Could NUI Galway use an Enabling Policy to Encourage the Use and Production of OER?


Could NUI Galway use an Enabling Policy to Encourage the Use and Production of OER?

by Kris Meen

I'm writing this post as a member of the NUI Galway Library’s Research & Learning division, where my role is primarily that of an educator, teaching information and digital literacy skills as part of the Academic Skills team. I’m interested in Open Educational Resources (OER), in part due to my engagement with them in my own teaching and learning support. It has been a great pleasure to be involved with the Library-led, Student Project Fund-funded OER pilot project, which seeks to establish a sustainable OER support service at NUI Galway and is funding and supporting the local creation of ten OER by means of the popular open textbook creation software, Pressbooks. While there are varying definitions of OER, the pilot project has adopted the UNESCO definition of OER, i.e. that they are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

Offering support for OER necessarily involves a basic familiarity with licensing, copyright, and intellectual property, since the underpinning factor for all OER is open licenses. The most commonly used open licenses are Creative Commons licenses. When the author or creator of an educational resource - be it a textbook, self-directed learning resource, lesson plan, ancillary activity, video, or podcast - applies an open license to that resource, it becomes reusable by others in their own teaching contexts, for free.

Open licenses don't exist outside of established copyright and IP regimes and related policy frameworks; they are very much dependent on copyright law, and the overall copyright, IP and policy environment can impact on the ability of teachers and learners to create educational resources in an open way. As part of NUI Galway’s OER pilot project, I have started to create self-directed, online supports related to copyright and open licensing. In future, as I become more familiar with the environment, I hope to - in partnership with others - be able to create and utilize localized versions, for the Irish context, of innovative copyright training activities like the Copyright Card Game and/or Copyright Dough.

As noted, institutional policies are an important aspect of the overall practical environment for the use and creation of OER. The National Forum for Teaching & Learning recently released an updated Guide to Developing Enabling Policies for Digital and Open Teaching and Learning. The Guide provides a starting point for considering how policy can inform open education; in my own context, this includes thinking about how shifts in policy might facilitate the enhanced use of OER at NUI Galway. NUI Galway's Vision 2025 articulates 'Open' as one of its four core values. Within that value of Open, one of the Flagship Goals includes a commitment to 'promote the use and production of Open Educational Resources.' The overall university strategy is not the only current strategy document on campus articulating goals relating to the use and production of OER: the Library Strategy 2021-2025 for example mentions Open Educational Resources in four different places, and the recently launched College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies strategy mentions ‘Work[ing] with the Library in their ongoing efforts to promote the creation and classroom use of high quality Open Educational Resources’. 

Given the University’s increasing commitment to OER in statements of institutional strategy and values, the time seems ripe to be thinking more about 'enabling policies' and how they have been configured in the promotion and implementation of OER elsewhere, according to the National Forum.

What is an Enabling Policy?

As implied in the full title of the Forum’s Guide, an enabling policy doesn't have to be limited to enabling only 'open' resources: the document also focuses on such policies as applied to digital teaching and learning that is not necessarily 'open' in nature. Responding to research indicating that stakeholders did not feel involved in decision-making processes regarding digital services at their institutions (pg. 1), the Forum has developed a new definition of 'enabling policy'. Whereas the Forum’s previous definition used three broad descriptors (i.e. being implementable, situated in practice and reflective of the HEI's priorities’), the revised definition involves fifteen criteria (pg. 3). The criteria include specifications that enabling policies are aligned with other policies, are ‘collaborative, involve student-staff partnership, are supportive & flexible (rather than legalistic and prohibitive) and are practical, implementable.

Included also in the
Guide are seven case digital/open education policies representing seven different approaches to digital/open education. These include, for example, the Lecture Recording Policy from the Institute of Technology Carlow, which would probably sit on the 'digital' side of the related digital/open terminology.

Policies Enabling Open 

The Forum's Guide provides two case studies of policies that specifically relate to OER. The first is the University of Edinburgh OER policy (pg. 15). Of interest with this policy is that it is informative rather than mandatory and meant to encourage and support rather than require any particular kind of practice. There is an OER Service that provides teaching and learner supports including digital skills workshops, while teaching and learning services have open licensing options built in to them.

