Geoff Walton has done some sterling work interviewing a selection of stakeholders employed by Staffordshire University.Â The aim of this study was to answer the question: ‘What thoughts and feelings (both positive and negative) do respondents have towards Open Educational Resources’.Â Geoff has hours of recorded conversations and has summarised some key points in his report.
OpenStaffs focus group study
This study was commissioned by the OpenStaffs JISC funded project.Â Interviews took place between 2nd March 2010 and 23rd March 2010.Â Participants in the focus group were selected from range of stakeholders employed at Staffordshire University.Â The stakeholders were drawn from academic staff, e-learning facilitators, academic librarians and also included the Information Protection Manager.Â A total of seven respondents took part.
The aim of this study was to answer the question: What thoughts and feelings (both positive and negative) do respondents have towards Open Educational Resources.Â This study used a qualitative approach and followed recommendations for the conduct of focus groups as put forward by Bryman (2003).Â All interviews where semi-structured and followed a similar format (see Appendix).Â Responses were recorded.Â Given the inductive nature of the endeavour, it was envisaged that themes would emerge from the data and in so doing provide a rich picture of stakeholders views regarding OER.Â
Themes appeared to emerge in six broad areas, promotion, quality control, copyright, purpose of learning objects (LOs), technical issues and implications for working practices.
This was a particularly strong theme throughout the interviews.Â
Respondent A (elearning facilitator) noted that OER is:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€˜A great way of raising the brand, giving us a head start on the local competitionâ€™.
Respondent B (academic) talking about the Design Collection and how it will be represented in OER said:
â€˜absolutely brilliant [...] it means we can get our stuff out there, itâ€™s pointless having a [Design] collection like this if nobody knows about it [...]â€™
There was also a sense that promotion would be reputation enhancing, again Respondent B (academic) noted that:
â€˜It will enhance everybodyâ€™s reputation because there isnâ€™t anything else like this [The Design Collection], it is unique and thereâ€™s no-one who allows the physical access that we doâ€™.
This was also reflected in respondent Dâ€™s (academic librarian) response who noted that OER is:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€˜A good tool to show what we are doingâ€™.
Respondent G (academic) noted the wider potential for LOs:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€˜It connects us potentially with industryâ€™.
Purpose of learning objects
Producers of the LOs for OER had a very clear and well articulated vision of the purpose of learning objects, respondent G (academic) noted:
â€˜I think that what we, as a university, ought to be selling is assessment and credit accumulation, essentially, and that that assessment ought to be an expensive thing and not a cheap thing.Â Once we have delivered lectures like this itâ€™s quite reasonable that those [videoed] lectures should be able to stay on the web [for free] for three to four years, maybe until they become old hat â€“ but the assessment should be advertised and sold.Â [...] supporting material and tutorial sheets should be at a cost to individuals so that we will send you a box of supporting materials.
People will, consequently, have a taster in the video and say, â€œactually I can understand whatâ€™s going on here, this sounds good, yes I need the supporting materials â€˜cos if Iâ€™m going to attempt an examination without supporting materials Iâ€™m going to be a bit lost. Â So yes Iâ€™ll spend the money on the supporting materials and then yes Iâ€™d get a qualification out of this so Iâ€™ll spend more money on doing the assessment and maybe more on having access to a tutorâ€.Â Perhaps at a greater cost the student would get access to software and the library.â€™
Respondent C (academic) made several practical comments on how LOs need to be repurposed for OER:
â€˜I have thought about the more open nature of resources and have made some changes to them bearing in mind that it isnâ€™t just a local delivery, potentially more global, so making resources generically accessible is important [...] I still think there is a layer of competence involving the delivery and accessibility of them, just wanging them on the web isnâ€™t the way forwardâ€™.
There were a number of issues surrounding quality control apart from the separate but very strongly linked theme of copyright.
Respondent B (academic) highlighted the lack of confidence in this area when asked about quality control:
â€˜I donâ€™t know the answer, I donâ€™t know whether it is provided by the people harvesting the data, itâ€™s not something Iâ€™ve actually thought aboutâ€™.
Respondent C (academic) indicated that (in terms of creating LOs) it had not been on his agenda hitherto:
â€˜Havenâ€™t thought about that, Iâ€™ll have to build that into my practice, I shall talk to our subject librarian and ask her to give me a nudge!â€™
Respondent A (elearning facilitator) was particularly keen to see robust procedures put in place because:
â€˜If the quality of material put forward is not to the correct standard and that becomes known, we donâ€™t want our name to be synonymous with a certain standard, we need to ensure the correct standard of material, there needs to be a very robust quality control processâ€™.
