Using Open Education Resources (OERs) To Make a Real-World Impact: The Sustainable Global Food Systems MOOC

Illustration featuring large green and brown brushstrokes to represent grass with a small cartoon figure with an orange hat and clothes in the foreground. There's a brown sky.
Original artwork by Kelly Zou, MA Illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art

In this fifth post for the Mini-series “Open for Good: Five Years of Open Education Resources at the University of Edinburgh” Lizzy Garner-Foy, Instructional Designer in the Educational Design and Engagement team, shares how using open licensed content enabled their teams to develop high quality educational content within the limitations of 2020’s Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Ever since our launch in 2015, the Open Education Resources Service has worked closely with the University of Edinburgh’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Distance Learning at Scale (DLAS) projects to embrace open practices and ensure that, as much as possible, the high-quality educational content produced is made available for use and re-use on open licenses…


The Online Course Production team launched the Sustainable Global Food Systems MOOC on October 13 2020. The course covers key themes such as food security, waste impacts, consumer behaviour and climate change. Learners are encouraged to consider prevalent issues in the context of their own actions so that they can contribute towards a more sustainable future for the planet.

Our aim was to communicate this message loud and clear! So, we worked with course lead Fiona Borthwick to produce media content that would be captivating and engaging to as wide an audience as possible. The content development phase of the project was just beginning when the pandemic first hit, so we had to adapt our approaches and be flexible with media production methods. We tried to turn restrictions to our advantage as much as we could by using open licensed stock footage, and making use of audio recording and remote filming opportunities.

photography of cows in a field at sunset
Image Credit: © Stijn te Strake on Unsplash (2018) CC0

First, we focused on the trailer. We wanted to create a promotional video that would get people thinking, and inspire them to enrol to learn more. We used the image website Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash to source open licensed stock video and images. We also added motion graphics to enhance the dramatic impact. The storyboard went through a few drafts (finding open licensed footage of specific cow breeds brought its challenges!), but we were able to find everything we needed on open channels.

Creating the trailer using only open licensed content showcases the professional results that can be achieved without using pricey stock footage or filming lots of new content. Of course, ideally, we wouldn’t have been restricted in terms of studio filming and capturing new b-roll. However, there were some surprising benefits to the restrictions – saving on studio bookings, filming time, and course development budget. This also meant that project deadlines, launch and course start dates were not compromised, as we were able to continue with the course development process as ‘normal’. Media Producer for the project, Calum MacPhail, commented:

photograph of a woman typing on her black laptop situated on a wooden desk with a glass with ice and lime next to her
Image Credit: © Brooke Cagle on Unsplash (2018) CC0

The way we implement stock footage has changed considerably since the pandemic began. Traditionally, we would try as much as possible to generate stock footage ourselves, but lockdown restrictions have made this difficult, if not impossible, in most cases. As well as more remote filming taking place, open source websites have become instrumental in our production processes. We are still able to create high quality video content with freely available stock footage to provide context and visual flair to short online courses such as MOOCs. The percentage of stock that we use per project varies but, on average, our use of community sourced stock footage has increased from around 20 percent, to as high as 90 percent per course during the pandemic.

Picture of a green circle with the words food future podcast in white in the centre. The circle covers the background image of an apple orchard with a closeup image of an apple with drain drops dripping off the apple on a cloudy day with grey sky in the background
Image Credit: © University of Edinburgh (2020), CC BY-SA 4.0

Fiona was also keen to capture unique insights about the future of food systems from a variety of agri-food leaders. So, we designed this into the course as a ‘Food Future’ podcast series with five interviews recorded remotely. This feature proved very popular with learners. Some commented that hearing from practitioners in the field is invaluable, and they would like to see more of this kind of content in online courses.

It’s not just learners enrolled on the course who benefit – all of the course media content is now available on the University’s Open Media Bank on Media Hopper Create.

Short online courses like MOOCs can be time and cost-intensive, so we support academic teams and subject matter experts to produce standalone OER resources that can be viewed and reused in any context. This maximises their use and re-use, and enables sharing of valuable information on important issues to a global audience. We feel that our approach to media production for this course is a great example of supporting the University’s vision: to discover knowledge and make the world a better place. We used, and created, OERs to spread a critical message and make a real-world impact!


Photo of the authorLizzy Garner-Foy

Lizzy is an Instructional Designer in the Online Course Production (OCP) team within Educational Design and Engagement (EDE). Her background is in academic writing, editing, and media production, and she is passionate about creative approaches to learning and teaching. Lizzy works closely with academic teams to design, develop and build online courses.


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.
Websitehttps://www.kellyzou.com/ 

Instagram: @kelly_zxj

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