Understanding Educational practices in the open: examples of use and reuse

23 September 2015 - 11:35am • by Pete Cannell

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2007) notes that: "open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning".  Early definitions of open educational practices (OEP) focused more on the design of resources and the technology that enables use – more recently attention has shifted towards practice that enables use.  So for example the UK OER support and evaluation team considers that "a broader definition would encompass all activities that open up access to educational opportunity, in a context where freely available online content and services (whether 'open', 'educational' or not) are taken as the norm".


The focus of the OEPS project has been on widening participation and supporting transitions through the effective use of OER.  In this context and in line with the UK OER support team definition we have found it useful to extend the idea of OEP to the design of practice that supports learning in social settings and through established networks of support.

Using OER in social settings

OEPS has found that there are significant barriers to the use of OER in widening participation contexts:  

  • There are social, cultural and economic reasons why non-traditional learners are deterred from engaging with learning opportunities.  These apply irrespective of the form in which learning materials are made available.
  • It’s common for those who support learners and for learners themselves to think that online resources dictate an individualised and isolated approach to learning.
  • The sheer volume of resources is a deterrent.  Tentative learners often feel that looking at repositories like OpenLearn is going into a university world that is alien to them.
  • Even when possible materials have been located through the use of a site search function it is still necessary to evaluate whether the material is at an appropriate level.

These barriers can be overcome through:

  • Designing practice that recognises the personal and affective dimension of study and builds in opportunities to value prior experience, share ideas and take advantage of peer support.
  • Curating OER so that tentative learners and those who support them can find appropriate starting places and progression routes without having to necessarily engage directly with repositories.

Examples of enabling use through practice that is co-created with non-educational partners include:

  • The large-scale use of the Foundations of Self Directed Support in Scotland OER.Here use has been encouraged through proactive outreach to public and third sector organisations.Evaluation suggests that use has been particularly effective where workplace groups have been encouraged to provide mutual support.
  • Joint activity between the OEPS project and Scottish Union Learning to develop a community of ‘open learning champions’.The union learning representatives who are developing skills as champions act as trusted intermediaries in their workplaces helping workmates find appropriate OER in a context of well thought through collective activity and support.

Examples of curation include:

  • Open Pathways to Higher Education developed by the Open University in Scotland widening participation team to facilitate pathways from informal learning with OER through to formal and accredited learning.
  • Collections on OpenLearn – for example the Voluntary Sector Portal, which brings together a suite of related OERs.
Reusing and reversioning OER

While the open licenses associated with OER allow reuse and reversioning there are few examples currently available.  One notable example is the Caring Counts OER developed by the Open University in Scotland, which has its origins in an original OER course designed to support transitions into education and employment.  This resource has evolved over time through extensive use and reversioning in partnership between the university and other agencies into a range of resources appropriate for different contexts.  

Image source: Open - opensource.com CC BY-SA 2.0 downloaded from Flickr

Last modified: Wednesday, 19 Jul 2017, 14:59