Student perceptions of open educational resources – part 1

De Montfort University Student Perceptions and Understanding of Open Education Resources and Open Practices

A Masters Dissertation by Libor Hurt

Part of the De Montfort UKOER Phase 3 Project HALSOER funded by Jisc and the HEA (2011-2012).


This blog article is a brief overview of Libor’s research looking at student awareness and attitudes to open educational resources (OERs). We always felt that despite students being the target end user of OER, there was surprisingly little research into their awareness and attitudes toward open education as a whole.

In one major report reviewing learner use of online resources, Bacsich and colleagues (2011) highlighted the need for research into learner experiences and learner use of OER across the education spectrum, and the need for good quality studies of uniform methodology to build up a robust picture of research into the subject. They recommended that institutions should understand student views and experiences of OER and online resources to inform strategies and policies.

The aim of Libor’s dissertation was to establish the student perceptions and understanding of OERs, their use and knowledge of them, and to look at student learning habits and sharing cultures that exist in their academic circles. In light of Bacsich et al’s recommendations, we aimed to conduct a robust study using mixed methodology (questionnaires and interviews) for harvesting opinion. In response to the idea of providing a uniform approach, all our questionnaires and interview guides are shared as OERs, and indeed, have been requested for use several times by other researchers. (See Research Pack).

In Libor’s work he uses the UNESCO definition of OER:

 “Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual property license that allows for free use, adaptation, and distribution.” (UNESCO 2013)

They key point to OER is they are licensed openly for free use, and it is important to convey this notion to students in their participation in this research. Otherwise the research would relate to student use of online resources in general and miss the nuances of “open”. The other difficulty in researching “open” is the many formats and file types available. As part of Libor’s work, he made no assumption as to what types of resources were OER – only the fact that they were freely and openly licensed on the internet.

A number of past studies had looked at staff attitudes and awareness of OER. De Montfort staff for example at the start of the UKOER programme (2009) had little awareness of the term “open educational resources”, but as the programme matured by 2012 half the staff responding to a survey were familiar with OER. (Refs). Central to the success of OER being embraced by individuals and organisations is the notion of sharing – willingness to share your own work and use the work of others by varying degrees. Interestingly in both these surveys, staff attitudes toward sharing did not change – people were willing to share with close academic colleagues but not further even to similar courses within the faculty, and were even less likely to place materials on the internet. Conversely, staff were readily using materials from the web. So it is likely that as with the results of the staff survey, Libor’s results were going to reflect the deeply entrenched cultures and practices specific to one higher education institution.



A questionnaire was developed and distributed online using SurveyMonkey and was also available in paper copy. Students participated voluntarily. Semi-structured interviews were carried out in teaching sessions, again on a voluntary basis. Fuller methods will be available in the final dissertation. A “Research Pack” is available for anyone wishing to conduct similar research, hopefully improving on our approaches!


Part 2 (next Blog article) talks about the RESULTS.

Biology Courses Update

A happy new year to all our users and visitors!

It has been a while since I have updated the site but I’m glad to say it has been regularly visited over Christmas, and our YouTube Biology Courses channel is nearing 10,000 video views. That is by far the most popular format for learners.

Spike Biology Courses Mascot

Spike and me on a Christmas walk in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire.

Open Education – 2012 at a glance!

2012 was an epic year for the Biology Courses team at De Montfort. We were lucky to be part of the UKOER programme and work along side many universities and open education experts in order to learn how to share our teaching materials in the best way (i.e. understand copyright, involve local hospitals and employers, and what technical formats were best). Over the year we have also worked to ensure staff and students know about all the open educational resources (OERs) available in the UK (on and globally.

A quick tally up tells me our team and students presented over 10 conference papers, and we had three peer-reviewed articles published in academic journals. Of course my highlights were conferences and meetings in Las Vegas, Boston – visiting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and finally Vancouver for the OpenEd2012 conference.

As planned we shared some of our university learning materials on a range of subjects – forensic science and midwifery – both subject where there is much more to come. Our biomedical science resources flowed out thick and fast particularly in haematology, microbiology and laboratory skills. My site data shows me these are used all over the world now. A biomedical science graduate who stayed on to help produce resources was Malgorzata Rekas, and she did an absolutely outstanding job in producing OER. I’m glad to say she is working at Oxoid International now who produce microbiology products.

2013 looking forward!

Our next event is our Master’s student research viva. Libor Hurt looked at student understanding and use of OERs in what was an epic piece of research. He will present his paper at OER13 in Nottingham in March, and his viva is just before that. Libor is an amazing person and it has been a joy working with him – we all wish him well in his medical career.

This year we will continue to share our resources, and make De Montfort students and staff aware of the resources and creative approaches being shared by the other UKOER projects. We have “Open Education” as part of our PGCert which is a training course for all new lecturers, and we are establishing a Centre for Open Education with dedicated areas in the library and learning zones.

I think what was a surprise in 2012 with the advent of high university tuition fees, is that students STILL want to come and do science, and many  of our biology courses were very well subscribed, such as medical science, and biomedical science. It is evermore important therefore to work with schools and colleges so they can use the OER as “taster” materials to ensure that that students making this committment are making the right choices.



Biology Courses in Las Vegas Days 2 and 3

Well being a biomedical scientist I am still dying to call it Las Vagus! (One of the most important nerves in the body!) But day two of the biology courses team attending the SLOAN-c conference continues to be an awesome experience, as do the sights of Vegas by night. It is very easy to lose track of it being day or night, especially as my body clock is completely upside down.

I spoke to someone from Grand Canyon University today which not only sounds like a fabulous place to work but talked about one of their distance learning courses that caters for 50,000 students. Everything seems to be on such a vast scale over here. Walk up Vegas high street and you have erupting volcanos, gondolas,  water fountains and fireworks. They clearly aren’t bothered about their carbon footprint, but hey, you’ve got to have some fun in the world and stop taking it all so seriously.



My presentation was on day three at 11am Friday 27th July which coincided with the opening of the Olympic Games in London. My talk explained about the biology courses open education project and it went down well as I described open education activities in the UK and at De Montfort University. There were a range of subject specialists in the audience from maths and statistics, to life sciences and chemistry. They seemed to share the opinion that open educational resources can help meet basic skills deficits in laboratory techniques, and there is a real move to “flip” education – that is, to give the learning materials before teaching sessions and practicals to then give more time for discussion and interaction. I’m not sure how this might work with a lecture theatre full of nearly 200 students studying our biology courses like Medical Science and Biomedical Science, but hey I might give it a go.

So what will I do differently when I get home? I will try “flipping” at least for some sessions. I will look into eBooks and magazines as a way of delivering materials to students, and this seems to be the growing thing here with all students kitted out with iPads at some institutions! I think this would be a great concept for our own biology courses if students could have their laboratory schedules and help materials on iPads in the lab – although they will have to be waterproof! Are iPads waterproof by the way? They look pretty indestructible although I have had one crack on me! I’m adamant that we need electronic systems to track student achievement and progression and I have an APP to try out that achieves that in a very simple way.

So I will be sad to leave Vegas and leave behind some good friends from the conference. Next stop Boston over on the East Coast where I will be meeting people to talk more about our Biology Courses project.