Reaching out beyond the OER bubble!
by Fiona Schmidbauer, NextEducation Research Group, Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University Karlsruhe, Germany
In June 2022, the 10th Conference of the University Industry Innovation Network took place in Amsterdam. UIIN Conference aims to connect the university and industry sector, mixing science and practice and thus combining research and practical experience. The 350+ attendees were mainly from higher education (HE) institutions, but also from a wide range of organizations in the industrial sector, e.g. leading tech companies, the mobility sector or publishing houses. ENCORE+ participated through a presentation from the NextEducation research group from Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW), Germany. The DHBW is the first higher education institution in Germany to integrate academic studies with workplace training. The NextEducation research group focuses on the topic of transformation of educational organizations and processes, of teaching and of lifelong learning in an increasingly digitized world. The presentation from NextEducation research group at the UIIN Conference 2022 posed the question of how OER can become more relevant for education and training within the world of work. This topic is a core part of the ENCORE+ mission, and the slides, “New alliances for Open Education & training resources for European higher education and businesses” are available here.
We were pleased to see that about 40 participants attended the 15-minute presentation. After addressing the situation of and challenges for Open Educational Resources (OER) in Europe, the ENCORE+ project was introduced.
The presentation generated a lot of interest and questions in the audience, especially about the wider topic of Open Education (OE) and how to create a culture of openness in education. The general interest in the topic was positive and constructive with forward looking questions towards OER uptake.
Among the many questions that were raised, the following stood out:
- In what way do instructors, teachers and professional educators profit from Open Education? Why should they share their material openly as OER?
- How can professional educators motivate their institutions, e.g. universities, to participate in Open Education and make their content openly accessible?
- What has to happen concretely to integrate and launch the uptake of OER in businesses and industry?
- How is the quality of Open Educational Resources ensured? How can users know they can trust in the quality of an OER?
The large number of questions asked after the panel showed a clear interest in the field of open educational practices from both the world of work and higher education alike. The role of openly licensed learning material as a route to innovation and entrepreneurship was very much recognized, as well as the factors of cost saving and inclusiveness. However, at the same time, the concerns that were raised made it clear that Open Education and OER are still unfamiliar terms and concepts to many. If conference attendees knew about Open Educational Resources at all, they lacked an understanding of how to integrate them in business models, organizational strategies or curricula. This is, perhaps, not a surprise in the business field, but, and this is an key insight taken away from UIIN Conference, attendees from the field of higher education also barely knew about Open Education or OER. This presents a call to action for the OE community in Europe!
After our presentation, we discussed with a lot of higher education representatives to find out whether they were familiar with the concept of Open Education or had heard of Open Educational Resources. The HE representatives were mainly from university innovation hubs, university-industry transfer programs, or entrepreneurial teaching tracks. Many of them didn’t know what to make of the concept of Open Educational Resources; twice OER were deemed the same as MOOCs. So even if there was a slight recognition of Open Education, no representative we talked to made the connection between Open Education, OER and innovation. However, when we explained OER as an infrastructure of knowledge which ideas and content can be built upon, and which enables people to experiment freely at low risk and low cost, the reactions were one hundred percent positive. Conference attendees even went so far as to ask us about concrete strategies on how to integrate OER into their businesses or higher ed concepts. The crucial point wasn’t a lack of interest, but a lack of awareness of OER.
What this experience showed is that we need to continue to focus on collecting best practices of viable and sustainable open educational practices and also OER policies and strategies of institutions. We need to analyze concrete cases of integrated OER and extract implementation strategies for business and academia.
And, most importantly, we need to reach out beyond the OER bubble!
Firstly, we need to burst the bubble of thinking that everyone knows about OER. There still are a lot of potential stakeholders who are not familiar with the concept of Open Educational Practices. We need to make stakeholders aware of Open Educational Practices by presenting them with specific strategies and cases on how to integrate OER in their organizations, how to use it as a launch pad for entrepreneurship, and make OEP a value proposition for innovation.
Secondly, we need to reach out beyond the bubble of the OER community in Europe. While we have an amazing Open Education community in Europe that is supportive, inclusive and willing to connect, we need to move out of this community into other networks to make OER more popular in other fields. Take the UIIN Conference 2022 as an example. While this is a place to talk about the latest developments in the field of innovative university-business ecosystems, Open Educational Practices were not part of the discussion. Open Education players like OER repositories, online universities, or concepts of open teaching and training were not represented.
We can learn from this that we need to break out of our European OE community and be more present in other fields. When we enter new networks, we need to bring viable and concrete strategies for the integration of open educational practices to the table. That way, we can make clear the important role of open educational practices for innovation.
Our project ENCORE+ responds to this by identifying viable and sustainable open educational practices and extracting from them implementation strategies for business and academia. By integrating OER into business models and organizational policies, we stimulate the uptake of OER as well as an opening up of organizational cultures in the future.
There are several ways to follow up on our project work!
- Read about our current state of research in our position papers which are continuously being developed.
- Engage in our project events in which we present our current state of work and open our network of OER experts to the public. Through our events, we enable you to get connected with stakeholders in the field of Open Education!
- Stay updated by signing up to our newsletter or following our blog!
- Share your experiences, inspiration and questions with us via e-mail or comment under this post!
What are your experiences with the recognition of OER as a route to innovation?
What do you think are the next important steps that we as the European OE community need to take in order to support the uptake of OER (in HE and business)?