OEP and OER – perspectives from ROER4D at OE Global

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The ROER4D Network at OE Global 2017.

This post is a (belated) reflection and review of the Open Education Global Conference, held in Cape Town on 8–10 March 2017, and is based on ongoing reflections. I’ve been inspired by the many blogs, tweets and other interactions since the conference, which has helped me to clarify some of my own thinking about the key themes and learning that happened during the conference. My particular perspective is as the ROER4D Communications Advisor and ROER4D Sub-project 10.3 Researcher. For anyone wanting a visual reminder of ROER4D’s presence at OE Global, I created a storify of the experience which captured tweets that together provide a visual narrative.

The focus on this blog post is to reflect on the ROER4D project’s attendance at OE Global, and in particular how the network of projects together are beginning to tell the story of OER and Open Educational Practices (OEP) across Global South contexts.

Telling the ROER4D story

The ROER4D project is in the last year of its reporting phase. The project comprises some 18 sub-projects researching various aspects of OER adoption and impact in the Global South. Researchers are spread over three regions – South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia – and representatives from all the sub-projects attended the conference as an opportunity to share initial findings and reflections on the adoption and implementation of OER in various contexts. In addition to the sub-projects, members of the ROER4D Network Hub team attended and presented on aspects of the research process. Links to presentations are available via the OE Consortium website as well as via each sub-project’s page on the ROER4D website.

Taking stock of the emerging body of ROER4D research underpinned the purpose of PI Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams’ presentation: The adoption and impact of OEP and OER in the Global South: Theoretical, conceptual & methodological framework for the ROER4D project meta-synthesis, which explained how she, – supported by a central team of researchers including Tess Cartmill and Henry Trotter, were embarking on an ambitious process to undertake a meta-synthesis of the ROER4D research. Her presentation (view recording on periscope) illustrated an approach that started with identifying the particular educational challenge in various contexts, and then, drawing on Margaret Archer’s “social realism” work, looked at structural, cultural and agential factors to delineate the particular elements that constrain and enable engagement with OER and OEP. Cheryl explained that this conceptual framework provides a framework to code the findings of the sub-projects in order for her to attempt a meta-synthesis of the findings and move towards ascertaining the impacts of engagement with OEP and OER adoption. This work is in its early stages, but explaining the process and garnering feedback helped communicate ROER4D’s approach to a wider audience of stakeholders.

Contributing to the theme of Open Educational Practices

One of the major themes and talking points of the conference was OEP. The ROER4D Deputy PI Patricia Arinto focussed on OEP as part of her keynote presentation: OER and OEP towards Equitable and Quality Education for all. Drawing on a number of sources for describing OEP and suggesting that engagement with OEP could be seen as “Phase 2” of the OER movement, she also drew on findings that indicated how educators and teachers’ OEP could be supported.

A number of other ROER4D projects also presented on aspects of OEP including:

Open practices continued to be the subject of many other presentations and discussions, with major themes being how to define OEP, what the relationship between OER and OEP is, and how Open Pedagogy relates to OEP. Catherine Cronin’s presentation and excellent blog post gives an overview of OEP and Open Pedagogy discussions, while Robert Schuwer’s post, which catalogued the themes of the presentations, showed how dominant the OER/OEP theme was across the presentations. In her presentation, Anna Page offered a definition of OEP that embraced social justice while John Hilton III shared some concrete examples of how teachers might implement Open Pedagogy.

The Global Graduate OER Network (GO-GN) comprises PhD students who are undertaking research in various aspects of Open Education, and many of these researchers presented at the conference, with members Chrissi Nerantzi and Viviane Vladimirschi blogging about their experiences. The OE Consortium’s #YearofOpen April focus is on Open Pedagogy, and these discussions continue.

Where next for Open Education?

Another major talking point from the conference was the status of the Open Education movement and what impact it was making globally as well as in local contexts. This is my third consecutive OE Global conference, and of course at every event delegates naturally ruminate on where the open movement is and where it is going. However this year’s conference was particular poignant as it was the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Open Declaration. The final conference panel comprising Phillip Schmidt, Delia Browne, Sanjaya Mishra, Richard Baraniuk and Alek Tarkowski led a lively discussion about some of the challenges facing Open Education as well as acknowledging how far it had come. This discussion resonated with calls made earlier in the conference by Mark Horner from Siyavula, who in his keynote talked about the need to market OER, a sentiment reinforced in the final panel.

I thought this was an important call to action in terms of engaging with others beyond those who self-identify with the OER and Open movements. Mark’s company Siyavula offers services that traditional publishers also offer, but Siyavula’s model is based on OER, and I imagine that traditional publishers often see OER-based content and textbooks as a direct threat to their business while potential customers also need to be ‘sold’ on the idea of OER. How to manage and handle these kinds of external interactions and challenges was less prevalent in the conference than other discussions, but it is something that continues to concern me, especially in my role as the ROER4D Communications Advisor. I know that individuals in institutions do engage with academics and others not familiar with OER or the notion of the commons; an action lab I attended led by Michael Paskevicius spoke about educational developers as change agents and how to engage with faculty around OER, while David Wiley has written about meeting faculty where they are in terms of their understanding and initial appetite for openness. My own poster presentation shared some strategies we have adopted in the ROER4D project to engage with stakeholders about ROER4D’s research.

Yet, as the ROER4D research indicates, OER is relatively unknown as a term and Creative Commons licences are ill understood, hence the number of presentations around the need for capacity building and capacity development of individuals. The role of OER policy and the need to understand institutional cultures for understanding OER adoption and promotion of Open Education initiatives is a crucial part of this discourse (see the presentation by Glenda Cox and Henry Trotter). I’m not sure that there are any easy ways forward, except to acknowledge that many in the Open community are talking critically about these concerns, while good practices are emerging in local contexts. Increasingly, critical voices with regard to the value of open in particular contexts are also being heard, and for me open is not a “bound” community but can be appropriated by others if the values and approaches align. This does, however, run the risk of ‘open-washing’ where entities and businesses inimical to openness appropriate the term and use it in ways that seem antithetical or risk losing relevance to openness. These tensions occasionally become apparent amongst those in the Open community when discussing, for example, definitions of what constitutes an open practice, or whether to consider MOOCs as part of Open Education or not. These discussions are likely to intensify as more communities and groups coalesce around ideas of openness and interrogate its usefulness for a particular context or need.

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