Update on OER policy research: Fun with Excel and colour coding

After presenting at the Open Education Global conference in Delft, Netherlands, and submitting the research with my collaborator Michael McNally, I’m finally back to work on my OER policy study.

Currently, I’m gathering documents that represent the open education/OER policy or “policy directions” from Canada’s four Western provinces. I’m looking at documents from the provincial government and research university level, to answer the following questions…

  1. What are the focuses of the OER initiatives at both the government and research university level?
  2. Are there differences in emphasis between the four provinces?

I used criterion sampling (Patton, 2002, p. 238; Palinkas et al., 2013) to create clear inclusion and exclusion criteria for collecting documents. All the documents were collected via web search. Some examples of the documents I collected include strategic plans, provincial funded open education initiatives (eg. BC Campus), budget letters, Hansard minutes, task force reports, etc. I also used government press releases where information was thin – particularly in SK and MB.

In a nutshell, I gathered 140 documents and analyzed 75. All relevant sections of the documents (those that referred to open education) were coded using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). I only looked at the semantic level – meaning I took the text as written and didn’t read into it too much. I also coded the text at the sentence and small paragraph level because it makes it easier to preserve the context. Lots of notes accompanied these text snippets. In an earlier blog post, I showed how I organized all this data in Excel (as I don’t like qualitative coding software… clunky).

Today, I want to show some of my quantitative results. While this is a qualitative study, I think numbers and tables really help the reader. The limitation here is that there is a big difference in the number of documents I was able to collect by province. BC represents the lion’s share of the documents, and the number shrinks dramatically as one moves east – at least in this snapshot of data. Below, you can see not only how many documents I collected, and the number of text snippets by theme, but the percentage of text snippets according to province. I’m still working out the table titles or course…

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In the last screenshot, you can see all nine themes I identified. I highlighted the ones in orange that are most commonly emphasized across all four provinces. For each province, I chose the top three themes emphasized in the analyzed text. There’s lots of crossover but also some important differences. For instance, while all four provinces had “cost savings” as one of their top three themes, it’s the 3rd most emphasized in BC compared to the most emphasized in AB, SK, and MB. I’m assuming this is because BC has been working at open education longer.

I assumed “cost savings” would be a big part of the emphasis among all provinces, but I’m very happy to see “impact on learning” and “technology, usability, and accessibility” as strong contenders. I’m surprised that “quality control” is so poorly represented – given that it’s something emphasized so strongly by faculty, and it is well represented in the literature as a general criticism of OER.

Now that I’m getting into the writing, I’m really looking forward to describing these themes and discussing how the collected data compares to the literature.

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