Paul Stacey


Evolution of an OER Initiative – An Eight Year Retrospective
February 28, 2011, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: , , , ,

I just recently completed the eighth round of the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund providing grants to BC public post secondary institution partnerships for development of credit-based open educational resources. A full listing of those awards can be found here on the BCcampus web site.

BCcampus started supporting the development of open educational resources back in 2003 with it’s inaugural Online Program Development Fund. The 2010 call for proposals was the eighth round and brings the total investment made so far to $9 million. Given the burgeoning interest in OER I thought it might be useful to describe this years outcome in the context of an eight year retrospective that summarizes our initiative overall and presents some data on how it has evolved.

Over the years I’ve been contacted by others looking to replicate our program in their jurisdiction. We helped eCampus Alberta establish their Online Course Development Fund and have recently been speaking to folks in Ontario who are interested in seeing something happen there too.

Funding

One aspect everyone is interested in is the funding component of our initiative so lets deal with that right up front. The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund is provided annually to BCcampus by the Ministry responsible for higher education. The amount of money allocated has varied each year as follows:

The annual fund has been “one-time” money each year so far which has created challenges around launching the call for proposals on a regularly scheduled basis that is at an opportune time for faculty and staff to devote time to proposal writing. It is my hope going forward that we can get this money established as part of our operating budget so this kind of planning can take place.

Categories, Criteria & Priorities

The amount of money available annually affects the categories and priorities the fund targets. This is an aspect of our initiative I’ve never written about before so let me take some time to describe it. The Online Program Development Fund is announced via a call for proposals that gets distributed to each of the 25 public post secondary institutions in BC. Each year when I write the call for proposals I define categories and priorities for the fund as well as the criteria that must be met. Here’s how it’s evolved over time.

2003 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs
2004 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs, open source education technologies, learner online community
2005 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs, best practice dissemination
2006 Categories: courses, reuse
2007 Categories: courses, co-created content, professional development resources
2008 Categories: learning objects, courses, professional learning resources
2009 Categories: learning objects, courses, open textbooks, professional learning resources
2010 Categories: courses, course components

Learning objects are small, stand-alone units of online instruction that can be tagged with descriptors and stored in repositories for reuse in various instructional contexts. They typically are small units of learning (2-15 min at topic level) that are self-contained in such a way that it can be taken independently or grouped into a larger context. The key idea is that they are reusable in multiple contexts for multiple purposes.

I’m sure everyone understands what courses are. In the context of our initiative we’ve expressly specified a preference for fully online credit-based courses. Giving preference to fully online over blended courses, that partially happen online and partially on campus, ensures we maximize accessibility to students all over BC.

For the three years when the fund was $1.5 million we included a category for complete online programs meaning that proposals could request funding to develop all the online courses needed to create a complete online program. Building out a complete credential requires a significant investment so this is only possible when you have a large fund.

In 2004 we introduced the categories of open source education technologies to support development of tools and apps for education and the creation of a online community providing support for online learners. We didn’t get many applications and the inclusion of a tools and technologies category complicated our open licensing approach as you cannot license software in the same way you license educational content. We discontinued these categories.

The best practice dissemination category in 2005 called for proposals that aggregate and disseminate best online learning practices for students and educators and BC public post secondary e-learning research findings. This was an important category acknowledging the growing importance of complementing online learning development and delivery with educator professional development resources on how to effectively do so. To the best of my knowledge the BCcampus OER initiative is the only one that has ever funded development of professional resources for faculty and staff as OER, a practice we continued in subsequent years and a category that is very popular. We called this category professional development one year but were advised to change this name to professional learning as “professional development” was seen to be something governed by collective bargaining agreements on campus. The 2010 OPDF for the first time in several years did not include this category and as a result we received fewer proposals.

The reuse category of 2006 sought proposals that enhance and leverage benefits associated with existing OER based on the right to modify and improve them. Essentially we were wanting to encourage more use of existing OER and thought a category targeting this explicitly might help. We did this again in 2010 but instead of specifying it as a category we made it an overall criteria for all categories by stating in the call for proposals; “Preference will be given to proposals that integrate new online learning resources with previously funded OPDF resources, or other OER from around the world, to construct credentials.” We’re looking to see development of new resources be integrated with existing OER to create course and credential offerings. We are intentionally incentivizing reuse.

The co-created content category of 2007 sought proposals to design and develop credit based online learning resources using social learning applications where faculty and students create online learning content together. We really didn’t get any proposals in this category and dropped it as an idea that may yet gain traction but currently is not a method in use for development of courseware.

