D.1 Why does the consortium wish to undertake this project

From POERUP - Policies for OER Uptake
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Rationale of and background to the project

The policy need for an "open educational culture"

It is now well known that since access to education is necessary for expanding economic prosperity and for improving quality of life, the EU needs to address the problem of the growing demand for education, including that, since people now are more likely to move between careers, they will need lifelong learning. Thus the EU is entering a world in which people have to acquire new knowledge and skills on an almost continuous basis. It is unlikely that, even within the EU, sufficient resources will be available to build enough new physical school and tertiary campuses to meet the growing demand for modern education - nor are such campuses appropriate for many lifelong learners or some disadvantaged communities. There is also increasing evidence that current methods of teaching and learning do not suffice to prepare students for the lives they will lead in the 21st century. Only an open climate that nurtures learning will enable institutions of education (at all levels) to adapt to the ever increasing dynamics of competitive global markets. New media and technologies will help to democratise and accelerate this process. This provides the justification for the European Union Policy (2010/C 117/01) expressing the need for an open educational culture - a view shared by several governments, in particular UK and Netherlands - though not yet all.

Through the support of OER communities

Current research in the field of OER focuses on quality standards (OPAL, etc.), workable business models (EADTU, etc) and good practice at an institutional level (OPAL OEP, JISC etc.). Two gaps in terms of what has been done so far at a European level are:

  • The "end-user–producer communities" behind the OER initiatives and what (or who) it is that actually provides the energy that make OER initiatives work or not. The EU project OLCOS claims that empowering users is of particular importance for the sustainability of OER repositories, but at present there exists little experience in how to best support the communities behind these initiatives or what they actually want or do (e.g. the current HEA Learner Voice call for literature search).
  • Policies that governments and agencies (international, national and regional) should adopt in order to best foster creation and uptake of OER.

We assert these two aspects are closely linked. Traditionally "ministries" (or their agents) directed (or nudged) institutions under their remit to adjust the behaviour of their staff, in turn to adjust the behaviour of students (study harder, plagiarise less, consume more OER, etc) - a very long and erratic "chain of command". But the recent rise of Student Experience and Learner Voice studies across the world and in Europe, and the feedback that ministries are getting directly from such studies, shows that there is the possibility for ministries to directly influence students - and staff. In fact they have been doing this for years via changes in areas such as student grants and staff pensions, but it is only recently that these have impacted (sometimes forcefully as in England recently) on pedagogic aspects.

So the nub of POERUP is to understand student and staff communities in OER (in a cross-sectoral and cross-national way) in order to provide better policy guidance for ministries - but along the way we expect much of interest to come out of relevance more directly to students and staff - just as one would expect from the impact of Google generation studies of learners (ELESIG etc.¬¬) and researchers (JISC/BL/UCL etc).

Bridging expertise in relevant social research schools

Recent research in the field of communities of practice and networked learning present possible theories, methodologies and research instruments to make interaction within communities visible. In this manner we can investigate and reflect on the dynamics of communities. We want to focus on the strength of these communities as a form of professional development and informal learning. Thus we address the findings of the TALIS survey (http://www.oecd.org/edu/talis), confirmed by many national studies (in UK: benchmarking for HE Academy, CAPITAL for Becta) that (a) teachers have few incentives to improve their teaching and (b) the offered professional development activities are not the most effective. Indeed, focusing on the informal and social aspects of learning could provide alternative forms of professional development of teachers to assist the uptake of OER.

Based on a systematic, transversal inventory on OER initiatives

By creating a cross-sector inventory POERUP also responds to the mission recently expressed by the two UNESCO Chairs in OER that there is need for a global "map of the OER landscape". According to OUNL and Athabasca University, the UNESCO OER Chair holders, helping to create a map of OER initiatives worldwide would be a major contribution to the field.

Fit with development strategies of partners

Both OUNL and Athabasca University have UNESCO Chairs in OER with clear visions of what they wish to facilitate. OUNL and Athabasca have made major commitments to OER and Athabasca is a founding member of a project aimed at leading to the OER University (http://wikieducator.org/OER_university). The University of Leicester has a growing number of collaborative OER projects with other UK universities and a solid track record in advising other universities, and government, on e-learning policies.

Université Nancy 2 has played a key role in France in the thematic digital universities AUNEGE (business studies) and UOH (humanities).

Sero and SCIENTER are consultancy/research organisations for both of which ICT-related policy advice to ministries and agencies has formed a continuing strand of work over several years - increasingly many of their outputs are available as OER and indeed on a wiki.

