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BU contributes to online health debate

15 April 2010

student browsing the internet A BU study reveals the key factors surrounding support for and against free online Public Health education.

A major UK study by leading health experts at BU has contributed to the national debate surrounding the provision of open educational resources (OER)

BU’s Dr Heather Hartwell and Dr Ann Hemingway investigated the barriers and enablers of free online Public Health education as part of the PHORUS (Public Health Open Resources in the University Sector) project - an initiative designed to test practical considerations and benefits of providing OER in Higher Education.

Carried out in partnership with the Royal Society for Public Health and the Higher Education Health Sciences Subject Centre, the study found that online educational resources present key benefits such as recognition and networking opportunities but also raise concerns surrounding Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and academic credit.

Dr Hartwell, from BU’s School of Services Management and colleagues Dr Ann Hemingway and Dr Catherine Angell, both from BU’s School of Health & Social Care, studied the controlled feedback towards the availability of online resources given via workshops, telephone interviews and the PHORUS dedicated web page.

Key reasons behind support for sharing public health resources online included:

  • Reduced costs of producing teaching materials for universities
  • Networking opportunities
  • Participation in OER development
  • Participation from a wide range of Public Health disciplines
  • Use of OER as a marketing tool by universities
  • Assist educators in gaining recognition amongst their own profession.

Divergent themes included:

  • Issues of liability arising from incorrect use
  • Lack of clarity within Universities regarding IPR issues
  • Problems with academic credit
  • Concerns regarding time and cost
  • Staff will need additional skills to develop OER
  • Universities can identify a new strategic direction through the release of OER

Dr Hartwell explains: “From initial findings the important elements in Public Health OER development are regarded as reward and recognition for institutions, employer engagement, allowing lecturers time and resources to develop material.

“While IPR and copyright still remain a concern the emergence of an International movement towards online education will mean that these types of issues hopefully will be resolved sooner rather than later.”

Dr Hartwell adds: “It is clear that strategies are required to ensure sustainable development and updating of OER, and that initial funding for OER projects requires consideration of the ongoing future of such resources”.

The research will now be used for consideration in the future development of open educational resources in public health.

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