Open educational practice beyond the institution?

The following is a continuation of prior ponderings about about open educational practice (OEP) and open educational resources (OER) in the context of a potential institutional grant application. It’s an attempt to make sense of some of the relevant literature I’ve read and figure out how that might influence the nascent project. In particular, it suggests that some of the OER/OEP literature is limited due to its focus on: OER; the individual; the institution; and, on searching as the means of discovery.

It leads to a nascent idea of a project to address these perceived limitations.  i.e. it’s a project that is not limited to one institution; it’s not focused on the individual actor, but on the connections between them; and, it’s aiming to explore if and with what impacts the OER/OEP can be embedded into existing networks.

Defining some terms – OER and OEP

The OECD (2007) defines OER as

digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research (p. 10)

The focus on open resources is perhaps most widely represented in the concern over the cost of textbooks for University students. A problem for which open textbooks are seen as the solution.

This is problematic and is explored more in the next section.

One reaction to these problems has been interest in Open Educational Practices (OEP). OPAL (2011, p. 12) define OEP

as practices which support the (re)use and production of OER through institutional policies, promote innovative pedagogical models, and respect and empower learners as co-producers on their lifelong learning path. OEP address the whole OER governance community: policy makers, managers/ administrators of organisations, educational professionals and learners.

The Capetown Open Education Declaration offers

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

Bossu, Brown and Bull (2014, p. 5) offer this observation on the relationship between OER and OEP

OER movement has evolved from being mainly focused on increasing access to digital educational resources, to being focused on supporting educational practices and promoting quality and innovation in teaching and learning through Open Educational Practices

Beetham et. al. (2012) suggest that OEP encompasses the following

  • Production, management, use and reuse of open educational resources;
  • Developing and applying open/public pedagogies in teaching practice;
  • Open learning and gaining access to open learning opportunities;
  • Practising open scholarship to encompass open access publication, open science and open research;
  • Open sharing of teaching ideas and know-how; and,
  • Using open technologies.

Limitations of the literature and practice

There’s a fairly large and growing literature around OER and more interestingly OEP. What follows are some initial observations drawn from dipping my toe into that literature.

The resource focus

While Bossu et al (2014) suggest that the OER movement has evolved to focus on OEPs it’s hard to kill off the textbook idea. Adam Croom analysed the abstracts from all the OpenEd conferences since 2012 looking for use of the words “OER” and “textbook”. Abstracts with “textbook” rose from under 10% to over 30% from 2012 through 2015.

The reasons behind this are likely to be many and complex. However, an obvious driver is the cost of textbooks. Even Kanye West is concerned about the cost of textbooks

This resource focus is also illustrated by the on-going fetish for providing repositories that will hold all of the open content (textbooks) and make it easy for people to find and re-use that content. Even Amazon is getting into the OER repository “business”.

Mike Caufield outlines two reasons why the repository approach “has been a disaster”

  1. “assumes that learning objects are immutable single things, and that the evolution of the object once it leaves the repository is not interesting to us”; and,
  2. “it centalizes resources, and therefore makes the existing ecosystem more fragile”.

He also offers this lesson

products need a marketplace but living things need an ecosystem. Amazon gives us yet another market.

Mike also describes what he sees as a solution in the idea of connected copies.

Bossu et al (2014) concluded that

OEP have potential to lead to more open pedagogical practices and innovative cultures. In other words, a narrow focus on OER per se may not be enough for educational institutions to fundamentally embrace and establish effective open pedagogical practices (p. 16)

It’s just not textbooks where the “product” (resource) focus is evident when it comes to open in education. MOOCs are perhaps the most visible “open” practice from Universities. The “course” (open or not) is yet another product for the institution to market.

The individual focus

A lot of the OER/OEP work has been focused on individuals. Why are they adopting OEP? What are the challenges they face?  It is work that identifies “a need for systematic staff development within institutions, which could address these very practical needs” (Stagg, 2014, p. 155) and other support mechanisms such as (Stagg, 2014, p. 161)

  • an understanding of how to search for, evaluate, and select openly-licenced content for a specific learning context;
  • a working knowledge of Creative Commons and Free Cultural Licences, as well as Public Domain, including knowledge of licence compatibility, and the inherent obligations that each type of licence carries;
  • a working knowledge of the local institutional policies and priorities;
  • the ability to integrate the newly-created OER into the curriculum; and
  • a supporting mechanism (such as a repository) to store the newly created OER, and allow for global discoverability

If OEP requires an ecosystem, then the ecosystem has to involve more than an individual. It’s more than just me using OER in my course(s). Sustainable and effective OEP would appear to require that there be multiple people involved. My OEP relies on the presence of others engaged in OEP.

