OPAL (2011) Beyond OER Essen Germany: University of Duisburg-Essen
OPAL (the Open Educational Quality Initiative) is an international network to promote innovation and better quality in education and training through the use of open educational resources. OPAL is initiated through international organisations in order to establish a forum which works to build greater trust in using and promoting open educational resources. The project is part funded by the European Commission Education and Training Lifelong Learning Programme.
The OPAL Initiative is a partnership between seven organizations including the ICDE, UNESCO, European Foundation for Quality, the Open University UK, Aalto University and the Catholic University Portugal. It is led by the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
This study presents the findings of a quantitative study on the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) in Higher Education and Adult Learning Institutions. The study is based on the results of an online survey targeted at educational policy makers; institutional policy makers/managers; educational professionals; and learners.
The report starts by stating:
The use [of open educational resources] in higher education (HE) and adult education (AE) has not yet reached a critical threshold, which is posing an obstacle to a seamless provision of high quality learning resources and practices for citizens’ lifelong learning efforts…. the current focus in OER is mainly put on building more access to digital content. There is little consideration of whether this will support educational practices, promote quality and innovation in teaching and learning…. we suggest therefore, extending the focus beyond ‘access’ to ‘innovative open educational practices’ (OEP)….a shift [is required] from a phase in which the preliminary focus was on opening access to resources to a phase in which the primary aim is to embed OER into learning and teaching practice.’
Starting from this prespective, the study examined the current use and the perceived quality of OERs and asked: ‘How do educators use OER in practice? What are their attitudes? Do organisational leaders
understand the importance of shifting from a resource focus to a practice focus?’ All good questions.
However, there is a major methodological issue with this study. It seems that about 500 people in eight countries responded to the survey. However, the report does not explain how the the sample was chosen, how many were sent the questionnaire, nor what the response rate was, so we have no way of assessing the reliability of the information. Hence some surprising results: the largest number of respondents by far were from Portugal, suggesting a local bias in how the survey was conducted. We don’t know whether the sample was based on familiarity with OER’s or not. It is really unforgivable to do a large quantitative study without explaining the basis for the survey sample. This is a real pity, because the report does try to get at some key questions.
As a result, I’m not going to attempt to summarize the results. You need to read the report for yourselves, very carefully. However, the study seems to me to be a good opportunity missed as a result of a flawed methodology. But for those of you desperate for quantitative information on the use of OER’s and the barriers to use, it might be worth the effort.