OEN Welcomes University of Sheffield as First UK Member

Published on January 27th, 2023

Estimated reading time for this article: 4 minutes.

The Open Education Network (OEN) is pleased to welcome the University of Sheffield, a leading research institution, as our first community member based in the United Kingdom. Located in north-central England, the school served more than 30,000 students in AY21-22 with education that “not only transforms the lives of our graduates, but shapes the world we live in,” according to the university’s strategic plan.

Photo of Firth Court building, University of Sheffield

Photo: Firth Court building on Western Bank, foreground, housed the original university library and remains a campus focal point. CC BY-SA 3.0 The University of Sheffield by Pomdu, Wikimedia Commons

Growing OER in the UK

Helen Moore, Faculty Librarian for Engineering and Science at the University of Sheffield, is part of the small team that has been raising awareness of open educational resources (OER) on campus for the past two years. Although OER are relatively new here, Helen says the idea is catching on thanks to early support from library leadership that’s now broadened throughout the university in general.
Importantly, she also believes OER are consistent with the university’s educational strategy. “Within our education pillar there’s a lot about inclusivity, about sustainable education, about diversity within the curriculum, and about employability,” said Helen. “We think that OER, in particular, meet a lot of those criteria.”
University of Sheffield Faculty Librarian for Social Sciences, Maria Mawson, points out that the university’s education pillar also mentions digital education. “Access to digital resources is an important part of delivering education,” she notes, particularly in the wake of the pandemic that brought accessibility issues to light. “We think OER contribute there as well.”

From Open Research to Open Education

Both librarians speculate that the university’s strong culture of open research is a contributing factor to its interest in OER. “For us,” Maria says, “it’s about shifting toward a model where it’s just as much the norm to share educational teaching materials as it is to share research outputs. It’s closing that gap, really.”  
To do so, the University of Sheffield began a widespread search for OER programming information, expertise, and examples in late 2020. The range of books offered by the Open Textbook Library, particularly faculty reviews, caught their attention.
“We started to think it would be really good if our faculty members could leave reviews as well,” said Maria. “Now, as members of the OEN, we’ll be able to offer that opportunity to our faculty and hopefully that will benefit so many people across the world…to be able to see reviews from a UK perspective. That’s just one small, but important, element of why we were keen to join.”

OER Aspirations

The University of Sheffield currently provides colleagues working there with access to Pressbooks, and it has established a formal OER policy clarifying support for authoring, adopting, and adapting OER. The library also offers limited grants to help faculty pursue OER opportunities.
“I think we can see that using Pressbooks and content from the Open Textbook Library in tandem may encourage our faculty to take an existing open textbook and tailor it to suit their needs,” Maria explained. “That’s a really big opportunity that we want to try and exploit.”
In fact, if faculty interest and schedules permit, Helen is eager to see a Sheffield-authored open textbook added to the library’s collection within the next year, increasing representation of authors outside North America.

Connecting with Community

Our new UK member is looking forward to connecting with the OEN community. Helen and Maria value the opportunity to pose questions, talk with people in similar roles, and perhaps even build partnerships similar to a recent collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds, and York which produced the White Rose Libraries Open Educational Resources Toolkit.

Barb Thees, OEN Director of Community Engagement, sees reciprocal sharing with the university as an opportunity to shape understandings of open education. “Each person who comes to this community has a lot to give, and there’s a lot that we can share with one another,” she said. “The perspective of the University of Sheffield is only going to add richness to the conversations we’re having. It has potential to help us think more broadly, intentionally, and creatively as an organization about the work we’re doing.”

We encourage OEN community members to reach out to the University of Sheffield via our Google Group and/or the Colleague Connector program, demonstrating the welcoming culture of open that draws us together.
“Those who share the values of open education have a foundation, a common denominator,” Barb observed. “There’s a uniqueness, as we all know, with our community. It’s what our members do, and the culture of that mutual support that we lend one another. It’s not the OEN; it’s the people that make up the OEN who make it so special.”


If you have questions, please contact OEN Director of Community Engagement, Barb Thees. Thanks!

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