He put forward a possible solution:
â€˜Either a regular audit via a random sample or a similar quality control procedure that is used for standard teaching i.e., peer observation.â€™
This notion of random sampling is suggested again in the context of checking for copyright violations.
Respondent A also links quality control with copyright and how these issues will ultimately necessitate changes in working practices:
â€˜We need to vet what might be put out there before it goes to public consumption â€˜cos not necessarily everything will be suitable, for instance the copyright issue is one reason for doing that.Â It is really changing the whole process behind everythingâ€™.
Academicâ€™s are clearly not confident in the area of copyright and welcome the support from elsewhere:
â€˜Yes I think a copyright expert [in this instance a subject librarian] is a very valuable resource to haveâ€™.
Respondent D (librarian) reinforced the practical implication of this issue:
â€˜Just from the sample pieces for the pilots, if that is mirrored in the wider community, there wonâ€™t be many pieces going through without copyright changes to themâ€™.
This is an ongoing concern amongst support staff respondent D (librarian) noted that the service would need to think about:
â€˜[...] how we are going to police copyright, it will be a mammoth task to check every piece that would come inâ€™.
He offered a possible solution but realised that it is fraught with problems:
â€˜In an ideal world a large team of say cataloguers who would take each piece in, check it for copyright, metadata.Â At the moment this is impractical.â€™
He also put forward a more innovative solution:
â€˜At the moment the only way is to encourage good practice within faculty (with some guidance from us to raise awareness so that they can probably to police themselves) isÂ some sort of random spot checkingâ€™.
Respondent F (Information Protection) reinforced the need to have:
â€˜A lot of communication and training in a simplified form to make staff aware that it is an individualâ€™s responsibilityâ€™
Two issues emerged regarding technical issues both from support staff (Respondent D â€“ librarian).Â There was a concern about access to the LOs themselves and that there needs to be policy and procedure to ensure that:
â€˜[...] resources can be searched through their metadata, we can set up controlled vocabularies then we can encourage use and best practiceâ€™.
Secondly, an issue around maintenance was identified:
â€˜[...] upkeep of the server on the technical side, our solution is quite expensive so it has to be funded continuously, so you have to prove that it is value for money.â€™
Implications for working practices
Most of the respondents remarked on the time implications for this endeavour.Â Some noted that it would save time because it prevents duplication and â€˜re-inventing the wheelâ€™.Â Whilst others saw the potential for it being very time consuming especially as it might involve re-formatting existing paper based materials into more exciting multi-media formats.
Several respondents noted that LOs need to be in a new format to make them engaging as noted by respondent A (elearning facilitator):
â€˜[...] rather than just put in paper based materials, one of my remits is to help staff who want to develop a module a bit further by creating activities, podcasts, incorporating videos depending on the subjectâ€™.
It is clear that the OER project is seen in a very positive light as being of reputation enhancing benefit to both staff and the university.Â The purpose and structure of LOs appears to be very well thought through and producers of content have a very clear idea of their purpose.Â It is also very obvious that staff creating LOs require, at least initially, a great deal of support both in terms of copyright training and in using new multi-media formats to create more engaging LOs.Â What also emerges from this data gathering is that there is a concern amongst support staff that working practices will be tested especially if this project becomes mainstream.Â There is a need to identify robust quality control procedures which do not lead to bottlenecks in the system both in terms of copyright and in the creation of metadata for each LO.Â The most sensible suggestion seems to be to tackle this issue at source and give academic staff practical and meaningful training in copyright issues.
Iâ€™m delighted to say that the staff that I approached were both willing and able to give their time to be interviewed for this research.Â There comments were interesting and honest making for a very rich data gathering experience and making my job an easier one.Â A greater number of stakeholders would, of course, have given this research more depth, but sadly, time constraints preclude this â€“ at least for now.Â As ever one could always do with more time and I feel with a little more I could have further articulated, and added to, the themes identified so far.Â There is more work to be done here but with a deadline looming this is the story so far.
Notwithstanding the issues identified surrounding copyright and potential skills gap in creating multi-media objects the data indicates that producers of LOs are very positive regarding the OER project and the need to produce LOs.Â Again support staff indentified the need to address the copyright issue but were nevertheless very positive towards this endeavour.Â