Paul Stacey

Open Educational Resource University (OERU)

Today the Open Educational Resource Foundation (OERF) is hosting a face-to-face meeting in New Zealand to explore the creation of an Open Educational Resource University (OERU). For instructions around virtual participation see:

As outlined in the meeting information pack the purpose of this inaugural meeting is to collaboratively:

  • Consider inputs and leading questions from meeting participants, anchor partners, the pre-meeting SCoPE seminar and international agencies
  • Develop a shared understanding of a logic model for the OER university concept
  • Review and refine the OER university logic model
  • Identify the key questions for each component of the logic model
  • Gauge interest and identify volunteers for leading and coordinating the constituent components of the logic model
  • Commence identification of the key activities required for each component of the logic model, including inputs, outputs and
  • Specify the next steps for the way forward.

This is a bold move looking at what it might take to create free and open learning for tertiary education credentials using OER.

The information package distributed in support of this meeting describes the OER University concept and presents a logic model as follows:

OER University Concept

The OER university concept. Adapted from Taylor 2007.

The OER university is a sustainable international system which will provide free learning to all learners with pathways to gain academic credit from formal education institutions around the world. It is rooted in the community service and outreach mission of tertiary education providers to evolve parallel delivery systems (now possible with the open web and free content licensing of learning materials) that will augment existing educational provision. The OER University is an open network and public-private partnership (PPP) including post-secondary institutions, the private sector, non-profits, government and international agencies.

The OER university concept is based on the strategic enablers where it is more effective to collaborate on selected components of the OER university concept, for example shared course design and development. However, collaborating institutions retain their core operational services associated with assessment and credentialisation. This OER ecosystem aims to serve both formal and informal learners by creating more flexible pathways for diverse student needs.

Logic model for the OER university

High-level logic model providing a systemic perspective of main initiatives for building a participatory OER ecosystem that aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide with pathways for credible academic qualifications

The design, development and implementation of a sustainable and scalable OER university concept is an ambitious international collaboration project. The logic model provides a framework for structuring and organising the range of activities, processes and constituent components necessary to achieve the desired results.

The Problem

Individuals are free to learn from OER hosted on the open web. The problem is that learners who access digital OERs on the web and acquire knowledge and skills either formally or informally, alone or in groups, cannot readily have their learning assessed and subsequently receive appropriate academic recognition for their efforts.

The Solution

The core mission of any modern university is to contribute to society as a community of scholars through the pursuit of education, learning and research. Many post-secondary institutions also incorporate the mission of community service, as publicly funded institutions, to serve the wider interests of the communities in which they operate by sharing expertise and scholarship for the benefit of society. By combining OER with the community service mission, it is possible to create what Taylor[6] has called a “parallel universe” of higher education delivery to complement and augment existing provision, especially for those who lack the means to follow traditional learning paths. Moreover, the OER university concept is a means whereby education at all levels can be more accessible, more affordable and more efficient by reinvesting savings of shared course development back into the formal teaching operations.


As part of my work at BCcampus I’ve been facilitating an OERU online seminar in our SCoPE online community in advance of today’s OERU meeting in New Zealand. This SCoPE seminar has been planned to stimulate discussion in advance of todays meeting and to provide a forum for follow-on discussion after today’s meeting. I promised meeting organizers I’d provide a short summary of our discussions and drop-in think tank web conference as an input into today’s face to face meeting.

Here’s what I submitted:

OER University – A Summary of SCoPE Seminar Inputs

The following notes are summarized from SCoPE OERu online discussions and an OERu drop-in think tank web conference session held over the period 4-21-Feb-2011. The summary has been distilled from contributions made by participants from Israel, United States, New Zealand, India, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Portugal, and Brazil.

OER University Model and Ideas

The OERu:

