How do you mainstream open education and OERs? A bit of feedback sought for #oer15

The theme of the OER15 conference is Mainstreaming Open Education

“. . .  the aim being to explore approaches that are moving OER (& OEP) into the mainstream, and also barriers that need to be addressed for that to happen.”

As part of my keynote I want to explore and share my experiences with mainstreaming open education and OERs.  I think part of the reason I “got the gig” was down to a couple of posts where I questioned some of the assumptions about open and actual (mainstream) practice.

Whilst I love the simplicity of the slogan “the opposite of open is broken” in reality it is a bit more complicated than that. We are still a way away from an open by default approach in my institution and I suspect many others. There is a cost to open, and many of us don’t have access to external or internal funds to kickstart and maintain open approaches.

So, this post is an attempt to do a bit of crowdsourcing and feedback before the conference on OER and open educational practice in mainstream education.

Here at GCU we have OER guidelines (which hopefully will be actual policy one day soon), that’s still not that common so can I count that as mainstream? In terms of practice it’s difficult to measure what impact they are having.  Guidelines alone does not a mainstream culture of OER creating and sharing make.  Sharing, even within our walled gardens is still not on the radar of many of my colleagues. Personally they are really useful for me and my team as we have somewhere to point people to in terms of creating and releasing OERs.  So maybe just having that simple workflow is actually a mainstream practice- or at least the beginnings of one. The guidelines have been driven by Marion Kelt in our library so are very much a bottom up approach, which in many instances is how policy should develop.  I have a noticed a change in the past year in that I hear “openness” and OERs being talked about much more regularly now by staff at all levels.

In my own practice, I do self-identify as being an open practitioner.  I try and share as much as I can, mainly via this blog and also now via our team blog. Wherever possible I take try to take an open approach. To take Martin Weller’s guerrilla research analogy , I quite often take a guerrilla approach to educational development. I use as many open (and often just open as in free) resources, software, platforms as I can.  I encourage my colleagues to do the same – sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. GCU Games On,  The open event we ran last year was only possible due to the fact we could engage with and use a number of open resources.  This case study I wrote for the OEPS project explains our approach in more detail.

I’m not sure if that approach is mainstreaming or more like pic’n’mixing. But in the mainstream you have to be very pragmatic and work with what you’ve got, not wait for what you’d like to work with. Doing a little openly is better than doing nothing openly, right?

So, how/do you you do it?  Do you have examples of mainstream and by that I mean I mean regular, everyday, use and/or creation of OERs by the majority of teaching staff in your institution? How do you get and maintain the “open habit”?  If you could share anything in the comments I’d be really grateful and I will include them in my talk at the conference.

70 thoughts on “How do you mainstream open education and OERs? A bit of feedback sought for #oer15”

  1. I wish I could be there to hear your talk, Sheila. Martin should be worried about following you 😉

    Not sure it fits, and was not about OERs, but I tried something in a talk a few years ago to talk about approaches where either (a) people do creative, unexpected things within the “mainstream” technologies, a kind of subversion of its general purpose; or (b) when they do creative end arounds that go outside of the mainstream technologies often to open tools (more like your approach).

    I playfully called it a “Secret Revolution” because it was not really a revolution nor a secret; I have everything still floating at (might be some examples). Sadly I do not have any access to my button pins until I return home in April (there is a chance I gave one to David Kernohan).

    Looking forward to see what you cook up.

    1. Thanks Alan, what a shame you can’t make OER15 – I though Martin Weller was doing great mates rates and b&b:-) I’ll check out your secret revolution – love the sound of it. Thank you so much for the comment and hopefully see you sometime soon.


  2. Think it is part of the problem with mainstream, as in theory, all mainstream is a thought – not an action? We all believe in climate change, but we don’t all cycle everywhere. So are we thinking a problem which is persuasive, but not pervasive. OER may be mainstream – how many people think it is right, but don’t do it?

