity of academic staff to create and share open learning resources

I was quite struck by the discussion on how to engage various stakeholders to maximize the benefits of OERs whilst addressing the pitfalls. What was missing in all the discussions was the role of learners in advancing the vision of the OER movement. The Edgeless University report has emphasized the need to engage students in the design of courses to better understand their needs and also determine when and how teaching and learning should happen in the future. Clearly, making OERs more sustainable will require not just institutional commitment to “openness” in teaching and learning, or overcoming copyright hurdles or changing staff attitudes towards “open learning design” but more importantly how we as OER practitioners draw lessons from student experiences in HE to improve the quality of our materials in order to motivate learners locally and international to use these materials.

Samuel Nikoi ( 24 July 2009)

“Learning Objects”, “Learning Units”, “Open Educational Resource” (OER): how synonymous are these terms?

In my previous blog I highlighted current challenges faced by the OTTER team of developing quality evaluation criteria for our OERs and also issues surrounding metadata.

This week another challenge has surfaced which border on questions of definition. Do the terms “learning object”, “learning unit” and “open educational resource” mean the same thing?

My colleague Gabi objects to the use of the term “learning object”. To her this arises out of a technicist view of learning. She prefers the term “learning unit”, which, in her view is a more recognizable term to learners and educators.

My colleague Simon on the other hand prefers the term “OER” which to him is more generic and encapsulates the essence of digital learning resources. If you ask me, I will say I prefer the term “teaching material” bearing in mind I come from a part of world where learning is very much an instructionally driven activity.

I have been reading various papers and discussions on this subject in the hope that I will get a much clearer picture. The IEEE definition says a learning object is “an entity that may be used for learning, education or training”. 

Boyle of the CETL for Reusable Learning Object is very critical of this definition arguing that making available standards for storage and description would not of itself bring about the target pedagogical goal of a learning object. He thus prefers the term “generative learning object” whose primary focus of reuse is not the specific learning object but the pedagogical design patterns that underpins the generation of the learning object.

The question which for me still remains answered is “What specific feature(s) of a learning activity makes it a “learning object” or an “OER” for that matter? Is this to be found in:

  • Whether the learning activity was “born” digital or adopted, transformed and given a digital identity?
  • The degree of interactivity in the learning activity which makes it engaging?
  • Availability in different forms of multimedia?
  • An object which is suitable for open content use on the web?
  • Or should it, as Steven Downes suggests, be defined as “a resource that is used for learning” (emphasising the idea that an OER is a useless construct if it is not used by someone other than the producer)

I am off to a workshop on Creating and sharing digital content next week Thursday 16 July 2009 at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk. Hopefully I will have some answers.

Samuel Nikoi ( 9 July 2009)

The future is here to stay

The influential think tank Demos launched The Edgeless University, a new pamphlet exploring the impact of technological and social change on universities on 23 June 2009. ‘The Economist’ had earlier explored this from the learners’ perspective in an article on colleges without borders in December 2008.

These ideas come at an opportune moment, when despite the doom and gloom of the prevailing social and economic climate, the perceived wisdom – according to rankings and studies, at least – is that the HE sector currently is in rude health.

As institutions, universities contribute to the local communities around them, to the national economy and to the vibrant cultural and intellectual life of the UK. Nonetheless, the Demos report suggests that universities find themselves in a fragile state.

The huge public investment that most of the sector relies on is said to be insecure. As a result, universities are being asked to adapt and do more for less, from meeting the needs of a larger and more diverse student population to withstanding increased international competition.

According to the report, technology and innovation should be placed at the heart of this adaptation, but not in the sense of building a room full of computers. Rather, they need to be driving the narrative of institutional change.

The report cites numerous examples of technology making research and learning possible in new places, often outside of institutions. Far from undermining the institutions, this is creating exciting opportunities for universities to demonstrate and capitalise on their value.

Universities provide spaces for developing expertise, validating learning and they bring prestige to those affiliated to them. This is not going to change.

Instead they will have to start to open up continued learning and innovation to a wider population. Giving more people more ways to learn and research will be the only way to reconcile aspirations to maintain a world-class education system with high participation rates and moves towards equality of access as well as equivalence of experience.

Giving access to a large volume of content can give a high profile to the quality of the institution’s work. It can contribute to the wider academic and learning commons. Several HEIs are already committed to publish all research online, with free access. The vast resources of globally ranked universities will be available to anyone with an Internet connection.

In the competitive environment of a global HE market, Open Access repositories provide a platform through which a university can showcase its research. Open Access helps prospective students make a judgement about which university to choose, shares blue-skies research with the widest possible audience and supports outreach activity to open up HE to new communities.

But it does raise questions about how the knowledge is sorted, and how we filter such quantities of information. When it comes to knowledge how does one sort out the wheat from the chaff? This is where a university’s values can reassert themselves. As more content is available, guidance and expertise in sorting and assessing it become more valuable.

As more people seek flexible and informal learning, they will need the accreditation and support of established institutions. As researchers and learners try to acquire the skills of searching, analysing and sorting information, the expertise of academics will be invaluable. As learners look to assert the value of their learning, and researchers their work, affiliation to established institutions will signal valuable quality.

It is also essential to get the relationship between the institution and the technology correctly aligned. Technology can help universities move from where they are now to where they need to be.

This might, for instance, necessitate a commitment to open content and shared resources, and investment in the management and curatorship of vast amounts of data and knowledge.

It will also mean re-skilling current and future staff and upgrading access, alongside offering new kinds of courses, accreditation and affiliation that use informal learning and research networks and aligning them to the existing, formal system.

Updating policy to keep pace with technological change is also a key challenge. The report quotes an education policy analyst as suggesting that the current predicament of the HE sector is similar to that faced by the music industry at the turn of the century, where technology – and particularly those clustered around sharing – undermined the existing business models and forced them to change their ways.

Building upon the HE investment in technology driven by enterprising academics and advocates within institutions, the next stage of technological investment has to be far more considered. The sector currently lacks a coherent narrative of how institutions will look in the future, or of the role that technology will play in the transition to new learning and research cultures.

Taking advantage of these opportunities will take strategic leadership from inside institutions, new connections with a growing world of informal learning, and a commitment to openness and collaboration. Only by adapting can universities continue to meet the vital public policy aim of creating more access to HE.

Working within a university R&D unit entrusted with developing the learning innovation agenda, the challenge is to ensure that our research to practice approach with learning technologies will continue to bring innovation to the mainstream.

Jai Mukherjee / 25 June 2009

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