In 2009 we included a category for open textbooks which we saw as a new and critically important form of OER. In 2010 we lumped learning objects and open textbooks into the category course components, a simpler more plain English way of expressing what we are looking for.

Each year, the call for proposals includes some overall criteria as well as criteria specific to each category. The following overall criteria have been consistently used every single year:

  • Produce programs which are accessible to all BC students
  • Respond to demonstrated student demand and labour force need
  • Exhibit the characteristics of quality teaching and learning
  • Demonstrate sustainability and cost-effectiveness
  • Include contributions in dollars and/or in-kind from other sources, either internal or external (such as private partnerships)
  • Collaboration between two or more institutions
  • Include clear transfer and articulation mechanisms
  • Agree to license the resources to be freely shared and available for reuse as OER

Specific criteria to each category are also devised to further help those writing proposals be on target. An example from the 2004 call for proposals is “Preference will be given to proposals that build out existing online programs already started but requiring additional courses to be completed.” This “preference will be given” phrasing has been key throughout our initiative in that it keeps the call for proposals open but indicates areas of specific targeted interest.

Given the OPDF funding comes from the Ministry the call for proposals also includes Ministry priorities. In the 2009 call for proposals the Ministry expressed the following areas as priorities – Early Childhood Education; Health-related Programs; Programs aimed at Aboriginal Learners as well as learners with disabilities, mature learners and recent immigrants; Technician and Technologist Programs; Tourism and Hospitality. In 2010 there was a single priority – science.

Evaluation

Evaluation, selection and award of OER grants through are done by independent professional peer review against the criteria and priorities expressed in the call for proposals. Each year I form an eight person evaluation committee made up of seven people with education technology and online learning development experience from across BC’s public post secondary system and one external evaluator. In forming an evaluation committee I try to ensure an equal number of males and females. I try to ensure regional representation of the north, the interior, Vancouver Island and the high density urban area around Vancouver known as the lower mainland. I try to ensure representation of research based universities, teaching universities, colleges and institutes. Its no small task getting the balance right! I ask evaluators to participate for a two year term and stagger their participation so that typically each year half the evaluation committee has experience with the process coming back for their second year and half the committee is new doing it for the first time.

We use an evaluation process I call “progressive consensus”. The first step of this process involves independent evaluation. Each evaluator independently scores a subset of all the proposals. We avoid conflict of interest by ensuring no evaluator scores a proposal they or their institution are involved with. Representatives from the Ministry also review proposals and provide comments which are circulated to the evaluation committee to include in their independent evaluation.

A couple of weeks later we bring all the evaluators together for a two day selection process. On the morning of the first day we pair the evaluators up into two person teams and ask them to reach consensus on the scores they gave for their proposals and rank order the proposals into their top 10. Once they’ve reached consensus each team of two lists their top 10 on a whiteboard for all to see.

We then assemble the entire evaluation team and have each pair present their number one pick and make a recommendation. The rest of the evaluators ask questions leading to discussion and deliberation until the entire evaluation committee reaches a consensus on the decision regarding award. We then move on to the next high ranking proposal and repeat the process as a group. This process moving from independent, to paired, to entire committee evaluation is what I mean by progressive consensus.

Outcomes

Partnerships

A unique aspect of our OER initiative is the emphasis on formation of partnerships. Our OER initiative is focused on funding collaborative development of curricula that benefits all the partners. Institutions form partnerships with each other based on academic program synergy and mutual academic need. Partnering involves pooling expertise and developing an online resource that all partner institutions subsequently use.

While occasionally a grant is awarded to an institution working solo, 83% of the 144 grants we’ve made involve partnerships. Partnerships occur between BC post-secondary institutions and with external partners. The wider the involvement of partners in development and subsequent use, the better.

External partners in our OER development initiatives have included:
– national and international universities
– professional associations
– K-12 school districts and school boards
– e-learning companies
– foundations
– First Nations tribal councils
– health authority’s
– literacy groups,
– and others.

In the 2010 OPDF awards the following are external partners with BC public post secondary institutions; WSÁNEĆ School Board, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Hawaii, School District 91, BC Learning Network, Cool School, The Critical Thinking Consortium, The South Island School District Partnership (SD 61, SD 62, SD 63, SD 64, SD 79), Coast Salish Employment Training Society, Dr. Peter Aids Foundation Centre in Vancouver, Ministry of Health Services, BC Health Authorities, Community Care Facilities Licensing Officers of BC Association, BC Forestry Innovation Investment, Nanjing Forestry University, and Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University

I like to show financial distribution of grants to the BC public post secondary institutions in a way that emphasizes benefits of partnerships. One of the benefits is that all participating institutions in an OER project benefit from all the resources collectively produced. The net value of the project more accurately reflects the benefit they accrue than their individual share of funding. The following chart depicts total net value of grant awards each BC public post secondary institution has participated in over the past eight years (2003-2010). In calculating these totals I take the full amount of each annual OPDF grant and award it to the lead and to each of the partner institutions. So the total reflects net value of grant awards not the individual portion each institution gets. (you can click on this chart and the others in this post to make them bigger)

Here is another chart showing what portion of the total is based on the institution having a lead role and what portion is based on them having a partner role.