    Christina Hendricks did a talk at OpenEd14 on Policy 81 – is a good how not to do it argument.

    I’d be interested to see a VLE census take place – how many ER are there on the VLE, and of those how many could be OER-ed? I’d guess not many. If I was being cruel, I’d say reporting most VLEs to FACT or the CLA might help mainstream OER really quickly.

    And perhaps that sums it up, is the mainstream at present a disregard for copyright? Which is sort of mainstreaming openness, just in a slightly Cardinal Richeleu esque way.

      1. Throw in that most OER was funded projects, now people expect funding to make OER. So mainstreaming without funding is a lot harder

    1. “OER may be mainstream – how many people think it is right, but don’t do it?”

      Fundamentally it comes down to this – is what you are suggesting as an OER replacement ‘not slower’ than an individual’s current method, it doesn’t have to be faster (that would be great) but it cannot be slower or more time-consuming than the current method.

      So as a rule of thumb, any given open resource has to take no longer to obtain and harder to deal with than uploading a PDF (or for people who take copyright seriously) they have quickly to the VLE* – if it is, it will never become mainstream because it will be crowded out by the easier option.

      I think a lot of OERs advocates come at this from the wrong angle, they argue from an academic or ideological position but academic is just a fancy word for ’employee’ – and generally employees whom the adoption of OER is unrelated to their performance management. So wide-spread adoption of OER requires advocates to start from the ‘what job do users want doing?’.

      * Before people leap on me, I’m not suggesting this as good practice but actual practice.

      1. Thanks Charles. Yes the benefits have to be immediate and fit easily into what people do. However I do think it is getting easier but there is still a huge fear of licensing. I was wondering about an opt in approach – kind of like everything is open unless you say it’s not – sort of reversal of current practice . . .

      2. Think this is so often overlooked with adoption.
        How often are courses changed? How often are new resources looked for? Where are they looked for? I think the window is very small, and the places not bountiful, and OER are hard to find.

        So mainstreaming? Or facilitating?

    1. If it is one of my OER, I always, always try to do it as public domain. The antidote to (C) is not a new set of hieroglyphics and a Rosetta Stone

  3. (steps on well-worn soapbox)
    I’d like to challenge the connection between OER and open practice. I think one of the reasons we struggle with the sustainability of open practice is that we are still fundamentally attached to the idea of ‘content’ driving education – of using resources. In most learning environments (the home, the workplace, the lab, a fishing boat) learning is done by gathering information from all possible points of connection (people, records made by people, the environment etc) sifting through the good and the not as good and coming up with ways of seeing the world… a direction for change.

    Modelling this, to me, is one way of seeing open practice, of looking beyond the resource. If we see open practice as intrinsically connected to resource sharing, we are still seeing education through the lens of pre-arranged content and not the abundant information strewn place we live in.

    1. Thanks for commenting Dave. Yes I totally agree, re open practice and OERs and indeed content. Most of the mainstream practice I’m involved in doesn’t rely on, or is driven by, content. However this is an OER conference so that kind of drives part of the agenda:-)
      However I do find that it is hard work to get some colleagues sharing anything. I think partly this is down to habit and also academic culture. Lots of my colleagues don’t want to share anything unless it is perfect. Whereas I love the liberation of sharing “half baked stuff” and ideas.

      1. And yet those same colleagues will talk to someone about it… we have strange ideas attached to the permanence of print. I didn’t mean to imply that your work was content centric… I am probably over zealous in commenting in places where i think there might be a chance of content prevailing over practice.

        I think an OER conference is the perfect place to challenge the centrality of content in education 🙂 Of course, i might be a tinsy winsy bit biased, as i think every conference is a chance to challenge the centrality of content in education.

        Of course, i also might be more supportive of ‘half-baked’ stuff because all of my ideas are half-baked.

        1. Exactly. I think in the UK there is less emphasis on content than North America, but there are still issues around mainstreaming effective open practice. It takes time and time for experimentation is increasingly being squeezed just now.