  • is a a consortium of partner universities – a university of universities. Participating colleges/universities are given an OERu logo to post on their web-sites designating them as participants.
  • un-bundles the package of services traditional universities provide: recommending (and selling) learning materials, forming learning groups, arranging learning experiences, supplying teachers, certifying
  • provides a search service for OER materials and maintains a repository of credit based OER approved by the consortium
  • brings together currently separate OER initiatives to generate collaboration between them for development and assemblage of OER into mutually credentialed outcomes.
  • creates a framework within which existing OER can be assembled and new OER development positioned.
  • establishes a world OER credit bank and trans-national qualifications framework. Institutions developing OER can register their OER with the credit bank specifying what credit they are willing to accord those who successfully complete the learning outcomes associated with it. OERu assembles or creates the transfer/articulation aspects of assembling OER into a credential. Each OERu university partner can link existing OER courses of other partner universities to its OER degree programmes
  • facilitates creation of an OER learning path, learning plan, and/or PLAR documentation template for students ideally through consultation with advisor or mentor
  • helps learners systematically pursue learning plan and create a portfolio that can be assessed
  • provides student support resources to help students navigate their learning paths and compile portfolios. Partners with institutions who provide options for student support possibly on a fee for service basis. A 24×7 call center for assisting students.
  • creates a social learning context for OER reinserting or applying pedagogy to OER. Utilizes mass collaboration approaches combined with social networking to establish peer-to-peer and tutor-student support potentially with senior students receiving credit for tutoring juniour students. Provides a brokering/marketplace where those who want to facilitate learning can meet those who want to learn. Emphasizes peer-to-peer social learning over teacher/student traditional learning. Students as teachers solidifies learning.
  • prioritizes low-cost / low-bandwidth solutions for learner support and uses mobile technologies for these interactive components
  • provides continuous entry points throughout the year with entry by exams rather than prerequisite courses or degrees. A 365 days online registration and evaluation process.
  • supports individual pace of learning, multiple exit points, including instant certification by testing
  • removes affiliation requirements, residency or citizenship requirements, age restrictions (make OERu undergraduate and graduate programs open to children)
  • provides certification or links to colleges and universities who do a PLAR like assessment of the portfolio
  • awards the degree with logos of universities who participated in the validation process displayed on the certificate or alternatively the universities themselves confer the credentials
  • maintains a registry of graduates

OERu Users and Use Cases

  • a student using OER could literally study anywhere in the world for free and transfer his/her learning to a “receiving institution” for conversion to transfer credit
  • personally designed pick and choose model where students formulate their own learning pathway (likely favoured by working professionals)
  • structured degree model where templates of predefined OER are assembled into a curriculum leading to a credential (younger students looking for qualifications to move into professional area in labour market)
  • OER-U could also work in K-12 sector to establish elementary and secondary programs leading to post-secondary so someone could presumably begin at the primary/elementary level and progress seemlessly to undergraduate or even graduate degrees

OERu Questions & Challenges

How to develop the course materials for learners globally?

Providing not only free education but free authentic, valid and reliable certification too. Leaners may need to pay for credential services unless national governments provide grants to cover these costs through the state education system.

Finding a free online platform or specifying that learning materials for the OER university be developed (or converted) into open file formats that are equally accessible by a variety of Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

OER have to be available or at least readily convertible to low tech, pencil and paper, or print-based materials.

Institutions will not move toward an OERu strategy unless they see a clear benefit for themselves. Does OERu need to be a parallel higher education universe?

Develop low-overhead quality and accreditation systems building an entirely new model rather than adapting the old one.

The concept of an OER-university is an innovation and a major one for the education globally. Individual and organisational adoption will depend on the current concerns and benefits of this innovation for them.

Be more creative. Start without thinking about existing systems and courses. Rethink units of learning.

OERu needs to be younger and bolder. We need to get our heads into being 15 to 25 again.

We already have a critical mass to at least get one degree operational.


This summary is available for the New Zealand participants and anyone else as a .pdf download in the OERU Meeting Agenda.

Its always a challenge to distill and coalesce rich online discussions but I think this summary is a great start to defining an OERU. I’ll be briefing the New Zealand participants on our activities and this summary via phone later today.

Hope many of you will contribute to the concept of an OERu and look forward to seeing what emerges.

Collaboration & The Collaborative Laptop

My work at BCcampus focuses extensively on generating collaborations and partnerships among largely autonomous public post secondary institutions. As a result of this focus I think a lot about collaboration.

My son Noah sent me a time lapse video of a big collaborative painting he did as part of an art show at the Fall Gallery here in Vancouver.

I love how Noah and his friends have taken the act of painting, traditionally a solitary venture, and made it into a collaborative real-time group event done publicly.

I often have this image in mind when I’m thinking about collaborations between groups of faculty on the creation of Open Educational Resources (OER). Authoring OER, or for that matter any course content for higher education courses, has historically been, and is largely still, a solo effort. One of my big hopes is that OER will shift the authoring process to a collaborative one. I’d love to host an OER authoring event that brings faculty together into groups based on shared academic field of study or subject area and supports them in collaboratively authoring OER.

