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Are open access journals really free to researchers? – OU Online Conference Abstract

The conference on open access that I will be presenting will be mainly looking at how inclusive open access publishing models are. Open access journals will be measured by how freely accessible they are to researchers.

To explain the difference between open access accessible and inaccessible journals, I will have to explain the various open access publishing models under which they are currently being published. From the researcher’s perspective I will explain which of these OA models are more accessible to us. My rational is based on my own experience as an early career researcher and on the barriers that I have encountered when trying to access research papers from open access journals. It is also based on the barriers and exclusion faced by the research published by most of these journals.

Furthermore, I will look at the consequences of having publishers, researchers and scholars using the term ‘open access journals’ when they are referring to journals published under different OA models whether these models are accessible or not.

Finally, I will go over the three main pillars that explain why, according to research, inaccessible OA publication models and research papers cannot overcome the benefits of those published under accessible open access models. These pillars are: dissemination, peer review and altmetrics. I will go over why and how these elements collaborate to the overall impact of research.

The material that I will be using in the conference will come, for example, from the work of May (2019). This article provides us with a compelling insight into the development of open access publishing and into the current existing models. The author is not exploring peer review in this work, but he is looking into why academics are not using accessible open access routes more often. To answer this question, he introduces us to the relevance of research dissemination, which is one of the subthemes of my project.

I will be presenting material on how altmetrics show that citation rates fail to reflect dissemination and research impact even though it is still one of the most popular methods that attempts to do so.

I will, then, be presenting material to show the relevance and significance of peer review and how it collaborates to improve the citation rates of authors and research.

The open access conference will provide an insight into how inclusive open access journal are to researchers and the barriers that we encounter while navigating the open access publishing ecosystem.

The various open access publishing models introduced in May’s article (2019) will be presented followed by an account on the significance of free and accessible open access journals. At the end, I will look into the benefits of fully open access journals based on peer review, dissemination and altmetrics.

Drop me a message if you would like a copy of the paper and references.

Image: CC Non-Commercial

Pros and Cons of Big and Small OER

In terms of granularity as Wellers states in his study ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’ (2012), The benefits of Small OER like blog posts, articles and presentations is that they are produced by a single individual and tend to be what it’s called ‘Friction less’ in design. This doesn’t make reference to a minimalist design but to a design which any user will find easy to explore and discover.

Small OER are generally either free or low cost but on the other hand they tend to be low quality too. We can’t underestimate what a monthly subscription can achieve compared to the free version of any software. They demand creativity from the author and support participation, however it takes much effort on the author’s part to produce them and this effort may not never be paid off since there is no guaranty of having an audience or for what the item may be used in the future.

Accessible OER can support sharing and staff development. They can also encourage participation and they are easily transferable to a different context. On the contrary, they may not have an evident aim or a framework for dissemination.

On the other hand we have Big OER, which are generated usually by universities or other organisations. Wiley presents us with the models of three universities in his work ‘On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education‘ (2007). These models are; The MIT, The USU and The Rice Model.

The MIT model: to publish every course on the 1 800 University catalogue within a period of time. To archive old course and make new ones immediately available.

The USU: to publish as many courses as possible in the  USU university catalogue.

The Rice Model: this mode’s goal is to enable the collaboration of authors from all over the world to the production of modules and courses. This way, these authors contribute material to the site.

These organisation can afford high quality delivery of objectives and OER since they are well established and sustainable projects whether they require relatively large or modest budgets to continue meeting their goals. Big OER initiatives have very clear objectives , very well structured and uniformed but they also face inconveniences. Even if some of the initiatives we have mentioned can be sustain with smaller budgets and their model easily reproduce by other institutions as a result, they still rely on a budget and on employing the members of staff that will run and manage the projects. The OER these big initiative produce are not usually made available for repurposing and its systematic nature tend more often than not to discourage innovation and social connectivity in many cases.

Even if there are no policies that demand these big open initiatives from educational organisations, education providers see them as a way of marketise their institutions and compete. As Wiley states in his study, hopefully the public will take for granted these services and universities will continue finding the ways to source them. For this to happen universities have to successfully sustain these open initiatives against all odds.

Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [Online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ article/ view/ 2012-02 (Accessed 21 October 2019).

Wiley, D. (2007) On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education [Online], Paris, OECD. Available at http://www.oecd.org/ edu/ ceri/ 38645447.pdf (Accessed 21 October 2019).

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Big and Small OER

In terms of granularity as Wellers states in his study ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’ (2012), The benefits of Small OER like blog posts, articles and presentations is that they are produced by a single individual and tend to be what it’s called ‘Friction less’ in design. This doesn’t make reference to a minimalist design but to a design which any user will find easy to explore and discover.

Small OER are generally either free or low cost but on the other hand they tend to be low quality too. We can’t underestimate what a monthly subscription can achieve compared to the free version of any software. They demand creativity from the author and support participation, however it takes much effort on the author’s part to produce them and this effort may not never be paid off since there is no guaranty of having an audience or for what the item may be used in the future.

Accessible OER can support sharing and staff development. They can also encourage participation and they are easily transferable to a different context. On the contrary, they may not have an evident aim or a framework for dissemination.

On the other hand we have Big OER, which are generated usually by universities or other organisations. Wiley presents us with the models of three universities in his work ‘On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education‘ (2007). These models are; The MIT, The USU and The Rice Model.

The MIT model: to publish every course on the 1 800 University catalogue within a period of time. To archive old course and make new ones immediately available.

The USU: to publish as many courses as possible in the  USU university catalogue.

The Rice Model: this mode’s goal is to enable the collaboration of authors from all over the world to the production of modules and courses. This way, these authors contribute material to the site.

These organisation can afford high quality delivery of objectives and OER since they are well established and sustainable projects whether they require relatively large or modest budgets to continue meeting their goals. Big OER initiatives have very clear objectives , very well structured and uniformed but they also face inconveniences. Even if some of the initiatives we have mentioned can be sustain with smaller budgets and their model easily reproduce by other institutions as a result, they still rely on a budget and on employing the members of staff that will run and manage the projects. The OER these big initiative produce are not usually made available for repurposing and its systematic nature tend more often than not to discourage innovation and social connectivity in many cases.

Even if there are no policies that demand these big open initiatives from educational organisations, education providers see them as a way of marketise their institutions and compete. As Wiley states in his study, hopefully the public will take for granted these services and universities will continue finding the ways to source them. For this to happen universities have to successfully sustain these open initiatives against all odds.

Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [Online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ article/ view/ 2012-02 (Accessed 21 October 2019).Wiley, D. (2007) On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education [Online], Paris, OECD. Available at http://www.oecd.org/ edu/ ceri/ 38645447.pdf (Accessed 21 October 2019).

OER: The Challenges of Repositories

 The problem with the acceptance and demand of OER and the repositories that collect and store them is that they are not widely used between students or educators, at least not yet. Both make use of OER for certain aspects of their teaching and learning journeys but not to an extent that OER can be regarded as essential. The reason for this is that even if students and educators may occasionally find useful learning resources this is not the case in most cases and even if it the resource will require adaptation. These adaptations sometimes are too significant, which means it would take too long to re-purpose them. In this case, it is better to design learning resource from scratch making OER purposeless.

After trying to use repositories like Solvatus, Merlot, MIT, OpenLearn, OpenStax and Saylor to find the right OER to fit the purpose of a specific course, I found a few challenges that would either stop me from being able to create the course or make me rethink and redesign the course. Only in part I would have been able to use certain learning resources for as long as I would have been able to adapt them. I cannot tell exactly the difference between the time that it would have taken me to design the course using resources from scratch and the time to adapt or re-purpose any suitable OER. It is likely that I would have had to adopt the two approaches since to a certain degree I could not find any suitable OER not even if I would have adapted them but I would have been able to find a small per cent and use some saving me some time.

OER are a brilliant philosophical idea but how they can be gathered in a meaningful way is still not very clear. OER repositories do not seem to have adequate ways to help users find what they are looking for or even to give them the idea if they are looking in the right place or doing the right search. This leaves you with wondering if the repositories you are using are specialised not only in the field but in the topic that you are researching; also if  you can be positive that the repository that you have been exploring does not have anything somewhere that could be useful to you. Overall, they feel as black holes that may or may not provide you with what you need. The structure and design of these sites play a very important part in its usability but specialising them even further would be a solution to the lack of demand they are experiencing.

Photograph by Nordwood Themes on Unsplash

Three Key Issues in Open Educational Resources (OER)

Studies that have evaluated the impact of open educational resources (OER) have found that these type of resources, according to formal students and educators, supports students throughout their course, improve their satisfaction and scores. In other words, OER enhance the student learning experience. Nonetheless, students do not seem to put enough emphasis on OER despite the fact that they use them for formal and informal learning.

From the point of view of educators, OER seem to help them reflect on their own practice by offering them an opportunity to find new ideas and inspiration. Despite the fact that finding OER is one of the biggest challenges and the fact that general awareness of where to find well-established OER is low, the more educators that make use of OER the more they are willing to continue using and sharing them. The ‘viral’ effect’ of openness is meant to have had some influence on this. It seems when educators are exposed to OER it makes them want to continue relying on them and spreading into a larger open practice environment.

There are as many definitions of OER as researchers who have attempted to define the term. David Wiley provides us with an alternative definition of OER as learning objects: ‘’any digital resource that can be reused for learning’’. This definition narrows the understanding of learning objects to three unique fields: the digital, learning and reusable one. By this it is meant that an OER can only exist in the digital world and for a learning purpose, also that its purpose is to be reused not just to be used one time.

This takes us back to David Wiley and its theory of ‘dark reuse’ and to other studies that conclude that OER are being used in a different way to other resources. The benefits found in OER come from the fact that they are either free or accessible at a low cost and that thanks to the Creative Commons they can be adapted, re-use and re-purposed, by educators and learners to suit any needs and context.

According to the UKOER/SCORE Review, OER and open educational practice (OEP) have transformed the practice of academics, members of staff within educational institutions, which has, at the same time, raised awareness of their impact among the wider community and stakeholders. These open practices are changing the relationship between academic and learners and academics and organisations at a national and global level. The practice of academics have been transformed by having to work with people who they may not even know anywhere in the world; by having to attain a global reach and by having to work across sectors not just their own

One of the main barriers to sustain and widen the use of OER face by individuals, institutions and the UK HE community is, in essence, the lack of awareness of the potential benefits of OER. Moreover, the UKOER/SCORE Review continue saying that some see OEP as a threat that undervalues the traditional balance between teaching and learning, and believe it invites an institutional model in which staff in less needed. This could mean that some prefer more familiar paths or, maybe, gradual ones, which do not challenging the established doctrine of practices and processes. Other tensions have been identified to be related to the sustainability of OEP in the long term and to lack of institutional strategy and workload planning.  Legal issues, digital literacy, usability and technical problems within institutions have also been identified as barriers to the impact of OER and OEP but the most highlighted were: the time to adapt and re-purpose, legal aspects of licenses and staff incapability to adapt OEP to their current practice style.  

Photograph by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

  1. McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J.A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H (2013) Journeys to Open Educational Practice:  UKOER/SCORE Review Final Report. JISC [Online] Available at:   https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/60338879/HEFCE-OER-Review-Final-Report (Accessed 16 <arch 2020).
  2. OER Evidence Report 2013-2014. Building Understanding of Open Education (2014) OER Research Hub [Online] Available at: https://oerresearchhub.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/oerrh-evidence-report-2014.pdf (Accessed 16 March 2020)
  3. Parrish, P. E. (2004) ‘The Trouble with Learning Objects*’, ETR&D, vol. 52, no. 1, pp. 49–67 [Online]. Available at https://link-springer-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/ content/ pdf/ 10.1007%2FBF02504772.pdf (Accessed 21 October 2019).

Open Access Riddles: An Impression of the Open Access Scene

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

As a result of a study that I have started for an Open University module, I have come to realised the huge misunderstanding around the open access publishing options that exist. Formarly, there are three options and to this should be added the alternative ways to self-publish or archive yourself, which can happen in many ways. Researchers keep giving the alternative path/s different names only adding more confusion to the melting pot. Agreeing on the alternative path/s in terms of the terminology we are using would make everyone’s life much easier, especially for those who are contemplating publishing their research and for those who already have but whose research had no impact.

The truth is that most of the confusion about the different open access publishing routes lies in the three main types, the publisher-free alternative is only the cherry on the top. This is because every single route is ‘open access’, however, some of these open access routes do not publish accessible research/journals. 

The angle of my study is that of the researcher that encounters all of these publications by these ”fully open access publishers” as they market themselves nowadays, and who finds that most of them are locked behind reading/access fees being as a result inaccessible. (I got the quote from an article Tweeted by Jenny Duckworth – https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/uk-universities-reach-new-national-open-access-deal-26-nov-2019?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+OATP-Primary+%28OATP+primary%29

Although research clearly shows that accessible open access publications have the impact that not inaccessible open access publication could ever have, from the point of view of commercial publishers (It is what they are no matter how they prefer to call themselves) less accessible models of open access are more inclusive of authors based in the global south.

In this work, I mainly contrast the open access publishing views of both academics/researchers and those working in the publishing industry. I also explain the formal open access publications paths from the angle of the researcher, or baring in mind the interest of the researcher. 

Surprisingly, not many people have come to realise this barrier around open access publishing and, as far as I am concerned, hardly anyone has shaped the facts into the idea that many, if not most, of the open access journals and articles that are being published are not being published in accessible ways and through accessible channels.

Online and Distance Education. A FutureLearn Mooc.

 Online and Distance Education is a postgraduate FutureLearn Mooc that can be studied on its own or as part of the Open University’s Masters in Online and Distance Learning. This Open University module was for the first time run on the FutureLearn platform and simultaneously as an independent Mooc on February 2019. The course is composed by four different Moocs and one of the them is open to external students too.

It takes six arduous months to complete this course and due to the number of hours that you need to dedicate it every week, it soon starts feeling as if it has become an intrinsic part of your existence. As every course of that length, there are aspects of it that everyone is going to find more or less agreeable. There is no way to avoid that!

Is the course worth doing? Absolutely. Whether you already have experience as a professional in a relevant field or in education, you may find after doing this course that you were looking at learning technology through a very narrow lens, which is why this course may be just right for you. If you want to become a specialist in the subject to improve your career prospects, professional or educational skills, for researche or academic purposes or simply because you are a learning tech devotee, then, you should consider completing this course.

As obvious as it may appear how much we have learnt after doing a specialised course such as this one. For me it wasn’t until I started my next module, first module for other students, that I realised how many light years away I was from where I was when I started it.

It is then when all hard work starts paying off.

For more information on the course: https://www.futurelearn.com/degrees/the-open-university/online-and-distance-education

Image source: CC0 Public Domain. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

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