OER Handbook/Background

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License content section currently on separate page, will migrate as the project advances. --Sgurell 21:23, 5 February 2008 (CET)

Quality assurance mechanisms in peer collaboration in peer-production models

marketing management

General notes on project implementation  ==

While OER is a relatively new area, with specific implementation challenges, the general best practices of project planning and implementation apply just as much. If anything, because OER is a new field, there is a stronger need to carefully track and assess progress to record successes and identify challenges.

Whether the OER project your are about to undertake is a small, simple project or large and institution-wide, there are a few basic steps you can take in project planning. Following these project guidelines will help the project move forward without difficulty.

Project planning document

It is common practice to sum up the main ideas and objectives for a project in a planning document, that serves as a planning tool and also a touchstone to make sure the project remains on course. OER projects usually try to cover the following points in such a document:

  • Define the purpose and main objectives of the project, and describe the reasons why it should be undertaken.
  • Define the target groups and beneficiaries and how the project will have a positive impact on them.
  • Describe how the project aligns strategically with university policy (why this project is taking on at this time and how it fits within existing structure and processes) .
  • List and describe your key stakeholders and partners and how you envision collaborating with them.
  • Describe the technology requirements, not only in terms of hardware and software, but also ongoing support services and training.
  • Provide an overview of your staffing needs.
  • Sketch out an estimated time frame during which you want to achieve certain goals. OER projects do not necessarily end at some point (some institutions, such as universities, produce new courses and content, and the project could continue to publish these). However it is important to create some milestones to determine if the project is achieving its goals, and to decide if it should be continued or not.
  • Draw up a project budget and identify sources for funding.

Most of these points depend on what you want to achieve with your project. Are you mainly interested in publishing an individual course, or are you encouraging students and lecturers to use existing OER in their learning and teaching? We return to the details of all of these sections in the remainder of this document.

Making the case

Publishing materials under free and open content licenses extends academia's age-old tradition of making knowledge available. However, in a time where commoditisation of knowledge is preached and demanded of educational institutions in an effort to reduce cost, there can be significant resistance among researchers, lecturers and administration. Familiarising oneself with the benefits that existing projects are experiencing (see section above) and preparing well for “making the case” are important steps on setting-up a project within your institution.

“[You need to] be well prepared when you make the case for publishing course materials under free and open licenses. Lecturers have a great deal of scepticism and are concerned about giving up control - make sure you understand their concerns and address them, and hand out a "cheat sheet" with the main points after your conversation.” Philipp Schmidt, Free Courseware Project UWC case-study (2007)

Ongoing marketing of the value of the initiative to academic staff and senior management might be required.

Initially this meant explaining why the university was 'giving away' its content. We've used internal printed publications, the intranet, the university screensaver, events, webcasts, a monthly newsletter, staff development training sessions, a mailing with staff payslips and regular meetings to get the messages out to staff. Laura Dewis, Open Learn case-study (2007)

Monitoring and evaluation / Measuring success

Del.icio.us tags: oer-toolkit evaluation

Just like any other project, an OER project should have a clearly defined vision and mission, which describe the positive impact that is expected, and how it can be achieved. The vision and mission provide the starting point and foundation for your monitory and evaluation activities. In addition, a project needs to decide on a M&E framework (for example outcome mapping, or theory of change) design indicators, and a methodology to collect data and track progress.

“On several places [of the website], we have added short surveys. One general survey is about the background of the users. Each course also has added two different surveys, one type aiming at users who do not want to study the course (e.g. after reading the introduction) and one type aiming at users who do study the course. Goal is to find out more about the motives users have to come to the go-no go decision.” Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study

At a minimum OER projects aim to measure web traffic using one of the web server log-file analysers. Google Analytics is a user-friendly and web-based example (http://www.google.com/analytics/) that is used by a number of OER projects.

If you have resources to conduct surveys or interviews with some of your users, it will help you better understand the value that your project provides, and how it can be increased. Some content management systems, such as Moodle, let you easily add surveys, which your users can choose to fill out.

