The merits of NOT collaborating!

Apologies for the slightly provocative title but I do believe that there are serious difficulties in collaboration that often make it easier not to do so. It is often easier to do something yourself than to get a group together to collaborate on it. This idea has influenced my work in the past and now it rears its (ugly?) head in relation to a project I’d like to do with members of the OERu. We teach a lot of online distance learning courses and i have been recently working on low-cost production methods for MOOCs. I know that we have the staff and skills here in IT Sligo to build a complete free 2-year post secondary programme in Electronic Engineering and we plan to do just that. However, I think it would be better if we collaborated with others, particularly members of the OERu. However, this will make it much more difficult as we will have to agree on curricula/syllabii, credits to be awarded, recommended hours of student effort and so on. It would actually be easier for us to build everything and accredit it ourselves, and then to open it up to anyone else who wished to use it.

Am I overestimating the difficulties?

Do the potential benefits outweigh the difficulties?

Would any, more experienced, members be able to help me with the accreditation/articulation challenge?

And while I’m here, would anyone like to contribute courses?

Any advice appreciated.



That title is not too provocative - its a reflection of the reality that collaboration is harder than doing things alone. It reminds me of the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

To start answering your questions, I think that OERu partners need to find the right balance. That is, working together on those things which you cant achieve alone and when working alone, doing things in a way that doesn’t preclude working together in the future.

In the OERu;

  1. Individual partners are only required to ensure that courses they submit will carry credit towards the local credential. Ideally, each course in the OERu network should carry credit at a minimum of one conferring partner. So there is no requirement to agree curricula or syllabi. There are partners in the network who have robust and progressive Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) systems that would inevitably be able to transfer transcript credit awarded by IT Sligo if needed. So in theory, you don’t need to resolve that problem.
  2. Finding solutions for virtual mobility and credit transfer at a system level is not something that an individual partner is easily able to resolve on their own. Here is an example of where it pays to collaborate. For example, we’ve learned that structuring a local course as a number of micro Open Online Courses (about 40 - 50 notional learning hours) simplifies the virtual mobility and credit transfer challenge.
  3. Improving open design which aims at maximising reuse potential is hard to achieve when working alone given the variety of technologies and system differences across the network. In this regard, the strength of the OERu is our diversity. I can see that there is not a huge motivation for ITSligo to design and assemble courses for the Electronic Engineering programme that facilitates reuse (will take extra time etc.) The benefit is the tacit knowledge your organisational will gain in learning how to adapt and integrate course developed by other partners for local reuse so that in the long term you could potentially widen access and diversify your own curriculum offerings without incurring additional capital development costs. I’m an optimist - perhaps you will discover interesting ways and ideas to assembling MOOCs cheaper and faster than you have done before? (We’ve been doing this since 2007 on a shoestring budget I imagine is considerably lower than yours ;-)).

I think the opportunity is to identify one or two courses in your programme where the benefits of collaboration are greater than tackling the development alone. Do you have any ideas of what those courses might be? This is not my disciplinary area.

To be honest, I think we are all learning on this OERu journey. Returning to the African proverb - the “OERu wants to go far” in building a sustainable and scalable OER ecosystem for the future. Doing the hard work now will help us tomorrow.

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I have no problem with IT Sligo planning to develop and offer a complete free 2-year post secondary programme in Electronic Engineering.

In relation to this institutional commitment, I have a question for you. As part of the IT Sligo curriculum in Electronic Engineering is there an introductory/foundation course that could contribute to OERu’s agreed focus on the offering of a Bachelor of General Studies with an initial emphasis on giving priority to the development of a "First Year General Education Component” ?

At the recent OERu Oceania Regional meeting, it was generally agreed that this initial focus on a "First Year General Education Component” is probably the best way to provide affordable access to opportunities to gain academic credit towards a range of recognised degree qualifications. This approach is consistent with the needs of OERu’s primary target audience - motivated potential students world-wide who are currently excluded from access to higher education, probably including many mature age (“Second Chance”) students who missed the opportunity to study when leaving school. The "First Year General Education Component” could well lay the foundation for effective transition to higher education and subsequent academic success across a range of disciplines.

Collaboration to meet this goal will not only benefit students, but will provide academic and technical staff with professional development opportunities through international collaboration with like-minded peers. Other potential benefits stemming from collaboration include: access to and acquisition of open source expertise; cost-effective sharing of courseware design, development and delivery activities; low cost and low risk innovation; cooperative development of innovative open pedagogies; and not least the development and implementation of new business models.

From my perspective, the potential benefits for OERu partner institutions, their staff and prospective students are likely to outweigh the perceived difficulties.



Hi Brian,

Having developed two courses in the OERu I fully get the challenge. I think I’d build on previous comments: building at least one course collaboratively using the OERu process is a tremendous learning experience. This includes both how to work within an open collaborative setting with OERu and how to take into consideration the needs of the partnership and future students and accepting institutions. Further, you learn a lot about what issues need to be considered in becoming more open and developing with OER and open tools for your own institution. Also, bringing already existing open content into the OERu (i.e. the rest of the program if you build it on your own and contribute it) is a big part of the picture. If you develop your own program as OER and then bring them into the OERu fold, that is a fundamental step in playing in on open ecosystem. Our first contribution was an already-built OER from the Saylor Foundation (which came from an earlier OER development), and we repurposed it for the OERu. Second time around we took an existing course of our own, rebuilt it around an open textbook and put it in the OER…so all of it was pre-existing content. Hope this helps!


Thanks for the advice on this question. There was some very useful comments there:

This will mean I can start working on our own preferred syllabus as soon as possible (that’s not to say we won’t look at existing full courses out there that we can use - eg Saylor)

Yes, we will bear this in mind as we work.

Yes, i imagine that some of the modules (eg C Programming 101) will be usable in General Studies.

Jim, I understand the objective here. We have our own specific objectives for the Electronic Engineering programme which don’t align perfectly but as with the C Programming above, we think there are synergies. If anyone thinks what we are doing might undermine OERu objectives in any way, please point that out to me and we’ll reconsider our approach to this.

We’ll keep our planning in the open as much as possible and if there are any volunteers to collaborate we’d be glad to do so. We may even chase a few partners that we think might usefully collaborate.

Thanks again all (and I hope to meet a few of you in South Africa).