Open Education Around the World: Speaks with the University of Nottingham

By Megan Driscoll

university of nottingham ocw When did the University of Nottingham begin offering course materials online, and what inspired you to join the OCW Consortium?

Steven Stapleton: The Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Internationalization at the University of Nottingham, Professor Christine Ennew, first suggested opening up our teaching and learning resources in 2006. The U-Now website was launched in 2007 and staff involvement and student engagement have steadily increased over the last five years.

We joined the OCW Consortium in academic year 2007-2008 to align ourselves with the world leaders in OpenCourseWare and to join the ever-growing international community of open resource providers. Is there a particular educational philosophy that drives your participation in open education?

SS: In implementing the Open Nottingham program, the University of Nottingham has strategically embraced an open access for teaching agenda. With benefits such as efficiency savings, promotional opportunities and enhancement of the student experience, Open Nottingham is designed to foster increased use, reuse and publication of Open Educational Resources (OER) by staff and students across the university. It aims to improve the understanding of what impact OER has on teaching and learning and aims to measure the effectiveness of open resources as a promotional tool.

Work in this area is guided by three strategic drivers:

  • Social responsibility: U-Now offers an opportunity for knowledge to be shared widely so as to increase learning opportunities for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to undertake formal qualifications. This helps to support informal learning on a local, national and international scale.
  • Promotional Opportunities: Opening up our resources to the world gives us another route publicly to demonstrate the excellence in teaching and learning at Nottingham, not only at an institutional level, but also at the school or individual level.
  • Cost Efficiencies: We believe in the potential for OER to save time and reduce costs, and are working closely with academics and students across the university to highlight examples where tangible benefits can be shown. In a recent case study of practical reuse we demonstrated how design time can be dramatically reduced with no compromise on quality. More information on the case study, which includes survey data, is available on our Open Nottingham blog. Please describe the BERLiN project and how it is promoting open education in the U.K.

SS: BERLiN (Building Exchanges for Research and Learning in Nottingham) was a yearlong project funded by JISC and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) that ran from April 2009 to April 2010. The central aim was to publish 360 credits of Nottingham's teaching and learning material as Open Educational Resources (OER) and to investigate the issues faced by higher education institutions when doing so.

BERLiN evolved into the Open Nottingham program. Of the many initiatives operating under the Open Nottingham umbrella, some make use of formal Creative Commons or Open Source licensing, while others adopt a less formal, but equally open philosophy.

We were one of the first universities in the U.K. to have a YouTube Edu Channel and more recently have launched an iTunesU site. We also have a Second Life island, giving students the opportunity to experience the unique perspective that virtual worlds bring.

One of the main barriers to ramping up both publication and use of openly licensed resources is the copyright problems that must be overcome when dealing with third-party materials. Within this often misunderstood area, the use of third-party images within PowerPoint slides and lecture notes often prohibits the publication of resources without lengthy and costly copyright clearance processes.

To address this problem, the Open Nottingham team has created the Xpert Media Search and Attribution Service, a website that helps users find openly licensed or public domain media and automatically incorporate license information into the resource. For the first time, broad audiences of educators can now easily search, repurpose and automatically attribute open resources from some of the world's most popular sites. What percentage of the University of Nottingham's course materials have made it onto the U-Now website and what types of materials do you offer - course syllabi, exams, video or audio lectures. . . ?

SS: We package our open resources as OpenCourseWare and have around 160 resources available. If you count all of the individual elements that make up the packaged resources there would be around 2,000 distinct pieces of OER.

We make all types of material available, from full modules to videos of lectures. We also make interactive learning objects available. Our current strategy is to make module handbooks available as a core offering and then hang other module resources off the handbooks. We call this the module framework approach. It allows schools and academics to engage with open learning and to test out whether it is right for them. It also allows us to make resources available that support informal learning and which help other educators to see how we deliver or courses. What are the most popular subjects on your OER site?

SS: We have a most downloaded section on U-Now that shows the items that have been most popular in the last thirty days. Currently these are Functional Analysis from the School of Mathematical Sciences, Vitamin Village from the School of Biosciences and Foundations in Evidence Based Practice from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy. This helps to show that we have a varied selection of resources. We have published resources from all faculties and from our International Campus in China. What are the demographics of your primary users? Do you track their countries of origin, age group or other information, and if so, can you share it?

SS: We collect stats for both of our OER sites, U-Now and Xpert. We use Google Analytics to collect information for U-Now. Currently we only track views to the home page and learning resources page, but we plan to start tracking individual resources because it's our belief that most users go straight to the resources.

Keeping in mind that these are therefore incomplete, we have the following information about U-Now: From March 2010 to March 2011 we had 5,876 unique visitors, during which time the number of our available resources rose from about 100 to about 150. Our visitors originated from 141 different countries, with 40 percent coming from the U.K., 20 percent from the U.S. and 20 percent from China. (We have a campus in Ningbo, China.)

Our Xpert developer, Pat Lockley, passed on the following stats from Xpert: We've had 2,508,783 site visits since January 10, 2011, with 4,197 searches coming from remote sources such as the API (as opposed to people searching directly from the site). Do you ever plan to offer translations of your OER materials into other languages?

SS: This isn't something that we plan to do. We would be happy for others to remix our content to make this happen, but it is out of scope for our project. Are there any other current or in-development initiatives at the University of Nottingham to promote open education?

SS: We are in the process of updating the U-Now website. The new version will have significantly improved functionality. For example, users will have a number of ways of searching the site and we will offer users the option to run related searches in the Xpert search engine.

We see real value in helping people run subject searches and join up resources that are available in different locations. Xpert currently provides access to over 160,000 learning resources, so if U-Now doesn't have what people are looking for, we can direct them somewhere that might. Joining up the two University of Nottingham initiatives will give the users of U-Now a richer experience.

We are also keen to build connections between producers and consumers and will allow users to leave comments. Users will be able to subscribe to subject-specific RSS feeds, so they can stay up to date as the number of resources in their area increases. We are also looking at ways of linking U-Now resources with established university systems, such as online prospectuses and school web pages. It makes sense to us to help people find content where they are naturally expecting to find it. Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about U-Now's OER program.

SS: The multifaceted approach to Open Nottingham has generated a measurable increase in engagement with OER in 2010-2011. For example, an optional OER module is now available as part of the Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, which helps new lecturers embed openness in working practices at the start of their careers. Also, an ever-increasing number of schools are now publishing open content and an academic-led steering group is overseeing the strategic direction of the program.

There is still much work to do to ensure the good results achieved so far can be sustained, but the infrastructure is in place to support the long term goal of education for all.

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