Open for Access

It’s approaching the end of the month and my curation of the Open Scotland account. There’s so much I planned to write but find myself running out of time. Before I go, let’s return to the Scottish Open Education Declaration. The declaration recognised the potential of open education to “expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens”. This is where I see my own open practice situated so let me tell you a little about how I use OER in widening access.

The Open University has an open admissions policy, which means students don’t need to have prior educational qualifications to study for a degree with us. This was pretty radical in 1969 and I’d argue still a powerful counter to prevailing neoliberal narratives about ‘standards’. Our university is explicit about its social justice mission to make education accessible to all. To help fulfil this, we make a percentage of all our content available for free on OpenLearn. OpenLearn allows us to engage with learners who may be very distant from higher education. It means we can begin where they are at, with the subject that interests them, at the level they are ready to learn and at their own pace. But OpenLearn is a beast – after 14 years and thousands of OER, from one minute videos to 100 hour courses, the choices can be overwhelming. Where to begin?

Over the years the OU in Scotland has developed a model called open learning champions. We have worked collaboratively with community and third sector organisations to develop a network of ‘champions’ who can support potential learners to access online learning, develop confidence and build digital skills. How they do that depends on their role and the relationship they have with learners. Some will get learners started and leave them to explore for themselves, others will provide 1:1 support to undertake a course, some champions have taken an OER and run it offline with a group of learners or used a blended approach with some online learning and some group work. We have also worked with third sector organisations to co-create OER with learners, using our OpenLearn Create platform.

“Most of my learners don’t have a computer or a laptop at home, so they use a tablet or a public library. That digital divide means they need support to get started, but once they get to a certain level OpenLearn is something fun and engaging that helps increase their digital skills but not in a boring IT class. Doing a wee thing in a subject that interests you makes you more comfortable in the digital space.” community engagement worker / open learning champion

The model has evolved as champions tell us how they use OER and then we incorporate the case studies into our workshops for new champions. We currently have just over 300 champions working with learners who are disabled, care experienced, refugees or asylum seekers, carers, adult returners… groups that may not otherwise have engaged with us but have existing relationships with our champions.

“As we go through the course, we identify what people are interested in and explore resources on OpenLearn, making sure it’s at the right level and length for the learner. Delivering the course this way encourages peer support and fosters relationships. The group gives them confidence, builds resilience and provides a supportive environment.” carer development worker / open learning champion

To support people on their learning journey, we’ve developed Open Pathways, a guide for navigating OpenLearn, OpenLearn Create and FutureLearn platforms that enables learners to plan their online learning and into formal study if that’s where it takes them. Our open entry policy makes the OU an attractive option for people who left school early or have been out of education for a while. The flip side of this is retention, which is a bigger issue for us than other universities, so a core aim of our access work is to set people up for success. Open Pathways enables them to practice self-directed learning with lower stakes, building their study skills and confidence so they are ready to succeed in higher education.

This isn’t all about the OU. We know that other institutions in Scotland are using OER to support their access and participation activity, and I had hoped to chat to colleagues in the sector to share some of their innovative practice but just haven’t managed it this month. I’m aware that Fife College uses OER to ‘keep students warm’ between their enthusiasm at registration and their course start date. The University of Edinburgh uses OER as part of their community outreach. If you or your institution are using OER for access and outreach, I’d love to here about it. Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter.

@Gill_ie

Gill Ryan

Access, Participation and Success

Open University in Scotland

gill.ryan@open.ac.uk

 

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