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Creating a learning skills portal with OER at the University of Surrey


The campus, on the outskirts of Guildford, aims to deliver excellence in both teaching and research within a research-rich community. Most undergraduates study full-time; all do placements and then are effectively distance learners. There are nearly 10,000 undergraduates, 4,000 taught masters’ and professional programmes, which attract overseas students, and approximately 1,000 PhD students.

Surrey is a member of the 94 Group of research active universities, has strong links with industry and associated Science Park. We top league tables in graduate employment, probably due to the compulsory placement year.

Intended outcome(s)

The intention was to give create a collection of web resources developing study and transferable skills in students (undergraduate, masters and doctoral, early career researchers) supporting workshops via self-directed learning whilst providing materials for Learning Development and Academic staff to recommend to individuals. Technically the objective was straightforward: to create a self-explanatory website linking quality, classified resources for browsing or referencing from other sites.

The challenge

We had 3 months to create a new “Skills Portal” covering a broad range of study and transferable skills for students at different stages in their careers; undergraduate to early career researchers. Resources had to be engaging, challenging, appropriate for the level of study and academically robust. As there was no budget or staff time allocated to this project, it would not have been feasible to create resources De Nuevo. For academic staff to adopt and recommend these resources they had to be convincing, relevant, and rigorous.

Established practice

Given the time-scale of this development, the only alternative would have been pages of links to external sites. Experience shows that external websites need regular updating or rapidly become obsolete. OER materials can be downloaded and run from a local server, putting us in control. We could customize the resources (css), making them suitable for local needs and, importantly, giving uniformity with an institutional look and feel.

The OER effect

One unexpected outcome from this development is that staff are discovering OER for themselves.

Key points for effective practice

The key issues are:

a) Pedagogy: Accuracy; Interactive: promotes active learning; How can it be embedded in teaching?; Intended audience (u/g, p/g); Should there be a review process; Who should review (students, faculty, learning developers).

b) Technical: Format (doc, html, flv); How was it created (CourseGenie, Wimba, Word); Accessibility; How easy is it to repurpose?

Conclusions and recommendations

Creating “Skills Portal” was remarkably easy. Using a web server, rather than the institutional VLE (Blackboard), there was no SCORM player which meant manual editing to create indexes. Converting Word files to html was tedious; worth it where the material was particularly good. Materials generally came from a small number of institutions, so once a method has been established conversion was pretty straightforward. It was easier to download materials direct from The University of Leicester’s site than Jorum Open as the former provided files as a zip file.

Academic input is essential in selecting resources for adoption. It was sometimes difficult to identify the target audience for these rather generic development materials: undergraduate, masters, research; indeed resources may be useful to multiple audiences.

“Skills Portal” is a working OER exemplar that may encourage others to adopt this approach. In this case we simply would not have been able to provide students with the range of resources without repurposing existing materials.

Additional information

Skills Portal: http://libweb.surrey.ac.uk/library/skills/Learningskills.html

Further information: v.sieber@surrey.ac.uk

Adapted from https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20140614115352/http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/oer2/casestudies.aspx under a CC-BY license.