      2. “Most of the mainstream practice I’m involved in doesn’t rely on, or is driven by, content. However this is an OER conference so that kind of drives part of the agenda:-)”

        But the educator *is* a resource? An educational resource, even? And if they are an *open practitioner*, then they are an open educational resource too?

    2. I think this sums up the other problem in mainstreaming open, in that open is what again? OER have a license, open practice is what? I saw a *searches for word* “well-respected” educator use a definition for OER the other day which was so far past wrong it might have left the solar system.

      If education is about information and scope for connectivity, then how does more information in the form of content not help? Does more openness not tend to more connections? People’s knowledge has to come from somewhere? This is one of my discrete mathematics proof by induction arguments.

      I also wonder how open practice is the next step in the slow bastardisation of open as in open source. Open access is a debaser, and the sandiest shore to build new things on

      1. Ok, so a ngram view of open source – – brings back a lot before 1998 – as does which shows some results (and false positives) from before 1998.

        Stallman’s GPL license ( was written after MIT’s license (

        So taking this as the start of open source, or if free was the dominant narrative (the mainstream) isn’t something I think is correct. The consumer / user narrative is something that becomes vitally important with GPL as “free” or “open”. How does WordPress as GPL justify charging for akismet when it fixes a problem with its own code. Shouldn’t akismet be contributed to the core?

        Then with WP VIP – how does the average user of “free” WordPress compare to the business paying customers of the WP VIP platform? Are all requests treated equally? Are all contributions equal? Are the average users “free” when compared to the empowered wealthy?

        So what rights does “freedom” give you? None, Not any. You can change the code, if and only if, you have the scope to do so. Then, and if you can change the code, if you wish to have a specific circumstance maintained, you’ll need to keep your own version and maintain it, even if you want one change. Else you can’t have that change. What freedom is that exactly? Freedom to be coerced?

        Taking the ECHR as an example, I have rights, which are granted to me by this document, which are limited by the governments having scope to limit these rights in certain situations. Although some of the rights (such as not to be tortured) cannot be limited.

        So i’d say free works in a utopia of specific literacies, but for the majority of people in “free”, they are just not paying and hoping for the best. Economically, at best, they are a charity. Just take a look on github about the commits to jQuery, it is a handful of people.

        So open means available for free reuse due to a license or removal of copyright. I make no bold claims of freedom which are effectively virtual or non-existent. Open Access doesn’t do this as it doesn’t mandate that cited articles have to be open. Open Access and Open Practice relate to open source, as like hoverflies they use the same phrasing to try and mimic its traits and exploit another properties. Open access is almost parasitic in nature.

        The reason I called solvonauts solvonauts was because I was so tired of the crap laziness of the use of the word open. I’ve gone way past this now and heading off into a proper set of rights tied to a license. Open source as becoming more than just the license.

        I wrote a blog post ages ago (now deleted) about how Berners-Lee open data stars system could be used as the basis of working towards a more community member (not user or customer) empowered and so easier to mainstream version.

        After all, giving people freedom isn’t giving the help

      2. It is a sad day when wikitionary is wrong

        I’d agree that you can say open learning is bastardised by open source, but I think Open Access in a venn diagram would overlap open source (etymologically? it draws from it)

        So then the logic question is, is open learning mainstream, and open educational resources need to move towards open learning and not open source.

        So the open learning is like “freedom” or “without restriction”, but then the mainstreaming is a question of skillsets and literacy?

      3. I think the mainstreaming is about changing the purpose of education from acquiring bits of knowledge like a magpie to immersing yourself in a way of thinking. As long as we are in the business of acquiring and assessing acquisition, learning can’t be open. Those things always bring ‘learning’ back to lego blocks.

  4. Hi Sheila,

    Thank you for this open invite to share thoughts around mainstreaming/mainstreamed(?) open education.

    I think mainstreaming open education can happen if we, as individuals and a society, have opened our minds and hearts and live and enact what open stands for. But do we all understand the same thing under “open’?