The open courseware consortium has a working group that is currently developing a comprehensive evaluation framework for the consortium as a whole. Elements of the evaluation framework can be adapted by individual institutions to their specific needs. Some of the evaluation metrics listed are (http://ocwcforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=93):

  • Webmetrics: Webmetrics are the measures collected regarding how and who is accessing the OCW websites that are a part of the Consortium. Example data collected from the logs from these sites include: traffic volumes, visitor geographic origin, visit characteristics, visitor profiles (if log-in required) referral sources
  • End-User Surveys: These surveys are designed so that the end-user (‘traditional-aged’ students, faculty members, instructors and informal users as learners) of the materials can provide self reports regarding their use of the materials, perceived impact of use, value and quality of materials, level of adoption of materials and so forth.
  • End-User Personal Accounts (email, profiles, interviews): Feedback from users often comes in the form of email questions, concerns, stories of success, etc. These emails are useful forms of collecting information regarding problems and pitfalls as wells as success stories.

A good example for an open courseware evaluation is the annual report published by the MIT Open Courseware project. It uses webmetrics, end-user-surveys, personal accounts (including detailed interviews with different types of users). The indicators used by MIT and parts of the methodology can be adapted to smaller or different projects. http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/about/stats/index.htm

Additional resources that support design of an M&E framework are provided by the OpenLearn project at the Open University UK. The project sets out different ways (and rationales) for gathering data from its three key user groups: Guest users; registered users; and enthusiastic users (McAndrew 2006).

Requirements, constraints and enablers

A number of strategies will be useful for any OER project, regardless if it publishes materials, or uses other organisations' materials. Some general enablers for successful projects are listed in this section.

Buy-in from senior management at your institution

Get institutional buy-in at senior management level. At the University of the Western Cape, we have an official free content, free and open courseware policy, which provides the political backing for the project. In addition, the Rector is strongly in support of increasing UWC's role in the knowledge society. Spend time speaking to the administration at the senior level to make sure they understand the aims of the project, and can provide some support when the project needs it.

“Having a board member [of the University] as project father helps in cases of conflict. Because this experiment was set up as a project, I, being the project leader, had no power to force people to perform activities for the project. In fact, I am dependant on the willingness of people to join. In some cases this was not enough. The project father can pull some strings then to make things happen.” Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

It is important to gather some level of initial support before launching the strategic planning and design of a project. This may include identifying champions in the senior management structure; establishing a policy that sets out the institutions position with respect to licensing of content; or simply raising awareness of the potential that the project offers to the management and leadership of the university. It is also important to keep in mind the existing management structures and policies, so that a project can be positioned to support these. At the same time, potential obstacles need to be understood so that they can be addressed appropriately. Finally, it makes sense to establish first linkages with existing projects and departments, who could collaborate with or support the project. This may include digital media design and production facilities, individuals who have experience with ODL from previous positions, or the library, which often holds considerable expertise related to licensing of content and the legal requirements.

Embed use and publication of open content and materials in university policies

Most universities have mission statements or other documents that describe their main goals and objectives. It is useful to investigate how an OER project would fit into such an institutional mission, to participate in development of university policy with respect to OER, and to communicate the results clearly within the university context.

Link to national or provincial policy goals

Many countries and provinces are recognising the opportunities that ICT and ODL offer to socio-economic development and are anchoring their support in policy and strategy documents. Relating your project to this policy environment can give it further credibility and communicate what broad goals you are contributing to.

“This past year saw the first comprehensive look at higher education in British Columbia in 45 years. The resulting report called Campus 2020 http://www.campus2020.ca/EN/the_report/ presents 52 recommendations for strengthening BC's public post secondary education sector. A number of these call for effective use of educational technology.” Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

“When the project succeeds in reaching her target, it contributes in fulfilling the Lisbon Agreement of 2000: in 2010 at least 50% of the working population of the Netherlands between 15 and 45 years old will have at least a higher education level.” Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

In addition, existing policies (both at institutional and higher levels) can run counter to your efforts. It is important to publish these contradictions and work towards resolving them if possible.

