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Policy implications of the use of OER in Open and Distance Learning and e-Learning

Some institutions that are interested in OER are also interested, or already active, in Open and Distance Learning (ODL).

There is a natural synergy between the two, since ODL requires ongoing investment in the development of learning resources. Using OER in the development process should help to shorten the time and
reduce the costs of development, while encouraging use of the best quality content available. Sharing Distance Education (DE) resources as OER will help further to open access to quality learning opportunities and will make the differentiating characteristics of ODL institutions by the nature and quality of the support services they offer. This should help to improve quality in the learning resources shared as OER and in the DE provision alike.

Increasingly, in both ODL and contact provision, learning resources are conceptualised as digital in nature, in the form of:

  • Digital versions of text-based resources, such as PDFs.
  • More interactive e-Learning resources, often combining text, video and audio, and providing automated feedback using platforms such as Moodle.

The appropriate mix of technologies to be used is a key curriculum decision that needs to be informed by the target student profile, staff profile, the ubiquity and costs of possible technology options and the
nature of the required learning.

The following framework has been adapted from Lentell2 (2004: 249–259) and Welch & Reed3 (eds) (c.2005) to provide some insight into the possible linkage between ODL and OER.

The table was originally developed to provide feedback to higher education institutions on their existing policy framework.

Policy Area

Policy Issues/Objectives

Relevance to collaboration and/or OER

Identifying target audience

  • Educational purpose of the programme
  • Demography of learner population (e.g. age range, gender, employment)
  • Motivation for learning (e.g. vocational, academic)
  • Existing knowledge and/or skills of target learners (e.g. can study skills be assumed?)
  • Curriculum needs (e.g. is it defined by an examination or a professional body, academic knowledge, vocational skills?)
  • Market research
  • The sharing of research and templates could facilitate the process of building and then using learner profiles at participating institutions.

Type of DE system

  • Campus based, organisation based, individual based
  • Self-paced or programme based
  • Open access
  • Single, dual-mode, partnership service provider
  • The sharing of research, guidelines, process documents and quality criteria can help an institution make informed decisions about which model(s) of DE will be most appropriate to its needs.

Choosing the appropriate technology for distribution and materials and for interaction with students

  • Print, audio/visual, web-based or a mix
  • Access implications of choice
  • Training implications of choice
  • Cost – including maintenance and sustainability
  • Open licences for materials will facilitate cost-effective production and distribution of materials
  • Access to course materials from other members of the community of practice can be an effective, rapid strategy to secure materials for courses where no materials exist
  • This might allow use of media that would not have been affordable if an institution needed to develop everything itself.

Business planning and costing

  • Philosophy and objectives
  • Capital and recurrent costs
    • planning
    • implementation
    • maintenance and updating
    • fixed and variable
  • Self-financing or subsidised?
  • Courses portfolio (e.g. length of study)
  • Course development and production process (e.g. team, individual contract)
  • Course delivery
    • Enrolment
    • Tutorial system
    • Materials dispatch
    • Assessment
    • Record keeping
    • Marketing
    • Funding
  • Clear policy indications are needed that materials development is considered important by the institution and that there is commitment to investing in it
  • Policy positions are essential to ensure high quality of materials and effective collaboration and this is indicated by allocation of appropriate resources including staff time
  • May be necessary to include specific references to collaborative activities to ensure that funds are set aside to cover the time of academic staff from the institution to participate in such collaborative activities
  • Sharing of course materials with members of the community of practice may reduce requirements to pay sub-contracting fees for materials development, as it may open access to already developed course materials in key areas of need
  • Participation in materials development/OER collaborations could generate consultancy funds, providing an alternative income stream to the institution and its staff and financial returns on capital investment

Human resource strategy

  • Staff complement
  • Staff development
  • Staff workload
  • HR systems
  • Most academic staff will be discipline experts rather than materials developers – the wider OER community may be able to help with the development of skills related to materials development

  • Staff awareness processes should include awareness about changing intellectual property parameters introduced by growth of ICT, and accompanying introduction to open licences like the Creative Commons

  • Consideration might be given to the notion that staff participating in collaborative activities and materials development exercises that are over and above their normal workload can receive remuneration for their time spent – however, in the long term if DE provision accelerates – job descriptions will need to be adapted so that time is allocated to programme development, course design and materials production as a core activity

