Institutional support

What kinds of institutional support, departmental structures, strategies, policies and processes can support open education models?

Coventry open media classes developed incrementally, an approach which did not, therefore, require wholesale institutional buy-in in the early stages but allowed the team to test things out and take smaller risks.  The Department’s Open Media Policy underpinned the developments and innovations as it identified five key elements that establish a foundation for teaching on the open classes – Tactical, Sustainable, Engaged, Visible and Collaborative. Policies such as these are essential to support developments and can offer staff a blueprint to support changing practice.

The open classes were part of the Undergraduate BA (Hons) in Photography which already aligned with Coventry University Strategy and had undergone appropriate validation processes.  Jonathan Shaw secured funding from the Vice Chancellor to develop open platforms to deliver content (such as phone Apps, Digital publishing software and iTunesU) which indicated senior management support and awareness of the potentials of open technologies but there was there was no specific institutional position on open approaches to teaching.  Institutional strategy did, however,  support technology enhanced learning and participatory/ student-centred learning and teaching strategies and Senior Managers did show support for the Jisc funded COMC project.

As the classes progressed they were able to gather evidence and respond to any questions as they emerged: –
 “The VC came to us and asked how we were going to raise the course profile, improve the experience for the students, grow their international opportunities and save money. Well, I was able to show how we’d been very successful attracting large numbers to #phonar and that we’ve had people go on to assist Annie Leibovitz, Trent Park, Steve Pyke, Elinor Carucci. It’s now the hardest course in the uni to get onto, and by using existing social media environments it all came at no extra cost.” Jonathan Worth (2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-20495489

Using free online resources and tools negated the need for significant IT support but the extensive use of un-restricted platforms did not strictly conform to existing University IT policy. The University Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research was aware of this ‘conflict’ and nonetheless endorsed the project.  This enabled the team to adopt and test open approaches, but these kinds of approaches need to balance effectively with institutional technologies and systems. Initially, the University marketing team expressed concern about the use of a non-institutional wordpress blog, but the sheer volume of traffic provided tangible evidence that this approach was attracting visitors from all over the world and had potential for raising the profile of Coventry University. If the Institution had decided to prohibit the use of the blog it would have had a significant impact on how the classes were run. The classes made use of a wide range of different social media services but the WordPress site acted as the hub for the distributed network – a key principle of the approaches adopted.

The Blog collates all these resources, such as the lectures and seminar activities – each open class session also include notes, recordings and student annotations – both sequentially as a series of post and under specific categories and through linking to additional external site, such as Vimeo, or Podbean. The over-arching aim of making this material available is to lower the barriers to anyone accessing these classes and resources. The blog acts like a ‘hub’ within a networked community.   (COMC Final Report, 2012)

For open initiatives such as these the issue of ownership and licencing requires clarity of policy and practice at an institutional level and at the point of contact by course participants. The team obtained support and approval from the senior research management of the University.  In relation to ownership of student contributions, the Legal Compliance Officer confirmed that the University asserts IP and copyright over all Coventry University Student work produced within a teaching and learning environment. However, the University agreed for student work to be part of the classes under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC-BY-SA) i.e. with their proper authorial acknowledgment/recognition. The challenge for institutions, as described by Jonathan Worth, is in accepting the changes that new models of teaching bring

“Much like me thinking I was just an image maker, the uni thought its product was ‘knowledge’ and their old business model relied on keeping a tight grip on that… Well, I knew it wasn’t my product as a teacher… On a personal level I also found out that this stuff has applications in other areas too – education being a case in point, where I realised the real thing of value was not the knowledge but the learning experience. The message of that experience is amplified by opening it up – hence the success of the open classes.” Jonathan Worth 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-20495489

Raising awareness of ownership and rights is a significant part of digital and media literacy and, by nature, of the classes themselves. It is particularly important that the students understand the concept and practicalities of open licensing both in terms of participating in the course and for their own future professional practice. It is worth noting that the open classes at Coventry happen in the second and third years which allows time for students to develop trust in the Institution, their teachers and the other students and also time to develop their confidence in opening their content like this. In the UKOER Programme several project teams included open student content and involving students in this way helped to educate them in open licensing issues, however several projects identified tensions around student perceptions about making content that they had ‘paid for’ available to others. This requires a shift in perspective for both institutions and students around the role of content on a course – both that created by the teaching teams and that developed by students through their learning activities. This is discussed further in section 4.5.

Between 2008 and 2012 the Department of Media rose from 85th in league tables to 38th which was noticed within the institution and senior managers showed interest in the approach the department had taken including the open classes. Shaun Hides and Jonathan Worth provided a briefing to Governors highlighting the open classes and wider issues around MOOCs. The response was positive and it was agreed that a University-wide approach needed to be taken. The Department was then asked to prepare a proposal to work with Coventry’s London campus around open classes.

Following this in 2013 the University held a research event for senior managers across the institution where Gary Hall and Shaun Hides pitched two ideas: a research centre on the University of the 21st Century and a “skunk works”/lab in which to experiment with teaching practice, these pitches lead to the idea of a Disruptive Media Learning Lab. This was approved by the Vice Chancellor and later the Lab was given the 3rd floor of the Lanchester Library and a significant funding investment over three years to develop their approach . The Lab is focused on four key areas of activity – openness (research and teaching), co-creation and game based approaches, the flipped classroom and new models of online/distance learning. This large physical space and ongoing funding represents a solid commitment by the University and is testament to the raised profile of the Department within the University.

The Department are working towards introducing fully open courses (2015/16) which align well with the institutional strategy on graduate enterprise and employability, as they have a clear focus on ensuring that courses aim to equip students with appropriate skills for the changing creative media professions.  Moving from open classes to fully open courses is a major step forward and indicates a clear commitment from the institution.  Although Coventry started by adapting classes in existing courses they have reached a point now where the existing Photography Bachelor of Arts Degree course went through a re-approval process and an open Masters course has been validated and supported institutionally.  This is a notable development and a clear illustration of how far the experiences of the department, academic staff and registered and open students have convinced institutional managers of the scalability of the model/s.

 

See other findings: What critical factors led to the development of the open classes?  |   What kinds of support do staff need to implement these new open connected approaches?  |  Open classes curriculum design and delivery  | What was the impact of the classes on the various stakeholders?   |  How transferable are the models to other institutional contexts and subject disciplines?

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