The global movement of shared online resources in education has gained rapid momentum with the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and a proliferation of lectures and materials uploaded via iTunes U and YouTube. Now, 1.5 million US Dollars (£955,905) has been granted to The Open University (OU), UK, to examine the impact of Open Educational Resources (OER) on learning and teaching across schools, universities and colleges. The grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology (IET) is for a two-year project whereby a research hub will examine how OERs are used, how they have changed teacher practice and how students are affected by OER in terms of motivation and success rates. The research project will begin on 1 September 2012 and involve teams from the US and India.
Professor of Educational Technology at the OU, Martin Weller, said: “OER are becoming increasingly mainstream tools for teachers and students but to date, no extensive research has been done to back up the claims around the benefits these online materials bring. We want to know more about how they are used, what the barriers are to using them and how using OER transforms both teacher and learner practice. What is it about being so open that is important? The research hub we are establishing with the grant will help to answer this question and will be a valuable resource for the OER community.”
As well as drawing on the OU’s own work, the project will collaborate with US and Indian teams in order to pull together findings from a number of projects and answer the key research questions on a global scale. These collaborations are aligned to each of four main educational sectors – secondary education (known as K12), community college, higher education and informal learners. Research will be conducted into validating claims surrounding OER, for example: whether they truly bring education to a wider audience, change teacher practice and improve efficiency in course design. The collaboration of research will help to test these claims.
The OU has a number of highly successful OER projects including OpenLearn – a free learning resources website which attracts 400,000 unique visitors a month; Bridge2Success – a project to help US college students develop basic maths and learning skills to continue their education; and TESSA – which uses OER to develop teacher education across 12 African countries. The research project builds on extensive work that the OU’s IET has conducted in the field of OER research and delivered already. This has included the assessment of uptake and usage of OpenLearn, led by Professor Patrick McAndrew, research director and Professor of Open Education at the OU, who also led the OLNet project, which created a global network of researchers investigating OER issues. In addition, Professor Weller led the SIDECAP project, which drew in partners from Fiji, Mauritius and the West Indies and promoted the use of OER in course development.
The project will produce a final report as well some key tools which will include “how to” packs for OER researchers, policy makers and educators, case studies and an archive of the data from the research projects, which will be open to all. The findings of the project will also be shared through a variety of ways as the project progresses, including blogs, events and conferences.