Whats fascinating about this chart is the way it reveals the benefits of partnership. In almost every case the funding an institution has participated in as a partner exceeds the funding they have participated in as lead. College of the Rockies (CoTR), one of the smallest institutions in the province, made it into the top 5 beneficiaries of funding almost entirely through partnerships!

Another way I depict partnerships is by tracking which institutions are partnering with each other. Some institutions have few partners. Others partner widely. Some OER projects are undertaken by a consortia group. For example LinkBC received a grant to develop OER related to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. LinkBC is a consortia of 18 of BC’s 25 post secondary institutions working collaboratively on tourism and hospitality programs. I think of the number of partners an institution has as a measure of its collaborativeness. Here’s a chart depicting collaborativeness of each BC public post secondary institution based on the number of institutional partners they’ve had over the eight years of our OER initiative.

As can be seen there is a lot of collaboration. Some of our OER projects involve as many as 10-15 institutions working together on development of online programs that are offered at all participating institutions. Some of the projects even involve development of what we call collaborative academic programs where the institutions share courses, teaching responsibilities, and collectively pool students.

Collaboration and partnerships are one of the biggest outcomes of our OER initiative.

Credentials

A goal of the BCcampus OER initiative is to increase credential opportunities available to students throughout the province by funding development of post-secondary online courses, programs, and resources. Credentials in BC’s post-secondary are categorized as follows:

  • Apprentice-Entry Level
  • Associate Degree
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Certificate
  • Citation
  • Diploma
  • Doctoral Degree
  • Grad Cert/Diploma
  • No Credential Granted
  • University Transfer

* Note: This credential categorization is taken from EducationPlanner.ca

Credentials are developed through the BCcampus OER initiative in four ways:

  1. A single round of funding allows for development of all the courses required for a complete credential.
  2. A complete credential is built out gradually through multiple rounds of funding.
  3. The OER initiative provides funding needed for development of the last few courses required to make the complete credential online.
  4. The OER initiative creates a number of online courses that can be used across multiple credentials or serve as the building blocks for creating credentials.

Over the eight years the BCcampus OER initiative has contributed to the development of 47 credentials including:

Associate Degree
– Associate of Arts Degree & Associate of Arts Degree in Geography
– Associate of Arts Degree in First Nations Studies
– Web-based Associate of Science

Bachelor’s Degree
– BA Psychology
– Bachelor of Business Administration
– Bachelor of General Studies (Police Studies)
– Bachelor of Tourism Management
– Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
– Bachelor’s Degree with a Marketing Minor
– Classroom and Community Support Program
– Minor in Gerontology
– Northern Collaborative Baccalaureate Nursing Programme

Citation
– Behaviour Intervention Citation

Certificate
– Administration Assistant Certificate
– Certificate in First Nations Housing Managers Training
– Certificate in Gerontology
– Certificate in Tourism Event Management
– Community Development Certificate program
– Community Care Licensing Officer Certificate
– Common Technology Access Certificate
– Computer Technology Certificate
– Finance for First Nations Housing Managers
– First Nation Shellfish Aquaculture General Management Certificate
– Medical Office Assistant Certificate
– Practical Nursing Online Certificate
– Provincial Legal Administrative Assistant Online Certificate
– Renewable Energy Certificate Program

Diploma
– Aboriginal Business Administration Diploma
– Aboriginal Community Economic Development Diploma
– Aboriginal Early Childhood Education Diploma
– Access to Dental Hygiene Diploma
– Advanced Diploma in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
– Advanced Diploma in Human Resources
– Animal Health Technology Diploma
– Business Administration General Management Diploma
– Continuing Health Care Administration Diploma
– Diploma in Local Government Management
– Diploma in Public Sector Management
– Diploma of Technology in Mining and Mineral Exploration Technology
– Early Childhood Care and Education Diploma
– First Nations Public Administration Diploma

Graduate Certificate/Diploma
– Graduate Diploma in Public Health
– Graduate Certificate in Child and Youth Mental Health
– Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Gerontology
– Post Bacclaureate Diploma in Marketing
– Post Graduate Technical Diploma in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Master’s Degree
– Masters of Applied Arts

In addition to explicit development of the above credentials some BCcampus OER initiatives develop multi-purpose undergraduate online courses or smaller course components that can be used across multiple courses and credentials.

