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Professional Development for Open Education: The usefulness of a cMOOC

By Jenni Hayman / September 2019

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Use of open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP), have demonstrated potential to reduce costs and increase learner success in education contexts [1, 2]. In Ontario, Canada, the location for this study, rising textbook costs and the total cost of two-year and four-year credentials has created inequity in terms of access to education [3]. Use of OER as a replacement model for learner-purchased textbooks represents one opportunity for education cost reduction that may help reduce the overall cost of degree completion in Ontario and elsewhere.

While cost-savings is a common focus of OER conversations, an additional focus may be OER-affordances as part of teaching practice, commonly referred to as OEP. Educator practices that support learner exploration of open resources may empower learners as co-creators of knowledge [4]. Learner empowerment though OER represents potential to support the acquisition of graduate skills that are often highlighted in mission and vision statements and shift traditional teaching and learning models from knowledge in the hands of a few experts, to co-creation and facilitation of knowledge through reflection and interaction [5].

In the Canadian national context, use of OER and OEP has been growing steadily in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba since 2012 [6]. Small but successful growth has been documented, and recognition of the value of OER and OEP has increased in Ontario and other provinces and territories [7]. However, two commonly identified obstacles to successful growth of OER use have emerged, these are awareness about OER and skills to find and use them [8].

As part of a 2018 mixed-method action research project, I led a professional development community-based massive open online course (cMOOC) designed in partnership with a group of Canadian open education advocates. The specifics of my study in the context of 10 years of MOOC research and exploration were narrowed to the usefulness of a cMOOC for professional development among interested educators to address awareness and skills for OER.

In their 2017 research, Bozkurt, Akgün-Özbek, and Zawacki-Richter determined research related to MOOCs and faculty and professional development accounted for only 3.3 percent of research articles (among the 362 articles they examined). The authors also felt mixed-method action research studies were under-represented and posed value [9]. Littlejohn and Milligan explored MOOCs for their potential as professional development opportunities and noted the following: “MOOCs have the potential to transform professional learning by utilizing social, networked technologies to support personalised and self-regulated learning” [10]. The authors recommended several design practices that were utilized in the cMOOC design, such as flexible learning objectives and the creation of a project or set of outputs, that might have professional value beyond the course.

The purpose of my dissertation research was to determine the usefulness of an awareness and support strategy (a professional development opportunity) to increase the use of OER among post-secondary educators in Ontario. Research questions included the following:

  1. To what extent might OER professional development experiences impact educators’ intention to use OER? (skills), and
  2. What questions and insights about OER emerge as part of a sensemaking process among educators? (awareness).

Frameworks and Method

A constructivist approach drove the design and delivery of the cMOOC for this study. A pragmatic research paradigm was adopted with the following assertions: knowledge (truth) is what is contextually useful (individually or collectively); people observe and reflect on what is useful when they plan and test methods of problem solving as part of learning experiences; problem solving is applied and cyclical; and useful observations about pragmatic learning rely on the integration of qualitative and quantitative data. Weick, Sutfcliffe, and Obstfeld’s exploration of a change management framework called “Sensemaking,” literally making sense of a new practice, was an effective ground for designing the content and reflection activities of the cMOOC [11].

The study was designed as mixed-method action research (MMAR). The quantitative data were gathered in a pre- and post-course survey instrument that provided comparison opportunities based on Ajzen’s) Theory of Planned Behavior [12]. Using Ajzen’s model, three constructs were created that measured attitude about a new behavior (OER), perceived behavioral control related to a new behavior (the degree to which participants believed they had the skills to find and use OER), and intention to engage in a new behavior (intention to use OER). Pre- and post-course survey data were used to determine whether there was a change in any of the constructs among the participants. The qualitative data for the study included cMOOC participant discussion forum posts, blog posts, and transcripts from two webinars.

Ajzen described his theory as a simple framework to explore the complex process of forming an intention to take action (behavior), as indicated in Figure 1 below. Ajzen described three key influences on intention as attitude toward the behavior (personal feelings and beliefs about it), subjective norm (perception of the beliefs of others about the behavior), and perceived behavioral control (the degree to which a person believes he or she can successfully enact the behavior). Each of these constructs has the potential to influence intention to change behavior and actual change in behavior.

Figure 1. Theory of Planned Behavior. This figure describes influences on intention and behavior as described by Icek Ajzen [13].

[click to enlarge]

Aligned with MMAR, the quantitative data from participant pre- and post-cMOOC experiences was compared and contrasted with the qualitative data (including discussion forum and assignment dialogue) to explore possible changes in attitudes, skills, and behaviors about OER, directly related to the course experience.

The setting for the study was Ontario, Canada and data for local two-year college and four-year university faculty members (n=24) were extracted from the larger, global group of cMOOC participants (n=92), to maintain a focus on Ontario practitioners.

The cMOOC design, grounded in a process of making sense of open education was collaboratively developed in partnership with 10 Canadian open-education advocates who participated as facilitators. There were 14 daily content and activity modules designed to be short introductions to OER and OEP topics. All 14 of the modules, Making Sense of Open Education, are available as OER with a Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 International license.

Analysis and Findings

The number of Ontario participants for this study was relatively small. Across this group, however, a great deal of rich data were gathered and analyzed. Among the 24 Ontario MOOC participants, 17 contributed to a variety of qualitative data on Twitter, and in personal blogs they intentionally associated with their experiences. Eight participants completed the pre- and post-course survey instruments.

Analysis of the quantitative data related to the first research question (“To what extent might OER professional development experiences impact educators’ intention to use OER?”) demonstrated positive shifts pre-MOOC to post-MOOC in terms of participant responses to items in three constructs. Based on a series of Likert-scale items the constructs consisted of: “Attitude About OER (fives items with a maximum summed value of 20), “Perceived Behavioral Contro”l (3 items with a maximum summed value of 12), and “Intention to Use OER” (4 items with a maximum summed valued of 16). Using a paired-samples t-test analysis, important shifts in participants’ attitude about OER from pre-MOOC to post-MOOC were found. However, a significant shift was found in participants’ perceived behavioral control, the degree to which participants felt they had the skills to find and use OER. Participants’ intention to use OER was strongly indicated in both pre- and post-MOOC responses, therefore only a small positive shift was demonstrated. A limitation of these analyses was the small number of participants. The bottom line in terms of findings was the cMOOC experience likely contributed to a positive shift in skills and confidence finding and using OER for the eight participants that completed the full study.

Table 1. Results from Pre- and Post-Intervention Paired Samples t-test for cMOOC Participants (n=8)

[click to enlarge]

To integrate qualitative data from cMOOC participant discussion forums (n=17) with the quantitative findings above, participant blog posts and discussion forum posts throughout the cMOOC were analyzed using process coding, a method of assigning action words (-ing words or gerunds) to phrases and short sentences. The purpose of this analysis was to examine the types of active learning that participants engaged in according to posts in their own words. A word cloud, Figure 2 below, represents a visual analysis of the most frequently found –ing words among the data. The creation of the cloud incorporated the analysis of 1,195 codes from more than 50 pages of discourse.

Figure 2. Process codes derived from participant discussion forum posts.

[click to enlarge]

The most frequent codes from the qualitative analysis of cMOOC participant data included the following: learning (52 codes), sharing (34 codes), creating (30 codes), connecting (26 codes), finding (21 codes), and looking (20 codes). These indications of active practice seemed directly related to the skills needed to find and use OER. These active skill practices were frequently communicated among cMOOC participants throughout the 14 modules of the course. The analysis of discussion forums and webinars related to the course provided confirming qualitative evidence for the significant shift in Perceived Behavioral Control indicated in the quantitative analysis.

To demonstrate levels of shifting OER awareness among participants, an additional coding method called structural coding was used for qualitative analysis of webinar and open-ended comment data. Saldaña described this analysis as a process of pre-selecting a group of codes grounded in the research questions of the study as an accelerated means of focusing analyses in core themes [14]. Related to the second question for this article (“What questions and insights about OER emerge as part of a sensemaking process among educators?”) some of the coding, responses, and themes that emerged are provided in Table 2 below.

Table 2. Structural Codes, Frequencies, and Themes Derived from MOOC Participant Webinars (n=17)

[click to enlarge]

The following list contains three observations that emerged based on the structural coding process with participant examples for each:

1. Observation One: The MOOC was a positive learning experience for skills and connection.

“I'm taking a lot from it. I'm learning a lot. And I like the activities because they take me out of my comfort zone, so that's really good.” 