The Forum's second open-related policy case study is the Intellectual Property Policy implemented by Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Canada (pg. 16). This IP policy seeks to clarify IP rights for university members and to encourage the use of open practices across research, learning and teaching. The policy upholds existing institutional agreements with faculty that the copyright for any work product created as part of assigned duties (including creative work, instructional strategies or curriculum/instructional material) belongs to the employee. It specifies that students, too, retain copyright for work they created while studying at Kwantlen. Procedures, templates, and the university's own practices when it comes to open licensing their own publications support the policy.

What to do at NUI Galway? Or in Your Own Locale?

Would a more explicit or deliberate policy - voluntary or otherwise - be useful in supporting the creation and promoting the use of OER? What about IP policies; are academics and students clear on their rights in relation to IP? What other structures of support need to be developed in conjunction with any policy developments to make it all work? These are useful discussion points for NUI Galway and indeed any university seeking to engage in a positive way with Open Education. 

Given NUI Galway's stated commitments to OER, the Forum Guide provides a useful opportunity to ask questions about the existing policy framework at NUI Galway and consider whether there is anything that can be done in this sphere to further support OER creation on campus. What policies already exist that might pertain to OER at NUI Galway? Can they be made better for the promotion of opening up education at NUI Galway?

NUI Galway already has a local IP Policy ; what does it look like vis-a-vis OER? On the one hand, the policy states that all University IP is the property of the University (section 4.1) and which states this policy applies to IP arising from the work of university personnel over the course of their employment (4.2 and 4.2.1). There are exceptions, however, and one is the IP that the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) deems of a non-commercial nature can be exempted (4.4.1). 

In general, OER would probably be considered by practitioners to be non-commercial in nature - a key facet of any OER is that the open license it carries lets others use the resource for free. Some open licenses, however - including that considered the 'most open', the CC BY license, allow for commercial reuse of the license. Many OER practitioners, disliking the idea and the practice of 'free riders' using resources released for free in order to profit from there, use a CC BY-NC instead, the 'NC' standing for 'non-commercial'. 

Ownership matters to OER practitioners not because they want to make a profit from the work, but because in not seeking to profit monetarily from the work, what they do seek is recognition for the work that they have done in creating a resource of a standard that is of high enough quality that others have decided they want to reuse it in some fashion.  

If an OER creator wanted to be sure to maintain ownership of a resource, could they do so by applying an NC license to the resource? Perhaps. There's nothing in the policy documentation that addresses open licenses however, so it isn't really clear that that would be the case; as well, from an 'open' standpoint, it would be not ideal to have people feel that they would need to use a license that was less open than the most open in order to maintain ownership over the resource. 

The fact that a non-commercial exception is there within the policy indicates to me that in spirit, the policy seeks to allow the kind of work done by OER practitioners. Yet I doubt it was written up with open licensing particularly vis-a-vis the creation of open educational resources in mind, understandably - OER is a relatively new University priority, newer than the latest iteration of the IP Policy itself, which dates to 2019. 

What to do on the policy front, then? In its next iteration, due in 2023, could the current IP Policy be changed to one that better or more clearly enabled staff IP ownership such that they could feel confident that OER created would remain their own property - whatever license they put on it? Or would a separate, voluntary, OER policy in the Edinburgh mould, be more useful? 

These are important questions to consider in the context of pushing forward with OER use and creation at NUI Galway, ones that should be considered deliberately from the standpoint of teaching and learning. The Forum T&L Guide proposes a 5-Step process for the implementation of an enabling policy, starting with Step 1, Identify Need for Policy. A multi-stakeholder, OER Enabling Group with a clear brief to identify precisely what the policy needs are at NUI Galway in terms of enabling OER would be a good place to start. Once this was established, the next step could be co-creation of a fresh policy.

OER is an important component of NUI Galway’s Open vision; there should be a deliberate means of enabling OER, and a group tasked with establishing the right local enabling policy environment would be one way to move forward.


 Kris Meen is an Assistant Librarian in Academic Skills at NUI Galway Library. Kris works on the NUI Galway OER pilot project is an active member of the SPARC European Network of Open Education Librarians and is a 2021-2022 SPARC Open Education Leader.