Evidence and values-based approaches in OER

by | May 7, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

By Emilia Bell, Nikki Andersen, & Adrian Stagg

Earlier this year Emilia Bell, Nikki Andersen, and Adrian Stagg presented at the Northeast OER Summit exploring values-based approaches in open educational practice (OEP) and evidence-based practice (EBP).  They summarise their thoughts on the importance of community-building and trust to situate evidence and data in a social context and provide agency that centres shared values.


Values & Community in OEP 

At the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) Library, the Open Educational Practice (OEP) team builds a community of practitioners who can all contribute and feel empowered to share practice. This has led to a community-based approach to open education that aligns with the values-based approach taken to evidence-based practice.

Enacting open educational practices is not a neutral act in higher education as the phenomenon emerged from a values-based reaction to specific issues of inequality. OEP responds to issues of equity and access in the first instance by leveraging systems that provide free and open access to educational content and experiences. Many institutions begin with Open Educational Resources (OER), such as open textbooks, but ‘mere access’ is insufficient to meet the challenges of equity.  As an understanding of open education matures from ‘resources’ to ‘practices’, practitioners (and the institution) grapple with more difficult questions.  Resource-focused questions dwell on issues of storage, access, and licensing; in contrast, a practice focus asks how to construct environments wherein open becomes an attractive, viable, supported, and sustainable practice at a whole-of-institution level.  Part of this maturation relates to sources and presentation of evidence – at the resource level, institutions tend to be concerned about student cost-savings, but this is only a sliver of the full story.

Given that OEP and its practitioners are often ideologically driven, the institutional environment and its potential to cause practice-based dissonance need acknowledgement. Constructing a culture in which open education is a viable and supported learning and teaching approach requires deliberate and purposeful community-building predicated on shared values and trust. In supporting OEP, trust builds social capital among participants and extends to all aspirations, interactions, and outcomes of practice – both individually and as a community. Coleman (1990) describes how “a group whose members manifest trustworthiness and place extensive trust in one another will be able to accomplish much more than a comparable group lacking that trustworthiness and trust.” Therefore, supporting open practitioners is predicated on engaging with practitioner values and beliefs.

Realising these benefits in OEP requires a functional alignment and integration of open educational practices and evidence-based practices.

Community values in evidence

The Library’s Evidence Based Practice Team did not want to only focus on processes and structure when it came to evidence but to understand the relational aspects that allow us to elevate people in this work. This aims to prioritise relationships that inform how we communicate evidence and provide access to it. If we are being intentional and purposeful in what we choose to collect then this gives us that opportunity to critically reflect on whose voices, values, and perspectives are contributing to our evidence and to relate evidence to individuals and community. The evidence we collect is recognised as existing in partnership with underlying values and a wider social context which helps it to contribute positively to the communities that open education builds and partners with.

We have the potential to see evidence-based practice as a relational process. This means prioritising connection and people over reporting and products, even if this can complicate the process of data collection and visualisation. The outputs we use to share evidence, such as dashboards and reports, don’t often create space for concepts like care or connection.

As Drabinski and Walter describe, in libraries we can be quick to jump to method and may be more concerned with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of evidence than the ‘why’. This is where asking the right questions matters and where evidence-based practices and OER are integrated. Having a values-based understanding allows for questions and evidence that align with the contributions that OER makes to social justice and promotes ongoing reflection into why and how we engage in open practices. Asking questions helps us to recognise the broader context, motivations, and needs that drive why we’re collecting evidence in the first place.

At UniSQ, open textbook authors already have agency in how they design and implement OER, and we wanted them to have the same agency in their access to data. We wanted this community to contribute to defining not only their own data needs but their preferences and values around it. This situates evidence and data in a social context and these relationships inform what we do or don’t choose to collect.

Community input was vital to ensuring a good understanding of not only what evidence needs the Library and authors had but also to understand how the data could align with open education values. We are developing evidence-based practices with these communities and the values they stand for to help to empower them as change agents and champions of open. Taking a values-based approach to evidence-based practice contributed to the agency that open textbook authors had in this work and helped us to centre the community we designed our data dashboards for.


Coleman, J.S. (1990). Foundations of Social Theory. Harvard University Press.

Conole, G.C. & Ehlers, U.D. (2010): Open Educational Practices: Unleashing the power of OER. Paper presented to UNESCO Workshop on OER in Namibia 2010. Windhoek. https://www.oerknowledgecloud.org/archive/OEP_Unleashing-the-power-of-OER.pdf

Drabinski, E., & Walter, S. (2016). Asking Questions that Matter. College & Research Libraries, 77(3), 264-268. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.77.3.264

Douglas, V. A. (2020). Moving from critical assessment to assessment as care. Communications in Information Literacy, 14(1), 46–65. https://doi.org/10.15760/comminfolit.2020.14.1.4


Emilia Bell, Coordinator (Evidence Based Practice); Nikki Andersen, Open Education Content Librarian; Adrian Stagg, Manager (Open Educational Practice). Library Services, University of Southern Queensland.


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