“I became more confident in my understanding of being open, the benefits and challenges, and techniques.”

2. Observation Two: Recommendations for successful professional development for OER centred on learning design of experiences and institutional support.

“I think any support at my institution would be beneficial as we currently don't have very much support.”

“I'm a visual type of person, and if there were more diagrams and pictures as opposed to text, I think I would pick up the stuff easier from a reader perspective.”

3. Observation Three: Professional development for use of OER led to positive intention to use OER.

“Because I see value in OEP, I am inspired to take action and advocate for greater openness in others and in my own institution.”

“I feel more knowledgeable and therefore more likely to use OERs in my practice.”

These observations were integrated with the quantitative findings and provided evidence of an increase in awareness about OER among participants.

Conclusion, Implications for Practice, and Future Research

The cMOOC designed for this study was deemed useful by Ontario educators as a professional development opportunity. Participants found the cMOOC experience useful in three key ways. They found that the experience:

  • facilitated active practice in the skills of finding, adapting, and creating OER, and understanding and using open licenses,
  • provided support for educators to form socially connected learning groups, and
  • enabled partnership with knowledgeable OER advocates who provided newer learners with opportunities to connect and ask questions as they were learning.

These useful elements may be kept in mind for practitioners considering designing and delivering a cMOOC as part of professional development for post-secondary educators related to awareness and use of OER.

Additional research that explores the qualitative elements of cMOOC participation for educator professional development is needed. The relatively easy win of quantitative MOOC data analyses typically focuses on items such as completion rates and engagement measures. The messier, more time-consuming work of analyzing discussion forum conversations and project-based activities may provide further evidence of the usefulness of cMOOCs in terms of increasing awareness about the value of OER and OEP, practicing skills, and developing communities in ways that are personal and important for new users and potential advocates.


[1] Hayman, J. L. 2. Open is an invitation: Exploring use of open educational resources with Ontario post-secondary educators. Doctoral dissertation. Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. 2018.

[2] Colvard, N. B., Watson, C. E., and Park, H.  The impact of open educational resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 30, 2 2018., 262-276.

[3] Jhangiani, R. and Jhangiani, S.  Investigating the perceptions, use, and impact of open textbooks: A survey of post-secondary students in British Columbia. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18, 4 (2017), 172-192.

[4] Cronin, C. Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices in higher education. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18, 5 (2017), 15-34.

[5] Ehlers, U.-D. Extending the territory: From open educational resources to open educational practices. Journal of Open, Flexible, and Distance Learning 15, 2 (2011), 1-10.

[6] Rory McGreal, Terry Anderson, and Dianne Conrad. 2015. Open educational resources in Canada 2015. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16, 5, 161 - 175.

[7] The National Survey of Online and Distance Education in Canadian Post-secondary Education. Tracking Online and Distance Education in Canadian Universities and Colleges. 2017.

[8] eCampusOntario. Awareness and Use of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Ontario: A preliminary study of post-secondary educator perspectives. Research report. 2018.

[9] Bozkurt, A., Akgün-Özbek, E., and Zawacki-Richter, O. Trends and patterns in massive open online courses: Review and content analysis of research on MOOCs (2008-2015). International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18, 5 (2017), 118-147.

[10] Littlejoh, A. and Milligan, C. Designing MOOCs for professional learners: Tools and patterns to encourage self-regulated learning. eLearning Papers 42, article no. 4. (June 2015).

[11] Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., and Obstfeld, D.  Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science 16, 4 (2005), 409-421.

[12] Ajzen, I. Theory of planned behavior. Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50, 2 (1991), 179-211.

[13] Ajzen, I. Icek Ajzen Theory of Planned Behavior Diagram. 2006.

[14] Saldaña, J. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, 2016.


About the Author

Dr. Jenni Hayman is currently the Chair, Teaching and Learning at Cambrian College in the beautiful Canadian north. She leads a fantastic team of educators that animate the Teaching and Learning Innovation Hub at Cambrian and provide support and encouragement for teaching excellence. Focused in the Ontario college sector with a global lens, Jenni is an experienced researcher, instructional designer, adult teaching and learning facilitator, and active advocate for the use of open educational resources (OER) and practices (OEP) as part of post-secondary research and experimentation.

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