A major challenge here is that University teaching and the systems that support it are not well known for supporting the sharing of teaching practice. For example, the limited visibility and sharing of resources between courses within the same program.

The institutional  focus

This is a problem that has become another focus within the OER/OEP literature. Some examples include

the absence of mediating artefacts or a supportive institutional environment can inhibit a practitioner’s ability to engage fulsomely with OEP (Stagg, 2014, p. 161)

As Smith and Wang (2007) point out, for an OER initiative to be sustainable in the long term it needs to create value for the host institution. (Bossu et al., 2014, p. 21)

Stagg (2014) uses the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) as inspiration to develop a continuum of OEP. The CMM and this work is based on the assumption that (Stagg, 2014)

An effective organisation seeks to understand repeatable conditions and processes which support projects, and then extend an understanding of the processes to optimise them within an organisational context. There is a realisation that a systematic, defined approach is required, especially when diffusing a new organisation-wide idea. The maturity of process is “the extent to which a specific process is explicitly defined, managed, measured, controlled and effective” (Paulk et al., 1993, p. 21).

A similar evidence-based model could be developed that would provide guidance to open practitioners in a systematic manner, repeatable across contexts (p. 156)

This is not to suggest that there isn’t value in institutions addressing the barriers that prevent adoption of OER/OEP. But the point is that the ecosystem in which OEP occurs involves more than the individual institutions. Beetham et al (2012) argue that the “greatest potential benefits are communal rather than tied to the competitive advantage of individuals or institutions”. The on-going neo-liberal/techno-rationalist trend in the management of universities brings with it a strong focus on institutional advantage, distinction, and efficiency. A focus/mindset that will find it difficult to recognise, let alone value and act for communal benefits. Arguably, this techno-rational mindset is the reason why MOOCs and the most prevalent university engagement in “open”. MOOCs are seen to support institutional distinction and advantage.

The techno-rational mindset is also not likely to deal well with the complexity inherent in an ecosystem. Beetham et al (2012) argue

One effect of openness is to uncouple people in time and space, making connection easier, but complex negotiation of needs, understandings and perceptions more difficult. This is true for learners and teachers, for institutions and (potential) students, for researchers and stakeholders in their research.

Searching and making connections

Masterman and Wild (2013) make a common point that

Searching for potentially suitable resources is arguably the most time-consuming aspect of OER use

Masterman and Wild (2013) identify that “the quantity of items returned by a search for OER remains problematic”. They describe Google searches returning “unmanageable quantity of hits”, but at the same time hiding resources that may reside in “OER collections which are concealed behind registration pages”. OER collections also suffer due to their much “smaller quantity and scope” that reduces the likelihood of successful searches. Mike Caufield has a related, but slightly different take on this problem. There just isn’t enough good quality stuff out there.


Hence the focus has been on institutions providing better repositories and on helping more people develop more OERs. But is that enough?

What about better connecting OERs into the existing ecosystems of learners and teachers?  If you are teaching (or learning about) X, then there is probably an ecosystem where you and others that teach (or learn about) X “live” (at least occasionally). Would it be easier to find OERs associated with X, if the OERs were connected into that ecosystem?

For example, If you’re a teacher educator in Queensland focused on the digital technologies subject in the new Australian Curriculum, then chances are that your “ecosystem” includes: the QSITE mailing list; the Australian Curriculum website; and, Scootle. If that ecosystem included links etc. to relevant OERs, then you’d probably be more likely to stumble across them and perhaps interact with them?

The Australian Curriculum website currently supports this type of connection by providing direct links to Scootle resources (where available) from content descriptions (e.g. ACTDIK001). This allows school teachers who are tasked with help students demonstrate understanding against this content description to quickly see relevant resources.

At least two interesting questions arise

  1. Has this integration of resources into the ecosystem of teachers helped address the search problem?
  2. Is it possible and beneficial to connect into this ecosystem OERs that are designed to help pre-service (and perhaps in-service) teachers learn about how to teach?

