This post is third in a series of updates on recent project progress for our academic partners, following a recent project meeting on 20 January. During that meeting, we have identified a priority areas for our work in the second half of the project, and so in the next couple of months our academic partners will be busy releasing OERs and engaging their students in that process. At the same time, we are also keenly aware that we should not lose focus of the rationale underpinning these activities, as ultimately they should directly feed into our emerging cascade framework. As we are at the halfway point with the project, it is time to take stock and articulate our understanding of what that framework could be. That issue also came up during the cascade strand conversations at the recent JISC OER programme meeting on 19 January, where Helen Beetham suggested that a good way of concretising the model would be create some sort of physical representation by using diagrams or drawings. Within the C-SAP project team, we have already started the process by jotting down our thoughts in the form of a mindmap and have set yet another reflexive task for the partners.
At the recent C-SAP project meeting, we tried to tease out some generic elements of the cascade framework. Looking at the documents available from the other cascade projects, it seems that the common denominator is a model of diagnosis followed by prescription. That is, most projects start by identifying the OER-readiness of their partner institutions, with the aim of creating a tailored support package, which addresses sector/discipline/institution-specific issues. For instance, the efforts of the CAFÉ project at Coventry University focus on an exploration of the issues, possibilities and relevance of OER involvement by HE in FE providers in general; whereas Practising Open Education project team examine department-specific and discipline-specific understandings of art, design and media OERs together with motivations for, and barriers to, their creation and use. The diagnosis stage is followed by a prescription of a tailored support package which might include workshops, recommendations for an institution-wide OER strategy in the form of an action plan as well as signposting to relevant training resources. Even if the starting point is an already existing model of OER creation (a quality and evaluation CORRE workflow developed in the context of the pilot programme), as is the case of the OSTRICH project, there is nevertheless an element of refining that model according to the needs of partner institution.
At the same time, while the support on offer is very much targeted at the needs of institutions taking part in the OER programme, all cascade projects work on the assumption that these support packages will ultimately be of benefit to the wider higher education community (and hopefully beyond). Materials from some of the workshops are already being freely disseminated as is the case with the Ripple project at Oxford University and within our own project we have shared all OER-related materials produced so far on our slideshare account. Importantly, the above approach, which assumes that the cascade models developed in the context of the OER programme will have potential for broader application, raises some interesting questions. To start with, the cascade models are being developed in the context of the OER programme, how transferable (and sustainable) will they be once the funding is removed? Will they be applicable at all to situations where OERs are developed outside of an institutional framework, in the context of informal learning? While the answers may not be immediately forthcoming, we will certainly keep them in mind as we develop our own cascade schematic.