BCcampus has been carefully setup and positioned to not be an institution itself. We don’t teach or credential and as a result we don’t compete with BC’s public post-secondary institutions for students or faculty. Instead we act as a facilitator of partnerships and collaborations among the institutions. This is a bit of a tricky proposition when working with autonomous institutions who want to maintain their self-sufficiency and not dilute their brand. Its further complicated by the competitive nature of higher education. Although the 25 colleges and universities we serve are publicly funded they actually operate as competitive business units. Each institution receives funding based on the number of student enrollments they acquire. This competition based funding formula is a major disincentive to collaboration.

In a sense at BCcampus we focus on enabling that which no one institution can do on its own. We get involved when multiple institutions want to work together toward a common goal. That goal may be development of a collaborative academic program, pooling requirements for educational technology and deploying a shared service that meets those requirements, or implementation of an online admissions service that allows students to apply to multiple institutions at the same time.

A major challenge for BCcampus is the voluntary opt-in nature of our work. We don’t force collaboration. Sometimes our role is simply creating opportunities for institutions to get together and hear about what each institution is doing. Through these events a shared understanding of challenges and successes can emerge and networks of like-minded people who share a common interest across institutions form.

Recently BCcampus joined the Open Educational Resource Foundation (OERF) as a founding member. Wayne Mackintosh who heads up the OERF asked us this interview question as part of the BCcampus case study writeup on their site;

“Traditionally, fostering collaboration among traditional research-led universities, community colleges and vocational education institutions can be hard given the cultural and operational uniqueness of these teaching institutions. Clearly, BCcampus is getting this right. Based on your experiences, what advice can you offer policy makers grappling with educational efficiencies in a digital world?”

Its a great question and in reply I said:

“Its true that fostering collaboration can be hard work and here in BC we are following an opt-in approach rather than anything mandatory, so this approach makes our work especially challenging. Over the years we’ve found the following kinds of approaches work:

  • Focus on achieving outcomes that no one institution can do on its own
  • Help institutions connect with each other and form partnerships by organizing and hosting events and virtual spaces that allow them to speak to each other and solve common issues or challenges
  • Provide financial incentives (either new money or savings) for partnering and collaboration
  • New licensing scenarios for technology can be structured such that licensing costs are based on the cumulative student enrollments represented by participating institutions. In this scenario the more institutions that collaborate the lower the cost for all
  • Partnerships and collaborations need not involve the entire public post-secondary system for them to be successful
  • Maturation and sustainability of value often follows a path from exploratory proof-of-concept work, to a pilot project with a few partnering institutions, to something that scales up to support as many institutions that want to participate.
  • As services mature, support for them also needs to scale with different types of people required for ongoing operation
  • Focus on providing value by generating real-time data on systemic activity that can be shared with everyone
  • Generate and publish measures of partnership and collaboration that quantify the benefit received by each institution

You can find the full interview at

Laptops are typically for solitary, solo use. Some years ago when I worked at the Technical University of British Columbia I had this idea for a collaborative laptop. I’m still amazed that nothing like this has been developed so let me try and map out the basic idea.

When two people sit down together for a conversation they typically sit opposite each other. The conversation is livened by eye contact, gestures, and interpretation of facial cues.

Increasingly conversation is supplemented by inclusion of a laptop for sharing of digital work being done, media, and quick searches. However when a laptop is inserted into the mix it breaks the conversation connection by diverting the attention from the interplay between two people. There is a loss of eye contact as the attention of one member in the conversation shifts to to the interaction with the computer. Further exacerbating the issue is that the second person can’t see anything that the person using the computer is doing. This is frustrating for them and the conversation can break down. At its worse it leads to people feeling devalued and less important than whatever is on that damn computer.

The idea for a collaborative laptop come from observing this pattern of behaviour in the workplace and increasingly in social settings. The idea is pretty simple. What if the laptop lid facing the person not operating the computer had a second screen that could be revealed by sliding the metal covering open like a window. That way both participants in the conversation can see what is on the screen as a shared media element rather than an exclusive element only seen by the computer operator. When not being used in a collaborative context the laptop owner can slide the lid covering closed. That, in a nutshell is the collaborative laptop in it’s most basic configuration. Here are some basic illustrations.

Of course the collaborative laptop could be further extended by having a second keyboard be available that pops out at the push of a button if the second person wants to actively operate the computer too. With a collaborative laptop two people are sharing a single laptop while sitting in the classic conversation configuration. A common shared screen and optional second keyboard create a scenario where the laptop is an aid to collaboration and conversation rather than a hindrance.

A collaborative laptop transitions the computer from a solo device for solitary interaction to a collaborative device for use in social contexts.

Apple make me one please! Oh and ummm as the inventor of the collaborative laptop can I have a slice of the revenue from sales? 🙂

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