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The value of reflexive methods for enhancing pedagogical practice in the context of OER development

Teaser

This case study is based on the Cascading Social Science Open Educational Resources project (thereafter referred to as ‘cascade project’) undertaken by C-SAP (Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics) between August 2010 and August 2011 as part of the second phase of the HEA/JISC-funded UK Open educational Resources programme. The case study examines ways in which engagement with OER impacts academic practice and focuses on the potential of reflexive methods to enhance teaching quality.

This case study is based on the Cascading Social Science Open Educational Resources project (thereafter referred to as ‘cascade project’) undertaken by C-SAP (Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics) between August 2010 and August 2011 as part of the second phase of the HEA/JISC-funded UK Open Educational Resources programme. The case study examines ways in which engagement with OER impacts academic practice and focuses on the potential of reflexive methods to enhance teaching quality.

The project sought to cascade support for embedding OER within the social sciences curriculum. The project team relied on a collaborative methodology embedded within the paradigm of communities of practice, with reflection at the core of project methodology. The guiding principle for that approach is that through reflection, academic practice can be critically reviewed and better understood in order to enhance the potential of OER to be shared and reused. Accordingly, the project team worked alongside project partners and supported them to develop their own understandings of the cascade framework rather than offer prescriptive templates or ready-made solutions.

The cascade framework developed in the context of the project is a model of release, discovery and reuse of Open Educational Resources, which can be ‘cascaded’, that is, taken up and incorporated into new contexts by academics wishing to engage with Open Educational Resources. The model offers a set of tools, which will allow academics to reflect upon their own practice and examine conditions in which their teaching resources can be used/reused and shared, including but not limited to their institutional culture, technical skills, knowledge on how to find/(re)use OER and their individual orientation towards pedagogical innovation. This way, the C-SAP cascade model focuses more on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’ of OER; that is, it emphasises the broader context in which OER are created and (re)used and any resulting issues and/or tensions rather than addressing solely the technical aspects of opening up teaching resources.

Methods used during the development or use of OER

The project team worked with a small cluster of academic staff from three higher education institutions, including an HE in FE institution. The project methodology, which will be discussed in more detail in later sections of the case study, was based on a collaborative method of working with project partners, with an emphasis on reflection in the process of learning about OER. Reflexive tasks were a core element of project methodology and were designed to support the partners in articulating a rationale for embedding OER within their individual and institutional context. Through reflexive tasks, project partners were encouraged to expose and challenge some of the tacit assumptions about academic practice and sharing teaching resources. This in turn informed their efforts aimed at releasing OER and the resources created in the context of the project are discussed in more detail in further on in the case study. The project team also arranged for a number of opportunities for interaction between the partners through face-to-face meetings, workshops and phone conversations aimed at supporting partners in the process of developing their understandings of OER and articulating their approach towards OER creation and reuse.

Methods adopted for analysis and evaluation

All outputs produced in the context of reflexive tasks and partner meetings were captured on the project wiki (accessible from: http://cascadeoer2.pbworks.com), which during the lifetime of the project functioned as a closed and password protected space for documenting ideas, storing relevant documents and resources and maintaining a small community of practice. The wiki remained closed to the core project team until the end of August 2011 when a revised version aimed at a more general audience was released as one of the project outputs. Furthermore, the public blog (http://csapopencascade.wordpress.com) was used by the project team as a space to inform the wider OER community of workin-progress on the cascade project as well as to comment on issues of relevance to the larger programme such as open textbooks, accessibility or challenges specific to the HE in FE institutions.

The data were reviewed by the project team for emergent themes, which were based on research questions identified at the outset of the project and focused on the sociocultural, institutional and pedagogical context for OER use and creation. Themes were then revised and extended to reflect the issues emerging from the data, with the team regularly taking stock of emerging themes to compile and refine a list of categories. On the basis of that list, outputs from reflexive tasks and any other data hosted on the wiki were tagged with relevant categories.

Finally, the project evaluation plan combined formative and summative aspects of evaluation, which will be explored in more detail in later sections of the case study.

Key lessons learnt

As will be argued in this case study, the work undertaken by the C-SAP team points to the relevance of a reflexive approach, where discussion of pedagogical frameworks is incorporated as an essential element of creating and repurposing OER. The project team strove to demonstrate that it is within the space of reflection that tacit ideas related to academic practice can be teased out, exposed and then possibly challenged. This approach has the potential of contributing to long-lasting changes in academic practice so that teaching resources are designed with openness in mind and sharing is more of forethought rather than a costly and problematic afterthought. Thus, the case study showcases the value of approaching OER in a critical and reflexive way and challenging some of the taken-for-granted assumptions when it comes to entrenched academic habits. Furthermore, this case study emphasises the relevance of addressing issues related to pedagogy and tacit elements of academic practice, where these are positioned as being of equal importance to issues related to technical development.

This extract is from a case study by Anna Gruszczynska, published online at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/oer_cs_anna_gruszczynska_value_of_reflective_methods.pdf under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.