Open educational resources
Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes. Although some people consider the use of an open file format to be an essential characteristic of OER, this is not a universally acknowledged requirement.
- 1 Defining the scope and nature of open educational resources
- 2 History
- 3 Licensing and types of OER
- 4 OER policy
- 5 Institutional support
- 6 Initiatives
- 7 International programs
- 8 Critical discourse about OER as a movement
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Defining the scope and nature of open educational resources
The idea of open educational resources (OER) has numerous working definitions. The term was firstly coined at UNESCO's 2002 Forum on Open Courseware and designates "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work". Often cited is the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation term which defines OER as: "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge". The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines OER as: "digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning, and research. OER includes learning content, software tools to develop, use, and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licences". (This is the definition cited by Wikipedia's sister project, Wikiversity.) By way of comparison, the Commonwealth of Learning "has adopted the widest definition of Open Educational Resources (OER) as 'materials offered freely and openly to use and adapt for teaching, learning, development and research'". The WikiEducator project suggests that OER refers "to educational resources (lesson plans, quizzes, syllabi, instructional modules, simulations, etc.) that are freely available for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing'.
The above definitions expose some of the tensions that exist with OER:
- Nature of the resource: Several of the definitions above limit the definition of OER to digital resources, while others consider that any educational resource can be included in the definition.
- Source of the resource: While some of the definitions require a resource to be produced with an explicit educational aim in mind, others broaden this to include any resource which may potentially be used for learning
- Level of openness: Most definitions require that a resource be placed in the public domain. Others require for use to be granted merely for educational purposes, or exclude commercial uses.
At the same time, these definitions also share some universal commonalities, namely they all:
- cover both use and reuse, repurposing, and modification of the resources;
- include free use for educational purposes by teachers and learners
- encompass all types of digital media.
Given the diversity of users, creators and sponsors of open educational resources, it is not surprising to find a variety of use cases and requirements. For this reason, it may be as helpful to consider the differences between descriptions of open educational resources as it is to consider the descriptions themselves. One of several tensions in reaching a consensus description of OER (as found in the above definitions) is whether there should be explicit emphasis placed on specific technologies. For example, a video can be openly licensed and freely used without being a streaming video. A book can be openly licensed and freely used without being an electronic document. This technologically driven tension is deeply bound up with the discourse of open-source licensing. For more, see Licensing and Types of OER later in this article.
There is also a tension between entities which find value in quantifying usage of OER and those which see such metrics as themselves being irrelevant to free and open resources. Those requiring metrics associated with OER are often those with economic investment in the technologies needed to access or provide electronic OER, those with economic interests potentially threatened by OER, or those requiring justification for the costs of implementing and maintaining the infrastructure or access to the freely available OER. While a semantic distinction can be made delineating the technologies used to access and host learning content from the content itself, these technologies are generally accepted as part of the collective of open educational resources.
Since OER are intended to be available for a variety of educational purposes, most organizations using OER neither award degrees nor provide academic or administrative support to students seeking college credits towards a diploma from a degree granting accredited institution. In open education, there is an emerging effort by some accredited institutions to offer free certifications, or achievement badges, to document and acknowledge the accomplishments of participants.
The term learning object was coined in 1994 by Wayne Hodgins and quickly gained currency among educators and instructional designers, popularizing the idea that digital materials can be designed to allow easy reuse in a wide range of teaching and learning situations.
The OER movement originated from developments in open and distance learning (ODL) and in the wider context of a culture of open knowledge, open source, free sharing and peer collaboration, which emerged in the late 20th century. OER and Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), for instance, have many aspects in common, a connection first established in 1998 by David Wiley who coined the term open content and introduced the concept by analogy with open source. Richard Baraniuk made the same connection independently in 1999.
The MIT OpenCourseWare project is credited for having sparked a global Open Educational Resources Movement after announcing in 2001 that it was going to put MIT's entire course catalog online and launching this project in 2002. In a first manifestation of this movement, MIT entered a partnership with Utah State University, where assistant professor of instructional technology David Wiley set up a distributed peer support network for the OCW's content through voluntary, self-organizing communities of interest.
In 2005 OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) launched a 20-month study to analyse and map the scale and scope of initiatives regarding "open educational resources" in terms of their purpose, content, and funding. The report "Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources", published in May 2007, is the main output of the project, which involved a number of expert meetings in 2006.
In September 2007, the Open Society Institute and the Shuttleworth Foundation convened a meeting in Cape Town to which thirty leading proponents of open education were invited to collaborate on the text of a manifesto. The Cape Town Open Education Declaration was released on 22 January 2008, urging governments and publishers to make publicly funded educational materials available at no charge via the internet.
