Mainstreaming Open Educational Practice in a Research University: Prospects and Challenges

This is the abstract of the paper that I’ll be giving at the OER15: Mainstreaming Open Education conference in April…

OER15 thumbnail-300x165Increasingly, the case is made that OER should be deployed within pedagogic practices that ‘rely on social interaction, knowledge creation, peer-learning, and shared learning practices’ (Ehlers, 2011: 6). Within an individual institution, this may entail exploring the relationship between the principles and practices of openness in education and the values and practices espoused by individual academics in order to identify an optimal institutional approach to OEP (open educational practice).

This paper reports on an investigation into this relationship at a leading research-intensive university with substantial OER collections that reflect its strategic priority for global reach (University of Oxford, nd). Additionally, numerous staff are active in open science initiatives, and open access publishing is rising in response to funders’ mandates.

We conducted semi-structured interviews with 14 members of teaching staff from a range of disciplines, selected either for their involvement in open practices or for the recognition they had received for excellence in their teaching. The interview schedule was based on a conceptual framework of OEP focussing on sharing and reusing OER, open pedagogic models, students’ learning in an open world, and open educational knowledge. The framework was synthesised from an extensive literature review and will be presented in the paper. As a research-intensive university, we were also interested in identifying cross-fertilisation from open science to OEP.

A number of our findings are distinctive to the University, but nonetheless can prompt broader discussion. For example, interviewees considered the characteristics of the open pedagogic models to be already embedded in its model of individual and small-group teaching – which raises the questions whether, if the pedagogic goal is what counts, it can remain acceptable to achieve that goal using ‘closed’ means, and whether teachers can simply opt into those aspects of openness that enhance their existing practice (cf. Beetham et al. 2012).

Other findings are perhaps more generally applicable, and the paper will also invite discussion around these. For example, although their professional values may resonate with those of openness, academics may feel more confident being open in their research activities than in their teaching, in part because the latter is both personal to them and personalised to their students. An asymmetry in the motivating factors to share versus reuse resources – viz., altruism and knowledge self-efficacy (van Acker et al., 2013) versus suitability to the immediate pedagogic need – may call into question how far these behaviours are two sides of the same coin.

Finally, although the University’s devolved decision-making structure is also distinctive, interview data regarding a potential institutional strategy for OEP may hold true across the sector. Interviewees identified the need for a clear position on openness and its implementation; a sound understanding of the consequences it might bring (intended and unintended); and above all an emphasis on autonomy: freedom of choice at both the individual and departmental level.


Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L. & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open Practices: a briefing paper.

Ehlers, U.-D. (2011). Extending the Territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices. Journal of Open, Flexible, and Distance Learning, 15(2): 1–10.

University of Oxford (nd). Strategic Plan 2013–18.

Van Acker, F., Van Buuren, H., Kreijns, K. & Vermeulen, M. (2013). Why Teachers Share Educational Resources: A Social Exchange Perspective, in R. McGreal, W. Kinuthia & S. Marshall (eds.), Open Educational Resources: Innovation, Research and Practice (pp. 177–191). Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning and Athabasca University.

CC-BYFor consistency with the OER15 conference documentation, the text in this post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.

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