“Collaborate to Compete”: where does this leave content?

The OER projects in the JISC Content programme 2011-13 recently attended a workshop on “Introduction to Open Educational Resources (OER)”, organised by the Open Unviersity’s SCORE team.

All projects focus on the digitization of primary material from special collections covering a variety of subjects, from fashion design to architectural drawings and microscopic rock slides. Each project also produces a number of OERs by packaging, or “cooking up”, the “raw” digital assets for embedding in HE courses as well as for wider use and re-use.

Paraphrasing the HEFCE report on online learning, the first speaker, Andy Lane, got the audience thinking about what “Collaborate to Compete” meant to them within the context of creating and making available Open Educational Resources for students and teachers.

A stimulating discussion followed; here are some of the highlights:

• all of the projects recognised the benefits of working in partnership, in particular for the opportunity it offers to bring together content from different HE institutions as well as from other domains, such as the private or heritage sector

individual academics are on the whole happy to collaborate with colleagues from other institutions, even if their own institutions might be seen as competing with each other within a particular subject discipline

• following from the above, it was noted that competition among universities belonged more to the institutional level or the “marketing” department, and individual teachers perhaps felt that pressure less

• sometimes, however, people felt they had to collaborate because they “were told” to do so – not least by funders

competition is felt more strongly within the research community than the teaching community, but there were different views on this

collaboration had to allow for institutions to retain their own identity, especially when creating joint outputs such as OERs and making content available more broadly

• although making open content available reflected positively on an institution’s status and sense of identity, it was recognised that from a student’s point of view open content in itself wouldn’t necessarily constitute a reason for selecting the institution where to study, especially as “open content” would be available to them anyway

• recognition that there is a range of “openess” when we speak about content, and while institutions are willing to make some of their content openly available they will also jealously protect other content – the decision often based on potential revenue generating models, such as selling courses outside of the formal HE sector

“content” was likened to the music industry: what is valuable (=attracts students = makes money) is not the content itself (= music), after all students will find some content or other somewhere, through more or less legal means, that they will be able to use, but the way content is experienced by students.

So, is content king, on its own? It seems not.

The way content/OER is used within an institution – what teachers and students do with it, how it is integrated within the curriculum to engage students, promote active participation, encourage peer working and interaction, enhance learning opportunities and ultimately the student experience as part of a community within a particular institution – is what makes the difference.

And this difference has quite a bit to do with where institutions will compete.

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