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Entretien avec Catherine Cronin (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Ireland)

Hélène Pulker

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1Dr. Catherine Cronin is Strategic Education Developer at Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education where her collaborative work across the sector supports digital and open education including development of digital capabilities, use of open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP), and development of enabling policies for digital and open teaching and learning. Catherine’s 2018 PhD explored the benefits, risks and tensions of using open educational practices in higher education. You can find Catherine on Twitter @catherinecronin and at

2Hélène Pulker: In your experience, and perhaps in the different contexts you have worked for, how do educators adapt OER in formal online and distance education settings? Can you give some examples? The literature does often refer to ‘little’ and ‘big’ OERs? In your opinion, which of these two types of OER are more reused and modified, and can you think of any reasons why? How important is the granularity for reuse and adaptation?

3Catherine Cronin: There is wide range of ways that educators adapt OER in online and distance education settings. It must be noted firstly that the granularity of OER can vary enormously – from an individual image, infographic or diagram, to a lesson or assignment, to a full course or textbook (and many things in between). Another way this enormous range can be characterised is as ‘little OER’ and ‘big OER’ (Weller, 2011); the former describing individually produced, low cost resources, and the latter describing institutionally generated resources, generally of high quality and containing explicit teaching aims. The types of OER that are reused, however, depend very much on the purpose and context of the person/organisation who is reusing the resource(s).

4While OER can be reused ‘as is’, they are often edited and adapted before being reused. The adaptation can be as straightforward as changing the spelling or terminology (to suit a particular disciplinary or geographic context), translating into another language, or editing the content in a more substantive way to make it more context appropriate. Although it is often assumed that teachers do the work of adapting/creating OER (and indeed this was the focus of the earliest definition of OER), this is not necessarily the case. Teachers and students together can adapt/create OER, and students adapt/create their own OER – creating and sharing new open resources or even a new course textbook. Such open educational practices (OEP) can facilitate sharing ownership of the curricula, democratising learning and shifting attitudes towards knowledge.

5In my specific experience in higher education in Ireland, educators and students typically re-purpose smaller OER for specific purposes. Features which facilitate reuse include the quality, relevance, size and format of the OER. Sharing OER in ways that allow people not only to reuse them, in whole or in part (e.g., enabling disaggregation of OER if they are in larger collections), but also to edit them to suit their purposes (e.g., editable formats, not PDF) act to ease the path of reuse.

6Hélène Pulker: Hodgkinson-Williams (2010) identified benefits for teachers to reuse and share their materials (personal satisfaction, personal reputation, good for professional development, etc.). In your opinion, and in your practice, what factors motivate teachers, educators and practitioners to reuse, adapt and share OER?

7Catherine Cronin: Motivations to reuse, adapt and share OER are many, and include the practical, the pedagogical and the philosophical. As a practical way of enhancing equity in formal education settings, teachers may try to reduce students’ expenditure by eliminating the requirement of purchasing expensive course textbooks – using OER instead. Teachers may opt to use/adapt/create an open textbook, for example, or even bypass the textbook model entirely and curate/create a collection of OER. The reasons for this are not limited to financial savings alone. Pedagogically, teachers may find that existing textbooks don’t have exactly the content they need for a particular course and may opt instead to create an open textbook tailored to the particular learning objectives and students. Creating an open textbook (or collection of open resources) also means that the material can be sensitively adapted to suit the context, e.g., changing names to reduce gender or cultural bias, or creating locally meaningful examples. Finally, by modelling open practices with learners, teachers can model a range of important digital literacies, helping students to develop their own digital capabilities in the process.

8Hélène Pulker: The importance of quality of online resources has been the focus of much debate in the early days of the OER movement. In your experience, what are the most important criteria for selecting OER? Do they match what has been published in research so far about OER and quality issues? Perhaps you can give some examples?

9Catherine Cronin: Regarding quality, a teacher’s judgement is required for selecting OER, just as it is required for selecting published resources. While ‘quality’ may indicate the correctness, completeness and quality of production of an educational resource, an expanded notion of quality should be considered. For example, the OER selection process will include a consideration of the educational purpose, the context and the learners. And in examining potential OER for adaptation and reuse, a teacher will assess many aspects in a broad judgement of its quality, e.g., relevance, level, language, appropriateness, potential bias, etc.

10Critical approaches to open education are helpful in expanding the concept of OER quality. For example, an open course created and published by a university in the Global North may be considered to be of high quality in terms of its content and production, as well as being openly licensed for reuse. However, a focus on these aspects alone, and on openness as removal of barriers alone, can obscure and prevent a deeper analysis of associated relations of power (see Bayne et al. 2015; Dhalla, 2018; singh, 2015). Global South scholars have highlighted how alienation and inequality can arise from narrow, Global North-centric conceptions of open access (see Czerniewicz, 2013; Piron, 2017; Nobes, 2017). In all considerations of openness, it is important that we seek to move beyond the dominant but limited interpretation of open as primarily about access. Critical approaches to openness and OER can facilitate this move (see Bali et al., 2020; Cronin, 2020).

11Hélène Pulker: Research seems to suggest that OER reuse has not had much impact on education so far. Would you agree? Have you observed any impact on teaching and learning and education in general in your context(s)? Maybe you could explain different levels of impact you have observed. And what should count as impact in your opinion?

12Catherine Cronin: The use of OER and related open educational practices (OEP) can contribute to enhancing educational access, effectiveness and equity. OEP is a broader concept than OER, encompassing the use of OER as well as open pedagogies and open teaching practices (see Cronin, 2017). As indicated above, OER can help to ensure greater parity of access to educational materials overall, eliminating barriers that often arise due to materials costs, student location, students’ current registration status, etc. In addition, the potential of OER and OEP to enhance educational effectiveness is enormous. The abilities to curate, adapt, reuse and reshare OER offer numerous pedagogical possibilities (i.e., OEP) that can empower learners and foster the development of learners’ digital capabilities. A more detailed explanation of various types of impact, within an overall framework of social justice, can be found in Bali, Cronin and Jhangiani (2020).

13Hélène Pulker: Research also shows that OER users often adapt the resources to suit their contexts, but they rarely share and redistribute adapted OER online and in public domains, through repositories for example. How can this lack of sharing and redistribution of OER can be explained, according to you?

14Catherine Cronin: Earlier, I referred to dominant but limited interpretations of open as access. Lack of resharing and redistribution of OER may be an unintended outcome of such OER narratives. A focus on open-as-access may encourage individuals to search for, find, assess and reuse OER, certainly. Broader conceptions of openness, OER and OEP are necessary, however, to flesh out the potential of openness in terms not only of access – but also of effective pedagogy, development of digital capabilities, learner agency and equity.

15Seager has noted that “what gets counted counts” (cited in D'Ignazio & Klein, 2020, p. 97). Over several years and many different geographical and institutional contexts, proponents of open education have recommended actions which could help to enable both the creation and use of OER. These include, for example, institutional open education policies and evaluation and reward structures (see Corrall & Pinfield, 2014; Cox & Trotter, 2016; Cronin, 2019; Udas, Partridge, & Stagg, 2016). There remains a widespread lack of open education strategy and policy within higher education, and while most higher education institutions now have Open Access policies and repositories for storing and sharing scholarly outputs, far fewer have institutional policies that support the creation and sharing of OER for teaching or use of other open educational practices by those who teach.

16Hélène Pulker: In your opinion, what sort of research do you think is necessary to study reuse, adaptation and re-appropriation of OER in the context of online and distance education? Is research on OER reuse and adaptation enough to assess the impact of the movement on education? Do you think we should be looking more at practices?

17Catherine Cronin: In a simple response to your final question: Yes. A focus on OER is important, but this alone will not reveal the broad scope and true potential of open education. The European report ‘Opening up Education: A Support Framework for Higher Education Institutions’ (Inamorato dos Santos et al., 2016) makes a strong case for the strategic “opening up of education by higher education institutions” (p. 6) in order to address issues of vital local, national, and international importance such as enhanced workforce skills, access to job opportunities, community engagement and personal growth of citizens. Open education is a tool for social change, but also of transforming higher education itself: “Open education… nourishes a participatory culture of learning, creating, sharing and cooperation and it is therefore a vital and natural training ground for current and future researchers and educators, turning them into confident users and designers of open approaches in research and higher education” (van der Vaart, 2013, p. 52). OER is an important component of open education, but consideration of the broader context is essential, e.g., open educational practices and pedagogies, social justice frameworks, and the current experiences of online and distance education, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

18On a more practical note, I also note the importance of widening the lens from research to include practices, pedagogies, structures, policies and strategies. The lack of open education policies, for example, speaks particularly loudly to those who teach, who may not realise what the programme/institutional stance is on the use of OER or OEP. ‘Opening’ education is a culture change for many in education, even within online and distance education. A multifaceted approach to studying, communicating about and advocating the use of OER and OEP is the most likely way to realise the potential benefits for all.

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Bali, M., Cronin, C., & Jhangiani, R. (2020). Framing open educational practices from a social justice perspective. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1).

Bayne, S., Knox, J., & Ross, J. (2015). Open education: The need for a critical approach. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3).

Corrall, S., & Pinfield, S. (2014). Coherence of “open” initiatives in higher education and research: Framing a policy agenda. In iConference 2014 Proceedings (pp. 293–313). Berlin, Germany.

Cox, G., & Trotter, H. (2016). Institutional culture and OER policy: How structure, culture, and agency mediate OER policy potential in South African universities. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(5).

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

Cronin, C. (2019). Open education: Design and policy considerations. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for digital age: Principles and practices of design (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Cronin, C. (2020). Open education: Walking a critical path. In D. Conrad & P. Prinsloo (Eds.), Open(ing) education: Theory and practice. Leiden:Brill.

Czerniewicz, L. (2013, April 29). Inequitable power dynamics of global knowledge production and exchange must be confronted head on [blog].

Dhalla, A. (2018, May 7). The dangers of being open [blog].

D'Ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2020). Data feminism. MIT Press.

Inamorato dos Santos, A., Punie, Y., & Muñoz, J. C. (2016). Opening up education: A support framework for higher education institutions (Working Paper No. JRC101436). Directorate Growth & Innovation and JRC-Seville, Joint Research Centre.

Nobes, A. (2017, December 8). Must we decolonise open access? Perspectives from Francophone Africa [blog].

Piron, F. (2017, September 19). Qui sait? Le libre accès en Afrique et en Haïti.

Singh, s. (2015, June 27). The fallacy of “open” [blog].

Van der Vaart, L. (2013). e-InfraNet: “Open” as the default modus operandi for research and higher education. European Network for co-ordination of policies and programmes on e-infrastructures (e-InfraNet Project).

Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. Bloomsbury Academic.

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Hélène Pulker, « Entretien avec Catherine Cronin (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Ireland) »Distances et médiations des savoirs [En ligne], 31 | 2020, mis en ligne le 19 octobre 2020, consulté le 29 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Hélène Pulker

Open University, UK

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