The OER Research Hub, funded by the Hewlett Foundation, is probably the defining research grant of my career. With Patrick McAndrew and colleagues in IET we were successfully awarded a grant for 3 years to examine the evidence for OER impact. At the time there was a lot of beliefs and claims around OER but not much evidence. We generated 11 hypotheses that tested these beliefs and set about trying to get evidence for them.
The Evidence report is the best outcome of this work, along with a lot of other publications. What was really significant for me personally was that it facilitated networking with really interesting OER people. All the North American crowd, the ROER4D people in South Africa, the UNESCO Chairs, and the UK OER community. From this project we established the OER Hub as a research team in the OU working across a number of different projects (including GO-GN which will be the subject of a future post).
I have long championed OER at the OU, and as I mentioned was part of the OpenLearn bid team. I think OER is a manifestation of OU values. I understand that generating money, or diversifying income, is important for universities, but I think the Open aspect of the OU is its identifying characteristic. It should (and often does) promote, research, develop openness in education in all its guises. Sometimes this won’t always have immediate investment return, but in the long run benefits accrue to being the first stop for any aspect of open education. So I’m grateful that the Hewlett grant allowed us to establish a research team which enables us to do this to some degree (although, cough, more internal resource would be useful).
I am still in contact with many of the people we worked with on this project, and it shaped my research focus for the next few years, as my inaugural lecture highlighted. Sometimes you get lucky with a grant and it takes you into a generous, intriguing field. I think what I’m trying to say is ‘what if the real impact was the friends we made along the way?’