Diving for pearls

Mercury Close-up: Hovnatanian Crater (NASA, MESSENGER, 01/16/12)

For the upcoming REF, the OER Hub are one of the possible impact case studies for the OU. We applied for a small bit of internal funding, and last week all decamped to a cottage in Gloucestershire for five days to put in an intensive writing session. This is not a commentary on the REF, an analysis of the neoliberalisation of education or the dangers of metrics, just some reflections on that writing process (so lower your expectations).

Firstly, a dedicated (isolated) week is definitely the way to go. We had been provided with a set of documents to complete by our excellent REF advisor, Jane Seale. But without a dedicated, prolonged period to devote to these, it would have taken months to complete. Also, the intensity of focusing on only this, rather than fitting in amongst other pressing demands, meant that the quality of what we produced was greatly improved (I think). So, a week away may seem like an indulgence, but was probably more productive and efficient in the long run.

Secondly, impact in higher education research is difficult, and often indirect. The dream type of impact is you do research, it leads to a change in Government policy on health or schooling. But that’s actually quite rare. In the last REF they didn’t allow impact within higher education to count, which is especially problematic for us, as part of our aim has been to work with researchers elsewhere and build OER research capacity. This time they may be a bit more lenient, but impact on other researchers is still frowned upon.

Thirdly, we’re all collaborative and supportive in the OER community (yes we are). Claiming impact sometimes seems like you need to ego and lack of shame of Donald Trump. We were solely responsible for everything that has happened and invented it all! This rather grates with the collegial, sharing network we are part of. So there is a tension in the process between needing to promote yourself and claim impact while also wanting to acknowledge the diverse, distributed nature of influence.

Lastly, we wanted to stress how the process by which we have conducted research, namely making openness (through social media, open access publications, open data, our open researchers pack, open courses, etc) is as impactful as the research itself. I feel that we made a good stab at this, but I wonder how much it will mean to assessors who are from a ‘traditional’ approach.

We’re writing this up now, and have identified lots of bits of evidence and testimonials we need to gather. Which means we may be coming to you for some input soon. I guess if I was to offer any advice, it would be to definitely try and carve out a dedicated chunk of time, to clearly work through some distinct messages you want to convey and then match these with evidence. You may need to then go through several iterations of this to find the best match of evidence to message.

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