Thoughts on engaging with OERs: Rainbows all round

Photograph of clay rainbow ornament

A guest blog post by Danielle Marlow, Education Development Coordinator, Edinburgh CRF Education Programme.  Follow the Edinburgh CRF Education Programme blog here 

Before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic Open Educational Resources (OERs) were something that I’d heard about but never been involved with. The fact that they came associated with a spectrum of phrases like ‘open licence’, ‘creative commons’ and ‘attribution’ were enough to make me shut the windows, pull down the blinds and hide.

A photograph of a cat looking out from under a blanket.

Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash

The concept of them seemed great in theory but a bit of a nightmare in practice. So the fact that I was already managing a successful clinical research education programme made the perfect excuse to shirk it, and so to the bottom of my ‘to-do’ list OERs went, until…

Fast forward to March! The world has been turned on its head and the looking glass shattered. All of our clinical research training and events were cancelled. Certain clinical research studies at a national level were halted. Our team was asked to leave the research facility with what we could carry to aid home working and with no real indication as to when (and if) we might be back. So, what do we do now? No courses to set up or organise, no training to deliver, nothing. All over the world students and their teachers were being forced to adapt their teaching quickly to overcome these difficult times and here we are, just the four of us, sitting at home, trying not to go crazy. No game plans. No resources (open, educational or otherwise!). No ideas.

Photograph of a sketch of a question mark, alongside a pencil and an eraser

Photo by Mark Fletcher Brown on Unsplash

Where do we begin? How do you even begin to approach something like this with no experience of digital teaching or education? How about upskilling in any possible way? Bingeing on pretty much all of training within the University that could help us deliver the programme in some sort of new online/hybrid format? What a great idea! Now we’re all so ‘busy’! We’re giving ourselves a pat on the back at our daily meetings (where we just seem to talk about the weather, the rainbows, the lockdown, and how things will be back to normal by Christmas!! Hahahaha!!), but still leaving the giant elephant in the room, what do we actually want the new version of the programme to look like online?

Taking the time to discuss opportunities and potential collaborations with colleagues in other areas of the University and NHS Lothian, as well as scoping out what the clinical research community had the capacity to undertake, started steering us in the right direction. This support and the thought of delivering a versatile and engaging programme for our colleagues was the driving force taking us forward during a time where uncertainty seemed to be the common theme. Addressing limitations in our teaching (and education programme) emboldened us to think outside the box, spread our wings and focus on new resources and materials that could be used (and re-used) in our learning and teaching. Laying the foundations to these new resources was the first step in feeding into the translating and development of our existing face-to-face courses and workshops into an accessible and engaging online format so that they also had the potential to feed into future areas of our teaching.

Photograph of a child with a magnifying glass

Photo by Elisabeth Wales on Unsplash

Constraints within services and platforms offered by the University helped us clearly establish what we didn’t want more than what we did want. It was obvious that we would have to work within these constraints especially since we were supporting an audience that was external to the University. Showcasing the colourful array of what we know, do and deliver but in smaller, more manageable learning chunks felt like the best way forward.

Open Education Resources, highlighting different aspects of clinical research from study design all the way through to dissemination of findings, was our new priority. With the potential to build, expand and elaborate on the suite as more topics came into the spotlight was a huge enticement. It was also refreshing not to have to stress about who owns the resources, what the copyright was and how it can and can’t be used / attributed / adapted / amended / repurposed / revised / remixed / redistributed.

So, through a process of elimination and with a dawning of enlightenment, we had what felt like a plan. The opportunity to expand our reach and repertoire in the delivery of OERs. It felt new and exciting (it was!), and the obvious path for us to follow to meet a large, diverse audience who were now time poor but motivated towards learning in a completely new way. The versatility and variety of scope offered by OERs was limitless, we could create anything that we wanted in whatever format we wanted, knowing that it would provide value, information and context to a landscape that is every changing especially as this pandemic has evolved.

And now? Now that the rainbows in our windows have been faded by the sun and the intensity and pressure of the transition into an online capacity has passed, we can take a little time to pause and reflect on how we turned things around. We created something that seemed inconceivable 6 months ago, well for us anyway. We created (and are still creating) OERs to support an online programme of education with courses, workshops and webinars that feed into each other, consolidating the learning options available. We worked hard, it was stressful, it was lonely, but we’ve come out the other side with our own little pot of gold. A better understanding of:

  • what our research community is looking for;
  • what we have the capacity and capabilities to deliver;
  • who to approach for that gentle nudge in the right direction.

So, if all goes to plan, we’ll consolidate your learning, as well as our own expertise in learning and teaching too.

Header image by Max Di Capua on Unsplash