EDEN has been a long-standing change agent in ICT in education in Europe since soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Rationale for the setting up of the consortium

Representing key players in the field of OER and analyses of e-learning internationally

Great care has been taken in the selection of the partners in terms of OER management experience and involvement in relevant projects. The consortium has three global players in the field of OER. Both OUNL and Athabasca University hold a UNESCO Chair on OER (the only two such) and Athabasca University is one of the founders of the OER University. and OUNL collaborate in EADTU OER projects. The University of Leicester has a growing portfolio of collaborative OER projects and a strong track record in advising other institutions. Université Nancy 2 has strong links with the digital thematic universities in France and is a member of several of their OER projects. It is also in charge of a mission pédagogie for the French Ministry, including the use and uptake of OERs.

The Ruud de Moor Centrum has strong links with primary/secondary education and over 30 projects, focusing on professional development through communities It is strongly involved in the national OER initiative Wikiwijs which covers all educational sectors.

SCIENTER is actively involved via MENON in the Open Science Resources Project, and is a partner of the OER Test project, aimed at creating an EU clearing house for OER.

A particular strength of the consortium is that OER expertise is embedded within a wider set of expertise in global comparative education with an ICT focus - exemplified visibly by the Re.ViCa and VISCED projects but less visibly by years of global comparative e-learning studies including by Sero for Becta

With strong links with policy-makers in transversal networks

Through EDEN, we address a wide network of higher and secondary education institutions: 196 institutional members and 1118 individual members, in 59 countries, covering all Europe. Also a wide variety of regional networks will be involved in POERUP through contacts from partners.

Representing multilingual Europe and beyond

It is still innovative that POERUP brings the "outsider" point of view into the research. Athabasca University is a Third Country partner; we shall commission 5 non-EU Country Reports, and through the International Advisory Committee, involve both European and non-European experts to share their views on European initiatives as well as their own experiences.

With mutual trust

All the partners have worked together, most over several years, some since the late 1980s. SCIENTER via MENON is currently working with Sero on VISCED.

At a personal level, Paul and Bieke worked together on Re.ViCa; Paul, Maarten and Gráinne on the UK eLearning Research Centre; Paul and Claudio since the days of Framework 3 and currently on Re.ViCa and VISCED; Paul with Terry since Telearning-NCE in Canada in the 1990s and now on an initiative from ICDE, Deborah with Paul in Online Educa; etc. Paul has a long-standing relationship with the University of Leicester including most of the BDRA team.

Investigation of the field (state of the art) and innovative character

The consortium has already built good relations with former project partners, collected outputs, and had conversations with OER stakeholders including Ministries. It has checked results of relevant EU projects and several National OER initiatives - and taken a "snapshot" of what VISCED will do in time for POERUP to use.

We carried out pilot investigations of national/major OER initiatives and policy aspects, checking from scratch as well as perusing inventories from OPAL, EDRENE, WikiEducator etc. This pilot work convinced us that there are (i) enough ongoing national/regional initiatives in enough countries to make the POERUP project worthwhile; (ii) that when one includes para-statal, NGO, Foundation and commercial major initiatives with focus on schools/universities, the pattern is much richer; and (iii) last but not, least there is a poverty of policy-related research grounded in student and staff experience. The research is summarised at http://poerup.referata.com

Thus the gaps in what has been done so far at a European level are (a) on the dynamics of the communities (students and staff) who actually provide the effort that make OER initiatives work (or not) and (b) the above campus policies (inter/national/regional levels) that can influence these communities.

As regards EU projects, OLCOS concluded that empowering users is of particular importance for the sustainability of OER repositories but at present there exists little experience in how to effectively support such communities of users. The E-content plus project EDRENE indicates as well that engaging users and producers is a critical success factor - but how? We see a continuing struggle to reach, grasp and enable end-users (teachers and students) to work towards breakthrough scales of use.

The consortium did not find a cross-sector and detailed inventory of OER initiatives. The transversal approach - still uncommon in OER circles - gives us the opportunity to contrast approaches from different sectors including within communities. By bringing stakeholders from each sectors' governance together, and by promoting an open educational culture in all sectors, we may encourage continuity of the learner experience when moving from school to university and then to lifelong learning.

Bringing outsiders' points of view into the research - Athabasca University and the IAC - helps to identify strengths and weaknesses common to European initiatives and to assess Europe's efforts in the light of experiences in different cultural and linguistic contexts.

As in earlier projects we expect our out of the box approach to shed a new light on fundamental issues that perhaps the EU agencies take for granted as inevitable and might suggest daring but successful solutions to known problems. As in Re.ViCa and VISCED, to minimise the transplant risks, our tentative findings will be validated through key meetings within IAC and with policy stakeholders where frank dialogue is stimulated.