Building an OER (open educational resources) policy

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Got a few years to fill? Why not try to develop and implement an OER policy at your institution? You may think I’m joking, but I found out that nothing in life is as simple as it first seems. I’d like to take you through the steps of developing and implementing an OER policy, and try to forewarn you of some of the “interesting” areas.

Open Education Resources, by the way, are materials used in teaching that have been released under an open licence (for example a Creative Commons licence) so they can be shared and reused by anyone who needs to. I should also say that I am very enthusiastic about the whole concept of open practice, and only fell into the area of policymaking as a means of promoting our open educational resources repository, edShare. Policy is not my thing, nor should it be at my pay grade!

The eightfold path of policy

In the end the process at Glasgow Caledonian University fell into eight steps:

  1. Establish reasons to create an OER policy
  2. Decide who should lead on policy creation
  3. Scan for existing policies (preferably available as OERs!)
  4. Adapt for your institution and consult with user groups
  5. Find (or create) other necessary institutional policies
  6. Establish the route or procedure for adoption, and get a senior management sponsor
  7. Run proposals past lawyers (if required)
  8. Guide through final approval by senior management

Step one is to clarify why you are doing this. Do you need a policy or just guidance? In my case, I had already created guidance on OERs, based on a University of Leeds document. However, this just didn’t cut it with our staff. They wanted:

  • An official policy approved by the University Executive granting approval to create and share OERs.
  • A policy which allowed attribution as the author of the resource. This was a trust issue. Our staff were unhappy with the idea of becoming “invisible authors”, hidden behind a general institutional attribution.
  • Guidance on Creative Commons licenses and Copyright.

So I was really stuck, everyone agreed that sharing resources was a good thing, and they wanted us to go ahead and give them the tools to do so, but they wouldn’t actually share resources until they had the official institutional blessing.

Subcommittee blues

So, on to step two. I raised the OER policy at our Learning and Teaching Subcommittee in the hope that someone would pick it up and run with it. You can guess how well this went, everyone agreed it was a great idea, but then decided that I should lead on it as the Library is seen as neutral – a bit like Switzerland. They also thought a bottom-up approach would lead to greater uptake (trust issues again!).

So, I lurched onwards to step three, which I had already completed as nobody had given me a handy eight-step guide with the ideal sequence. This was to look around to see if there were any suitable guidance or policy documents out there. I settled on the Leeds one. It seemed nice and clear, was Creative Commons licensed, and at that time was a bit of a landmark document.

So, full of enthusiasm, I launched into step four and formed a working group of interested parties. These were lecturers, LEAD (Learning and Academic Research and Development) staff, learning technologists, academic development tutors, the multimedia content manager and the assistant head (information compliance). We worked our way through the Leeds document and adapted it to our own needs. Then it was back to the Learning and Teaching Subcommittee.

Step five caused me no end of grief! I was repeatedly referred to documents which did not actually exist. They would turn out to be paragraphs within contracts, or total figments of the imagination. However, this did highlight the need for associated policies, such as on intellectual property (IP) and copyright.  The group created rough drafts of these documents for consideration by the appropriate parties.

Procedural hell

Onward and upward to step six, and a plunge into procedural hell! Each institution has its own wonderful and arcane procedures for policy adoption. These are often not consistent, with enquiries being met with “it depends” or “I don’t know, but I know it isn’t us”. By this time I was getting a bit hacked off with the whole idea. There followed a flurry of emails and detective work,  resulting in the University Secretary and VP Governance, and the Assistant Head (Governance) taking it forward. The AHG has been a particularly huge help as she deals with the university lawyers and can take items forward to the Executive Board.

The seventh step is to run the drafts past the university lawyers. To be honest, I was dreading this part, but it turned out to be the easiest of the lot! We have a really nice, commonsense lawyer who does not talk in jargon. So all I had to do was make his proposed edits.

The final, eighth step is to guide your creation through the Executive Board (or equivalent). This was when we had a final editing meeting with the AHG, my boss and myself, to slim down the policy and make sure it was in the correct format. So we ended up with a lean, mean policy which romped through board approval.

Approved and ready?

If you would like to read the end result here it is in all it’s (open) glory.

You may wonder why it’s badged as an interim policy. Interim refers to the format, rather than the content. Remember earlier on, I mentioned that we really needed a set of three policies? Our VP decided that when the other two are approved, they should be presented as one single item. This makes sense as they are all interconnected, but we were allowed to go ahead with the OER one on this basis as we needed it to be in place to help our implementation of the edShare repository.

So, you may ask, what happened to the other two draft policies? The answer is that I don’t know. I left them in limbo and ran away. Unsporting of me, I know, but this one alone took about three years from start to finish! Hopefully others can learn from our experience to get their own done more quickly.

The other burning question was posed by Wonkhe’s own David Kernohan, who got me when I was feeling smug at the end of a presentation on our policy. He asked me, “Now you have got it, what are you going to do with it?”. And that, as they say, is another story. I am standing by to tell you that one too, if David is still speaking to me after this…

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