I went to the CETIS Education Content SIG meeting on Open Educational Resources in Milton Keynes at the end of February. I came away with two thoughts about OER and marketing: first about the role of the OER content in marketing courses, second about the need to market the concept of OER in UK HE.
Actually, I don’t really like the use of the word “marketing” here, but the first of these thoughts is an extension of the ideas expressed in “Marketing” with Metadata, a successful guide produced by a former colleague of mine as part of the PerX project. The idea there was that the effort of exposing metadata openly through OAI-PMH (and the same is true of RSS and ATOM) could be justified by publishers as of a means of marketing the content it described.
During the meeting at Milton Keynes we heard that the same may be said about open content as means of marketing HE courses. Andy Lane director of the OU’s OpenLearn gave a figure of 9,000+ registrations for OU courses from OpenLearn users. Russell Stannard of the University of Westminster, told how by creating the MultimediaTrainingVideos.com site, and linking from there to the University of Westminster course he used the videos in, he had boosted the position of the Westminster course page on Google results pages for queries about multimedia education.
Well, those are just two self-selected instances, not enough in themselves to constitute firm evidence, but it’s easy enough to think of believable reasons why open content would help market courses in this way. One can believe that students would feel more confident choosing a course if they could view some aspect of that course before they choose it (and this would be true at a pan-institutional discipline level, where school leavers especially might not know what constitutes higher education for certain disciplines). One can believe that Google will rank course content higher that course prospectuses in results pages: the search terms will be in the content, and there are likely to be more links to the content than would be the case for a prospectus alone. Furthermore, I can also see parallels between the desire to disseminate OER through web2.0 channels and some search engine optimization practices. This might be enough for leaders at some institutions to decide that marketing should be one of the reasons why they should consider making their content open, though I imagine many would want more convincing.
The second thought about marketing and open content relates more to why one would want to convince people at institutions that there was a marketing opportunity in OER. There had rightly been a great emphasis placed on institutional commitment as part of any bids submitted to the recent HEFCE-Academy-JISC call for OER projects. During the day I had chatted to various people who had been involved in putting to together bids who all confirmed my own experience from a couple of bids that it has been really hard to get this institutional commitment. My own experience served as a reminder that not everyone has been following developments in OER over the last five years or so. Many of the key people don’t have much more knowledge than an awareness that MIT are doing something. It’s not easy to go from that level of knowledge to institutional commitment in the time span of a JISC call for proposals. So, the message for me was that one of the desired outcomes of the pilot phase of the Academy/JISC OER should be some convincing, evidence-based, reasons why institutions should want to commit to making their content open.