Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others


For our first open lunch event of 2022, we were very pleased to welcome Lorna Campbell, via Zoom of course, to hear about sustainable support for OER at the University of Edinburgh where Lorna is a learning technology service manager for the Open Educational Resources (OER) Service. We also heard from Antonio Martínez-Arboleda, Academic Lead for Open Educational Practice and Co-Director of the Centre for Research in Digital Education of the University of Leeds.

Lorna took us on a whirlwind tour of open education, from the Cape Town Open Education Declaration in 2008 to the sustainable service and integrated practice at Edinburgh today, where open education and the creation of open knowledge are recognised as part of the institutional vision, purpose and values.

Lorna’s slides are available here: Sustainable support for OER at the University of Edinburgh or you can watch a full recording on YouTube:

An institutional commitment

The world wide 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 open license content; it’s about participation and co-creation

OER Commons

An institutional commitment to OER is more important than ever during times of crisis and social change. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education, and life, for millions around the world, requiring rapid adaptation to embrace new approaches and models of teaching and learning.

To support open education and the creation and use of OER, Edinburgh has an Open Education Resources policy, first approved in 2016 and reviewed and updated last year. Lorna credits Dr Melissa Highton for her vision of OER, who once upon a time worked at the University of Leeds, and Edinburgh’s policy was in fact largely based on a policy originally developed here at Leeds.

The policy is informative and permissive. It doesn’t tell colleagues what they must do, instead it encourages staff and students to engage with open education and to make informed decisions to enhance the quality of the student experience. Investing in OER also helps to improve the sustainability and longevity of educational resources while expanding the pool of teaching and learning resources and helping to diversify the curriculum.


A central service provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER and engaging with open education. The service runs a program of digital skills workshops and events focused on copyright literacy and open licensing. It directly supports Schools and Colleges, works closely with the university’s Wikimedian in Residence and employs student interns which all helps to place openness at the center of the university’s strategic learning technology initiatives.

The OER service is actually a very small service in a very big institution but works hard to promote the sustainability of OER through the digital skills programme and manages ‘OpenEd‘ a one-stop shop that provides access to OER produced by staff and students across the university.

Edinburgh don’t have a single, central repository for OER. Experience has shown that they are often unsustainable and it can be difficult to encourage engagement. Instead, the policy recommends that OER are shared in an appropriate repository or public website to maximize discovery and use. The OER service aggregates a showcase of edinburgh’s OERs on the ‘OpenEd’ website.

There is no formal peer review system for OER. The process will depend on the nature of the resource, so academic staff are trusted to maintain the quality of their own teaching and learning materials while resources created for MOOCs in collaboration with the online course production service, will be reviewed by a team of academic experts. OER created by students in the course of their curriculum assignments will be formally assessed by tutors and peers. Open content shared on Wikipedia is open to review by hundreds of wiki admin thousands of fellow editors and millions of Wikipedia users.

Co-creation and OER assignments

Lorna described a couple of specific examples to illustrate how engaging with OER can help students to develop a wide range of core disciplinary competencies and transferable attributes, including digital and information literacy skills, writing as public outreach, collaborative working, information synthesis, copyright literacy, critical thinking, source evaluation and data science.

Together with the Wikimedian in Residence, colleagues across the university have integrated Wikipedia and Wikidata assignments into their courses, contributing to the world’s biggest open education resource and the gateway through which millions of people access knowledge. The information on Wikipedia reaches far beyond the encyclopedia itself, populating other media and influencing Google search returns. Editing Wikipedia provides valuable opportunities for students to develop their digital research and communication skills while enabling them to contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge through articles that will be publicly accessible and live on after the end of their assignment. The approach has proved to be highly motivating for students and provides an incentive for them to think more deeply about their research. It encourages them to ensure they are synthesizing all the reliable information available and to think about how they communicate their scholarship to a general audience.

Examples of Wikimedia curriculum assignments include global health challenges postgraduates collaborating to evaluate short ‘stub’ Wikipedia articles related to natural and man-made disasters such as the 2020 Assam floods. History students have come together to re-examine the legacy of Scotland’s involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade while reproductive biology honours students have worked together on new articles on reproductive biomedical terms.

Learning to write with a lay audience in mind has been incredibly useful in science communication. In 2016, for example, student Anya Cavanaugh wrote an article on high-grade series carcinoma, one of the most common and deadly forms of ovarian cancer that has been viewed over 130 000 times. It’s hard to imagine any other piece of undergraduate coursework having this kind of global impact.

Download: Wikimedia in Education – collection of case studies from across the UK in order to provide insight into the use of the Wikimedia projects in education

Diversity and knowledge equity

Knowledge equity is the commitment to focus on knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege, and to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge

Wikimedia Foundation

In 2016 a project involving undergraduate medical students developed a suite of resources covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health. These issues are not well covered by medical curricula and the project addressed this by remixing and repurposing existing open educational resources and contributed them back to thecommons. New OERs included digital stories recorded from patient interviews and resources for secondary school children.

Much of Ewen McAndrew‘s work as Wikimedian in Residence focuses on addressing Wikipedia’s gender gap by increasing the quantity and quality of biographical articles about women through weekly Women in Red editathons. Other events include for Ada Lovelace day, International Women’s day and LGBT+ History Month with a regular workshop on decolonising the curriculum with OER. Open resources also support anti-racist pedagogy with reading lists focused on anti-racism and empowering women in the digital age.

These projects enable staff and students to co-create sustainable open knowledge and improve knowledge equity which often inspires them to further knowledge activism.

What next at Leeds?

Following Lorna, Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, reflected on open educational practice here at Leeds, acknowledging that we can learn a huge amount from the inspring work at Edinburgh.

Inevitably the institutional context and trajectory is different and Antonio cited the Curriculum Redefined project that will define some of the principles of open education with students including co-creation of knowledge.

Antonio is working hard to build a similar approach to Edinburgh, both in terms of infrastructure and Open Educational Practice (OEP).

As Lorna had mentioned, Leeds was in fact one of the first institutions to have an OER policy which demonstrates a long term commitment. More recently OER and OEP have featured in a flagship projects showcasing Leeds’ digital strategy:

Antonio is a strong advocate of podcasting for education and highlighted these resources to support staff at the University of Leeds.

Antonio’s slides are available here: Reflections on Open Educational Practice

Also see this interview with Antonio for the European Network of Open Education Librarians (ENOEL) where he discusses the related areas of open research and how (open) research dissemination is an importnat part of open education: