As we have mentioned earlier on this blog, a big chunk of our project methodology is based around encouraging our partners to reflect on their experiences of engaging with Open Educational Resources. The process of reflection goes both ways – we start by encouraging the project partners to “muck about” the OER sphere, have a go at searching for resources, making some test deposits, experiment with introducing an OER (or two) into their teaching sessions. The written accounts of these endeavours then get posted on the project wiki, which currently functions as a closed work space to be released to the general public following August 2011. These reflexive pieces then provide food for thought for the project team, and end up being incorporated in the subsequent permutations of ever-evolving cascade framework and future reflexive tasks, neatly forming a perfect hermeneutic circle.
Interestingly enough, a recurrent theme is that of OERs being a potential time-sink. As one of our partners commented, his OER explorations initially felt like wasting time, especially when it came to wading through a multitude of resources available through OER repositories. It took him quite a long while to get comfortable enough and trust that the initial outlay of time will in the end. One way of reacting to that comment would be to point out that this experience very much mirrors the process of academic research in general, where running around in circles and engaging in potentially time-wasting activities is very much par for the course. At the same time, if frittering time away is a primary concern, then how do you convince a target audience (which already deals with way more demands on their time than is reasonable), that it is a good idea to engage with OERs? How do you make them believe that the initial time investment will, indeed, bring some payoffs?
Judging from the reflexive responses of our academic partners, hanging out in the OER world certainly paid off, and led to some fortuitous discoveries. Among other things, they came to realise how diverse and creative OERs could be and were quite amazed to discover that full modules could be so accessible. Some of our partners were especially excited about embracing the idea of putting the student at the centre of their learning experience as opposed to their traditional role as resource-recipient. There are, of course caveats to the brave new world of students as producers, especially as students may not yet have the critical facilities to make judgements about the quality of some resources. Watch this space as the student engagement element of the cascade framework will certainly be gaining momentum in the new year, following the exam period. In the meantime, we will keep reflecting on what we are learning along the way.