I’ve also done some analysis to see the distribution of OER grants across academic fields of study. The BC Council on Admissions and Transfer’s Education Planner site categorizes BC’s higher education academic offerings into the following fields of study:

  • Agriculture, Natural Resources and Science
  • Business and Management
  • Communications
  • Computer and Information Services
  • Construction and Precision Production
  • Education and Library Studies
  • Engineering and Electronics
  • Health Related
  • Legal and Social Services
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanical and Related
  • Recreation, Tourism, Hospitality and Service
  • Sciences
  • Transportation (Air, Land, Marine)
  • Upgrading Programs
  • Visual, Performing and Fine Arts

Here is a chart that shows what percentage of the number of OPDF grants have been made to each of these fields of study over the past eight years (click on it to make it larger):

The top three areas of development, health (20%), sciences (17%), and liberal arts and humanities (15%) account for more than 50% of all awards.

Sharing and Reuse

As an OER initiative all grants made through the BCcampus OPDF are for development of online courses and course components that are openly shared and available for reuse by others.

When we first initiated this program eight years ago we decided to change the way IP and copyright were being handled when Ministry funds were provided to post secondary institutions for development of courses. Rather than the Ministry holding Intellectual Property (IP) and copyrights to the resources as was the traditional practice we changed it such that the developer (institution or faculty member) held IP and copyrights. However, we added the requirement that they agree to share.

We initially started out wanting to adopt and use Creative Commons as our license for sharing OER as others like MIT’s OCW and Connexions had done back in 2003. However we met with considerable resistance from our developers who feared loss of control and competition. In the end we held on to the requirement to share but created a BC Commons license as an alternative option to Creative Commons. So starting in 2003 and continuing on to today the BCcampus OER initiative gives developers the choice of Creative Commons and BC Commons licenses. Developers wanting to participate in the global OER movement can go with Creative Commons. Alternatively they can choose the BC Commons license which provides for open sharing locally at the provincial level. I like to think of these as global sharing vs. local sharing options. Full description of our approach and the Creative Commons and BC Commons licenses we use can be found at http://www.bccommons.ca.

The BCcampus OER initiative is one of the few that gives developers a choice in how they license their resources for sharing. A question I’m frequently asked is when given a choice how many people choose Creative Commons and how many choose BC Commons? Here’s a chart showing license choices from 2003-2009. (Developers associated with the 2010 awards haven’t yet made their license choice).

As can be seen from this chart the majority of developers in our OER initiative have chosen the BC Commons license vs the Creative Commons license. Overall 66% have chosen BC Commons and 34% have chosen Creative Commons.

Doing a retrospective like this helps unearth anomalies. When you look at the above chart 2008 jumps out as being unusual. That year 16 developers chose Creative Commons and 4 chose BC Commons. I wondered why that year was different? It’s hard to say exactly but I went back to the 2008 call for proposals and see that I explicitly listed benefits associated with OER that year right in the call for proposals. I said:

The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund emphasizes open sharing of resources. This approach is congruent with other similar initiatives around the world including OpenCourseWare, Connexions, WikiEducator and others. The Online Program Development Fund has two license options one for BC Commons, which creates shareable resources among BC’s public post secondary institutions, and one for Creative Commons, which provides a mechanism for participating in global Open Educational Resource initiatives. In 2008 Capilano College joined the global Open Educational Resource movement as the first Canadian institution to become a partner in the OpenCourseWare consortium.

Benefits associated with Open Educational Resources are:

1. Social benefits
Higher education sharing knowledge for the benefit of all is an altruistic public service. Sharing boosts human capital through better education and skills by providing access to resources that encourage participation in higher education. Open resources accessible to all bridge the gap between informal and formal learning, and promote lifelong learning. Open resources widen access and provide supply where there is shortage.

2. Economical benefits
By sharing and reusing, the costs for content development can be cut, thereby making better use of available resources. Leverage taxpayers’ money by allowing free sharing and reuse of resources developed by publicly funded institutions. Eliminates the weeks and months of time it can take to seek permission to use existing digital materials. Educators can use the asset immediately without having to go through a permission seeking process. Leverages a unique aspect of digital assets – the marginal cost and effort in making copies and distributing online learning resources over a network.

