Open Education Resources (OERs) from the School of Geosciences: The unforeseen benefits

Illustration of person swimming underwater with multi-coloured coral staring with eyes at the swimmer
Original artwork by Kelly Zou, MA Illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art

In this post, Dr Andy Cross and Kay Douglas reflect on five years of collaborating with the Open Education Resources service to open license resources from their Geoscience Outreach student’s projects. Dr Andy Cross is the Impact Coordinator for the School of GeoSciences, and Kay Douglas is a teacher and mentor on the Geoscience Outreach Course. This is the fourth post of the ‘Hot Topic’ theme: “Open for Good: Five Years of Open Education Resources at the University of Edinburgh”.

Five years ago, Stuart Nicol, Head of Educational Design and Engagement, and Dr Melissa Highton, Director of Learning Teaching Web Services and Assistant Principal Online Learning, led a discussion on the legacy of Geosciences Outreach (GO) student projects. The projects are developed by undergraduates as bespoke resources for external clients including charities, museums, teachers and school pupils aged 3-18. The purpose of licensing the GO undergraduate student projects as Open Educational Resources (OERs) has two main functions. First, they are intended to provide a legacy for the student project, allowing the original client and others to reuse and adapt the resource. Second, the resources can be used by the students to showcase their ability to prospective employers or for application for future study. The employability skills embedded in the course supports students to progress successfully. Sharing of the student created OERs on TES (Times Educational Supplement), a platform for educators to share and locate educational materials, fulfil both these intentions.

In doing this we found a number of unforeseen benefits including:

  1. Junior and senior honours undergraduates being employed as Open Content Curation summer interns with the Open Education Resource service are co-creating the GO taught coursework and upskilling the teaching team.
  2. These same interns are provided with an opportunity to co-teach GO students.
  3. PhD students are gaining outreach skills by re-using quality openly licensed resources.
  4. The reach and impact of these OER are furthering the University’s commitment to widening participation, through ‘aspiration and early engagement’ and ‘support to get in’.

Interns employed by EDE

Over the last five years the undergraduate Open Content Curation summer interns Martin Tasker, Tomas Sanders, Cecily Plascott, Andrew Ferguson and Ana McKellar, have been crucial to the success of GO student projects becoming OERs. Each had particular insights for engaging new audiences, developing and streamlining templates for the University of Edinburgh shop on TES, repackaging resources, increasing the resource views and downloads, suggesting changes to the GO workshops, (which have been implemented), volunteering to co-lead sessions for GO students, (which we took them up on), and they even managed to upskill the teaching team on licensing and OERs. Currently, 82% of the OERs uploaded to open.ed / Tes have been developed through the School of Geosciences with 27% of those receiving have 4 or 5* star reviews. In 2020 with Covid-19 lockdowns and home-schooling, resource downloads from TES increased by over 60% illustrating the broad reach and impact of the OERs which have been used, re-used, adapted and re-shared for the benefit of individuals and institutions world-wide. The GO course and teaching team are better for intern involvement, which would not have been possible if Charlie Farley and Lorna Campbell from the Open Education Resources service had not supervised and let us ‘borrow’ them for part of their summer internship.

PhD students

The GO course structure consists of a series of taught workshops in combination with the undergraduates being mentored by teaching staff and PhDs. Two of last year’s PhD tutors have been able to commit time to working with Primary 7 classes from widening participation partner schools to increase early engagement and raise aspirations (an initiative organised through Susan Forrest at Widening Participation). This year in particular, finding time to develop materials to work with schools has been at a premium. Reusing our OERs is efficient and introduces our partner schools to the wealth of Geosciences OERs. Dylan will co-lead on ‘Flight School’ a project he mentored, and Elise on ‘Germs’ a project she mentored. Both will be supported by a member of the GO teaching team in their outreach. Of course, it is not only partner schools who will benefit. Dylan, Elise and our other PhD tutors are a source of inspiration to us and our undergraduate students, and by providing opportunities for their development, we all benefit.


LEAPS is a widening participation programme which aims to encourage and advise students who are traditionally under-represented in higher education.

This year’s S6 Transition course organised and developed by Alice Smith, Assistant Director of Leaps, included ‘Introduction to Data’. The two-week section on data was jointly developed and led by Kay Douglas and Peter Tormey, Senior Widening Participation Officer, Edinburgh Napier University. It exposed Leaps students to basic statistics using an openly licensed academic paper. The statistical content was supported by the Geoscience Guides OERs which were co-authored with the then PhD student, Sophie Flack.

From the initial discussions with Stuart and Melissa we could not have envisaged how the development of OERs within the course would have such a broad and lasting impact. A large part of this success due to the support from ISG, and our wonderful students who take the course. Here’s to the nextFive Years of Open Education Resources at the University of Edinburgh’ and whatever that may bring!

Twitter Accounts:


Geoscience Outreach

Except where otherwise stated, this blog post by Andy Cross & Kay Douglas of the University of Edinburgh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 licence.

Andy Cross

Dr Andy Cross is the Impact Coordinator for the School of GeoSciences, and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He leads the GeoSciences Outreach course, is a tutor on the SLICCs course, and is interested in the broader uptake and promotion of experiential learning. Andy is currently leading another PTAS project exploring the wider societal impacts of student community projects.

Photo of the authorKay Douglas

Kay Douglas, FHEA, spent 18 years teaching in Secondary Schools before proving training for primary teachers in STEM education. Kay is currently employed in the School of Geosciences teaching and mentoring on the Geoscience Outreach Course, Leaps S6 Transition Course and has a particular interest in Widening Participation.

photograph of the authorKelly Zou

Kelly Zou is a storyteller, illustrator, and ex-programmer. She is based in UK and currently studying MA in Illustration in Edinburgh College of Art. She has been the recipient of Honourable Mention in the 2019 3×3 Illustration Awards, her works were chosen for 2019 and 2020 Asia Illustrations Collections, and she is also the illustrator of the book “The Lost Flower Children” by Janet Taylor Lisle published in China. She loves telling stories.

Instagram: @kelly_zxj

Images Used on the Geoscience Outreach Learn page

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

Balcony concerts United Covid-19 Response (Unsplash) image created by Catherine Cordasco

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *