Student-created, peer-assessed Open Educational Resources

CC BY 2.0 Flickr: Steve Johnson
CC BY 2.0 Flickr: Steve Johnson

The MSc in Digital Education programme experiments with different modes and forms of assessment, and one course, Digital Futures for Learning, has made creating Open Educational Resources (OERs) one of its core assignments.

The course gives students the opportunity to consider the trajectory and implications of digital technologies for the future of learning. It asks: how are more established digital practices evolving? How will new digital technologies and trends impact on learning? How will the students and teachers of tomorrow construct their learning environments and practices? It takes three key themes as its starting point, and uses them to guide exploration of emerging practices and technologies. In 2017/18, our themes were trust, resistance and mess. This instance of the course was linked with the University’s Near Future Teaching project, which is working with students and staff from across the University to co-design the future of digital education at the University of Edinburgh.

The key to this course is the way it is co-created by its participants. This is important because of the subject matter of the course – digital futures – and how quickly the topics of interest evolve. Creating a sustainable and exciting course of this nature needs a pedagogical approach which is both carefully structured and open in terms of content.

The aim of the OER assignment is to provide a high-quality, engaging introduction to topics each student has explored in a previous ‘position paper’ assignment. These topics are aligned with one or more of the course themes, but go beyond them to explore ideas, issues and possibilities relevant to each author’s interests and context.

The OERs were created in two stages – the first was a complete first version of each OER, which formed the content for the fourth and final block of the course, and on which each OER author received detailed feedback from three peers. Authors then revised their OERs before submitting a final version, which was marked by the tutors (taking into account proposed marks given by peers in stage 1).

The experience of creating assignments in OER format goes well beyond a standard essay-based assignment in two key respects:

  1. They are for an audience beyond the tutor, and authors have to take into account the needs, interests and expertise of their peers.
  2. Creating genuinely open resources requires careful attention to issues such as as accessibility, structure, audience and licensing.

Beyond the tutor:

What was central to the OER assignment in Digital Futures for Learning was that students create a resource that lets others engage meaningfully with the key elements of their topic, engaging and involving their peers in considering, in a scholarly way, issues relevant to the course content. In other words, the benefit of the OER is not only intended to be for the student who creates it – it is equally for the students who will participate in it (Boud et al 1999). If an OER is of high quality, then the whole cohort will benefit. For this reason, it was important that the assessment of these OERs reflected the purpose of the assignment, which was to facilitate learning for the whole student group. Therefore, the Digital Futures OERs were assessed by a combination of peer and self assessment. For students as both creators and consumers of the OERs, this created challenges. When creating, they considered what shared knowledge could be relied on, how to make more specialist topics accessible to others, and how to make the links to the core course themes explicit. As ‘consumers’ or assessors of OERs, they were explicitly challenged by the tutors to follow Updike’s first rule of criticism:

“Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.”- Remembering Updike, The New Yorker

Peers invested considerable time in providing detailed and constructive feedback, which was instrumental in allowing authors to revise and improve their OERs in the second stage of development.

Being open:

The past few years have seen extensive discussion, debate and experimentation with different modes and approaches to openness online (Bayne, Knox and Ross 2015). OERs have been part of the higher education landscape for some time, but increasingly we are seeing discussions about open practice (Cronin 2017) and how to support teachers, researchers and students to work in ways that encourage collaboration, the sharing of content and processes, and sensitivity to context of knowledge creation and use. The Digital Futures course is therefore part of an interesting moment in digital education, and the discussions we had about openness and what this means in terms of issues like licensing, intended audience, and choices about structure and content were significantly informed by these wider debates. In relation to licensing, we had excellent guidance from Charlie Farley (@SFarley_Charlie), Open Educational Resources Advisor in the Educational Design & Engagement team in Information Services. In terms of structure and content, authors approached the task in many different ways, demonstrating how wide-open the creative space of OERs can be when tackled by digital education experts (as our students are). From playing with linearity to exploring the possibilities of self-led and tutor-led ‘versions’ to experimenting with methods of interaction and commentary, the format of the OERs was diverse and reflected thoughtful and critical approaches to form as well as content.

Next steps:

In addition to creating an open access site to share some of the outputs from the course, we are thinking about what the course should look like going forward (it will run again in 2019). We love the format, and the materials the course generates, but the assessment design is complex, and students have asked us to consider how the course is assessed (at present the OER is just one of three interlinked assignments on the course), so we will be thinking about how we can preserve this iterative process in a lighter-touch way that gives more time for students to engage with the development of their resource. Students also told us that they would have welcomed more critical engagement with the wider debates and discussions around openness as a core part of the course. This has happened before, when one of the core themes was ‘openness’, but we will explore how to make it a feature every time.

On the topic of critical approaches to openness, we had some extremely interesting conversations early in the semester about whether and how to make the Digital Futures course open – and these are reflected in a short case study on the site that highlights some of the interesting challenges of ‘open practice’.

More information:


Bayne, S., Knox, J., & Ross, J. (2015). Open education: the need for a critical approach. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), 247–250.

Boud, D., Cohen, R. and Sampson, J. (1999). Peer Learning and Assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 24/4.

Cronin, C. (2017). Openness and Praxis: Exploring the Use of Open Educational Practices in Higher Education. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18/5.


Jen Ross

Dr Jen Ross is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Education; co-director of the Centre for Research in Digital Education, and Deputy Director (KE) of Research and Knowledge Exchange in the School of Education. She co-leads the Digital Futures course and was director for the MSc in Digital Education between 2012-15.

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