Creating open educational resources
Creating open educational resources

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Creating open educational resources

1 What is open learning and why OERs?

Names quickly become loaded: distance learning, supported self-study, computer-based training/computer-aided instruction, home study and flexistudy, to name but a few, have all been used to describe self-instruction or self-study and many of these terms are thought wanting. The UK Open University is sometimes described as a ‘distance learning institution’, yet the support that students receive from their tutor through telephone, email and face-to-face tutorials, and through correspondence tuition by commenting extensively on assignments is often greater than a student receives at a ‘conventional’ bricks-and-mortar university. The Open University prefers to use the term ‘supported open learning’, and you can find out more about its approach at the OU’s study pages [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Furthermore, the use of the word ‘instruction’, rather than ‘study’ or ‘learning’, implies training over education and a narrower focus.

Similarly, ‘open educational resources’ (OERs) as a term is often used interchangeably with – but can be distinguished from – ‘open content’ and OpenCourseWare.

Briefly, according to the OpenCourseWare Consortium, a collaboration of more than 100 higher education institutions:

An OpenCourseWare is a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organised as courses.

In 2001, MIT was the first university to work on putting many of the teacher-defined support materials from its undergraduate and graduate courses online, in MIT OpenCourseWare.

The term ‘open educational resources’ was coined by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2002 (Caswell et al., 2008) and it embraces OpenCourseWare but would also include any educational materials, technologies and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licences to remix, improve and redistribute. OpenLearn is an example of a collection of OERs. The term ‘open content’ was first used by David Wiley, an academic now working at Utah State University and a key figure in OERs (read his open content blog Iterating Toward Openness), and the term tends to refer to all types of materials (music, video, text and so on) that are available for use under an open, ‘some rights reserved’ copyright licence that enables people to use, adapt and share the materials. So open content may not necessarily have an educational purpose. There are a number of different types of open licence and so the content may be ‘open’ but not necessarily free to use as one would like. A good review of open licences can be found on the Commonwealth of Learning website – see ‘Open licenses’ – and this is discussed in more detail later.

Rather than spend more time looking at differences in terminology, we will now look at some examples of OERs to investigate their purpose and structure. Specifically, we will consider some different examples from this OpenLearn site. Even though a course is not a whole course, these OERs use different elements such as text, pictures and audio-visual elements that are together known as ‘assets’.

Activity 1

3 hours 0 minutes

Have a detailed look at the following OpenLearn courses.

For each one, consider and write brief notes about:

  • the intended learning outcomes
  • the activities that learners are asked to do
  • the range of media that are employed
  • the teaching sequence.


As you look through these courses you will have seen a range of activities that learners are asked to engage with. Some, such as Play, learning and the brain, use Flash to animate diagrams and to set up quizzes. Maths everywhere uses video to exemplify mathematics being used in an everyday setting and has audio clips too to talk the learner through some pictures of ‘mathematical musings’.

It is clear that assumptions have been made about the intended learner. For example, Play, learning and the brain was written for a teacher or helper working in something like a nursery or similar education setting, so it has a professional focus. Maths everywhere is from an introductory course for those adults who may feel have felt in the past that mathematics is not for them.

Activity 2

Has your institution been involved in any OER projects? What lessons can you draw on from other projects to inform colleagues and further promote your use of OER? How might you collaborate with other institutions to create and use OER?

You can complete this activity in a downloadable reflection tool, which also includes reflective questions for other topics in this course.

Section 1 resources

‘What does “open” mean in OER?’:

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What does ‘open’ mean in Open Education Resources? Or what do you think it means? So who’s for saying it’s just enough that it’s openly accessible online? That's good enough to be open. No? Why not? Why is that not good enough?
I don’t think that’s what Open Education Resources are about. I link Open Education Resources more to the open source movement and such, because that’s partly my background. And I think that a lot of things are openly available online, in that you can go and view them.
But you might not be able to use it in your education, in your teaching, because you actually only want a part of what is available, and you can’t take that part because it’s wrapped up in a way that you can’t access it. And that is the significant difference to me for OER, is that I could take the middle chunk of a package and just pull that out to use it with my students. And I don’t have to take the whole thing.
Okay. Anybody want to disagree with that?
I wouldn’t disagree, as I think it’s really frustrating when you come across a resource that you can’t actually just take the pieces. But I’d still say that I think some of the ideas in this sort of – we’re talking about a resource that Ursula found – and it’s the idea of it, and the presentation of it that you can take away as well.
And so that might mean that you have to put some work in to create something based on it, but you’re still openly using that resource, I think. Technically, I think it should be something you have openly available. You can reuse, re-create. But then, yeah, I think there’s sort of all sorts of ideas about you put a piece of work up, and it might be in a PDF format, but you can still use the wording or the ideas, or the check sheet, and re-create something in your own resource.
Is that just not using an idea, then? If I have a conversation with you ...
But I’ve still got it out openly.
It seems that, you’ve got to be openly licensed. Just being up there in full copyright is no good. You could use it as is. You want it to be openly licensed because, as you’ll learn about later, as I’m sure didn’t know, open licensing is prior permission for you to use, reuse, adapt that material. Should it be in open formats? Should it be in Open Office? Should you just use Open Office? Open document format?
I think it’s gotta to whatever’s easiest for people to use. To try to make it as inclusive as possible. So even like we said before, as much as you may hate Microsoft, you’ve still got to acknowledge that most people are using that. So I think it needs to be available in all formats. As widely as possible.
You’ve got to mention accessibility. So you’ve got an extra layer there, haven’t you? You’re putting things up on the web. You have a legal responsibility to make it as accessible as possible to people with a range of disabilities.
So, inevitably, you should already be putting things up in PDF for people who’ve got a visual impairment, or Word for people who’ve got [INAUDIBLE]. You should already be exploring those alternatives.
Accessibility. Doesn’t that answer your question, then? Because you’re saying about Word. That’s not an open format. You can’t have it. I mean, you can save it as an open ...
ODT. You can say it is, but people don’t. They save it as doc. So in a sense, I presume accessibility to me is read doc files. I presume it can read ODT files as well, but, you know.
So you don’t need to use open source software, then, to create it?
I don’t think so, no. But you can.
But if you haven’t used open source software, and it’s safe in a proprietary format, that excludes a lot of people from being able to use it to mix and match, and create other objects from it.
I think it depends what you mean by ‘proprietary’. Word is proprietary, but everybody uses it. The fact that it’s proprietary isn’t the problem. It’s the availability of the software that would be the problem.
I think it’s trying to include as many people as possible. To make it as inclusive as you can. That’s my opinion.
With open source software, it can be quite limiting to some extent. Like I was accessing one a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a tool that someone was trying to do a presentation on. It was open source, and there was a chat functionality. And it was all on the left-hand side, there was all the information about, you know, links to documentation, and basically all open educational resources.
And yet most of the time, everyone was complaining about how it wasn’t actually useful at all, because they might have just had it as a static web page instead of something that wasn’t as interactive as they thought.
So I think really it’s not just a case of being openly accessible, even through an open source software. I think it was that you need to consider if it’s going to be viable for everyone to use, even though most are computer illiterate. I think that is definitely a factor. It’s not just a case of obviously using Word or open source.
So, there are lots of different factors involved here.
I think that I would use it. I would definitely use it if it could fit to my target audience. It’s something like you said about implicitness. For example, I’m in favour of using Xerte. Xerte has the layer of accessibility. You can go and put extra HTML and modify it if you want to. You can create a different template if you want to.
It has many functions. I mean, you can enlarge the screen. You can change the colours, you can change the fonts. It’s up to the user to adapt it to the circumstances, individual circumstances.
So if it does fit, I’m in favour of using it. Like Moodle, for example. The majority of institutions are moving towards Moodle. So we are trying to find ways of making Moodle more user friendly, or to adapt it somehow. [INAUDIBLE]. I think it’s very important.
Do you think the issue of community is more important than resources, though? Because, from my point of view, it’s like I want as many people as possible to be coming to that place to share their knowledge. And to contribute, to build up a sort of shared resources, shared knowledges. And to sort of build that knowledge community together.
Yes. It’s very important. I’ll come back to that. And while we were starting out, I was just thinking about what it is about Open Education Resource, and what’s there. Here’s some meanings of open, one of the four questions there. Because there are different types of openness, and they affect different aspects of the resource and how people use. There’s the availability, as we talked about.
There’s accessibility. This is affordability. Do you have to buy proprietary software? Do you have to be able to get it? Do you have to be able to pay high charges to access the internet? To actually access it, as is the case in many parts of the world. And is that resource actually acceptable? Is it acceptable in the form it’s in? Is it acceptable for the use? Is there other things about it?
One thing, there is many different aspects of this, and often you hear people talk about Open Education Resource is about being free resources for free, and it’s just with open source software this is starting to blur the distinctions of something being free, free to access, although it might not be totally free to access, because you’ve got to get onto the internet to do it. There are charges there.
As opposed to the freedoms. What’s important about open licensing is with open source software or with education resources is the freedoms that it gives you as a user to do that. And so, with all these dimensions, and you’ll find some people who think all these are important in terms of Open Education Resources should be free cultural works, and you should be using open and free throughout.
But of course, in terms of the pragmatics, it can be, as we discussed, that open access to something online to use as is may be sufficient for the situation in which you’re using it. Either you as a teacher or, perhaps more importantly, as you as a learner or a student. Does it matter to you as a student that it, oh I can change this, but why do I want to change it? I just want to learn from this.
And so there’s different elements about openness, and you have to think about them in terms of who it is that’s involved. We’ve already seen one definition of OER. There’s a lot of definitions go around here, because there is a lot of this, not fuzziness, but there’s different issues and complexity built into that.
But I like this one, which Stephen Downes, a quite renowned person in e-learning circles, did – ‘Open educational resources are materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified, and shared by anyone’. It still doesn’t overcome this ...
There are still other issues behind that, but it is a quite simple definition to show that these are resources which are to be freely accessed, reused, modified, and shared. They’re free, and that freely is about the freedoms, not about that it’s at no cost. Because there is always some cost involved.
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‘Implications of OER for mediating teaching and learning opportunities – what are you trying to present?’:

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As Jonathan’s already said, there are many implications for Open Education Resources in sort of mediating these teaching and learning opportunities. One is granularity with the size. Well, at The Open University, we use the term big OER and little OER. And to some degree he was talking about big OER being institutional projects, and little OER things that an individual might be doing.
But the same applies to, is it a whole course? That’s a hundred hours’ worth of study. That’s like a textbook. Wow, that’s big. How do I take and modify? It could be good for a learner to take it like that, but as a teacher, you might say, well how do I pull apart and use something that big? As opposed to going right down to yes, I’m using the animations.
I’ll just create the animation. Oh, I don’t have to do that. That’s very neat. I can just take that two-minute animation, I can take that, drop that into my presentation, to my education resource. It’s that great difference between there. And of course, in terms of thinking about educational resources in the roundabout educational practices in general, and for any things ...
Well, I like to think about it in terms of judging that appropriate mix between pedagogic support, which is built into the content. You might provide the scaffolding, the structure, within the content to help a learner be a self learner and work with it, and not require too much input from you as a teacher, or a supporter, or whatever. There’s also thinking about what’s the personal support.
What is that learner bringing to the equation? The peer support – are they doing it on their own? Will they have that peer interaction so they can also talk to fellow learners at the same time? And of course the professional support. It’s what we do. We provide the professional support. And of course with an Open Education Resource on a website, out there, you’re only got the first one.
Think about it from the learner’s point of view. What assumptions do you make about what learners can cope with? Do you change what you put out there because you think, oh, there’s going to be lots of people looking at this who haven’t got A-levels. But it could be anybody looking at it.
Does it need something up front to help explain it, or do you just put it out there as it would be, as you’d use it in the classroom? Does it make a difference? That’s something I never really thought about, but that’s an issue. What are you trying to present if you’re putting Open Education Resources out there? Are you mainly aiming it at the education or the teacher audience?
And are you also thinking, this is out there to a student, a learner audience? So what things do you have to put in to that? Those types of things about personal support and peer support. I mean, on Open Learn, they use Moodle as the platform, meaning we could have forums, every free course, a little sample from every module out there. There’s plenty have forums around it.
We’ve enabled, made it possible for people to communicate with each other. It’s another issue as to whether they did much or not, but in other words do you also put that within what you do, or do you just say, oh, we just stick our resources into Jorum, that’s just the repository. It’s just a warehouse for stuff. We just put it in there and have people access it.
Because it’s in Jorum it’s mostly going to be teaches getting it, or are we going to have a nice, glossy institutional repository, which is a public face of our institution? In which case, we’re to do. So it’s something when you start thinking about it, it’s not quite so simple as necessarily you can just take what you do in the classroom and put it out there.
Or you can take something you’re doing, and try to adapt it or modify it and create it, but you’ve also got to think beyond is this something just you’re doing in a little corner for your own students? Is it a departmental, is it a faculty issue? Is it a whole institution issue? We all talked about that to a certain extent.
And of course behind all that is all these social computing technologies, these Facebooks and things. What do we do about that? It’s an issue of in general a face for our students as we do more and more e-learning. We move more away from just purely face to face to more blended, more e-learning. What do we do and not do? How do we take account of that? And there are all those different aspects.
But behind it all, we have to remember, is it about greater sharing of practice amongst teachers and learners? In principle, we can be moving from individual to collective practices. Remember, and when you’ve got stuff out there, it’s not just about your students. It’s about students at other universities.
It might be about school students. At MIT, in OpenCourseWare, they found in all their surveys that not only do their own students look at MIT OpenCourseWare to decide which classes they’re going to study and to review, and go back over things of classes they had been to. They’ve also found that lots of students at other universities do the same.
Oh, you know, I’ve got this class on quantum mechanics. Oh, we’re just going to see what the MIT stuff on quantum mechanics is like. They’re starting to make those comparisons. Or they’re saying, I didn’t really understand what he was saying in that class. I’m going to go and look at somebody else’s stuff, see if I can understand it better.
There’s all sort of issues to do with teaching style, as well. I mean, I was at a committee meeting the other week, and the students were saying that they were looking at somebody’s lecture materials from a third-year undergraduate degree to understand what they were doing at the postgraduate level, because their lecturer wasn’t so good at the postgraduate level.
Or they perceived it. And saying that some of the material was saying conflicting things, and they got confused in that. And that’s just within one institution of both degrees were at the same place.
Of course. That is one of the issues. This is one of the consequences of being open, and having much more material out there, is that some of those clashes might not have been as apparent before. They were always there. They were always there in the sense you’ll get one lecturer say X in this class, and somebody will say Y about the same subject.
Interestingly, that was happening at MIT. Now I know from talking to people at MIT that what they found was, as they got more and more of their courses online, is that some of the professors were starting to look at what the other professors were teaching, and they were suddenly realising, god, I see you’re teaching about this sort of mathematics, you’re teaching it that way, and I’m teaching it this way.
No wonder they get confused about it. Because we’re going about it in totally different ways. Both valid ways, but it’s just that they weren’t recognising those students were having to cope with having this varying stuff. So they can then start talking together, and start saying can we have better articulation?
But even if there are these different ways of approaching it, you make this explicit rather than just leaving students floundering, and saying, oh, god, he said that and he said that. Who’s right?
But equally, what I’m saying is where stuff is out there, and there is more and more stuff out there, you’ll find your students will increasingly be looking to see, oh, can I find anything on the MIT, on the Harvard website, on the Yale, on the Oxford? Can I find something on this? I didn’t understand this, can I find ...
More so than perhaps going to a textbook now, they want to go and say, oh, a renowned professor from University X, surely he’s going to tell me how this subject should be thought about. And so that’s just one of those other things which needs to be taken into account. Keep pressing twice. And just coming back, yes.
Communities. It’s about open communities as much as open content, because it is about sharing. If Open Education Resources is about anything, it is about that sharing culture in many ways between teachers and learners, teachers and teachers, learners and learners.
And sharing between institutions, which I’ll come on to. It’s the whole philosophy behind it is about sharing. Sharing endeavour, sharing effort, sharing the pain in some ways.
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‘OERs are what people make of them’:

