The OER Research Hub: Revving up OER research

Open and education, they go hand in hand, a bit like bread and butter or fish and chips. For over a decade, the open education movement has been steadily making inroads into the collective conscious.  Through various global initiatives there is increasing evidence to illustrate that there is more than “just a feeling” that OER and open educational practice can have an impact on teaching and learning. 

Building in particular on the work of the OpenLearn, Bridge to Success and OLnet   projects, and other developments in the wider open education movement, the OER Research Hub is focused on gathering evidence around the positive impact of OER, and open practice in teaching and learning.

Funded by the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation, the project provides: 

a focus for research, designed to give answers to the overall question ‘What is the impact of OER on learning and teaching practices?’ and identify the particular influence of openness. (http://oerresearchhub.org/about/)

As the project moves towards the end of its first year of funding, I’m working with the team to evaluate their overall approaches, methodologies, findings, outputs and dissemination. So, I have spent some time over the last couple of weeks immersing myself in the world of the OER Research Hub and familiarising myself with the complexities of fully understanding an evolving project with a number of different research activities and contributors. 

The overarching research question forms two key hypothesis as the central tenant for the projects’ research activities:

  • Use of OER leads to improvement in student performance and satisfaction.
  • The open aspect of OER creates different usage and adoption patterns than other online resources.

These “big” hypothesis have been further broken down into a subset of testable hypotheses:

  • Open education models lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education.
  • Use of OER is an effective method for improving retention for at-risk students.
  • Use of OER leads to critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice.
  • OER adoption at an institutional level leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions.
  • Informal learners use a variety of indicators when selecting OER.
  • Informal learners adopt a variety of techniques to compensate for the lack of formal support, whichcan be supported in open courses.
  • Open education acts as a bridge to formal education, and is complementary, not competitive, with it.
  • Participation in OER pilots and programs leads to policy change at institutional level.
  • Informal means of assessment are motivators to learning with OER.

Using a collaborative research approach, the core research team is working with a number of established projects and is further complemented by a number of open research fellowships. Each project/ fellow is investigating a combination of the hypothesis.  In this way the project covers four major educational sectors (Higher Education, schools, informal learning and community colleges) as the diagram below illustrates.

Image
(image from What makes openness work presentation, http://oerresearchhub.org/2013/07/17/what-makes-openness-work/)

Last month the team gave an overview  presentation of the project to colleagues at the Open University. The recording and slides provide an excellent overview of the projects’ activities to date.  Some more detailed reflections on the initial findings are included in this post by Leigh Anne Perryman.  

The team have also begun to identify the some of the key challenges they need to address in next year:

*Educators are more positive about the impact of OER on performance & satisfaction than students (across OpenLearn & Flipped Learning).
*Open Education Models don’t necessarily improve access to education.
*Students using OER textbooks may save up to 80% of costs.
*Informal Learner Experience survey suggests that CC licensing is less important than previously thought.
*There is survey evidence the OER (esp. OpenLearn) are being used to prepare and support formal study.
*Examples of OER policies emerging for practice are becoming more common (UMUC, Utah Textbooks, Foothil-De Anza CC).

As well as these headline challenges, there is also the underlying challenge of ensuring that the research and various outputs from the first phase of the project are being disseminated effectively.  How can the team ensure that their growing evidence, reflection, outputs is reaching not just the OER/open education community but the wider teaching and learning community? What other methodologies can be incorporated into their data collection and sharing? What are the key lessons from the “agile research”  approach the project is taking? How are they refining/adapting/reacting to this approach?  What lessons can they share from it?  And most importantly, how can the hypothesis and their findings be made immediate and valuable to all of the projects’ stakeholders? Which is where I come in 🙂

Over the coming weeks I’ll be working with the team to as they prepare for their next phase and I’ll be sharing some of the approaches to answering the questions above both here and via the OER Research Hub

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