Integrating openness in course design
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Supporting the widespread availability of OER is a goal that Athabasca University (AU) has embraced through association with the Commonwealth of Learning and by becoming a charter member of the OER University. The use of OER in AU programs has strategic local implications. While much of the potential value of OER is expressed as easier, less costly access to content, AU learning designers also focus on their potential as resources for learning activities. One reason for this strategy is the desire to address a traditional weakness of distance education – low learner persistence. In response to the challenges facing AU as it transforms the university and to the opportunities offered by open educational resources, an OER plan was developed. It captures AU’s strategic and operational approach – one that includes a series of workshops and community conversations designed for internal learning and capacity building across the university, and a series of showcase demonstrations of OER already developed and integrated into courses, with results from student and tutor feedback. These presentations share experience gained to date and stimulate ideas about how using OER in course design may improve productivity by reducing costs, speeding up development, and offering students opportunities for engagement with learning resources in ways that should keep them interested in their studies and focused on their learning. The AU experience has shown that the shift from static proprietary content to dynamic learning environments populated by openly available learning resources needs to be approached as a systemic change with complex and often unanticipated ramifications. Like a brain developing new neural connections, the institution has to open new channels of communication among faculty, designers, developers and copyright officers. The focus shifts to evaluating the reliability of free resources and accepting a certain level of risk with respect to permanence. For externally produced OER that can be appropriated and repurposed, staff technical expertise needs to be fostered. In addition to basic quality of OER, features such as availability of base code, ease of repurposing, and appropriate Creative Commons licensing all must be considered.