Adoption of Policy and Practice of OER: A Case of Wawasan Open University, Malaysia

Mohan Menon

Wawasan Open University

Open Educational Resources (OER) movement steadily picking up in the last over a decade has led to the availability of digitised resources for free use with various levels of open licences and has opened up innovative possibilities for reuse, remix and repurpose of these resources for suitably integrating in classroom instruction as well as course development and learner support in Open and Distance Learning. While OER integration provides easy access to latest digital content of known quality drawn from variety of global sources it also allows each user or institution to have locally designed study programme and learner support relevant to the context and learner needs. This proposal is an attempt to share the experiences of Wawasan Open University (WOU), in formulating an OER Institutional Policy for the University including an open licence policy and implementing a strategy in systematically inculcating the philosophy in its academic staff and adopting the practices underlying OER movement in all core academic engagements of the University.

Wawasan Open University was established in 2007 in Penang, Malaysia, by a charitable foundation, with a mission to provide low cost and flexible access to higher education for Malaysian adults. Over the last seven years it has embarked on a series of innovative and cost effective approaches to providing educational services to the Malaysian public. One such approach is to use Open Educational Resources in the construction of its learning materials first through creating appropriate institutional policies and second by testing different models of course development under this policy.

The vision statement of WOU is “we aspire to be a vibrant learning community that inspires learning, supports innovation and nurtures all-round personal growth”. Since its establishment the University used flexible modalities to make higher education accessible to all – anytime, anywhere – and to create a lifelong learning community for aspiring individuals regardless of their previous educational, ethnic or socio-economic background. All the programmes of the University aimed at offering undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are of good quality and market driven.

So far more than fourteen thousand working adults have registered with WOU and has benefitted in acquiring new skills and knowledge through one or more courses in a given field of specialization. This has helped a number of adults in finding vertical mobility in their occupation and also finding new jobs. The efforts also have helped these adults in getting social recognition and personal satisfaction of achievement in view of their acquiring degrees.

While WOU could develop a quality assured ICT enabled system of ODL catering to the higher education needs of working adults, its major challenge has been to continue providing quality higher education to larger number of students in cost-effective manner without increasing student fee and achieve cost-revenue break even. The need for reducing cost of course development and delivery became very critical. The university started considering new strategic options for reorganising its course development processes in order to improve its cost efficiency while maintaining its quality.

Responding to the worldwide OER movement, WOU initiated a discussion on how an open university can contribute to as well as benefit from being part of the OER movement. Since its inception in 2006, the University has been adopting royalty paid external course materials and also using copyrighted textbooks thereby incurring very high costs. There was thinking within the University that one could improve the quality as well as cost-efficiency of its course development and delivery through a systematic induction of the OER philosophy and practice in course creation processes. WOU’s initiation to the OER movement happened in two dimensions, external and internal. Working in the external dimension, the University in collaboration with some external institutions/experts, founded the OER-Asia initiative in early 2011. Internally, work was initiated in early 2011 in starting an in-house discussion on the pros and cons of accepting OER philosophy and adopting OER practices in the core academic engagements of the University. The present proposal shares the ongoing work and success experience in this continuing effort. This proposal intends to share all the processes adopted since January 2011 in managing a change of mindset among the top and middle management as well as the academic and academic support staff of the University through a number of well-planned and strategically executed activities.

The Council of the Wawasan Open University directed the University in December 2010 to consider and develop a proposal for possible adoption of OER related practices and bring out a detailed implementation plan in order to transform the existing course development process with an aim to increase the quality and cost-efficiency of developing and delivering course materials. In response to this a discussion paper titled ‘OER Integration in WOU-Policy Directions, Strategic Outputs and Action Plan’ was prepared and discussed extensively within the University. This led to the formulation and adoption of a WOU-OER Policy followed by the acceptance of a WOU-Open Licence. A comprehensive plan of action to mainstream OER Policy and OER-Open Licence has been developed and is being implemented. The actions implemented under the plan include the following:
• Initiation of awareness building activities and informal discussions within the university starting early 2011.
• Appointment of a dedicated academic leader to advise the Vice Chancellor with regard to OER adoption and strengthening of e-learning in the University
• Development and delivery of Two pilot courses using OER multi-media materials during 2012.
• Approval and adoption of two models of course development viz. ‘Warp-around model’ with only OER and ‘Stand-alone model’ with copy righted books or/and OER.
• Capacity building of academic and academic support staff in OER creation, OER integration, open licencing and designing for OER-based e-learning environment.
• Creation of WOU-OER web-site and repository
• Initiating a research project for exploring the processes involved in OER integration for course development and its impact on cost-efficiency and quality of course materials produced
• Development and implementation of OER-integration plans by each School of studies

The OER adoption and integration plan of the University is progressing well and some of the evidences of improvement in quality and cost-efficiency are available for sharing. The paper will present some evidences which clearly indicate that Open Education practices including OER use are largely accepted in the University and this has made significant changes in the thinking and functioning of the academic and academic support staff. More staff are inclined to use available OER for their course development as well as engage in research in OER and related areas. OER use has been integrated to the quality assurance processes in the University and this has brought increased cost efficiency in course development and delivery.