March 2010
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Ruminations on OER10 conference

OER10 conference, Cambridge, 22-24/3/2010

There have been so many folk blogging their thoughts on this conference, it clearly made quite an impact.    It certainly did for me – a whole conference dedicated to OER rather than some obscure parallel session.  Well done to the the conference organisors etc.
Abstracts are available at:
Programme is available at:

I presented a paper entitled ‘The challenge of OER on Academic practice’. The reviewed abstract and the presentation are available from our project website at:  The co-authors were Tom Browne, Richard Holding, Anna Howell and Sue Rodway-Dyer.

Ours was perhaps a somewhat sobering presentation, though not without its positive messages.    An underpinning theme was the potential tensions between institutional motivations and individual motivations.     Sometimes they converge, sometimes they don’t.

Other things that resonated:

Malcolm Read (Executive Secretary of JISC) in his keynote, emphasised that OER should be seen as part of a much broader ‘Open’ movement.   Also, not every academic has to engage – 10%-20% may be good enough to promote UK HE.  He also indicated that he had promoted the ‘marketing’ agenda as way to convince HEFCE to release funding.   I suspect we all paid rapt attention to the news that a 2nd round of funding will become available for targetted activities.

I was heartened by Simon Thomson’s presentation on the Leeds Met project and their view that the extra cost of OER is ‘negligible’.  We are using the term ‘marginal’ but it sounds like we are on the same lines.    I’m being pressed locally to ‘cost’ this term but we do not have any internal model for determining the Full Economic Cost of producing digital materials for our internal VLE, so its quite difficult to calculate a marginal cost on an unknown base cost!    We also seem to be on common ground in identifying staff development as an important means of enabling sustainability.

The JISC/HEA project synthesis programme workshop, run by Helen Beetham and Allison Littlejohn was lively because were were challenged to demonstrate hard evidence of the benefits of OER.    I doubt that there was any disagreement in principle within the workshop but for many of us it is premature to be able to provide such evidence.   As Prof Andy Gray from the OU said, it is ‘slow burn’.    In just one year, we have developed a substantial infrastructure (technical, organisational, policies, staff awareness etc) from the ground up.    Hard evidence will come a little later, though we are not short of anecdotes.

A small group were invited after the project to ‘have a conversation’ with John Naughton.  He is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and also the Observer’s internet columnist. Provocatively (deliberately, to provoke a reaction) he said:

  • OER is not working.
  • There is no business model.
  • ‘Open-ness’ is not open to objectivity – it is a matter of faith.
  • It is a low status activity.


Some other stray thoughts:

  • There is no shortage of ‘supply’, but everyone is bemoaning the lack of re-use. Maybe there is a reason? OERs are vacuous without some sort of scaffold.  Might this be Learning Design?
  • Ask what problems we want OERs to solve …
  • Skills materials – are producers of such materials (often professional support staff rather than academics) more in tune with sharing and repurposing?

And finally, somewhat said (apologies, I cannot recall who) that the top 20 universities in Japan all belong to Open Courseware Consortium.  Significant?

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