‘Devolving and evolving: Reflections on OER and OEP in Ireland’…by Catherine Cronin, Claire McAvinia, & Angelica Risquez

At the first OER20 committee meeting (in October 2019), committee members were invited to volunteer to write guest blog posts in the months leading up to the conference. In an indication of the enthusiasm for the OER Conference, the roster of dates was completely filled by the end of the meeting. Over ten guest posts have been published so far — all can be found on the ‘News’ tab on the OER20 website.

Two of us, as OER20 committee members, Claire McAvinia and Catherine Cronin, volunteered to collaborate on a guest post. We’d already had a few conversations about the OER19 Conference in Galway; Catherine was a co-chair and Claire had attended for the first time after many years’ experience with OER in Irish higher education. Claire found that her experience at OER19 and engagement with the associated community had rejuvenated her interest and commitment in OER and OEP. While considering a wealth of possible blog post ideas, we spotted this thought-provoking Twitter thread (and follow-up blog post) by Phil Barker:

— written after he read a recently published paper co-authored by Claire: Towards a Devolved Model of Management of OER? The Case of the Irish Higher Education Sector (Risquez, A., McAvinia, C., Desmond, Y., Bruen, C., Ryan, D., & Coughlan, A., 2020). Another co-author Angelica Risquez also commented in the Twitter thread. After a follow-up conversation, Catherine suggested an informal interview-style blog post for OER20 — inviting Claire and Angelica to reflect on how the research described in the paper has informed their work and their outlooks re: openness. This post is a summary of that conversation rather than a summary of the paper or Phil’s blog post (which we encourage you to read 🙂 ).

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Claire is an academic developer at Technological University Dublin focusing on the development of teaching, learning and assessment practices inclusive of the adoption of digital technologies. Angelica is an educational developer at the University of Limerick responsible for providing academic leadership within blended and online learning (BL/OL) and for leading the development of the learning analytics policy at the university. Catherine is Strategic Education Developer at the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, collaborating with and supporting staff and students across Irish higher education in the area of digital and open education.

Both Claire and Angelica were involved in the National Digital Learning Repository (NDLR) in Ireland and they see current OER/OEP efforts as a renaissance of that work and its underlying values. The NDLR (active from 2005 to 2012) promoted and supported the creation and sharing of digital resources for learning and teaching amongst the academic community in Ireland (McAvinia & Maguire, 2011). The NDLR used an innovative approach of creating subject network communities of practice to encourage the development and use of OER. However, like many OER initiatives, evaluations over the course of the lifetime of the NDLR found a mixed response from academics in terms of both contributing and using resources.

The OER research project cited above emerged as part of a larger investigation funded by the National Forum in 2015. The aim of the project was to explore how open resources related to teaching and learning might be compiled and shared, particularly by using existing institutional repositories. After summarising multiple and nuanced views on OER, the use of repositories, institutional policies and cultures, and the need for wide-ranging consultation on OER and OEP, the authors concluded:

“… we have learned that issues around OER management are much broader than the question of infrastructural digital capacity, and concur with Rolfe (2017) that adopting critical approaches to gain a deeper understanding of the philosophical and pedagogic stances within institutions is crucial. More exploration is needed in order to find the best model for each institution (Cox & Trotter, 2016). There is also a strong rationale for a more in-depth understanding of issues that includes policy makers involved in implementing institutional OER strategy, academics who use OER, academics who have not yet used OER, and students. Importantly, more qualitative (and quality) work is needed with academics “at the chalkface” that poses special emphasis on discipline pedagogies.” (Risquez, et al. 2020)

Catherine invited Angelica and Claire to reflect on how their experiences on this project have informed their work in their current roles, both directly and indirectly. Claire noted that collaboration with library staff (especially institutional repository managers) has had many positive outcomes, not least of which has been building new networks and sources of information. In addition, more teaching-related work has been included in an institutional repository (e.g. Teaching Fellowship projects, Practitioner Research Projects). In a broader sense, Angelica described how OER research has informed her teaching in the context of academic development. Both the content and pedagogical approaches in a TEL module (Technology Enhanced Learning: Theory and Practice) she teaches, for example, encourage criticality re: both OER and OEP.