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But it still comes back to saying that Open Education Resources are what people make of them. There are different people who want to use Open Education Resources for different purposes. It's not straight forward. And you can never be sure, once you've got it out there open, who might pick it up and use it.
In very interesting, novel ways. All sorts of work-based learning, continuing professional development, in-house training within companies. Because it’s there. Because people value it. Then some of it can be used and incorporated and done in all sorts of different settings. You might not have thought it would happen before it become openly available.
So they can be designed specifically for educational use. But, as Jonathan said, there can be other content use for educational purposes, or it could be just purely used as an information source. A thing that has been said, the Open Learn, the OU, has had over 20 million visitors in the five and a half years it’s been running. So it’s 20 million unique visitors from more than 200 countries and territories.
I don’t know if there is a country or territory around the world which we haven’t had somebody accessing it from. That’s an awful lot of people but, as with any website like this, we have a high bounce rate. People come in, what am I doing here? Go off again, because they’re searching.
Because so many people are saying I want to get some information on – they’ll say, oh, the philosopher Hume. [MAKES TYPING SOUNDS] And up comes the top of the Google rankings, comes something on Open Learn. Just because we happen to have something on Hume. And they go there and look at that, and they say oh, no, that doesn’t help me.
I don’t want that, I wanted something else. So you’re still getting a lot of people coming. It’s also the case, it’s about thinking about it. But if you’ve got your own institutional website, or your own website with resources in it, you’ve also got to be thinking about who might be coming there, how they’re doing it, will anybody notice your actual repository? There are lots of them out there. There are lots of websites out there.
Why are they going to come to yours? That’s another issue. So it’s also, you do have to think about who do you think is a primary audience for the things that you do? Aren’t you doing this mainly inwardly for your own students? In which case, why does it matter if it’s open? Or are you doing this because you think, oh, this could be good for potential students?
Or we’re doing this because it could be because we’re doing work-based learning. We’ve got these industrial partners, and we want them to be able to access this easily, accessing the internet in our own platform is difficult, and difficult to arrange. And it just makes some ways of teaching and learning much easier.
Practice, particularly sort of practice-based areas, professions, the health service. If a nurse can access it immediately on the ward, rather than having to do it through other particular mechanisms, is that better? They can openly get to it by whatever means. Don’t have any specific log-ins or whatever. There are pros and cons with all of that, but you have to think about it.
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‘What OER can do for individuals, teachers, institutions and governments’:

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So in terms of Open Education Resources, there’s three or four main major sort of groups of people we can think about. But obviously there are individuals, the individual learner students. And for them the evidence seems to be that’s coming from the literature and from the research and scholarship that is going on that these are the types of things that individual learners like.
They like to learn new things, or enrich their studies. They do like to share and discuss topics. They often use them to assess what they wish to participate in further formal education. Many are using it to decide which institution they want to study at. It’s becoming part of recruiting, it’s part of that public image, as I said, of the institution.
Happened with MIT. MIT say they’ve seen a change in the types of people who apply to them to study. Since they’ve had OpenCourseWare. They know that the majority of students who do apply have looked at MIT OpenCourseWare before they’ve applied. That happens everywhere. They might want to improve their own work performance. As I say, a lot of people might be saying, oh, this is great.
I just want to learn how to – I need to know about this. They say I’ll go back to that quantum mechanics one. Oh, god, I can’t remember. How do I do this? I need to find out how to do this. Oh, there’s this great little class on MIT OpenCourseWare. I can find out how to do that. It’s a bit more about information, but it’s a bit of that sort of informal professional development, creative development, they want.
They might want to create a revised OER themselves. But one of the issues that does come out with a lot of individual learners, they still often need guidance. Of course, and there’s lots of people, not just in this country but around the world, whose educational attainment is low in terms of being able to use these types of materials. They need a lot of support and activity.
Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s valuable to them. The next big group, you’re in teachers. Individually and collectively, the hope is through that sharing activity and endeavour, through Open Education Resources, we’ll create resources more efficiently and effectively.
And particularly perhaps those rich media resources. Maybe animation. Things which you have the technologies, you could do that. Particularly in this room, in the middle of training, you can create these things. But this is the time and effort involved in learning how to do it and doing it. Somebody else has already produced nice animation, this nice little bit of video, audio there. Isn’t that great?
Somebody else has done it. Or it’s saying instead of one person doing it, why don’t lots of people get together and collectively produce something like that? Shared effort. And they say they’ve all got that to use. I think we already heard about obviously looking at this stuff. It can be just a way of saying oh, I don’t want to use this material, but I want to see how they’ve approached it.
What’s their teaching strategy here? Ah. That’s an interesting way of doing it. So a lot of OER can be useful just to say umm, I never thought about putting it that way, or a type of activity like that, which is embedded in it. But creating resources of course is in collaborations with others. It’s important, I’ve already mentioned that. Joining communities of practice.
Customise and adapt resources by translating or localising them. Don’t underestimate how important it is, or can be, to have material translated into other languages so people can readily access them. And because it’s open licence, now this can be across countries.
And there are aspects, people might say, well, there is an element in the OER movement worldwide about is this a form of neo-colonialism? This is, whoa, these rich western countries producing these nice OER, and can’t all those poor countries who don’t have so many resources and things take these on and use them? Well, in essence they don’t have to. They can do whatever they want.
They’re there. No one’s pushing it on them. But you might even find within a country this could be important. Take South Africa. South Africa has ten national languages. For many South Africans, their first language is not going to be English, not going to be Afrikaans, necessarily.
In which case, if you create one OER in one language, if you could easily just translate and mould it to other languages, it means that everybody can study the same material in their first language, and not have to worry about studying in their third language, second language, third language, fourth, whatever it is.
Make it important. And it’s also important, I think I’ll probably say this later equally, those small, what might be seen as minority languages, of course you don’t find educational publishers producing stuff for them. It will be all in English, it will be in Spanish. These big languages.
So again, OER enables these ideas that it’s an open textbook, that it might be translated into a language that’s relevant to that learner. But you all know this. Remember that technology only supports, not supplants good teaching. And so for institutions, thinking as an educational institution, don’t dismiss that one. Showcase teaching research programmes to wider audiences.
