Maintaining momentum in an open education initiative

As the dust settles on another Open Education Week it seems timely to announce that after an unexpected hiatus the Global Dimensions in Higher Education project is back on track.

Following our success at the Ascilite Conference 2013, where the work of the project team was recognised in the ‘Imagining the Future’ best paper category, we entered a tumultuous 2014 which saw each member of the team change roles and institutions.  While this in itself  was not a bad thing, the considerable momentum we had built up over the preceding period of the project was somewhat diminished.

However our commitment to the ethos and aims of the Global Dimensions in Higher Education project remained strong, and the project team are now in a position to take the initiative forward in their new institutional contexts.

An integral aspect of the project has been its dual purpose in creating an open educational resource exploring the critical challenges facing global higher education today and in the future; and also as an action research project that would capture the challenges of adopting a cross-institutional approach to the development and implementation of the Global Dimensions in Higher Education module.

As we move forward and re-establish momentum for the project, we are now able to reflect upon our recent experiences of attempting to take forward an open education initiative through a period of change that raised important and valid questions of ownership, succession and sustainability.

Our immediate next step in doing this will see the project team explore some of the questions alluded to above at the forthcoming OER15 Conference in Cardiff in April.

The abstract for our presentation is below:

‘Ownership of Collaborative Open Educational Initiatives in the Absence of Policy’ 

Part-funded through the HEA/JISC OER programme, the Global Dimensions in Higher Education (GD in HE) project has been developing a fully online open course to engage educators in critically exploring and debating global issues in higher education. Originally undertaken as a collaborative initiative between three UK universities, the project has two broad aims: the first to develop and then pilot the GD in HE course with a view to the course being repurposed in education-related postgraduate programmes for academics, and the second to research and document the challenges in designing and developing a joint online course across multiple partners.

The work undertaken to date has been well documented, with the early stages of the project being presented at OER13 (Smyth et al, 2013). Presently, the GD in HE course is almost complete and ready to pilot. However, during the past year the core members of the project team have all taken up new posts in different institutions. These circumstances have raised interesting new questions and challenges as we seek to finalise development of the course and move towards pilot implementation and evaluation. The original project team remain committed to the project goals, which we believe continue to have significant value to the sector in terms of delivering a resource to support academic development and by informing policy and practice through the lessons learned.

The movement of project staff to new institutions has presented unexpected challenges to the completion of the course, and has led us to reflect on who owns and drives institutionally endorsed open education initiatives. Questions pertaining to copyright, derivation and distribution are central to open educational practices but, in the context of collaborative provision, the sustainability of initiatives or resources may be threatened by an absence of institutional policy (or indeed a cross-institutional framework) pertaining to open education. The GD in HE project has effectively moved with the core project team as they have transitioned to different institutions. This could be an opportunity to involve further partner institutions as well as the original partners. However it also represents a challenge around renegotiating what the original partner institutions, and any new partners, might contribute to the completion of the project – and what they may seek to gain from supporting it.

In this presentation we will explore questions around the extent to which institutional and cross-institutional open education initiatives succeed or not on the basis of individual enthusiasts rather than coordinated institutional support. We will examine the notion of distributed ownership in the context of collaborative open provision and question whether there is now a need for a consistent position or policy framework at a UK level to form a sustainable base upon which such projects can develop and evolve.


Smyth, K., Vlachopoulos, P., Walker, D. and Wheeler, A. (2013) Promoting global collaboration in academic development though OERs: challenges and opportunities. Proceedings of OER13: Creating a Virtuous Circle, University of Nottingham, 26-27 March. Paper available via

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Ascilite 2013 Best Paper Award for ‘Imagining the Future’

The GDinHE team presented a paper on ‘Cross-institutional development of an online open course for educators: confronting current challenges and imagining future possibilities’ during Ascilite 2013 conference at Macquarie University in Sydney. The presentation was well attended and generated interesting discussions. The team effort was recognised by the Ascilite community with the best paper award for ‘Imaging the Future’.



The team was delighted with the award but it would have been even better if Dr David Walker could have been with us to celebrate!

ascilite award 2013

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How Open and Collaborative Can We be? Rethinking Institutional Cultures and Values in Higher Education

The Project team attended Ascilite 2013 at Macquarie University in Sydney  and presented a concise paper  and a Symposium on the GDinHE module. In the Symposium we invited attending participants to consider three of the challenges in developing and delivering a truly  collaborative Open Educational Module.

Task and Discussion

The participants identified potential barriers and possible solutions to each of the three challenges. Their views were captured in  the following tables.

Challenge 1: Alignment and compatibility of institutional curricula models (including credit levels and teaching periods)

Challenge 1 OER collaborative courses (click to view)

Challenge 2: Enrolment and Assessment of ‘open access’ versus institutional participants and ensuring equal access to institutional owned technologies and licensed resources

Challenge 2 OER collaborative courses (click to view)

Challenge 3: Integration of open platforms of delivery with institutional technologies and administrative systems

Challenge 3 OER collaborative courses (click to view)

We invited the Symposium participants to be part of the first pilot running of the GDinHE module and we look forward to continuing the discussion.

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Realising the vision of open educational practices

Our commitment to  practices which support the production, use and reuse of high quality open educational resources (OER) as well as our vision to enhance, extend and empower the role of the learner as a co-creator of content inspired our pedagogical approach in this project. Watch our latest video  with detailed information about the key principles and  educational approaches we have envisaged for the delivery of the Global Dimensions in HE  module.

Since our last meeting in July, we have been working hard to finalise the activities for this OER module.  We will soon be in a position to announce the first call for participants. We will be looking for interested individuals to participate as  both ‘learners’ and ‘ facilitators’ of synchronous and asynchronous learning events from across the globe. Watch this space for more information.

