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Using open educational practices to widen access and bridge gaps in education in Scotland

Pete Cannell


Pete Cannell is Co-Director of the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project.

He is an educational consultant with particular interest in open education and widening participation, a Fellow of the University of London Centre for Distance Education and an Associate Lecturer with The Open University.

Pete Cannell

Educational resources are increasingly available online. The shift from print to digital has been rapid and much of the material is ‘open’ in the sense that it is freely available to anyone with an internet connection and an appropriate digital device. 

Most people are familiar with accessing information through Google and YouTube, however, there has also been the emergence of educational platforms that host free online courses; for example The Open University’s OpenLearn, Edinburgh University’s Open.Ed, Coursera, FutureLearn and many more.  

These sites contain a wealth of structured resources, often in the form of free courses, but the evidence is that those who have already had some success in formal education are the main users. 

These developments are often referred to under the catch-all phrase ‘online learning’.  The focus tends to be on the technology and the information contained in the courses rather than on the students and how the materials support learning. 

The Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project was tasked to start from the students and from a social justice perspective and develop good practice in the use of online courses. 

The remit was particularly concerned with what are known as openly licensed courses. These are an important and rapidly growing subset of the online offering. 

From the student perspective the critical factor is that they are offered free of charge and without any entry restrictions. 

However, open licensing also offers very specific advantages for educators. The open license allows unrestricted use of the course and (providing appropriate recognition is given to the originators of the course material) the course material can be revised or remixed with material from other similarly licensed courses. 

Pete Cannell, OEPS Co-Director, and Claire Hewitt, Education Advisor - virtual learning programmes, Parkinson’s UK.OEPS worked with Dyslexia Scotland, University of Glasgow, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (University of the Highlands and Islands), Parkinson’s UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and others to explore how the benefits for students and organisations aiming to widen participation can be made real. 

This resulted in 15 new online courses co-designed with partners that addressed the thorny issues of participation that the project was tasked to tackle. 

Evidence collected through evaluation and from online user data suggests that opportunities for peer support and making use of the partners’ insights into their students’ context has a very positive impact on student retention and success.

OEPS was funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), led by The Open University in Scotland and ran for three years until the end of July 2017.  

It was guided by a steering group with representatives from four other Scottish Universities, the SFC and the College Development Network, and was asked to work across the whole range of Scottish education, formal and informal. 

The evolution of the project is captured in the archived project website. Over the three years OEPS worked with staff from 67 organisations, including universities, colleges, third sector organisations and networks, unions and employers to explore and develop good practice. 

Joint working involved workshops, presentations and seminars; in many cases the workshops were the first step in a more extended exploration of practice issues or in the development of new educational materials. 

Each strand of activity added to the project knowledge base and informed new activity. 

The project findings have been collated in the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland collection that is open for everyone to use.

The collection includes tried and tested workshop resources, free open courses, case studies of good practice from across the Scottish sector, briefings, reports and links to research evidence.

We hope that the collection will be useful to those new to open education and to those who are already engaged in it.

We’re delighted that our widening participation and partnership work has been recognised by being shortlisted for the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning 2017 Widening Participation Awards; the 2017 Scottish Charity Awards (with Parkinson’s UK) and the Global Game Changers Awards 2017 (with Dyslexia Scotland/Education Scotland).  Winners for the latter will be announced on 13 September.

On 11 September we will be holding The Promise of Open Education conference in Edinburgh. This marks the end of the OEPS project and highlights our legacy, while very much encouraging others to continue the conversation on open educational practices in Scotland.

We hope that OEPS’ legacy will provide a useful resource for educators in Scotland.  Open education is a new and evolving field of activity and we encourage users to make use of the fact that the OEPS legacy resources are openly licensed to improve and adapt them and share them with the sector.

Whether you had never heard of open education, are just getting to grips with it, or are a seasoned open educational practitioner or open educational resources user, sign up for the conference here.


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