An historical antecedent to consider is the pedagogy of artist Joseph Beuys and the founding of the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research in 1973. After co-creating with his students, in 1967, the German Student Party, Beuys was dismissed from his teaching post in 1972 at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. The institution did not approve of the fact that he permitted 50 students who had been rejected from admission to study with him. The Free University became increasingly involved in political and radical actions calling for a revitalization and restructuring of educational systems.
Licensing and types of OER
Open educational resources often involve issues relating to intellectual property rights. Traditional educational materials, such as textbooks, are protected under conventional copyright terms. However, alternative and more flexible licensing options have become available as a result of the work of Creative Commons, an organization that provides ready-made licensing agreements that are less restrictive than the "all rights reserved" terms of standard international copyright. These new options have become a "critical infrastructure service for the OER movement." Another license, typically used by developers of OER software, is the GNU General Public License from the free and open-source software (FOSS) community. Open licensing allows uses of the materials that would not be easily permitted under copyright alone.
Types of open educational resources include: full courses, course materials, modules, learning objects, open textbooks, openly licensed (often streamed) videos, tests, software, and other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. OER may be freely and openly available static resources, dynamic resources which change over time in the course of having knowledge seekers interacting with and updating them (such as this Wikipedia article), or a course or module with a combination of these resources.
Open educational resources policies are principles or tenets adopted by governing bodies in support of the use of open content and practices in educational institutions. Many of these policies require publicly funded resources be openly licensed. Such policies are emerging increasingly at the country, state/province and more local level.
Creative Commons and multiple other open organizations launched the Open Policy Network to foster the creation, adoption and implementation of open policies and practices that advance the public good by supporting open policy advocates, organizations and policy makers, connecting open policy opportunities with assistance, and sharing open policy information.
A large part of the early work on open educational resources was funded by universities and foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which was the main financial supporter of open educational resources in the early years and has spent more than $110 million in the 2002 to 2010 period, of which more than $14 million went to MIT. The Shuttleworth Foundation, which focuses on projects concerning collaborative content creation, has contributed as well. With the British government contributing £5.7m, institutional support has also been provided by the UK funding bodies JISC and HEFCE.
UNESCO is taking a leading role in "making countries aware of the potential of OER." The organisation has instigated debate on how to apply OERs in practice and chaired vivid discussions on this matter through its International Institute of Educational Planning (IIEP). Believing that OERs can widen access to quality education, particularly when shared by many countries and higher education institutions, UNESCO also champions OERs as a means of promoting access, equity and quality in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recently, the 2012 Paris OER Declaration was approved during the 2012 OER World Congress held in UNESCO HQ.
A parallel initiative Connexions, came out of Rice University starting in 1999. In contrast to the OCW projects, content licenses are required to be open under a Creative Commons Attribution only license. The hallmark of Connexions is the use of a custom XML format CNXML, designed to aid and enable mixing and reuse of the content.
Other initiatives derived from MIT OpenCourseWare are China Open Resources for Education and OpenCourseWare in Japan. The OpenCourseWare Consortium, founded in 2005 to extend the reach and impact of open course materials and foster new open course materials, counted more than 200 member institutions from around the world in 2009.
OER Africa, an initiative established by the South African Institute for Distance Education (Saide) to play a leading role in driving the development and use of OER across all education sectors on the African continent. The OER4Schools project focusses on the use of Open Educational Resources in teacher education in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Open educational resources programme (phases one and two) (United Kingdom), funded by HEFCE, the UK Higher Education Academy and Jisc, which has supported pilot projects and activities around the open release of learning resources, for free use and repurposing worldwide.
In 2003, the ownership of Wikipedia and Wiktionary projects was transferred to the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization whose goal is to collecting and developing free educational content and to disseminate it effectively and globally. Wikipedia ranks in the top-ten most visited websites worldwide since 2007.
OER Commons was spearheaded in 2007 by ISKME, a nonprofit education research institute dedicated to innovation in open education content and practices, as a way to aggregate, share, and promote open educational resources to educators, administrators, parents, and students. OER Commons also provides educators tools to align OER to the Common Core State Standards; to evaluate the quality of OER to OER Rubrics; and to contribute and share OERs with other teachers and learners worldwide. To further promote the sharing of these resources among educators, in 2008 ISKME launched the OER Commons Teacher Training Initiative, which focuses on advancing open educational practices and on building opportunities for systemic change in teaching and learning.
One of the first OER resources for K-20 education is Curriki. A nonprofit organization, Curriki provides an Internet site for open source curriculum (OSC) development, to provide universal access to free curricula and instructional materials for students up to the age of 18 (K-12). By applying the open source process to education, Curriki empowers educational professionals to become an active community in the creation of good curricula. Kim Jones serves as Curriki's Executive Director.