    For me it is about being true to ourselves and others and recognise the value of and practising sharing, caring, collaborating, innovating and growing as a whole, as a society within a culture that enables this to happen and is empowering for all. Am I naive?

    At Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, we have developed for example FLEX, a scheme for practice- and inquiry-based CPD for learning and teaching with formal and informal pathways with links to academic programmes, opportunities to get recognition for informal learning via badges, but also formalise informal learning through academic credits and gain professional recognition. FLEX Is fully personalised and contextualised to the individual, their needs and aspirations. The scheme maximises on open educational offers, informal activities and engagement, organised or non-organised, online, offline or blended. In a way we have fused development opportunities wherever they are, and enabled colleagues to put their own dynamic development menu together.

    FLEX is openly licensed. If the above sounds interesting, have a look at

    Open learning and development happens everywhere. It always did, I think! Is it about time that this is recognised and embraced by the education sector so that we can maximise on the opportunities “digital” presents for society?

    I really look forward to OER15 and your keynote.


    1. Thanks Chrissi – a great example of mainstreaming practice so thank you. Yes I think that openness and most importantly sharing is embraced more within the sector. I guess that is mainstreaming:-) Digital certainly gives us more opportunities than ever to do just that.

  5. Despite the conference having the OER tag I think it has moved on from the content.

    We must remember that the conference was born out of #ukoer activity in 2009/10 and so initially was resource focussed.

    I think over the years the conference has expanded its view of open and it is right that it should do so.

    I co-chaired last years conference & was very much looking for ways that we could move use beyond the “r” meaning resources. Here are some ideas we came up with:

      1. I think “moving on” is counter to mainstream though? Seems that “moving on” is effectively “leaving behind” and is the atypical elearning fidgettyness.

        Let’s do some stats

        Jorum has 16807 ( OER
        of those – expand author here – – and you see a lot of big collections.

        Number of academics in the UK (

        How many academics (FTE) submitted for REF – 52060 (

        So as stats, in theory 1 in 11 UK Academics has made an OER (based on crap measure made above), 1 in 4 (and this is a much better measure) made the REF.

        Basic measure of mainstreaming?

  6. I don’t think the sector is any way “mainstreaming” OE(R) yet. There is still plenty to do and I do think that we need to “move on” in the sense that the focus of open education in the UK was very much centred on resource creation and (in some areas) resource use. But I take your point and perhaps “move forward” is a more developmental term.

    We need to broaden our understanding of open education to include research (partly being addressed through the government open access to research agenda) and thus encompass all of the work we do for the REF activity.

    But………….to mainstream we will need to think open. I would suggest that mainstreaming means that we begin to have to justify “closed” rather than request “open”.

    1. Is research a special kind of content that can’t be considered a resource or educational? Because at that point, perhaps you get to the interesting (paging @philosopher78) point of when are we not just talking “public”?

      1. I’d argue that research itself is a practice, though it does have a ‘content’ aspect as soon as it is published as articles or conference proceedings, etc. We already do ‘open’ research in OER Research Hub and have resources on School of Open to share these practices with others.

        The openness of OER is not reducible to their licence in my opinion: we could apply an open licence to something and then not share it with anyone, in which case the licence is moot. I prefer to speak about contexts of use allowing various degrees of access and freedom. But anything people have access to is potentially an OER and becomes OER when used (consciously) in a pedagogical context.

  7. I wonder if the mainstreaming of OER practice has been hindered by the invention of OEP. It shifted the emphasis away from getting content properly licensed and staff development around CC – an area which is properly difficult but has clear definitions and spans more than education- to a much more amorphous discussion about ‘openness in my context’ or approaches to teaching. As a result much less content is being released, and funding is going into projects which struggle to even find a focus.

    1. Thanks for the comment Melissa. I’m not sure I see a distinction between OER practice and open education practice, to me they go hand in hand, but I can see where you are coming from.

