OER project deadlines: Time to reflect and time to evaluate

Ah, the smell of deadlines in the morning – suddenly the first thing you notice after logging into the project wiki is a pile-up of deadlines in different shades of red… Still, deadlines can be quite motivating and so within the C-SAP team we tried to see the requirement to produce a draft final report as a good opportunity for embracing the reflexive elements of project methodology. This time, most of our reflection was related to the process of evaluation (undoubtedly, the realisation that there are only two months left on the project will do that to you). So what does evaluation mean in the context of our project where we try to adopt a critical perspective on processes of OER creation and release? And what are the challenges of trying to practice what we preach?

We do not have access to formative evaluation report yet and it will be fascinating to see what emerges from the work of the evaluation and synthesis team.  At the same time, formative evaluation has been on-going throughout the lifetime of the project and so partners had the opportunity to engage in informal evaluation through reflexive tasks designed by the project team and offer feedback on their emerging understanding of the cascade framework. Some of that formative evaluation has taken place in the context of engaging students with the cascade framework. Where possible, partners have incorporated OERs into their teaching and involved students in testing of the resources being developed as part of the cascade project.

In terms of evaluation, the C-SAP project team has greatly benefitted from the input of our critical friend – also known as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. The conversations of C-SAP critical friend with our project partners reveal useful insights into their perception of project methodology. Judging from those interactions, the C-SAP cascade framework seems to be challenging what our partners consider to be part of their “normal” academic practice and pushing them beyond their comfort zones, as one of the partners mentioned “when the project first began it all seemed quite daunting and uncertain”.  There are some positive elements to being challenged in that way and on a number of occasions we hear people mention that they were reluctant to return to the “real world”. That so-called real world can make it quite difficult to be able to spend time reflecting on OERs, as one of the partners has commented that there are times when he would rather  focus on getting the resources into the correct format for JORUM rather than take the time to complete tasks. This could be quite a serious limitation of our project methodology and, the approach we have chosen could be seen as potentially too time-consuming and at odds with the needs of busy lecturers who might only be interested in gaining technical competence in creating OERs. At the same time, our project partners did recognise the long-term potential of the C-SAP cascade approach and the perhaps less tangible awards of being able to spend some time on reflexive activities and focus on the “why” rather than “how-to” of OERs; and hopefully their reflections will be one of longer-lasting legacies of the cascade framework.

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