In August 2006 WikiEducator was launched to provide a venue for planning education projects built on OER, creating and promoting open education resources (OERs), and networking towards funding proposals. Its Wikieducator's Learning4Content project builds skills in the use of MediaWiki and related free software technologies for mass-collaboration in the authoring of free content and claims to be the world's largest wiki training project for education. By 30 June 2009 the project facilitated 86 workshops training 3,001 educators from 113 different countries.
Peer production has also been utilized in producing collaborative open education resources (OERs). Writing Commons, an international open textbook spearheaded by Joe Moxley at the University of South Florida, has evolved from a print textbook into a crowd-sourced resource for college writers around the world. Massive open online course (MOOC) platforms have also generated interest in building online eBooks. The Cultivating Change Community (CCMOOC) at the University of Minnesota is one such project founded entirely on a grassroots model to generate content. In 10 weeks, 150 authors contributed more than 50 chapters to the CCMOOC eBook and companion site.
Another project is the Free Education Initiative from the Saylor Foundation, which is currently more than 80% of the way towards its initial goal of providing 241 college-level courses across 13 subject areas. The Saylor Foundation makes use of university and college faculty members and subject experts to assist in this process, as well as to provide peer review of each course to ensure its quality. The foundation also supports the creation of new openly licensed materials where they are not already available as well as through its Open Textbook Challenge.
In 2010 the University of Birmingham and the London School of Economics worked together on the HEA and JISC funded DELILA project, the main aim of the project was to release a small sample of open educational resources to support embedding digital and information literacy education into institutional teacher training courses accredited by the HEA including PGCerts and other CPD courses. One of the main barriers that the project found to sharing resources in information literacy was copyright that belonged to commercial database providers
In 2006, the African Virtual University (AVU) released 73 modules of its Teacher Education Programs as open education resources to make the courses freely available for all. In 2010, the AVU developed the OER Repository which has contributed to increase the number of Africans that use, contextualize, share and disseminate the existing as well as future academic content. The online portal serves as a platform where the 219 modules of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, ICT in education, and teacher education professional courses are published. The modules are available in three different languages – English, French, and Portuguese, making the AVU the leading African institution in providing and using open education resources
In August 2013, Tidewater Community College become the first college in the U.S. to create an Associate of Science degree based entirely on openly licensed content – the "Z Degree". The combined efforts of a 13-member faculty team, college staff and administration culminated when students enrolled in the first "Z Courses" which are based solely on OER. The goals of this initiative were twofold: 1) to improve student success, and 2) to increase instructor effectiveness. Courses were stripped down to the Learning Outcomes and rebuilt using openly licensed content, reviewed and selected by the faculty developer based on its ability to facilitate student achievement of the objectives. The 21 Z Courses that make up the Associate of Science: Business Administration were launched simultaneously across four campus locations. TCC is the 11th largest public two-year college in the nation, enrolling nearly 47,000 students annually.
Nordic OER is a Nordic network to promote open education and collaboration amongst stakeholders in all educational sectors. The network has members from all Nordic countries and facilitates discourse and dialogue on open education but also participates in projects and development programs. The network is supported by the Nordic OER project co-funded by Nordplus.
In Norway the Norwegian Digital Learning Arena (NDLA) is a joint county enterprise offering open digital learning resources for upper secondary education. In addition to being a compilation of open educational resources, NDLA provides a range of other online tools for sharing and cooperation. At project startup in 2006, increased volume and diversity were seen as significant conditions for the introduction of free learning material in upper secondary education. The incentive was an amendment imposing the counties to provide free educational material, in print as well as digital, including digital hardware.
In Sweden there is a growing interest in open publication and the sharing of educational resources but the pace of development is still slow. There are many questions to be dealt with in this area; for universities, academic management and teaching staff. Teachers in all educational sectors require support and guidance to be able to use OER pedagogically and with quality in focus. To realize the full potential of OER for students' learning it is not enough to make patchwork use of OER – resources have to be put into context. Valuable teacher time should be used for contextual work and not simply for the creation of content.The aim of the project OER for learning OERSweden, is to stimulate an open discussion about collaboration in infrastructural questions regarding open online knowledge sharing. A network of ten universities lead by Karlstad University will arrange a series of open webinars during the project period focusing on the use and production of open educational resources. A virtual platform for Swedish OER initiatives and resources will also be developed. The project intends to focus in particular on how OER affects teacher trainers and decision makers. The objectives of the project are: To increase the level of national collaboration between universities and educational organisations in the use and production of OER, To find effective online methods to support teachers and students, in terms of quality, technology and retrievability of OER, To raise awareness for the potential of webinars as a tool for open online learning, To increase the level of collaboration between universities' support functions and foster national resource sharing, with a base in modern library and educational technology units, and To contribute to the creation of a national university structure for tagging, distribution and storage of OER.