What might be interesting to do?

Let’s start with some assumptions and a question.

OER are living objects that reside within an open ecosystem. OEP is about living within an open ecosystem. The learning and teaching context within Universities tends not to embody these views. How might/can a group of initial teacher educators use these assumptions to engage in OEP?


At the moment, teacher educators from three separate Australian Universities have expressed interest. I believe all are involved in some way with the teaching of courses intended to help prepare pre-service teachers engage with the Technologies learning area.

This includes two “groups” of teacher educators who are from the same institution, who are teaching somewhat related courses, but that are in different programs with different focii. It also includes teacher educators teaching essentially the same course, but at fairly different institutions. Includes courses that have been run for a number of years, and at least one course that has to be designed and taught for the first time by the end of 2016.

The Technologies learning area includes the digital technologies subject. Due to this and their personal backgrounds, each of the teacher educators have some level familiarity with digital technologies. They are all (at least at some level) familiar with the “practitioner ecosystem” (i.e. QSITE, Australian Curriculum website, and Scootle) used by both pre-service and in-service teachers.

Project aim

Encourage the sustainable engagement with OEP amongst teacher educators by exploring and opening up existing practices of the group. Using an approach that rejects some of the standard assumptions around of OER/OEP. i.e. it’s not limited to within one institution; it’s not focused on the individual actor, but the connections between them; and, it’s aiming to explore if and with what impacts the OER/OEP can be embedded into existing networks.

Project activities

An initial set of activities might include:

  1. Map and analyse
    1. Personal beliefs and capabilities to engage in OEP.
    2. institutional beliefs and capabilities to engage in OEP.
    3. the ecosystem in which each operates.
  2. Identify and implement barriers and opportunities to open up individual ecosystems
    What exactly gets done depends on the findings of step 1, but possible examples include:

    1. Sharing existing content via github or similar;
    2. Broaden single course social bookmarking across institutions; and
    3. Exploring how to embed OER/OEP into existing teacher ecosystem..
  3. Analyse, evaluate, and reflect on the experience.



Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open Practices: a briefing paper. Retrieved from Practices briefing paper.pdf

Bossu, C., Brown, M., & Bull, D. (2014). Adoption, use and management of open educational resources to enhance teaching and learning in Australia. Office of Learning and Teaching. Sydney, Australia.

Masterman, L., & Wild, J. (2013). Reflections on the evolving landscape of OER use. In OER 13: Creating a Virtuous Circle (pp. 1–8). Retrieved from

OECD. (2007). Giving Knowledge for Free. doi:10.1787/9789264032125-en

OPAL. (2011). Beyond OER: Shifting Focus to Open Educational Practices. Open Education Quality Initiative. Retrieved from

Stagg, A. (2014). OER adoption: a continuum for practice. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11(3), 151 – 164. doi:10.7238/rusc.v11i3.2102

6 thoughts on “Open educational practice beyond the institution?

  1. Pingback: Open educational practice beyond the institutio...

  2. Pingback: OEP and Initial Teacher Education: Moving on from the horsey, horseless carriage – The Weblog of (a) David Jones

  3. Hi David,

    Enjoyed reading this post very much, All my work is in the area of open educational practice in an academic development context and I am doing a PhD currently in open cross-institutional collaboration in these settings exploring the learner experience of collaborative learning. Would love to connect with you and colleagues.

    Chrissi @chrissinerantzi

    1. G’day Chrissi,

      Welcome, well you’ve connected with me. Happy to talk, learn and connect. Whatever works.

      In fact, I note from your blog that you may well have recently been much closer to one of my colleagues during your time in Krakow. I’m assuming that was linked with Open Education Global conference which Janice was attending.

      I wonder if your comment arriving today is a sign? This post turned into a grant idea and apparently today is the day we find out if it was successful. That outcome is likely to hugely influence what and how we proceed from here.

      Will follow up a bit more after we receive that news.


    2. Hi David, thank you for your reply and the info included. I met your colleague during my presentation which was lovely. I have been working on open ed practices in a cross-institutional context for some years now and would love to discuss opportunities to collaborate if this is something you would consider. Looking forward to your news regarding your project. Chrissi

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