      1. Goes back to Dave’s comments – if open learning relies on content, then the more content, the better the learning? But if open in OER is a precise, legally defined open, whereas open in OEP isn’t any of those things – then they can’t go hand in hand (to me) as they might be mutually exclusive?

  8. The difference for me, is OER practice is the production and use of resources. Open educational practice in HE seems to be any range of activities around widening access, writing about your work on a blog etc. OEP advocates always tell me ‘it’s not about content’. Once you take out the ‘resources’ – for whatever reason- you avoid actually having to produce any at scale and you can be a bit vague about the licensing. This is much more attractive to individual practitioners.

    1. hmm – but depends on your needs – sometimes we need to create open content and we should know how to licence that properly, other times we don’t. I have a fear that distinguishing OER and OEP practice just confuses people not involved in this area and puts them off doing anything open.

  9. That’s ok, I agree talking about licensing puts people off. But if you use the terms interchangeably and they are not the same thing then some rigour is lost. The open in OER is very clearly defined. In OEP it is not. I think OEP is of interest to individuals, but institutions are more interested in OER- big collections of OER, to point at. So to main-stream in an institution you have to give the VC something to point at and individual a place to easily put their ‘stuff’. I would not wish to generalise, but I think institutions with published OER policies tend to be the ones with large collections of stuff. Much harder to write an OEP policy. (Not that policy necessarily means main-streamed).

    1. If you think in content-centric way then yes, but hasn’t the biggest “open” (has anyone actually defined the open in that?) impact on VCs been MOOCs? I’m probably being devil’s advocate here, and being biased by how things are at GCU. We’re very different to Edinburgh, we don’t have lots of money to mainstream open initiatives. We are trying very hard though, we have OER guidelines which will soon be policy. I’m less hung up on the rigour of OER and more concerned with getting people to share “stuff” – so I see OEP as the route into OER.

      1. But if OEP output isn’t an OER is it shared? Stuff without a license is shared in the “broadcasted and available” sense. Not a it is yours if you want it sense.

        I’d also ask why it has to be an initiative? The biggest single OER producer in the UK is someone who wasn’t even involved in UKOER (directly – I could be wrong), and I doubt they’ll be at OER15. Has it needed funding (maybe), does it look like it needs funding (not really), is it sustainable – yes, very much so.

        At Nottingham, I suggested we built a Local Educational Resource repository to share stuff within the Uni to help give people a bit more confidence. Nothing ever came of it because you know “no funding”.

        VC impact is probably higher for MOOCs, but SOAS cc licensed their entire website. Nottingham had open nottingham. Oxford has Open Oxford. You say CC licensing, people get scared, you say MOOC, it is business as usual – give funding, content made surveys run, done.

        But if we take MOOCs as open, then surely 9 grand fees was the biggest setback openness could have ever had? Does the 17 million loss at the OU (due in part to FL investment) reflect how one open can be counter to another?

        1. All good points Pat. It’s not simple that’s for sure – fees different in Scotland than England. In terms of funding it is an issue in terms of getting staff time to create, share and use OERs and develop oer/ oep practice. To my mind that’s mainstreaming. In my mainstream job I have to prioritise and tho I try to be as open as I can sometimes it is quicker and cheap to buy something.

    2. I think the easiest thing is to basically license stuff. OER creation already happens, all that doesn’t happen is the application of the license. Melissa’s Oxford work showed that – you fill out a form for your podcast, and the license is a tickbox.

      Imagine if moodle had a “share this option”

      Mainstreaming as a checkbox

  10. Hehe, yes, plenty of undefined OEP at Edinburgh, much less defined OER. That’s my challenge. We’ll be presenting at #OER15

  11. Hi Sheila,
    I did tweet you but sorry I didn’t comment here as the discussion appears to be great.
    For some time I’ve thought OER was not mainstream in the UK. In 2010 the horizon report predicted open content to be mainstream in 1 year or less, but by definition, this would require the majority of academics engaging in or with Open – something I haven’t seen in any of the HEIs I’ve worked in. As some of the comments assert, engagement was always going to be difficult post-funding. Whilst there are lots of people driving OER because it’s something they believe in, lots of academic staff simply don’t. I’ve heard of academics putting up a fight to have their reading list open access, let alone release their content.