The GDinHE Team

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A dream you dream together is reality (John Lennon)

The Global Dimensions in Higher Education Project Team held another productive meeting at Aston University on Monday and Tuesday 8th-9th of July 2013. A series of introductory videos were produced to support the understanding of the module’s aims, ethos and learning approaches. These videos will become available on this blog in the near future.

team photo

(from left to right Drs Panos Vlachopoulos, Anne Wheeler, David Walker, Keith Smyth)

The team also held fruitful discussions regarding issues facing collaborative open educational practices, including cross-institutional validation and the implications for institutional policy. A number of challenges have been identified:

  • Joint approval  of collaborative provision
  • Potential need to restructure institutional policy and regulations to accommodate  collaborative OER course design and delivery
  • Enrolment and assessment of open access versus institutional participants
  • Access to licensed resources
  • Integration of open platforms of delivery with institutional educational technologies
  • Cross-institutional administrative support
  • Distribution of developmental costs
  • Alignment  and compatibility of institutional curricula models (including credit levels and teaching periods)

The team felt that these challenges are worthy of further exploration and wider debate, and are currently exploring opportunities to involve colleagues in the sector in discussions and symposia.

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Education Vs Informal Learning (by Panos Vlachopoulos)

I share a socio-constructivist belief that interaction happens all the time, and contributes to our learning.  This blog post may encourage readers to interact with my thinking, to interact with me or other members of the project team by leaving a comment or sending an e-mail, and some things become a little clearer to readers while they do so.  That is learning through interaction.  But it’s not education.  Education is when someone or some system sets out to arrange for learning – and may partly do so by arranging for interactions of certain types and with certain purposes, between learner and learner, or learner and teacher.  I suggest it’s important to keep that distinction clear in our minds when we design Open Educational Learning Opportunities. Here are some of  my thoughts on what might take for an informal learning opportunity to be considered as ‘educational’ and perhaps become eligible to warrant certification of some sort:

1. Education, as compared to adult informal learning, is a process in which teachers play an important role.

2.  The more autonomous the learner in such processes, the more the teacher exerts an influence for effective and worthwhile learning in two distinct but allied ways.

3.  The first of these is in the creation of a task, or a structure which might include a learning contract, in which it is clear to teacher and learner the nature of the activity in which the learner is expected to engage; and where the teacher has deserved expectations that this activity should prove profitable for the learner, in the area and at the level of study which brings teacher and learner together.  Notice that the emphasis here is on the nature of the activity, and the area of study.  Particular content, and particular activity, is left to the learner, who should have been properly prepared to exercise that autonomy.

4.  The second of these ways of the teacher exerting influence is in the facilitative efforts of the teacher, within the arrangements agreed at the outset, to push the learner to be the best that they can be – either meeting expectations, or going right out into their Zone of Proximal Development.

5. In all of this, there needs to be some way of judging whether or not both sides have honoured the agreement into which they entered.  For the student, it may be assessment, or some other way of “signing off” the contract; for the teacher, it should be evaluation of the learning experience and of the standard of learning development which ensues from satisfactory completion of the agreed.

What are the implications of the above for both motivation to learn and expectations to be rewarded for doing so?  If the latter is not important, then why all these ‘noise’ about accreditations, badges and other forms of recognition for learning?

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Some reflective thoughts on facilitating ‘learning’ in open online courses: what is the responsibility of the teacher? (By Panos Vlachopoulos)

When I  teach in a  traditional classroom (as many of us often do, with large student numbers), I decide  when we start, when we finish, what homework the students might be required to complete, what tests they have  to take and pass, what learning outcomes I expected of them, even whom I would ask to talk or to answer my questions in class.  I cannot recall that my authority in such matters was ever really challenged by a class – by an individual, perhaps, but the weight of class opinion or reaction, or their lack of support, made it fairly easy for me to deal with such insurgency authoritatively, and effectively. Being authoritative about what they and I did is fairly simple, because I made almost all of the key decisions. I have chosen the syllabus and the intended learning outcomes and the level of demand to which the students should learn.  I have decided the topics they should study and I would teach, and the sequence in which they should be studied, and taught.  I made these decisions as an authority in the field, and in the processes of higher education. It was a fairly simple matter to safely arrange the programme so that I was an authority within it.

But what about in learner-directed learning settings like open courses or  even MOOCs?

When I facilitate, open learning  is much more demanding – and difficult.  I interact with a diverse group of individuals to whom I have given, in Rogers’ terms, “Freedom to Learn”. I have encouraged them each to find the most effective way for them to learn (which may well not be my way), to decide what they want and need to know (which may go well beyond my previous expertise), even to judge their learning and development according to their own criteria and values (to which I may not have previously worked).  If I am to facilitate their learning and development in these circumstances, then I must myself be ever learning and developing, so that I can do so competently.  And if I do not manage to do so, and manage to be seen to do so, then I will lose my authority with them as a teacher in this subject area.

The option of taking a managerial authority is not open to me when I facilitate learner-directed learning.  I must not direct; I must not instructor explain; I must not tell them how I would solve the problems which they encounter, or which I point out.  For if I succumbed to any of these temptations, and then I would deny the principles on which I have authoritatively opted for learner-directed learning.  And irretrievably we would regress to the instructional situation, in which passive learners would know that their teacher will teach and instruct them, if only they ask pleasantly, or demonstrate helpless incompetence.

Facilitating an open learning experience is the most challenging thing for me, yet the most rewarding when I can see students in control of their learning! But again, do we need to facilitate the ‘open’ learning experience?

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