Guest Post : Lis Parcell (JISC)

In the second of our series of guest posts, we hear from Lis Parcell from JISC who gives us her observations on the recent series of OER Wales Cymru Open Educational Practice Workshops and an outline of the changing landscape in the OER World.

About the author:

Lis Parcell works for Jisc in the Customer Services division, specialising in libraries and digital resources. Until December 2014 she worked for the Regional Support Centre Jisc RSC Wales and this blog entry is based on her experience of engaging with the open agenda during that period. Among her professional interests she is a member of the OER15 Conference Planning Group and is a student on the Open University module Openness and Innovation in E-learning. She tweets about these things and related interests as @lisparcell. These are her own personal view and opinions and not those of Jisc.

OER Wales – post-workshop perspectives

Last term OER Wales ran a series of three workshops aimed at bringing together staff interested in the idea of a network of ‘OER champions’. The intention was to build capacity to further the ambitions of the Welsh universities in the field of OER and open practice. I had the pleasure of being invited by Debbie Baff (Project Manager of OER Wales Cymru) to contribute to the events and I thought it might be useful to sum up a few of my lessons learned from my participation in the workshops, but also from my wider experience of working on OER and open practice in Wales since 2012/2013. They are my own personal views and opinions and not those of Jisc.

It’s been very satisfying to see the OER Wales workshops come together in the Autumn of 2014. Some two years earlier, in 2012/2013, I had previously put together a modest programme of events, with the help of some willing Jisc associates and other experts, to help myself and others get up to speed on developments and start sharing ideas and practice. Back then we were seeing the culmination of the UKOER programme, MOOC fever was at its height and a lively OER community was building at UK level. Those short online sessions made some progress in terms of disseminating information quickly to a fairly large number of people, and helped us to begin mapping the territory. However, they could only be a short-term solution and were limited in how far they could forge the relationships necessary for longer-term capacity-building.

By Lis Parcell

Debbie Baff Making sure we were all fed and watered By Lis Parcell

By contrast, the OER Wales events were half-days, face to face and included sharing lunch together. The convivial nature of the events (achieved in no small part by Debbie’s warm and welcoming approach) definitely helped the conversations to flow and encouraged more informal and gradual exploration of the OER theme.

I attended two of the three workshops (the first at University of South Wales, Treforest campus in October and the second at University of Wales, Trinity Saint David Carmarthen campus in November); a third was held at Bangor University in December. Many thanks to all those who attended and assisted with the events.

OER Wales workshops: what we did

The workshops provided information on the OER Wales project and gave opportunities for participants to swap information on their engagement with OER, whilst beginning the task of building a champions network. I gave an introductory presentation, outlining the context for OER Wales and some Jisc resources such as the OER infoKit. Most of the time was devoted to group activities and discussions.

by Lis Parcell

by Lis Parcell

by Lis Parcell

by Lis Parcell

By Lis Parcell

By Lis Parcell

By Lis Parcell

By Lis Parcell

My Flickr albums from the Treforest workshop and the Carmarthen workshop include some snapshots of the rich pictures and post-its which people created as they explored what an OER Wales champion might look like and how they might they need to be supported.


Examples of attributes considered as belonging to an OER champion were not confined to technical expertise. They included things like: global awareness, creativity, energy, the ability to put people in touch with experts (not necessarily being an expert oneself), ability to listen, patience and capacity to network as part of a web of knowledge.

I would argue these are all qualities necessary to sustain many kinds of innovation in education, but they are not necessarily highly valued, at least not outside a project environment. I feel it may be necessary for innovators (in OER and elsewhere) to link their skills more clearly to organisations’ business goals if their development is going to be fostered in future.

by Lis Parcell

Dr Luke Sloan with the ‘Champions T-Shirt’ Photo by Lis Parcell

Although the workshops were ostensibly focussed on “OER”, people brought a wide range of interests to the discussion that went far beyond content and the basic processes of finding, making, using and sharing digital teaching and learning resources. People also wanted to talk about other aspects of open academic practice such as: open research practice, open data, open access publishing, digital literacies of many kinds, and leadership to support innovation in teaching. One person’s view of what constitutes open practice is different from another’s, and OER cannot be neatly separated from other areas of academic practice.


 There was definitely interest from staff in finding out what’s happening beyond the level of their own institution. I found this very encouraging: innovators can feel reticent about sending out too much information. Yet in today’s organisations, people’s roles seem to be changing more often and their priorities shift back and forth. It seems they value opportunities to re-connect with developments in the outside world, in a way that’s convenient for them. 

  • People may be willing to share materials more widely than just with a small circle of known individuals, yet they often don’t know who they can contact within their own organisation to give them the right kind of support and guidance.
  • Embracing OER, indeed any significant change to practice, involves making it part of your professional identity. Staff will tend to allocate their time and effort to activities which contribute to their professional identity. This identity is forged at the early career stage and more effort needs to be focussed at such transition points.