“However, it remains a challenge to have on the one hand an OER development program that promotes collaboration and open sharing while on the other hand you have an enrollment and delivery system that is based on competition.” Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

Connect with other initiatives at your institution

The OER community is burgeoning with new members. Just like you, these members are excited at the possibility of sharing with other communities. Because developing OER can be time-consuming, finding someone to collaborate with can be very helpful. This is especially true for small project with limited resources it is important to collaborate with other projects within the university and build on work that is already being done.

If an e-learning group exists, a lot of their activities can be leveraged (for example, by asking lecturers who are actively using e-learning to open access to their materials). The e-learning team can spread awareness and can identify "champions" to focus on. If there is a legal department that has expertise in copyright law, try to get them on board for advice. There are a number of complex legal issues related to the use and publishing of free and open content in universities - for which legal input is crucial.

In many universities the library plays an important role governing the institutions intellectual property, and its staff has considerable expertise in dealing with copyright legislation and regulation to ensure that the university resources are published and promoted in a way that supports the institution's mission. In addition, many libraries are driving open access project that deal with very similar issues as open educational resources projects – both in terms of getting support from management and academics, and the legal issues concerned. A good collaborative relationship with the library can be a great support for a small OER project.

Collaborate with others outside of your institution

Tap into the existing international communities of practice to share your experience, and get advice and support from others. If you are interested in publishing course materials, consider joining the Open Courseware Consortium (http://www.ocwconsortium.org). Alternatively there are a number of informal networks for the OER community, usually centered around content repositories.

Notably, UNESCO's IIEP discussion forum, has been an important driver for discussion, sharing of expertise, collaborative development of research priorities and has grown into a truly international community of practitioners. To subscribe to the mailing list, send email to virtual.university@iiep.unesco.org.

There are a number of events and conferences that bring together many projects, researchers and initiatives in the OER world. They provide good opportunities to find out what others are doing and share experiences. Presentations are often archived online (sometimes including audio or video recordings) and made available after the conference. [Del.icio.us tag: oer-toolkit events] Two examples are:


For small projects, such as a class YouTube project, do not require very much in the way of funding. However, larger projects such as an OCW will require a server, computer and potentially several part-time employees to manage content. Because each institution is unique, costs for developing OER content will vary. A general rule is that any OER larger than a single course is going to cost over $10,000 to develop. This is not suggest that in order for an OER to be successful, it must have substantial funding. Some of the best OER content has been generated on slight or no budget.

Examples of low-budget OER:

The Open University NL OER project received grants from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

The majority of funding for the well-known OER projects so far has come from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. There are a number of other donors that have supported OER projects and research, but usually on a far smaller scale, including UNESCO, IDRC, Open Society Institute OSI, and The Shuttleworth Foundation.

Universities that are funding their OER activities from internal budgets are an exception, but in some cases, especially in developing countries, this might be the only option for support.

[In terms of funding], the project has been incubated by the Information and Communication Services group within UWC. We have also had some generous support from the German Government's Center for International Migration and Development (http://www.cimonline.de), who co-fund the project manager's position. From this foundation we have started moving towards project funding for research projects (more on this below) which allow us to explore new and exciting ideas. Philipp Schmidt, UWC Free Courseware Project case-study (2007)

Some projects are driven by civil society and volunteer based, including the OOPS translation initiative and the initial efforts that eventually grew into the South African High School Science Text Books project. Finally, there seems to be growing awareness among the public sector in some countries that supporting OER projects makes sense for goals aimed at socio-economic development and to simply save money.

Another unique aspect of the BCcampus initiative is that it is funded using public tax payer money provided through the Ministry of Advanced Education. Investment is made annually via a competitive Request For Proposal (RFP) process and on June 11, 2007 a fifth round of funding was announced bringing the total investment so far to $6.25 million dollars (CDN). Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)