Specialist Option: Open Education & OER

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer opportunities for systemic change in teaching and learning content through engaging educators in new participatory processes and effective technologies for engaging with learning.”
OER Commons

I have been involved in open education since the beginnings of the UKOER Programme in 2009 and in the subsequent years I have developed a strong personal commitment to open education in all its forms, particularly open educational resources, open policy, open practice and open knowledge.

In addition to coordinating technical support for the UKOER programme and synthesising the technical outputs [1], I have been involved in a number of high profile open education initiatives including the Open Policy NetworkOpen Knowledge Open Education Working Group, the European OER Policy Network, and Open Education Week. I am regularly invited to present talks and webinars [2] about open education and OER, and I have spoken at a number of international open education conferences including OERde14, the OER Conferences, OCWC Global Conference and the International Open Science Conference [3].

Lorna Campell auf der OERde14 from Wikimedia Deutschland on Vimeo.

Open Scotland

One open education initiative I want to focus on in particular is Open Scotland.  Open Scotland is a voluntary cross sector initiative that I launched in 2013, which aims to raise awareness of open education, encourage the sharing of open educational resources (OER), and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education.

Origins of Open Scotland

The origins of the Open Scotland Initiative can be traced back to 2012 when the Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO circulated an Open Educational Resource Survey to all Commonwealth Governments, OECD Commonwealth countries and UNESCO Member States.  My colleague Joe Wilson, Head of New Ventures at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), and I investigated whether this survey ever reached the Scottish Government. As far as we could ascertain it did not and there was no Scottish response.

At the same time, the third and final year of the Jisc / Higher Education Academy Open Educational Resources (UKOER) programme was drawing to a close.   As funding for UKOER came from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) only English Higher Education institutions were eligible to bid.  The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) chose not to contribute funding so although Scottish institutions were able to benefit from the resources released by UKOER projects, they were not eligible to bid for funding and participate in the programme.  Arguably this resulted in lower awareness of the potential benefits of open education across the sector, and open education practice was less well embedded within Scottish institutions.

These were the two drivers that motivated me to draw together a coalition of like minded organisations (initially Cetis, SQA, Jisc Regional Support Centre Scotland and the ALT Scotland Special Interest Group) to form Open Scotland.

The Open Scotland Summit

In June 2013 I organised and facilitated the Open Scotland Summit, which brought together senior managers, policy makers and key thinkers to explore the development of open education policy and practice in Scotland. In advance of this summit I authored and circulated an Overview of the aims of the initiative and a Benefits of Open briefing paper [4].

The Scottish Open Education Declaration

During the summit, participants explored the potential of developing an Open Declaration for Scotland based on the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration.  There was general agreement that the Paris Declaration was useful but too focused on OER and that a Scottish declaration should encompass open education more widely.  As a result, I created the first open community draft of the Scottish Open Education Declaration which calls on the Scottish Government, SFC, education institutions, the third sector and the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) sector to endorse open licenses for all publicly funded educational resources.

To create this draft I contacted UNESCO to seek permission to use the Paris OER Declaration under open license, and I then re-wrote it to broaden its scope to cover all aspects of open education, rather than just OER.  To enable the community to comment on the draft,  Martin Hawksey of ALT set up a blog on Reclaim Hosting and installed CommentPress, an open source plugin for WordPress that allows readers to comment on shared text.  I posted the first draft on our new declaration.openscot.net blog and disseminated it through the Open Scotland blog, various talks and presentations, and on twitter using the #OpenScot hashtag. I received a significant number of comments from colleagues across the open education community, which I incorporated into a second draft and disseminated for further comment.  After incorporating this second round of comments into the draft I released the first full version of the Scottish Open Education Declaration in June 2015 [5].

Scottish Open Education Declaration, draft 0.1

Open Education Advocacy

Through Open Scotland I have contacted three Scottish Government Cabinet Secretaries for Education to raise awareness of open education and encourage them to endorse the principles of the Scottish Open Education Declaration.  The response in each case was encouraging but non-commital. Although the Declaration has not been endorsed or supported by the Scottish Government, it has proved to be influential in other quarters.  It has been used to raise awareness of open education in a number of Scottish colleges and universities.  In the Creative Commons 2014 State of the Commons report it put Scotland on the map of countries to have made national commitments to open education, through legislation or projects that lead to the creation, increased use or improvement of open educational resources. And it is currently being adopted by the government of Morocco.  The Morocco Declaration will be formally launched at the UNESCO 2nd OER World Congress in Ljubljana in September 2017 and I have been asked to endorse the declaration as an international expert.

State of the Commons, 2014

Recent Developments

Since 2016 Open Scotland has been supported by the University of Edinburgh and the ALT Scotland SIG. I have continued to advocate and promote open education in Scotland by maintaining the Open Scotland blog, monitoring Scottish education policy developments, engaging in open policy organisations and initiatives, and writing and presenting about the benefits of open education at a wide range of conferences and events [3].

