Gibbs, Graham R. and White, Stephen (2014) Case study. We’re not the Open University. So can we do it? In: OER 2014, 28-29th April 2014, Newcastle, UK.

This paper reports on the experience of converting a face-to-face Master’s course to a wholly online, distance learning (DL) course largely following the Open University DL model but based on using and creating open educational resources (OER). Two key aspects of this conversion were that the teaching team (with one exception) were not OER enthusiasts or even experienced in DL and OER use, and that the changeover was not a special project, with special funding, but a run-of-the mill course development.

The philosophy of the development was to use and create OERs and to make these and much of the teaching materials open to all. However, the course is not a MOOC; students are fee paying and are examined and accredited in the standard way. The original course was a MSc in social research methods and had been running for 17 years, but it needed to reach a wider recruitment market. The teaching team was overwhelmingly a research active and research focussed group of academics.

The development was taken through the standard university approval process and the team then worked with two key facilitators/mentors (one a member of the teaching team), staff development support and the local learning technology technical support. There were several key tasks:
1. Convert existing face-to-face curricula to OER based DL versions
2. Find, appraise and adapt existing OER materials
3. Create new OER materials
4. Develop teacher skills with DL pedagogy and associated tools
5. Develop open access web pages for the OER materials and closed VLE pages for registered students.
Two pilot modules were offered in Jan 2014 and the student experience was evaluated using a range of learning analytics, including a number of in-depth interviews.

Key issues in using existing OERs were the effort needed to find them and check their accuracy, appropriateness and suitability. Fortunately there are lots of good materials available (e.g. from the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods). To create our own OERs (principally videos) we had to develop expertise in both teaching staff and technical staff and create a suitable workflow. A key to this was mentor support. To develop teacher skills in DL software and pedagogy, we ran a series of staff development sessions, and used the two pilot modules to modify our pedagogic designs and to disseminate DL teaching skills more broadly.

The experience here shows that universities can draw on the attractions and benefits of MOOCs in standard funded courses. By the careful choice and creation of OERs we created a sustainable and cost efficient course. Choice of subject is important here: social research methods is a relatively slow changing area and OERs will remain usable for many years. This means that not all courses at all universities can follow the Open University approach, but it does show that by careful use of OERs, selection of subjects and courses, DL and openness can be achieved along with a standard funding model.

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