The OER Adoption Pyramid

OER-adoption-pyramid-poster
At the recent Open Education Global Conference 2016 in Krakow, Poland, Henry Trotter and Glenda Cox shared a new analytical framework for assessing OER adoption activities (and potential) in institutional contexts. Emerging from their research in Sub-project 4 of the ROER4D project, they present the OER Adoption Pyramid. In this post, Henry discusses the background, purpose and utility of the Pyramid and shows how the analytical insights it produces can be used to generate graphical representations of the “OER readiness” of OER agents in an institution.

In 2015, we conducted research on OER adoption practices (adoption = OER use and/or creation) at three South African universities, trying to understand why lecturers did, or did not, adopt OER. We were interested in issues of motivation and perceptions of quality around OER, assuming that these factors would be decisive as to OER adoption for many lecturers.

While we understood that numerous factors would shape lecturers’ choices around OER, we did not yet understand the extent to which some factors were “essential” to OER activity, while others were merely “influential”. During our engaement with our research subjects, it became clear that there were a number of factors that were necessary for OER adoption to occur in an institutional setting, and that these often had a decisive impact on whether the issue of motivation was even relevant for lecturers. We realised that we needed a sharper analytical framework than those which only dealt with OER “obstacles” or “contradictions”, as they often failed to give a sense of priority or hierarchy to these factors.

To clarify which factors were required for any type of OER activity, we developed the OER Adoption Pyramid which consolidates the essential factors into six hierarchically related categories: access, permission, awareness, capacity, availability and volition. (Under these terms we can place numerous other sub-factors which emerge in the OER literature, such as quality, relevance, localisation, licensing, self-confidence, etc.)

Going from bottom to top, these categories move from factors that are largely externally defined (i.e. infrastructure access) to factors that are more personally determined (i.e. individual volition). The pyramid reveals that, ultimately, only lecturers or institutions that possess all six of these attributes at the same time (even if in some modified or attenuated fashion) can engage in OER activity. If even one of these elements is missing, they cannot participate in OER activity.

Before we look at the Pyramid in more detail, we must first note that, in most higher educational contexts, there are two potential agents of OER activity: lecturers and the institution. While lecturers who develop their own teaching materials are almost always potential users of OER, they can only be considered potential OER creators if they hold copyright over their teaching materials. In many instances, they do not. That copyright is held by their employers, the institution. When this is the case, the institution is the potential OER creator because only it has the right to license and share the educational materials openly. While the lecturers may have literally “created” the teaching materials that are used for instruction, if the copyright over them belongs to the institution, then it is the agent responsible for deciding whether the materials will be made open or not (or whether it will give formal permission for a lecturer to do so).

The OER Adoption Pyramid
OER-Adoption-Pyramid

Access: The 1st factor refers to the need for agents to have access to the appropriate physical hardware and infrastructure – such as electricity, internet connectivity and computer devices – for engaging with digitally mediated OER. This may sound obvious, but in the Global South, this remains a pressing issue at many institutions.

Permission: The 2nd factor refers to an agent’s legal right to use or create OER. For users, the OER licence determines permission parameters. For creators, institutional IP policies usually determine whether educators or institutions hold copyright over teaching materials produced at the institution. Only copyright holders can be OER creators.

Awareness: The 3rd factor refers to the fact that a potential OER adopter must have been exposed to the concept of OER and grasped how it differs from other types of (usually copyright-restricted) educational materials. Educators may inadvertently use OER, of course, but this does not comprise OER adoption per se, which requires a level of OER awareness.

Capacity: The 4th factor refers to the technical and semantic skills necessary for adopting OER. This capacity can be held by the educator or found through institutional support. It implies an educator or institution enjoys the technical fluency to search for, identify, use, and/or create (license and upload) OER, or has access to people with those skills.