Claire and Angelica also both spoke about openness in relation to progression and promotion, particularly the thorny question of: What gets recognised? While research contributions are easily evidenced, teaching contributions are more subjectively assessed by promotion panels. An aspiration for future development by both is open teaching portfolios — contextualised and theory-informed.

We all acknowledged the importance of engagement in and modelling of critical open practice. For each of us, this includes participation in multiple networks, blogging, use and creation of openly licensed resources, encouraging students and teaching staff in the use of OER and OEP, engaging in open education research ourselves, and overall, being a critical advocate of open scholarship.

Challenges remain. From their locations within higher education institutions, Angelica and Claire noted several recent challenges: increasing numbers of students, increased focus on blended and online learning, and a renewed focus on sustainability. How can OER be embedded in learning design to help to address these challenges? How can ‘open’ help to counterbalance these new pressures? How best can we challenge a culture which considers content as an educator’s main asset, and instead promote sharing as the measure of teaching excellence? Debate and activity continues across the Irish education sector (e.g. this University of Limerick OEP initiative). In their hopes for the future, and from institutional contexts, Claire and Angelica highlighted the role of OER and OEP in fostering sustainability (especially SDG4) and encouraging innovative pedagogical models — noting particularly Phil Barker’s point that sustainable practices will rely on seeing repositories as dynamic channels for OER, supporting the curation of resources for disparate contexts.

Finally, Angelica and Claire underscored the role of the National Forum as an engine of change in higher education in Ireland over recent years, through e.g. specific open initiatives, support for open education, and public recognition for innovation. The publication in 2019 of the National Forum Open Licensing Toolkit, and related outreach efforts, was a key development — addressing one of the findings in the 2015 research project, i.e. that educators require greater support in understanding copyright implications and that intellectual property remains an important area for further development. The National Forum’s Open Courses initiative has become an important resource: open-access short courses developed by staff across the Irish HE sector to support professional development. And the Forum continues to support the development of enabling policies for digital and open teaching and learning, both institutional and national.

In summary, our collective experience of OER and OEP in the Irish higher education context reminds us of the value and some of the challenges of Care in Open (the theme of OER20), e.g. care in engaging with the actual needs of staff and students, care in ensuring sustainability, and care as moving towards more open sharing and greater equity.

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Open education activity and research continue across Irish higher education There will be four sessions at OER20 facilitated by educators in Irish HE:

  • A national approach to supporting open education in higher education: Balancing radical optimism and critical pragmatism – Catherine Cronin, Terry Maguire
  • Open and shut: An analysis of open access publishing in hybrid educational technology journals 2010-2017 – Tom Farrelly, Eamon Costello et al.
  • Exploring the influence of an open pedagogy assignment on online learner perceptions of knowledge production in society – James Brunton, Megan Gaffney
  • Building stories of care against a discourse of resilience – Clare Thomson, Kate Molloy

References:

Barker, P. (2020, January 19). Devolved management of OER in Irish higher education? Sharing and Learning (blog). https://blogs.pjjk.net/phil/devolved-management-of-oer-in-irish-higher-education/

McAvinia, C., & Maguire, T. (2011). Evaluating the National Digital Learning Repository (NDLR): New models of communities of practice. AISHE-J: The All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 3(1).  http://ojs.aishe.org/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/39

National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. (2015). Learning resources and open access in higher education institutions in Ireland (Focus Research Report). Dublin, Ireland. https://www.teachingandlearning.ie/publication/learning-resources-and-open-access-in-higher-education-institutions-in-ireland/

Risquez, A., McAvinia, C., Desmond, Y., Bruen, C., Ryan, D., & Coughlan, A. (2020). Towards a Devolved Model of Management of OER? The Case of the Irish Higher Education Sector. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 99-111. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i5.4545