 What’s changed?

If I compare how the open education landscape looked in Wales in 2012/2013 and how it appears to me today, I think we are looking at a somewhat different landscape:

  • In 2012, I think it’s fair to say that staff in Wales were, by and large, observing developments elsewhere but not actively “doing” OER (with a few worthy exceptions). Today there is more practical experience and expertise within Wales, generated for example through initiatives like OpenLearn Cymru and Cadarn Portal, and University of South Wales will host the OER15
  • I was pleased to see that while some of the people and organisations I was talking to about OER in 2012/2013 have moved on, a good number are still on board, and they are more knowledgeable than ever.
  • OER does not fit neatly into normal staff roles and processes. This can make it difficult to identify and share existing good practice. Staff may be sharing to some extent, they may not label the practice ‘OER’ and may be feel more comfortable doing so on a limited basis to trusted contacts, rather than take the step of openly licensing their material.
  • I think today there is a little more appreciation today that OERs and MOOCs are not one and the same thing. However, there is still a common assumption that OERs are the same as ‘online resources’ or ‘anything you can find on the web that is not behind a paywall’. Back in 2012, OER discussions were often at pains to pin down definitions of OER. In the OER Wales workshops the approach was more pragmatic: we did venture some definitions but there was no insistence on a single one. I think this flexibility can be helpful when building a community of practice, but I think we do need to be careful of skimming over issues like licensing and the support and resources needed to make the changes required.
  • IPR and licensing are still a major cause of concern and misunderstanding, so I’ve been delighted to see that the Jorum team (now fully part of the Jisc family) have been producing some excellent workshop materials to help people learn about licensing in an enjoyable way. More of this is needed. If you’d like see an example of what Jorum are doing, they did a great turn at another workshop last term run by librarians’ group CoPilot and they wrote about it on their blog.
  • The importance of information services staff, such as librarians, in supporting open academic practice is now more widely appreciated. However librarians are not always in the room when academics, e-learning staff and policymakers are discussing OER. I feel there’s still room to make more of the distinctive knowledge of librarians and the position of libraries and learning resource centres as trusted, shared spaces for collaborative learning (including OER among other resources).
  • Pressure on staff time in all institutions is now more heavy than ever, with little sign of abating. Staff are being even more strategic in how they prioritise their time, and this presents an immense challenge to anyone tasked with implementing a change programme.
By Lis Parcell

By Lis Parcell

by Lis Parcell

by Lis Parcell


Main things I’ve learned

The most valuable things I’ve learned from working on OER in the last couple of years are not actually about OER. Rather, they are do with conditions needed to encourage a change of practice involving technology (of which a move to open academic practice is just one aspect).

in the OER movement I have been able to witness the power of ‘good champions’ to keep others inspired and motivated, and to model to show what innovative practice looks like. Lis Parcell

Here are my main lessons learned:

  • To make best use of limited resources, we need to understand better the interplay between the following factors in bringing about innovation: Day to day academic practice, Institutional leadership, strategy and management and Sector-wide initiatives including those of government and professional bodies, agencies and other pressure groups
  • I must admit I have been sceptical in the past about the notion of “champions” as a mechanism for bringing about transformational change. This is partly because I’ve have seen champions put into roles where they have limited opportunities for influence, and also because I feel a champion who is set apart from the ordinary practitioner as a ‘guru’ can risk creating a barrier for others. However, in the OER movement I have been able to witness the power of ‘good champions’ to keep others inspired and motivated, and to model to show what innovative practice looks like. We could try and understand better the skills and support needed to enable such individuals to flourish so that we can retain and pass on their skills.
  • It’s often said that in the Welsh HE and FE sectors, staff and institutions are ‘good at collaborating’. I have seen the truth in this statement: with relatively few institutions, it is certainly easy to get to know people, and ease of contact makes a real difference when building working relationships. But a small country needs to keep its horizons wide and clear, so I would suggest that while working closely within Wales:
  • where sectors continue to work separately from each other, the learning from innovation projects should, as far as possible, not be confined to the sector where it originates. The Cadarn Portal project is a good example of the FE and HE sectors working together to develop and share resources to widen participation.
  • there needs to be continued effort to engage with bodies outside Wales to maximise the knowledge and get some external perspective. I feel the OER Wales project has done particularly well at this and hope it will continue.

As I take on a new role in Jisc’s customer services, focussed on libraries and digital resources, I’ll be taking with me the inspiration and lessons learned from my engagement with OER Wales. It’s been a very rewarding project to be involved with, and I wish its members all the best for the future.

Lis Parcell

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