Availability: The 5th factor refers to the availability of OER for an agent to use or contribute. For users, this is determined by an OER’s relevance (content, scope, tone, level, language, format), utility for a specific anticipated use, and quality as judged by the user. For creators, it is determined by whether they feel their educational materials are relevant and of the requisite quality (based on one’s pedagogical self-confidence) for sharing openly.

Volition: The 6th factor refers to an agent’s motivation to adopt OER. If the agent (lecturer or institution) enjoys the access, permission, awareness, capacity and availability necessary to adopt OER, then volition becomes the key factor in whether they will do so. This outcome is shaped by the agent’s pedagogical values, social context (e.g. departmental or disciplinary norms) and institutional culture.

The value of the OER Adoption Pyramid is that it enables comparison of the factors involved in OER adoption at an institutional site, whether the agent of analysis is a lecturer or the institution. It prompts a series of questions (see A4 flyer) which can help assess the OER readiness of an institution. It also focuses just on the factors that are absolutely necessary for adoption to occur, leaving aside the myriad of others that would merely be “helpful” or “useful” to have – meaning that it can form the base of an institutional analysis and be comparable across multiple institutions. From the analysis that results, one may then generate OER Readiness Tables (below), that reveal the data in a way that is useful for sharing with stakeholders who want to enhance OER adoption at an institution.

OER Readiness Tables

We used the Pyramid framework to assess the OER readiness at the three South African university sites. As the following table shows, they are quite different institutions in their type of student access, size, locale, approach, institutional culture and copyright regime.

Table 1. Profiles of the South African universities where we conducted OER adoption research

University profiles #1 #2 #3
Student access Residential Residential Distance
Student numbers 26 000 13 000 400 000
Location Urban Rural Dispersed
Approach Traditional Traditional Comprehensive
Institutional culture type Collegial Bureaucratic Managerial
Copyright holder over teaching materials Lecturer University University

Presented here anonymously, the assessments produced the following tables which highlight which factors stand as obstacles to OER readiness at each institution, depending on who is the agent of analysis (lecturer or institution) and which element of adoption we are focusing on (use or creation).

Table 2. Level of OER readiness per factor – if lecturers are the agents of potential OER use

OER adoption factor #1 #2 #3
Volition
Availability
Capacity
Awareness
Permission
Access
Key: Level of OER readiness very low low medium high very high

Table 3. Level of OER readiness per factor – if lecturers are the agent of OER creation

OER adoption factor #1 #2 #3
Volition
Availability
Capacity
Awareness
Permission
Access

Table 4. Level of OER readiness per factor – if the institution is the agent of OER creation

OER adoption factor #1 #2 #3
Volition
Availability
Capacity
Awareness
Permission
Access

Based on the data gathered at these universities, we allocated them a colour-coded readiness value to each of the factors: very low, low, medium, high and very high.

They show that university #1 is “OER ready” if academics are potential users or creators, but not if the institution is.

University #2 is marginally OER ready if academics are users, but not if they are creators, and not if the institutions are for either.

And university #3 is moderately OER ready if academics are users, not ready if academics are creators, but quite ready if the institution is the creator.

Thus, as can be seen here (and in the downloadable flyer or poster), the Pyramid graphically represents the analytical framework that one may use for assessing OER adoption in an institutional context. It also shows the OER readiness tables that may be generated from that analysis, highlighting areas of opportunity and concern for any future OER engagement at an institution. Taken together, these represent a new and hopefully useful approach to understanding both current and potential OER adoption activities at higher education institutions.

While we have found this framework valuable for our own work in SP4 research, we hope that other OER researchers will test it for themselves and let us know what worked and what needs refinement.

You are welcome to download the A1 poster that we presented at the OE Global 2016 Conference or the printable A4 flyer with the same information. We welcome any feedback; please get in touch!

Citation:
Trotter, Henry & Cox, Glenda (2016). The OER Adoption Pyramid. In Proceedings of Open Education Global 2016. 12-14 April 2016: Krakow, Poland. Retrieved from http://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/18936

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