The devil is in the detail

Posted on July 7, 2012


The curious thing for me about the TOUCANS research findings has been that, while a great many objections have been raised in relation to the OERu concept, respondents (in both the interviews and the survey) have been overwhelmingly positive in their responses to the broad questions asking them for their overall views on the topic. It seems that the old cliche is true: the devil is in the detail.

In this post, I present all the statements made by respondents from UK HEIs to the last two (optional) survey questions, ‘ What are your views on the OERu concept in the context of Higher Education in the UK?’ and ‘Do you have any further comments?’ While the statements are direct quotes from the survey, I have organised them under headings of my own, reflecting my (likely subjective) interpretation of the data. For the sake of consistency, I use the same overall headings for ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ responses that I have used in previous presentations: ‘It would be wrong to ignore the OERu’ and ‘Fervent OERu supporters should soak themselves in a bath of realism’ respectively.

“It would be wrong to ignore the OERu.”

1. Potentially massive and radical impact

‘I think it is an interesting concept which has great potential to revolutionise HE provision. I suspect that the concept will threaten existing business models for the provision of education and this will lead to significant change if the enterprise is successful.’

‘I think it’s an interesting idea, challenging existing national HE structures and pushing the established system boundaries outwards rather than keeping to the current norm of “We’ve always done it this way aka tradition”.’

‘Alleviate pressure on post-18 education’

2. Offering choice and flexibility to learners

‘Learners should have a choice of how to study and this offers the flexibility for all. I don’t think it will replace the core group of traditional learners who value face-to-face contact.’

‘Very good idea to offer cheaper access to HE, and one that my institution should be involved in.’

‘It is an interesting initiative and provides needed support for students wishing to go beyond recreational and informal learning within their open studies. To receive accreditation from a recognised institution is important to students from non-conventional backgrounds who may be trying to move into new workplaces/roles and will need to convince employers that open qualifications can count.’

‘Could be a stimulus for creative thinking about new paradigms of teaching and learning.’

3. It’s a good idea, despite the barriers.

‘Strongly in favour BUT needs to be economical & not at expense of resources for on-campus students.’

‘It’s a great idea. A great barrier to OER use is the lack of them as part of the daily discourse at institutions.’

‘I wholly applaud the OER initiative and Universities initiatives in engaging with them. However, OERs need to be designed for adoption & adaption by users for their own learning purposes rather than being of the course-push model indicative of OCW. Institutions are far too concerned with their own status and controlling education. They are not interested in social justice or broader social concerns. British Universities have little history of community engagement despite the very limited recent Beacon NCCPE. If OERs & OERu, however limited, change that then it will be a good thing and very welcome.’

‘I am very supportive of open models to support continuing education. The drive for increasingly educated globalised workforce will be difficult to scale within the existing models. A granular, lightweight, transferable open model is very attractive. As HEIs remain the source of much of this content, new models need to find ways to engage and reward their participation, whether active or not, to ensure the continued contributions from what is largely philanthropic providers.’

‘I think the potential should certainly be explored. If we can provide cost-effective education and remove barriers for people who would otherwise not undertake formal higher education then this can only be a positive thing. My concerns lie in the effective design, quality control and validation of awards. The challenge is in how we encourage deeper learning whilst providing the granular flexibility of the open delivery.’

‘In our context in the UK, the OERu could help to alleviate the pressure on post-18 education for more courses and places…  The OERu would remap the provision, while at the same time it would provoke closure of some departments and educators losing their jobs. Embracing new practice is a very jolly concept, but for many people it means working much harder for the same money. If competition for jobs increases as a result of all this, it means also worse pay and employment conditions. So, I love the idea of OERu, but it only can happen at big scale as the result of a complex dialectic process in which many people hold either a cynical or self-protective view or some form of cataclysm/revolution…’

4. Now is the time to experiment

‘There is scope to investigate this and make sensible suggestions in order to implement OER in the current economic climate. Whether these are taken further is up to those short-sighted managers who only ever think of the bottom-line numbers associated with courses & student numbers. If we can get away from this and implement OERs alongside ‘traditional’ learning courses (fee-based) then the first-to-market will be the leader.’

‘I think the OERu’s time has come. Europe and the UK specifically really need to get moving on it, while the foundations of HE are shaking.’

‘It’s surprising that there has been such a delay with UK institutions getting on board with the OERu initiative. I definitely think this barrier needs to be teased out in your research findings.’

5. A good way forward for the OER movement

‘My personal view is that OERu should play a key strategic role in the development of open educational resources and practices in UK HE.’

“Fervent OERu supporters need to soak themselves in a bath of realism.”

1 Content (OERs) too central

‘I don’t know the initiative in much detail, but from what I understand I do not support the idea of ‘devaluing’ what it means to get a qualification by essentially introducing a model of resource-based learning. Learning happens in communities, and I only see value in OERs insofar as they undermine the notion that there is much value in learning resources.’

2 Lack of institutional OEP policies & strategies

‘It will be difficult to get management buy-in.’

‘Open Educational Practices are not embedded in institutions.’

3 Philanthropic mission questioned

‘The approach is patronising and represents a traditional view of education focussing on the power of institutional accreditation… I think that content needs to be co-created and that learning needs to be context-responsive.’

‘While opportunities to gain credit or have study recognised other than by direct taught provision is very worthwhile it is not an easy or necessarily cheap (in money and time) option to offer at scale. It favours students/learner with high motivation and existing study capabilities which usually represent a minority in socio-economic groups that are the usual target of widening participation schemes. Without focussed funding support OER and OERu-style developments will favour those already advantaged through money and or capabilities.’

4 True cost

As far as I can see the big issue is who will pay for good quality resources. It has taken big grants and lots of my time for me to produce my OERs. But I now find that major users are students at private US universities. There is no reciprocation. I do it because I think it enhances the reputation of my university.

5 Lack of structured support for students

‘It’s a “last-century” model of learning.’

‘It will help students who could pass anyway, but students who most need help won’t find it useful – what they need isn’t material, but support. I simply don’t believe that sufficient volumes of quality support can be provided without paying people.’

6 Quality concerns

‘I am not convinced at all. Becoming a single accreditation body (open or not) is one thing. The maze or jungle of multi-lateral collaborations with diverse institutions to reach agreements and maintain quality across programmes is another. Student support and viable assessment methods that carry credibility are huge challenges. And please, stop the nonsense about “volunteers” – that’s not the way forward I’m afraid.’

‘In an HE world where institution brand is important, there is a need to argue about quality of OERu content.’

‘Good but I think Russell Group universities while willing to create OER are unlikely to accredit on them unless they are native to that institution.’

7 Concerns about assessment

‘Has potential merit, long way off being successfully deliverable, in my view. You haven’t asked us much about the assessment process – this is key to OERu succeeding. How will the assessment map to comparative provision, how will it cope with measuring knowledge OUTCOMES as opposed to the PROCESS of learning (higher order skills).’


As always, comments on the above are warmly welcomed.

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Posted in: TOUCANS survey