Founded in 2007, the CK-12 Foundation is a California-based non-profit organization whose stated mission is to reduce the cost of, and increase access to, K-12 education in the United States and worldwide. CK-12 provides free and fully customizable K-12 open educational resources aligned to state curriculum standards and tailored to meet student and teacher needs. The foundation's tools are used by 38,000 schools in the US, and additional international schools.
LATIn Project brings a Collaborative Open Textbook Initiative for Higher Education tailored specifically for Latin America. This initiative encourages and supports local professors and authors to contribute with individual sections or chapters that could be assembled into customized books by the whole community. The created books are freely available to the students in an electronic format or could be legally printed at low cost because there is no license or fees to be paid for their distribution, since all they are released as OER with a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license. This solution also contributes to the creation of customized textbooks where each professor could select the sections appropriate for their courses or could freely adapt existing sections to their needs. Also, the local professors will be the sink and source of the knowledge, contextualized to the Latin American Higher Education system.
In March 2015, Eliademy.com launched the crowdsourcing of OER courses under CC licence. The platform expects to collect 5000 courses during the first year that can be reused by teachers wordwide. 
- Europe – Learning Resource Exchange for schools (LRE) is a service launched by European Schoolnet in 2004 enabling educators to find multilingual open educational resources from many different countries and providers. Currently, more than 200,000 learning resources are searchable in one portal based on language, subject, resource type and age range.
- India – National Council Of Educational Research and Training digitized all its textbooks from 1st standard to 12th standard. The textbooks are available online for free. Central Institute of Educational Technology, a constituent Unit of NCERT, digitized more than thousand audio and video programmes. All the educational AV material developed by CIET is presently available at Sakshat Portal an initiative of Ministry of Human Resources and Development. In addition, NROER (National Repository for Open Educational Resources) houses variety of e-content.
- US – Washington State's Open Course Library Project is a collection of expertly developed educational materials – including textbooks, syllabi, course activities, readings, and assessments – for 81 high-enrolling college courses. All course have now been released and are providing faculty with a high-quality option that will cost students no more than $30 per course.
- Bangladesh is the first country to digitize a complete set of textbooks for grades 1-12. Distribution is free to all.
- Uruguay sought up to 1,000 digital learning resources in a Request For Proposals (RFP) in June 2011.
- South Korea has announced a plan to digitize all of its textbooks and to provide all students with computers and digitized textbooks.
- The California Learning Resources Network Free Digital Textbook Initiative at high school level, initiated by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- The Shuttleworth Foundation's Free high school science texts for South Africa
- Saudi Arabia had a comprehensive project in 2008 to digitize and improve the Math and Science text books in all k-12 grades.
- Saudi Arabia started a project in 2011 to digitize all text books other than Math and Science.
OER global logo adopted by UNESCO
With the advent of growing international awareness and implementation of open educational resources, a global OER logo (shown right) was adopted for use in multiple languages by UNESCO. The design of the Global OER logo creates a common global visual idea, representing "subtle and explicit representations of the subjects and goals of OER". Its full explanation and recommendation of use is available from UNESCO.
Critical discourse about OER as a movement
The OER movement has been accused of insularity and failure to connect globally: "OERs will not be able to help countries reach their educational goals unless awareness of their power and potential can rapidly be expanded beyond the communities of interest that they have already attracted."
More fundamentally, doubts were cast on the altruistic motives typically claimed by OERs. The project itself was accused of imperialism because the economic, political, and cultural preferences of highly developed countries determine the creation and dissemination of knowledge that can be used by less-developed countries and may be a self-serving imposition.
Within the open educational resources movement, the concept of OER is essentially contested and active. Consider, for example, the conceptions of gratis versus libre knowledge as found in the discourse about massive open online courses, which may offer free courses but charge for end-of-course awards or course verification certificates from commercial entities. A second example of essentially contested ideas in OER can be found in the usage of different OER logos which can be interpreted as indicating more or less allegiance to the notion of OER as a global movement.
Stephen Downes has argued that, from a connectivist perspective, the production of OER is ironic because "in the final analysis, we cannot produce knowledge for people. Period. The people who are benefiting from these open education resource initiatives are the people who are producing these resources."
- Creative Commons
- Distance education
- Educational research
- Educational technology
- Free education
- Free High School Science Texts
- Free and open-source software
- George Siemens
- IMS Global
- Internet Archive
- Khan Academy
- Libre knowledge
- Massive open online courses (MOOCs)
- MIT OpenCourseWare
- Open access
- Open content
- Open Course Library
- Open Library
- Open source curriculum
- OpenStax College
- PhET Interactive Simulations
- Project Gutenberg
- Question and Test Interoperability specification
- Stephen Downes
- Virginia Open Education Foundation
- Writing Commons
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