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OpenCases: the OERu case study

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OpenCases is a study which is part of the OpenEdu Project. It is a qualitative study consisting of a review of literature on open education and nine in-depth case studies of higher education institutions, a consortium of universities, a private organisation and a national initiative. It analysed the rationale and enabling conditions for involvement in open education, open education activities, strategies, impact, challenges and prospects. The main outcome of this study is evidence that a large number of OER have reached a large group of learners. However, completion rates of MOOCs are low. Accreditation is not formalised and in general its impact on employability is not measured.

The OER Universitas (OERu) was set up in 2011 with the aim to increase mainstreaming adoption of open education for all educational institutions, worldwide. It was set up as an independent organisation so that it could have the necessary freedom to develop and link with different kinds of higher education institutions. Today, OERu offers a wide range of self-standing courses, is working towards offering a full undergraduate programme (Bachelor of General Studies), and postgraduate programmes that could be taken in full at OERu. It also offers preparatory (foundation) courses for entry into higher education.

OERu is not a higher education institution, but a consortium of higher education institutions which, in order to become part of OERu, commit to prepare a minimum of two open courses. OERu requires that the institutions that join its network are recognised by qualifications authorities in their jurisdictional regions.

OERu aims to cater for different types of students: (1) ‘free learners’, who participate in its courses out of self-interest and without a desire for academic credit, (2) students who desire some kind of recognition (certificate of achievement or attendance) and (3) students who desire formal academic credit –through recognition by OERu’s partner universities. OERu is particularly used in relation to free-learning and non-formal recognition. On the other hand formal recognition has, so far, been very limited.

OERu defends new pedagogies, around independent self-directed learning through the discovery, use and evaluation of open educational resources. Its model aims to challenge teacher-directed pedagogies and to promote collaborative learning as part of a community where students can support each other. Research has not been, so far, a priority activity for OERu, but any research done around the OERu or with which the OERu collaborates has to be open and all the data that the OERu collects for its research projects is open. OERu is very open in relation to its operations. It subscribes to the principles of Open Philanthropy, and welcomes all genuine contributions to its decisionmaking and collaborations. All key OERu management information is available from the web.

OERu sees openness in higher education as the only viable alternative for the sector’s sustainability: OERu’s reported that the costs of higher education have been increasing beyond inflation for some time –in particular in Anglo-Saxon countries- in a way that OERu sees as not sustainable. By contrast, OERu sees open education as sustainable because it operates through radical cost reduction and efficient use of resources. As an example of this, the OERu operates a “sustainable disaggregated service model provision”. While university fees tend to cover all the services universities provide (student services, tutorial services, teaching, examinations, accreditation) the OERu disaggregates these elements in a way that it sees as being more sustainable: (1) contents are provided at no cost; (2) support and technology services are funded through OERu member contributions; (3) assessment services are provided to learners on a cost recovery basis by partner institutions. In the academic year 2014/15 the OERu, which currently has 33 contributing partners, became financially self-sustainable. The organisation aims to have 70 contributing partners by 2017. Institutions benefit, according to OERu, from the use ‘on campus’ of open education resources that they produce, by attracting new students, from sharing resources, infrastructure and technologies for open education, from high visibility and from the opportunity to network with other higher education institutions.

The OERu aims to provide a low cost (institutional fees to be part of the network are modest), low risk, but high impact way to innovate and share experiences in open higher education, and has grown its network rapidly. However, some aspects are particularly pressing in the short and medium term for the network. While formal accreditation is possible and important for OERu, this has not yet been widely used. It will be necessary to monitor progress in this respect. There is also a need for greater evidence regarding the educational progression or labour market outcomes derived from participation in its activities. Greater language diversification in terms of content and partners would also enhance the network, which has so far been largely Anglophone-based.

The full document is available online at http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC101533/jrc101533_opencases%20case%20studies%20on%20openness%20in%20education.pdf.

This extract comes from the the OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education document which states that reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged. Source: Souto-Otero, M., Inamorato dos Santos, A., Shields, R., Lažetić, P., Castaño-Muñoz, J., Devaux, A., Oberheidt, S., Punie, Y. (2016) OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education. Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission. EUR 27937 EN, doi:10.2791/039825