Developing a Framework for Open Educational Practices at the University of the Highlands and Islands

Public Domain Image, Pixabay

The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) is a tertiary, geographically and digitally distributed university that comprises thirteen Academic Partners including FE and HE focused colleges, and specialist research institutes. Within the Highlands and Islands region, the university covers a geographic area that is approximately the size of Belgium and provides local access to Higher Education in geographically dispersed rural locales, and well as within the urban centres in the region. Due to our geographically dispersed nature we have a comprehensive and robust technology infrastructure supporting our learning, teaching and administrative functions.

Sharing and collaboration across the university is essential in the above context and this is achieved in many ways using a variety of technologies, some more ‘open’ than others. The UHI Toolkit, a lightweight repository using a restricted Dublin Core architecture is used for sharing learning and teaching materials internally; the streaming service is used for sharing lectures, webinar recordings and videos publicly (see here for an excellent keynote on open educational practice).

Open educational practice at the University of the Highlands and Islands is not new and indeed there has been activity in some areas in previous years with a well-established open access policy and institutional open access repository (PURE). In addition we are an active member of the OERu, were involved in Open Education Practices Scotland (OEPS) and colleagues are actively involved in the open Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice (JPAAP) as editors, reviewers and contributors . Other initiatives in the university such as the Jisc funded eTextbook Institutional Publishing Service (eTIPS) project, whilst focused on producing low-cost etextbooks, have provided us with processes and knowledge that are adaptable and will enable us to develop our open practice going forward.

Developing the framework

To focus, consolidate and enhance our open educational practice we are currently putting together a ‘Framework for the development of open educational practices’. The framework will provide a 3-year route map for increased activity in 6 areas:

  • Open textbooks
  • Open educational resources
  • Open pedagogic practices
  • Open learning opportunities
  • Open scholarship
  • Open educational research

Year 1 is now underway, kicked off on the 20th November with the ‘Open all ours’ event, a series of workshops and presentations including an excellent keynote by Lorna M. Campbell from the University of Edinburgh OER service. The focus of year 1 is on benchmarking, building relationships, raising awareness and undertaking the preparatory work for year 2. In Year 2 we will be implementing new systems and policies, running pilot projects and increasing the engagement with open practices across the 6 areas identified. Year 3 will evaluate the impact of years 1 and 2 and build on the initiatives and practices already established.

Pulling together the framework has been a learning experience, not least understanding the impact of all the relevant declarations, government policies and institutional strategies. Most readers will be familiar with UNESCO and the 2017 Ljubljana OER action plan and subsequent OER recommendation, perhaps less of you will be aware of the Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) College and University Sector ICT Strategy 2019 – 2021 and fewer again of the University of the Highlands  and Islands Learning and Teaching Enhancement Strategy (LTES). Each of these in their own way influence and support open educational practices across the university.

The university’s LTES has 12 values, one of which is ‘harnessing open education approaches’ with the aim of:

“Developing online and other open education practices and approaches to support and enhance learning and teaching, to use, create and share open educational resources, and to widen access to education including within our local communities.”

Reflecting on feedback from the first draft of the framework it is evident that the view from inside the institution differs in some ways from the external perspective. A simple example is the use of the word ‘delivery’ when talking about education. Until it was pointed out I hadn’t really considered the connotation, that of one-way traffic. Other areas where there were differences was in the breadth of coverage of open education and what definition to use, who should be engaged across the university (don’t forget the student body), the importance of collaboration and co-creation, whether we should have an institutional repository, quality assurance processes and the importance of staff skills to the overall success. Suffice to say it was worthwhile having internal and external reviewers as this has given a breadth and depth that may otherwise have been missing.

The framework has now been approved for distribution as a consultation document by the university Quality Assurance and Enhancement Committee and Academic Council and will be made available to the wider university body at the university learning and teaching conference on the 22/23 January 2020. Once fully accepted by the university we will of course publish it as an open resource under a Creative Commons license.

Author information:  Scott Connor is the Educational Development Leader (Flexible and Open Learning) at the University of the Highlands and Islands Learning and Teaching Academy.

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