In order to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris OER Declaration UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning are undertaking a series of international regional consultations on OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education.  In 2016, at the request of the Commonwealth for Learning I attempted to liaise with the Scottish Government to encourage them to participate in this important initiative.  Unfortunately they did not respond, however I was able to secure a place at the European Regional Consultation in Malta so that my colleague Joe Wilson could represent Open Scotland.


While it is gratifying that my work with Open Scotland has been influential in unexpected quarters, such as Morocco, it is disappointing that I have had little success in encouraging the Scottish Government to engage with open education.  In a paper at the OER17 Politics of Open Conference, titled The Distance Travelled: Reflections on open education policy in the UK since the Cape Town Declaration I reflected on why this should be the case [6].

There appears to be a perception within the Scottish Government that open education is peripheral to government priorities, primarily because there is a lack of statistical evidence base supporting the impact of open education on learners. Many open education practitioners and scholars have highlighted the need for more evidenced based research into the impact of open education. At the recent International Open Science Conference Marco Kalz, UNESCO chair of Open Education at the Open University of the Netherlands, acknowledged that reuse and adaptation are notoriously hard to track and measure, as are direct and indirect effects of OER, and he pointed out, there are no studies that show a direct correlation between OER and innovation. Quoting Sian Bayne and Jeremy Knox’s research at the University of Edinburgh, Marco agreed that “discussions of OER too often tend to optimism and lack of critique” and he argued that the open education field must move from being advocacy driven to become more research driven.

That’s is not to say that there is no research into the impact of open education, the Digital Education team at the University of Edinburgh and the OER Hub at the Open University have produced high quality research.  There is also research being undertaken in the US, however much of this focuses on the cost savings of open textbooks. These figures don’t easily translate across the Atlantic and it has proved much harder to quantify the benefits of open education in sectors that are less reliant on textbooks.  It is not that there’s no open education research taking place, its that we need more diverse research that directly addresses strategic government priorities.

Ten years ago the Cape Town Declaration identified a number of barriers to realising the vision of open education

  • Educators remain unaware of the growing pool of open educational resources.
  • Governments and educational institutions are either unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of open education.
  • Differences among licensing schemes for open resources create confusion and incompatibility.
  • The majority of the world does not yet have access to the computers and networks that are integral to most current open education efforts.

Clearly some of these barriers remain to be overcome, however I still strongly believe that there is huge creative potential and inherent personal and public value in open education. Furthermore, I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. In the words I wrote in the Scottish Open Education Declaration.

“Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens. In addition, open education can promote knowledge transfer while at the same time enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.”
Scottish Open Education Declaration

Finally, I believe that open education can help to encourage engagement with learning technology within the curriculum, improve teachers and learners’ digital literacy and confidence with learning online, disseminate the knowledge created within institutions to the wider community, and help to shape conversations about the role of learning technology in the future.


  1. Synthesis of the technical outputs of the UKOER Programmes which I co-authored. Thomas, A., Campbell, L.M., Barker, P. and Hawksey, M., (2013), Into the Wild: Technology for Open Educational Resources, JISC CETIS eBook. http://publications.cetis.org.uk/2012/601
  2. “How To Be More Open: Advice for Educators and Researchers”, Open Education Week webinar with Lisa Marie Blaschke, Fabio Nascimbeni, Catherine Cronin, Chrissi Nerantzi and Lorna Campbell, http://www.eden-online.org/open-education-week-how-to-be-more-open-advice-for-educators-and-researchers-webinar/
  3. Some recent presentations I have given on open education.
    1. Campbell, L.M., (2017), Crossing the Field Boundaries: Open Science, Open Data and Open Education, International Open Science Conference, Berlin, http://lornamcampbell.org/higher-education/crossing-the-field-boundaries-open-science-open-data-open-education/.
    2. Campbell, L.M., (2016), Into the Open – a critical overview of open education policy and practice in Scotland, ALT Conference, University of Warwick. http://www.slideshare.net/LornaMCampbell/into-the-open-a-critical-overview-of-open-education-policy-and-practice-in-scotland.
    3. Campbell, L.M., (2016), Open.Ed. Supporting engagement with learning technology through open education, ALT Scotland Conference: Sharing Stories: enablers and drivers for Learning Technology in Scottish Education, Dundee and Angus College, http://www.slideshare.net/LornaMCampbell/opened-supporting-engagement-with-learning-technology-through-open-education
    4. Campbell, L.M. (2014) The view from Scotland: What can Germany learn from OER initiatives in the UK?,  OERde14 – The Future of Free Educational Materials, Berlin. https://wikimedia.de/wiki/OERde14
  4. Briefing paper I wrote in advance of the Open Scotland Summit. Campbell, L. M., (2013), The Benefits of Open. Open Scotland Briefing paper. http://publications.cetis.ac.uk/2013/834
  5. The Scottish Open Education Declaration, http://declaration.openscot.net/. I drafted the Declaration and co-ordinated comments and feedback.
  6. My reflective presentation at the OER17 Politics of Open Conference. Campbell, L.M., (2017), The Distance Travelled: Reflections in open education in the UK since the CapeTown Declaration, OER17 Politics of Open Conference, London. http://lornamcampbell.org/higher-education/the-distance-travelled/