Wawasan Open University (WOU) is a not-for-profit, private, open university based in Penang, Malaysia. Malaysia is very active in the OER movement, implementing OER into educational mainstream practice. In a pan-Malaysian survey sponsored by the Canadian International Development Research Centre, 70 per cent of faculty indicated they were using OER in their courses (Abeywardena, Dhanarajan & Lim, 2013). WOU began its OER initiative in 2010, developing an institutional OER policy implemented in 2012. This policy was introduced to encourage a move away from the wrap-around model accompanied by a commercial textbook to a stand-alone course model that would be more economically viable (Liew, 2016). The policy included OER development and use as part of the faculty Key Performance Indicators beginning in 2014. In supporting this policy, the university set up a learning object repository as an OER Asia portal.
The OER project included the construction of three different courses at different levels, as components of degree programmes: ICT IN Education (Masters of Education); Microeconomics (Bachelor of Business Administration); and Programming Fundamentals with Java (Bachelor of Technology.). OER were chosen as the core study materials.
The first OER course developed, ICT in Education, served as a reference point and was the catalyst for promoting the university's OER policy. Since then, OER implementations were actively encouraged among faculty. Although the major institutional drivers for supporting OER were cost-reduction and time efficiencies, it was also recognized OER can enable the creation of high quality course content. The project was aimed at leading by example in convincing faculty OER can be used effectively to replace current course content and thus build capacity in OER course construction.
Wawasan Open University adopted standard operating procedures that identified the top peer-reviewed and reputable OER repositories, which were then searched for relevant content. In all three courses, OER created by world experts were searched for, selected, accessed and downloaded for local use. The OER content was then adapted and re-mixed into a cohesive structure along with locally developed content and some commercial content used with appropriate permissions. Much content was de-Americanized to conform to Malaysian English standards and local examples were added. Videos used as is were supplemented by other OER and locally produced content. Multi-media components were embedded in a content development platform. Appropriate interactive elements were inserted along with in-text assessment items.
The quality assurance processes were the same for OER as for other courses, including approval of the course blueprint by university bodies, use of an external assessor and course feedback each semester.
OER are seen as a game changers within the institution, enabling the use of high-quality free and open content.
Student feedback indicated an improvement in learner satisfaction, as content was more up-to-date and relevant, with particular appreciation for the embedded videos. Students also reported content was easier to navigate and understand because there was no longer any requirement to refer continuously to a printed textbook. They also appreciated the convenience of having all the content in one place online or downloadable for those with inconsistent Internet access. In comparison with the pre-OER versions of the courses, learning outcomes of students showed clear indications of improvement in the Business and Technology courses. In the ICT in Education course, the learning outcomes showed no difference.
As planned by WOU administration, cost-efficiencies were significant with the introduction of OER, even for a single semester, with per course institutional savings from RM 81K to RM 116K to RM 146K (C$25,000 to C$35,000 to C$45,000). The savings were at the institutional level as course textbooks and other content are provided to students as part of the course fee.
Faculty searching for OER found new and interesting course content, and alternative ways of presenting content, while significantly reducing the course development times. Younger faculty became interested in open textbooks and in replacing commercial content with OER.
The process was also considered important by faculty as it provided data (and increased time) for writing scholarly papers. OER use also led many faculty to investigate new technologies applied to learning, such as mobile learning and new methods of course development, including through collaborative development. Faculty found the OER courses to be enriching and enabling, noting how easy it was to access and use the resources and links for in-depth reading. Significantly, the OER project set in motion an institution-wide change process with long-term implications.
Initially, students were suspicious when they did not receive a textbook. Many felt they were not getting the 'full package'. Possibly this was a contributing factor for students who were not as eager as faculty hoped in following the many links provided for supplementary readings. In the course, and especially in the linked readings, students complained of having to click “NEXT” on every page describing it as 'cumbersome'. They preferred pdf files in which they could simply scroll down. There were also consistent complaints about the ePUB format used for the ICT in Education course, which was not user friendly. This format also made printing very difficult. In addition, students felt the courses were too content rich – much more content was provided than needed to complete the courses, especially when accompanied with long lists of references.
Interestingly, the students surveyed did not realize they had participated in OER-based courses. They were aware of the different presentation style and enjoyed the easier access, but did not relate this to OER.
Course Development Team
One of the first challenges for the course development team was the abundance of useful, quality OER. This was in one way a benefit, but this also increased time and effort, as faculty had to choose the appropriate amount of material needed for the courses with assignments and examinations. As mentioned above, students felt there was too much content. Despite the abundance of OER, it was often difficult for faculty to find content at the required level of instruction. Localization of content was needed, and this too was time consuming, with adjustments for presentation style, content and language. Another problem was the time required for finding, installing and learning how to use appropriate open courseware applications.
At the beginning stages, there were many discussions on which Creative Commons licence to use – what permissions would be granted to others and which restrictions the university was willing to accept in its courses. This was compounded by the need to seek permissions for commercial content when appropriate OER were not available. Copyright clearances became problematic, causing delays. WOU limited the choice of licence and so finding content with compatible licences became quite difficult. Moreover, faculty needed instruction in using openly licensed content and integrating OER with other course content. The availability and finalization of content at different times by course teams interfered with the timing and cohesion of the instructional design process. The search to confirm references was also time consuming. Despite these problems, the overall time for course development was significantly reduced.
Faculty already learnt important lessons and gained relevant competencies while becoming highly motivated to continue OER implementation at the university. The experience to date demonstrates that OER can provide a viable alternative to the traditional course focus on commercial textbooks, without compromising relevance or quality. Faculty understand this and support changing academic performance assessment to include the creation of OER and OER-based courses.
Wawasan Open University learned faculty capacity building should be broad based and institution-wide. New highly collaborative cross-departmental models for OER implementations, including library expertise on course teams, should be adopted to ensure the sustainability of the programs. The successes, as well as the challenges, of OER implementation must be communicated widely within the institution. First year compulsory, high-enrolment courses should be prioritized for OER-based development. For these courses, many OER are available and because of the large numbers of students and faculty involved, will have the greatest impact.
Deputy Vice Chancellor
Wawasan Open University
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Abeywardena, I. S., Dhanarajan, G., & Lim, C.-K. (2013). Open Educational Resources in Malaysia . In R. Dhanarajan & D. Porter (Editors), Open Educational Resources: An Asian Perspective (pp. pp.121 - 134). Vancouver and Penang: Commonwealth of Learning. Retrieved from http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/23/pub_PS_OER_Asia_web.pdf?s...
Embi, M. A. (Ed.) (2013). Open Educational Resources in Malaysian Higher Educational Institutions: MInistry of Education, Malaysia. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/ProfDrAmin/open-educational-resources-in-mala...
Kaushik, M. (n. d.). Use of OER as Course Materials at WOU: What Worked, What Could Have Been Done Better.
WOU Open Licencing policy: http://weko.wou.edu.my/Open-Licence-Policy/