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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