Stairways and ladders as metaphors for OER engagement

Last Thursday I co-facilitated a workshop ‘Climbing the stairway to OER nirvana’ at the ALT 2012 Conference. The workshop was led by Chris Pegler and the remaining contributors were Suzanne Hardy and Alannah Fitzgerald (well done everybody!). In the workshop we used images of stairways and a set of stakeholder cards which served to explore where different stakeholders stand in a stairway and what kind of a stairway it is (Is it a stairway at all? Is it helpful to think of it in terms of a stairway?). But there were not only stairways involved, there were also ladders…. 

Why stairways and ladders?

Chris, Suzanne and Alannah came up with their model of a stairway to OER nirvana during a symposium organised by SCORE in October last year. The outcome of their brainstorming session at that time is summarised in Chris’s introduction to the workshop here, if you want to find out more.

At the same time, in September last year, I started my 9 month research project to investigate the ways in which higher education institutions, individual faculties and support staff foster reuse of OER among their academics. As part of my research methodology I used a sketch of a ladder and a set of colour coded cards to help my 19 interviewees (promoters of OER, lecturers who took part in ‘OER training’ and faculty OER champions) articulate what engagement with OER reuse means to them, how it can manifest itself and how it can be fostered. I used ladder as a metaphor as it conveys well a message of direction and progression from an established practice of sharing and reuse of materials in general, through emerging awareness of OER to full uptake and commitment to the concept of OER and OEP. This is what I have collected in the end:

You can imagine how challenging it was to analyse data!! It took me almost a week to figure out the best approach to do it…. and it wasn’t techie!

The final output – the OER Engagement Ladder – represents three major levels of engagement with OER reuse: Piecemeal, Strategic and Embedded (i.e. optimal) and three ‘realisation’ steps: Understanding, Need and Reflection:

BTW the image is licensed CC BY so feel free to take it, adapt it, reuse it as long as you attribute the original.

In the full research report I describe in detail how engagement with OER manifests itself at each level, what makes people disengage from using OER, and what are the enabling factors that reinforce engagement and support lecturers in moving up the ladder. You can also see a brief overview of the findings in my presentation here

If you have a role as staff developer you might also be interested in the appendixes of the report which provide a summary of tactics used by OER promoters to convince lecturers that using OER can be beneficial, as well as examples of how to deal with discoverability issues.

Back to the ALT-C workshop

Together with Suzanne Hardy I was co-facilitating one of the two groups. It was really exciting to listen to the conversations and see how often they reflected what I have found out in the study! Both groups felt that the journey to ‘OER nirvana’ was a mix of plateaux (i.e. you get to a certain level and then you stay there for a while) and obstacles/steps/elevators (I can’t recall the exact names they used) that either keep you from moving up (e.g. if you experience a certain barrier) or help you move up really quickly (e.g. if you directly experienced the benefits, or if you received a bespoke support that helped remove the barrier).

Looking for the best metaphor for people’s engagement with OER our group came up with a board game that very much resembled something that any one in the UK knows really well – snakes & ladders. Chris Follows is planning to take this idea forward so keep an eye on process.arts if you like both board games and OER.

Stairways and ladders might not be the most adequate metaphors for people’s engagement with OER, but they definitely trigger fascinating, useful and insightful discussions!


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