Short before Christmas last year (time is moving so fast…) I had the chance to participate in the annual edu-sharing NETWORK workshop which was organized in cooperation with the hbz. Under the headline „OER as a new field of activity for libraries and e-learning actors“ („OER als neues Aufgabengebiet von Bibliliotheken und E-Learning Akteuren„) around 30 highly experienced OER-experts discussed possibilities to develop OER in Germany and beyond.
On the second day I moderated a workshop, which aimed at the organisational aspects of OER in the higher education sector. The workshop started with the assumption, that libraries and e-learning departments should cooperate closely in order to foster fast development of OER in Higher Ed Institutions. Additionally, I proposed to have a closer look at the concept of an „OER Ecosystem“ which is increasingly often used in OER discussions, while remaining opalescent and rather ill defined. In order to do so I proposed to take a systems thinking approach since I found my systems thinking in practise studies at the Open University to be very helpful when thinking about OER.
In my opinion „OER-ecosystems“ are what systems thinkers simply would have named „OER-systems“. From a systems thinking perspective ecosystems a one important class of systems. I believe, that in the actual discussion the term “ecosystem” is used, partly since the term “system” has been used inflationary in the past, so that hardly anybody recognises, that this is a technical term. On the one hand, I`m not so happy about bringing in a new term, which is not really needed, on the other hand I like about the term “ecosystem” that it rises associations about multiple different species which are interacting, which fits pretty well to OER.
In order to visualize the structure of OER production at higher education institutions we had a look at the excellent T552 material offered by the OU, especially at the section, which explains how to draw system maps. Unfortunatly these resources are not openly licensed, but at least it is possible to have a look at parts of it for free.
After this short introduction we started drawing. Systems maps provide a snapshot of the structure of a system. Though we had slightly different approaches (One systems map focused on processes, another one showed the is- compared to the should-status), the main structure can be summarised as following:
I learned several important things from this session:
- As Richard Heinen observed correctly, it might be surprising, that the main structure of the different maps was quite similar, though the participants of the workshop came from different institutions, positions and backgrounds.
- Our main assumption that Libraries and e-learning departments should be the nucleus of the OER development proved to be true, but had to be extended, since additionally the central IT departments as well as the departments for media didactics can have large influence to the development of OER`s. Looking at it now, some months later, I see that this is a perspective typical for a member of an infrastructure department. I guess that teachers and learners probably will argue that the learning system will be the germ cell of OER in higher education institutions.
- All four departments (libraries, e-learning departments, central IT, media didactics) together should make up a (virtual) unit which could be named „OER Publication Support Department“ (OER-PSD). The OER-PSD supports the faculty and students to publish OER. Ideally it should organise the publishing process, so that students and teacher can perform it without being distracted by to many technical questions from doing it. The OER-PSD should bee seen as a virtual department organising itself around a shared system of processes. We named it „virtual“ in the sense that probably it will not be necessary to make it topic of formal reorganisation process.
- A good way to initiate an OER-PSD could be that members of all four departments should get into regular contact, forming a “round table” for the development of technical infrastructure for OER. Making the right people talk to each other seems to be a very promising way to start OER activities in your institution.
- Another action could be to introduce the position of an „Openness-Officers“ (OO) who coordinates the communication within the OER-PSD and with other important stakeholders in and outside of the institution. Since this requires some additional funding this obviously is more a top down strategy. Thinking a bit outside the box of OER I guess that the OO should be responsible to coordinate not only OER, but also other open approaches, like Open Science (which should be better named “Open Research”), Open Access, Open Data, Open Source, Open Innovation, Open Government, which all can occur in higher education institutions.
- In combination with the faculty and the students (which make up together the learning system) the OER production support system makes up the open educational publishing system, which is an important subsystem of HE-institutional system as far as OER is concerned. One working hypothesis of mine is that until recently (before the open revolution) this subsystem was hardly perceived within HE-institutions, since it was mainly driven by external publishers. Within the ongoing open revolution we see web technology and open culture relocate (at least parts of) this subsystem within the educational institutions.
- Quality assurance is a very complex topic, which could/should be distributed between a large groups of institutional departments including those making up the educational publication system as well as additionally the legal department, HR-administration, marketing departments and probably others as well. All actors, which could play a role in the quality assurance process are marked with an “QA” in the systems map.
- A very interesting thing is, that I (and the other workshop participants as well), forgot to think about the quality assurance department. I guess it might be an indicator that it will not be easy to integrate OER in formal quality assurance processes.
- Accreditation agencies: I`m still wondering, how big their influence on OER in HE is/will be. While I learned during the OpenEd14 conference that in the US course design includes learning materials and is quality controlled by accreditation institutions, influence in Germany seems to be lower. But actually I would like to learn more about this.
To summarize the workshop I would first like to point out that systems thinking once again proofed to be a very helpful tool for thinking about OER. Adaption was easier than I thought and the working group could handle central concepts of systems thinking, though we had only few minutes discussing conceptional questions. According to my perception the working group had fun working on the systems maps and discussion afterwards was very fruitful. I would also be very interested in seeing, if the structure we developed is transferable to other countries as well and which parts would differ.