Programme development, course design and materials production

  • Buy, make or adapt?
  • Media choice and/or mix?
  • Instructional design
  • Developmental testing
  • Production
  • Delivery
  • Updating
  • Storage
  • Facilitated by use and adaptation of OER.
  • Facilitated by systematic analysis of current copyright status of existing materials, and efforts to ensure that all materials can be freely updated and revised without securing additional permissions.
  • Existing OER available on the Internet and materials available from other members of the community of practice can support review processes and cost-effective updating of courses.
  • Establishment of licensing frameworks relevant to digitized materials (e.g. Creative Commons) will be essential to protect rights of the institution.
  • Essential to define terms of use of all materials within a digital library, which will be facilitated by systematic materials audit and establishment of systems to manage the institution’s knowledge base.
  • Shared course materials and OER can be used to increase the number of available materials in digital library without significant additional cost.
  • Collaboration with other members of the community of practice will facilitate such access, as will ongoing integration of the institution into emerging global OER networks.

Tutoring and supporting students

  • Tutor role and tasks
  • Tutor skills
  • Recruiting tutors
  • Induction and training tutors
  • Monitoring tutors
  • Marking and feedback
  • Face-to-face, telephone, online tutoring
  • Student counselling
  • Student guides and providing information to students
  • The sharing of research, guidelines, process documents and quality criteria can help the institution make informed decisions about suitable models for tutoring and supporting its DE/off-campus students.

Recruiting and enrolling students

  • Making course information available
  • Marketing
  • Diagnostic testing of potential students
  • Briefing students about ODL
  • Enrolment
  • Fee payment systems
  • The sharing of research, guidelines, process documents and quality criteria can help the institution make informed decisions about suitable models for recruiting and enrolling DE students.

Assessing students

  • Methods to be used (e.g. exams, projects, thesis and portfolio)
  • Summative or formative
  • Methods of submission and giving feedback (e.g. online or by paper correspondence)
  • Recording marks and student progress
  • The sharing of research, guidelines, process documents and quality criteria can help the institution make informed decisions about suitable models for assessing DE students.

Managing and administering the DE system

  • Operational issues, e.g.:
    • Finance
    • Student recruitment
    • Enquiries processing
    • Enrolment
    • Materials development
    • Materials manufacture
    • Tuition and support
    • Assessment
    • Technology
  • Governance and management structures
  • The sharing of research, guidelines, process documents and quality criteria can help the institution make informed decisions about suitable models for managing and administering its DE system.

Collaborative relationships

  • Programme development, course design and materials production
  • Associations
  • Sub-contractors
  • Work integrated learning
  • Consortia
  • The sharing of research, guidelines, process documents and quality criteria can help the institution make informed decisions about suitable models for managing collaborative arrangements.

Monitoring evaluation and quality assurance

  • Who is the evaluation for? (e.g. politicians, managers, educational staff)
  • The level of monitoring (e.g. system level, course/programme level, individual tutor or individual learner)
  • Capability to act on findings of evaluation, monitoring and quality assurance
  • Quality assurance systems
  • Completing a systematic audit of materials and their licences will create a clear legal framework to guide staff and students
  • Maintaining proper licences that facilitate use and adaptation of materials further supports this
  • The sharing of research, guidelines, process documents and quality criteria can help KNUST make informed decisions about suitable models for managing a quality assurance system in a DE context.
  • Lentell, H. 2004. Chapter 13: Framing policy for open and distance learning in Perraton, H. & Lentell, H. 2004. Policy for Open and Distance Learning. World review of distance education and open learning: Volume 4. London: RoutledgeFalmer/COL. 249-259
  • Welch, T. & Reed, Y. c2005. Designing and Delivering Distance Education: Quality Criteria and Case Studies from South Africa. Johannesburg: NADEOSA.

Illustrative case studies:

  • The Unisa NPDE: working across borders

Related toolkits:

Illustrative resources:

Questions to think about:

  1. To what extent do the materials/prescribed texts used in existing courses allow for differentiated learning experiences?
  2. In the same way that researchers will consider what research has already been done when exploring a research question, so ODL practitioners would typically explore what learning resources already exist to address a curriculum need. Existing resources may then be adopted or adapted, or new resources created, if nothing useful can be found. Increasingly source materials can be found digitally on the internet – but can they be used? What rights typically pertain in your country to resources found on the Web where no specific licence conditions are stipulated?
  3. What measures pertain in your institution to guarantee equivalence of experience across a diverse student profile?