Grappling with the concepts of “impact” and “openness” in relation to OER: Current developments in the ROER4D Project

Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams

University of Cape Town

Now that OER have been around for over a decade, research projects are turning their attention to the impact of the use of OER on a range of educational aspects including student achievement, teacher performance, quality of teaching and learning materials, learning processes and the broader educational systems. To date most of the OER research has been undertaken in the Global North concerning issues such as costs of open textbooks (Wiley, Green & Soares 2012; Wiley, Hilton III, Ellington & Hall 2012; Hilton, Robinson, Wiley & Ackerman 2014); business models (McGill, Currier, Duncan & Douglas 2008); and student satisfaction with “flexbooks” (Lindshield & Adhikari 2013).

Little OER research has yet emanated from countries in the Global South (Hatakka 2009), but where it it has, it has mostly focused on OER “adoption” (OER creation and use) and not so much on OER “impact” per se. Some research studies in the Global South have been part of other international OER research efforts – such as the COL/UNESCO Survey on Governments’ OER Policies (Hoosen 2012) – while others have been part of Global North and South inter-institutional OER projects, such as the TESSA project (Thakrar, Zinn & Wolfenden 2009; Wolfenden, Buckler & Keraro 2010) and the OER Health Project (Harley 2011). Some research has been initiated in the Global South, for example Hodgkinson-Williams and Paskevicius’ (2012; 2013), which investigated ways in which senior students can assist academics in adapting existing materials into OER. However, none of these studies specifically addresses the possible impact of OER.

The paucity of research on the impact of OER on a range of educational aspects has triggered the focus of one of the Sub-Projects in the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development in the Global South (ROER4D) project. An open call was issued in mid-2014 for studies that focused specifically on the impact of the use of OER in Global South contexts. Part of the challenge faced by the ROER4D team and proposal writers was to clarify what was understood by the term “impact” as well as “openness” to ensure that the focus of the studies surfaced the impact of “open” educational resources and not on educational materials in general.

This paper will trace the deliberations around what is meant by “impact” and “openness” in relation to the study of OER in Global South contexts. It will draw on the current literature around “impact” (de los Arcos, Farrow, Perryman, Pitt & Weller 2014) and “openness” (Mansell 2013; Smith 2014; Weller 2014), and share strategies adopted in the ROER4D-Impact Studies Workshop held in Penang (December 2014) and subsequent ROER4D webinars to help better conceptualise and operationalise these slippery concepts in relation to OER.

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Grappling with "openness" and "impact in OER research from ROER4D