The University of the Highlands and Islands is unique within the UK for being both a tertiary education covering Further and Higher Education, and a federated university comprised of thirteen academic partner institutions. The university is also geographically distributed, with a range of campuses and study centres located across the region providing blended, networked and online education in rural and urban communities, as well as offering online distance learning nationally and internationally.
Open educational practices, in forms including ‘open digital’ and ‘open in the community’, are evident across the university. However open education is still an emergent area for the institution, and one we have been actively seeking to further develop over the last two years, e.g. through critically exploring how the connected concepts of openness, space and place relate to our educational practices and provision, and through engagement in initiatives including OERu and the Open Education Practices Scotland (OEPS) project (Pitt and Smyth, 2017).
Of specific interest in the above context is what open education should look like in a geographically and digitally distributed university with a diverse range of physical, technology-enriched and online spaces for learning. To this end, as part of a new learning and teaching enhancement strategy, the university undertook to develop an Open Education Framework to ‘guide institutional developments in the harnessing and creation of open educational resources, and in the use of online and other open educational opportunities for the purposes of widening access and public engagement’.
The creation of the new Open Education Framework has been informed by initial benchmarking research of existing open educational practices, and perceptions of open education, within the university, and is further grounded in critical research concerning the concept of the ‘Digital University’ and the intersection of open education practices and approaches undertaken by one of the co-presenters with their fellow researchers (Johnston et al, 2019).
Our Open Education Framework has six dimensions: open textbooks; open educational resources; open educational development; open learning opportunities; open scholarship; and open educational research linked to open and digital education. In the areas of open learning and open scholarship, there are respective foci on intersecting ‘open online’ and ‘open campus’ learning opportunities, and on digital student scholarship that harnesses digital spaces to share student work that has a public value for the communities within which the university and our learners are located.
In this session, we will draw upon our work to date to develop an Open Education Framework that is contextualised to the geographically and digitally distributed nature of the university, which is relevant to our rural and urban communities, and which seeks to reframe open education in a way that is cognisant of, and is an enabler for, open learning within and across digital and physical situs.
We hope our lessons learned will support colleagues in thinking critically about their own conceptualisations of open education, and that our framework may have a particular relevance to those who work in similarly distributed contexts to our own.
Johnston, B., MacNeill, S. and Smyth, K. (2019). Conceptualising the Digital University: The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice. Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan.
Pitt, B. and Smyth, K. (2017). Creative open everyday practice: Thinking differently at UHI. Case study produced for Open Education Practice Scotland (OEPS) project. [online] OEPS (Open Education Practices Scotland) Website. Available at: http://www.oeps.ac.uk/using-oep/creative-open-everyday-practice-thinking-differently-uhi [Access 13th March 2019].