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OER Research Hub

8. Oct 2015 Contributed by OER Research Hub

OER Research Hub (OERRH) was a research project funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation between 2012 and 2015. Based in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) at The Open University (UK), OERRH was designed to build networks of professional expertise; to find ways to explore and describe the worldwide impact of OER; and to create research tools that could be reused.

OERRH combined:

  • A hub for research data and OER excellence in practice
  • A targeted collaboration program with existing OER projects
  • An international fellowship programme
  • Networking to improve connections

OERRH investigated eleven hypotheses about open education. These were derived from central claims made by advocates of OER as well as key questions for the OER movement as produced by Open Learning Network (OLNet).

  • Use of OER leads to improvement in student performance and satisfaction;
  • The open aspect of OER creates different usage and adoption patterns than other online resources;
  • Open education models lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education;
  • Use of OER is an effective method for improving retention for at-risk students;
  • Use of OER leads to critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice;
  • OER adoption at an institutional level leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions;
  • Non-formal learners use a variety of indicators when selecting OER;
  • Non-formal learners adopt a variety of techniques to compensate for the lack of formal support, which can be supported in open courses;
  • Open education acts as a bridge to formal education, and is complementary, not competitive, with it;
  • Participation in OER pilots and programs leads to policy change at institutional level;
  • Non-formal means of assessment are motivators to learning with OER.

These claims about OER impact provided the central questions for the project and framing these as hypotheses provided the grounding for the project methodology. A combination of surveys and field interviews were used most often, but other data sets were consulted as they became available.

OERRH worked with an open collaboration model, connecting with a wide range of stakeholders of different sectors of the OER world. Primary research collaborations covered School/K12 (Flipped Learning Network, Vital Signs, Siyavula); College (BC Campus Open Textbook Project, Community College Consortium for OER, MERLOT, OpenStax College, Open Course Library); Higher Education (OpenLearn, iTunesU, Project Co-PILOT, TESS-India); and ‘Non-formal Learners’ (Bridge to Success, Saylor Academy, School of Open). In addition the project fostered connections with a wide range of stakeholders and advocates (including Creative Commons, the International Council for Distance Education (ICDE), Lumen Learning, and SPARC).

A flexible approach to collaboration at this scale was used to maintain focus on the key questions raised by practice. The fellowship programme supplemented this network by bringing a range of OER experts to Milton Keynes (UK) to work on specific research questions. These included representatives of collaboration partners as well as those who were selected from open competition.

The project shared evidence gathered through mixed methods research including interviews, surveys, focus groups, critical incidence analysis, activity theory and analysis of learning design. A summary of the evidence gathered can be found in the OER Evidence Report 2013-2014. Findings were also disseminated via the OER Impact Map (a mapping initiative which published information about the demonstrable impact of OER in different parts of the world). The Survey Data Explorer makes results available through interactive tools for practitioners and policymakers to explore for themselves. In addition, work from the project has been published in journals, presented at conferences around the world, and used to produce infographics.

OER Research Hub was recognized with an a 2014 Open Research Award of Excellence (ACE) by Open Education Consortium in recognition of ‘continued efforts to promote the importance of online and open education through the OER Research Hub’. In 2015 the project was awarded an Open University Engaging Research Award for the Open Research course delivered with School of Open. The team continue to be active in OER research and evaluation.

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