3. Quality improvements
Quality improves over time, compared to a situation in which everyone always has to start anew. Creates a web-based, viewable, useable record of quality educational materials. Allowing others to reuse and modify original work provides a means for continuous improvement of online learning resources by a collective of professional peers. Shifts emphasis from content to teaching and learning process and services involved with using content.

4. Collaboration and Partnerships
Creates opportunity for faculty to see, collaborate on, and reuse each others work. Provides a reputation boost to faculty whose materials are widely used.

5. Academic Planning
Helps students make academic plans, be better prepared, and pursue learning of personal interest.

6. Public Relations and Advertising
Good for public relations and functions as a showcase to attract new students. Acts as advertisement for the institution, and as a way of lowering the threshold for new students, who may be more likely to enroll – and therefore pay for tutoring and accreditation – when they have had a taste of the learning on offer through open content. Increased contact with alumni.

These benefits are maximized through global Open Educational Resource initiatives that produce resources open to educators, students and the public.

It looks like explicitly spelling out benefits like this encourages developers to choose Creative Commons. I’ll have to list these benefits again in future calls for proposals. BCcampus believes that the Creative Commons license choice brings with it the greatest benefits. We encourage developers who initially chose BC Commons to migrate to Creative Commons at any time.

Let me illustrate some of the benefits of going Creative Commons with a couple of examples. For several years now the BCcampus OER initiative has been funding the development of a Web-based Associate of Science degree which has licensed all its development work using Creative Commons. Through three separate grants this initiative has been building out year one science courses for biology, physics, chemistry, and geology. They’ve met the major challenge of supporting the labs for these courses by building a remote web-based science lab that allows students to conduct real experiments over the Internet through remote control of instrumentation. Because this work is licensed through Creative Commons it has led to the formation of a partnership with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and the Colorado Community College System producing a Bill and Melinda Gates Next Generation Learning proposal for replicating and scaling up this work in the US and collaborating on the creation of a North American Network of Science Labs Online. The proposal was selected as one of 50 finalists out of 600 applications received. The Creative Commons license makes it possible to partner and grow the initiative beyond the borders of BC.

Here’s a picture of what a student might see during use of the remote web-based lab:

If you’d like to learn more visit their web site at http://rwsl.nic.bc.ca/

Another example involves the development of three inter-related virtual soil online resources – Virtual Soil Forming Processes, Virtual Soil Identification & Classification, and Soil Parent Material and Landscape Development, all of which were licensed with Creative Commons. In July 2010 the developers sent us a summary list of Canadian and non-Canadian universities that use these resources showing use at 16 different universities and colleges across Canada, United States and Europe and use with at least 1500 students. The developers of these resources just recently launched the Canadian Soil Web Collaborative.

As part of the application process we now ask those submitting proposals to list the OER from previous rounds of the OPDF or from other OER initiatives that their development will be making use of. To give you an example of the kind of reuse of OER we are starting to see the 2010 Collaborative Mining and Mineral Exploration Technology Program proposal listed the following as OER they intend to reuse:

  • Geology 105 – Introduction to Geology (Lab and Theory) – BCcampus OER
  • Geology 106 – Introduction to Physical and Historical Geology (Lab) – BCcampus OER
  • Aglo 1: Introduction to applied geophysics – seeing the earth’s subsurface – BCcampus OER
  • Aglo 2a: Seven steps to applying geophysics – BCcampus OER
  • Structure of Earth Materials – MIT OER

I’m really heartened by this.
The BCcampus OER are all available from our Shareable Online Learning Resources repository.

Thanks for joining me on this eight year retrospective of BCcampus’ OER initiative. It has been a fascinating journey and I have a feeling its only just begun. I’d like to thank all the developers who have been involved in our projects over the years. Your work is an inspiration. I’m thrilled to see BC developed OER attracting international interest and generating networks of partners collaborating on OER curricula across BC and beyond.


4 Comments

[...] a blog today, Paul Stacey, who has been the main administrator of BCCampus’s Online Program Development Fund (OPDF), [...]

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[…] BCcampus started supporting the development of Open Educational Resources (OER) back in 2003 with it’s inaugural Online Program Development Fund. The 2010 call for proposals was the eighth round and brings the total investment made so far to $9 million. Given the burgeoning interest in OER I thought it might be useful to describe this years outcome in the context of an eight year retrospective that summarizes our initiative overall and presents some data on how it has evolved. The full story has been posted at http://edtechfrontier.com/2011/02/28/evolution-of-an-oer-initiative-an-eight-year-retrospective/. […]

Pingback by Evolution of an OER Initiative | BCcampus




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