    I blogged this on my old blog in 2012 and don’t think a huge amount has changed –

    1. Thanks Peter – never too late to join the party – I’m mean discussion. My own views are very similar to yours – open isn’t a priority for many so is a long way off being mainstream.

      1. Doing some digging
        The 2010 report does have open content as a prediction
        It also have Levine, A as an author
        If only we could find this person

  12. You must be thinking of my cousin “Alfonso”.

    As far as being listed as an author it means being part of the compilation, research, editing of the report (that was the last one I was present for); the naming of an item is the result of the process and comes from the 40 or so people listed.

    That said I see conflating of OER and Open Content. To some people open content means thing as simple as slapping a YouTube video in a course page. I’m not prepared to go out on a limb and call this mainstream, buts also hardly a early innovator only practice.

    People seem to enjoy aiming the pot shots at whether something mentioned in a Horizon Report 3 years ago is “wrong”, congrats on your hindsight. It’s not meant to be something you bet your house on, it’s what makes sense at the time to a group of people.

    I used to say it’s not about declaring answers, it was about opening questions. So is the use open content mainstream (whatever that means), niche, or somewhere in the midst?

    1. Thanks again Alan, and yes the Horizon report is a bit of a sitting duck, and always causes a good bit of chatter and chin stroking when it comes out each year. This discussion has been fascinating and I think really highlights the issues/challenges of mainstreaming anything – never mind “open-ness”. So yes there are many more questions to be answered but imo there is a danger of shutting off emerging open practice by getting hung up on the “rigour’ of open content.

  13. I think insufficient attention has been given to tools. One of the great myths is that the Web is a perfect vehicle for open practice, so why aren’t people practicing openly?

    In fact, while the web is not bad for sharing and connecting reuse, it’s a horrible platform for reuse. It’s actually antagonistic to reuse.

    The web is a step BACK from what we had in the 1980s. Consider a world in which you download something from the Gutenberg archive in 1985. It opens in an editor. You can change it and download it to your own FTP server. There’s not really a division between reading and writing. It’s the symmetric editing world of Kay.

    In that world, even when you were reading you were an editor — an inactive one maybe, but one nonetheless. We saw this in other realms too — people passing back and forth excel sheets, reading hypercard stacks, sharing word documents.

    There were problems to solve to scale this up, because everyone didn’t have the same software. There was the issue of people not having editing space on servers. People realized these were huge issues at the time. Initially they meant to work on them. Berners-Lee wanted HTTP PUT from the beginning. Netscape looked at having an annotations server.

    People knew this was the great compromise, and they had created linkability at the cost of open-ness. They were going to fix it on pass #2.

    And then… well weirdly, many people didn’t complain. I mean, people did — the people who had been in the world of usenet, and BBSs and the like before. But the newer people were OK with just reading, and companies loved it, and to some extent the web created the idea of closed.

    That seems an overstatement, but think of the difference between getting a document off an FTP server, or a powerpoint, or whatever. Does “open” even make sense in that context?

    In any case, if people are open to this idea — that the web was in some ways a closing off of a period of openness, and that the use of the web enforces a distinction between reading and writing on a daily basis — an asymmetric editing environment — is it any wonder that people don’t get it?

    I know I sound like crazy rant guy here, but I’m hoping a few people will look me up, find I’m not nuts, and then spend just one day looking at the nature of online experience. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And then you’ll be as annoying as me. 😉

    1. Thanks for the comment Mike. I agree we could (are) be heading to a point of consumption not creation but I think that’s where open educational practice comes in. We need to continue to educate ourselves and up coming generations how to create, repurpose and share openly. We can just concentrate on content.

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