Welsh universities commit to sharing course material online

OER drive by nation’s institutions will save lecturers time

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Wales has become one of the first nations to agree to make university course material publicly available so that academics do not have to create their lectures from scratch.

Vice-chancellors from the country’s eight universities were expected to commit from 19 September to the principles of the open educational resources movement, which makes materials freely available online.

UK institutions have long made at least some of their resources public, but Wales is one of the first countries – universities in New Zealand are also discussing the idea – to sign up to the principle nationally.

Clive Mulholland, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of South Wales and chair of the group of pro vice-chancellors responsible for the project, said that the resources made available would be “mostly lecture notes and course materials”, and these would largely be used by academics in their teaching.

Rather than writing their lectures “from scratch”, academics could “build [them] from what’s already out there. It saves time, plus you can actually find the best [material]”, he explained.

Asked whether students would be happy with lectures that were not entirely original, he said that they were “only the basis” of the education students would receive.

“It’s up to each university to determine what they want to make available,” Professor Mulholland explained. Some would give away “significant elements” of their courses, while others could give away “very little” in the beginning.

“I don’t expect them all to deliver the same amount of it,” he said.

The resources would not all be hosted on one website, but instead a central “showcase doorway” – or portal – would link to materials on university websites, he explained. The system would be running by next summer, he said.

Workshops – likely to be funded by the Welsh government – would help staff to use the resources in their teaching, Professor Mulholland said.

“There’s lots of OER out there…but there’s very little out there about how academics and students can use OER,” he continued.

Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of Cardiff University and chair of Higher Education Wales, said the announcement meant that Wales was “at the vanguard of the digital education revolution taking place across the globe”.

Welsh universities are also developing a short massive open online course with the National Union of Students to help new students when they start university, Professor Mulholland revealed. The course is expected to start running next year.

The short Mooc – dubbed a “Smooc” – would run from A-level results day in August until a couple of weeks into the new university term. It would cover issues such as food, finances and safety, but also how to “manage your social media profile” to avoid leaving embarrassing photos that could be found by prospective employers after graduation, he explained.

It would not just be aimed at Welsh students but could assist anyone starting university, Professor Mulholland said, and would be promoted to students by the NUS.

The Welsh group of universities is the second consortium of UK institutions to develop a Mooc. FutureLearn, a group of 26 partners that are mainly large, research-intensive universities, revealed details of its first courses this week.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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