OERs as a shopping window… Reflection 1: how much support to provide to the users?

Last week  I started to think about this concept of OERs as a shopping window and how users (not only providers) could think this way. In April I was invited to visit a university in Europe which wanted to publish in OpenLearn. It was interesting to notice how concerned they were about it. They saw it as a true ‘shopping window’ for their courses. Their main concern was to make sure their courses were written in an appropriate way for online learning; so in fact they were concerned about learning design. They saw OpenLearn as a way to ‘show their courses to the world’ and therefore they would have to be written with online learning in mind. The point they made is very true. Many universities have a long history in teaching face-to-face but not necessarily in writing for online courses. The lecturers might be good specialists in their fields and have a fantastic pedagogy for teaching face-to-face but it does not mean they will be able to write an online course and achieve the same results (perhaps not without some training or reflection about it…).

 This European university, then, suggested OpenLearn to offer a sort of ‘guideline’ on how to write for online delivery, with simple tips and a ‘checklist’ on what to watch for. They were simply not confident enough to show the product they have produced so far, without having an expert advice. I think this is a very good food for thought to us,  and initially I can see this episode bringing up two issues:

1) Sustainability of OER initiatives: some OER initiatives, like OpenLearn, have this view of providing content produced ‘in-house’ alongside user-generated content. Sometimes we wonder why not everyone is jumping to make their content available in our website…  We thought about many possibilities, which in some ways might be right. For example, one of them is that it takes time to the users to get used to this idea of self-publishing (and that once it happens it will really pick up); that it takes time for a project with the scope of OpenLearn to mature; that the user is getting around to understand the philosophy supporting OpenLearn and  needs some time to play with the publishsing tools etc etc. What we haven’t thought about in depth is that the user might not only be scared to use the tools, but also to ‘show the world’ whatever they could perhaps publish. And not because they are unsure of the quality of the content they have, but because they are not experienced in learning design for online learning, and whatever they show would be a ‘selling point’ to their courses…. (or a no, no…)

OpenLearn is not up to writing any checklist at the moment, but could perhaps do it in the near future – it is not ruled out. The thing is that providing this checklist brings up some implications: it might inhibit creativity of other possible contributors, who might be thinking that “this is the right way to do it” or “this is how they want it and if my way is different, I’d better not to publish it….”. This is  not what the OpenLearn team seems to want, on the contrary, it aims to be an open space for people to show what they are doing, what they have to offer… But then, here comes the question: How much support to provide to the users? Perhaps the answer here is to find the right balance. Instead of calling these checklist ‘guidelines’ as such, they could maybe be called ‘tips’ ;-) But what I want to emphasise is that it is really important to place ourselves in the position of the user; after all, OpenLearn can be a shopping window….

 b) Open peer-reviewing: on a different perspective, publishing in OpenLearn could be seen as an opportunity for open peer-reviewing.  It could be beneficial to many course providers to be able to ‘try’ their courses first and be brave enough to submit it to the world to comment on before ‘selling’ it to the students (or making it available free of charge if they wish, as a revised, peer-reviewed and user-tested version..).

 Perhaps this view of OpenLearn as an open peer-reviewing space, demands a change of culture and needs sometime to mature. But it is certainly a difficult measure to take: while this idea of OERs as a shoping window prevails, it discourages the idea of community peer-reviewing. And the reverse could also be true.. not sure… There could maybe be a way to serve both purposes… Is that the ideal, though? Again, more food for thought….