Why not? Again, if you’re having an institutional repository, as I said, it is a window into your institution, just like any website. You have websites, and they are a window upon your institution. You might think it’s a very poor window, a very opaque window, whatever it is. A distorting window at the moment, but when your education resource is out there, it is showing something about your institution.
Just as an open access repository of research publications is showing something of your research. All its openness, it is a different type of take when your institution has already said, hey, I can help widen the pool of applicants with courses and programmes. Because it’s more visible, people can see it. There can be a lot of myths about what it is to study at institution X, and what it might be.
If people are worried about it. They can see something of those materials, and particularly if they are video lectures. They can see something of those, and they think, ah, I understand a bit better what the experience will be like for those who are unfamiliar with our education. For those who have not had anybody in the family go into that. Again, it’s just exposing that a bit.
Lowering the lifetime costs of developing OER. Of course that can be important by sharing these things. That’s one of the things that online learning does force us about, things like UK HE can be more cost effective. But collaborating, collaborating is not just for other universities.
Public commercial organisations, including educational publishers, this opens up new ways of doing knowledge transfer education. Also work-based learning with all sorts of institutions. Also, it can be used to extend various outreach activities, community based activities and things. Again, being open there. The local community, broader community, the alumni. The ex-students and things like that.
There’s all different ways in which OER provides a link between the institution and learners, students, and others. But of course it requires supportive policies and strategies. I’ll just note at this point, The Open University does not have an OER policy. There is a group of people going round about this, insisting that we have a policy.
It has a learning and teaching strategy in which openness and Open Education Resources – it has an operating policy around open media, as we now call it, in terms of what we’re doing. And that’s because we’re largely seeing in terms of mainstream, we don’t have to have something separate over there. This is about our learning and teaching strategy in general.
And just openness is a feature, a part of it. But just to finish off this bit, it’s governments, national agencies. They’re getting involved, they’re getting interested. We saw the Online Learning Task Force set up by the last Labour administration, carried on through the Coalition.
Certainly the Online Learning Task Force saw it as OER was showcasing UK HE, a way of attracting international students. Again, we already do that. Again, it’s that window not only to just the students in the UK, but to further afield. Developing educational resources in minority languages that commercial publishers might not get involved in can be important.
Develop educational resources that reflect local cultures and priorities. Again, that can be things that – we have done that a bit in the OU in terms of doing stuff specifically for Wales, stuff specifically for Scotland. Focusing on the fact that The Open University teaches across all four nations of the United Kingdom. It’s been doing that. We have to sort of reflect some of that as far as possible.
It’s very difficult to do that in formal programmes, although we try to do that as well. But we can do a lot more of that in this Open Education Resources aspect, and something that Ronald is working on, as you heard earlier. Cooperating international and common resources to meet common needs. I’ll come back to that with some examples.
But again, these need seed funding and supportive policies. There’s no good just government saying this is a good thing. They do need to seed it. Here in the UK, of course, we’ve had the UK OER programme, the – what has it come to? – about [GBP]12 million that’s been invested in various projects and the funding that The Open University’s had from the Higher Education Funding Council for England as well.
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‘When might it be better to collaborate or compete in HE learning?’:

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When might it be better to collaborate? Or when might it be necessary to compete in higher education around teaching and learning? ... hear what you have to say now. When is it better to collaborate? When is it better to compete?


Does none of it matter then? We just do it?
I think we talked about collaboration and [INAUDIBLE]. We spoke about collaboration and some of the challenges and benefits. And altruism, what does altruism mean, actually, and so on. But we never got to the competition bit.
Has anybody else got to the competition bit? Yes? Go ahead.
I think we didn’t really. We touched on competition, because it was kind of a why would you want to compete? I think that was the question. I can understand from an institutional perspective – get as many students as possible. But that’s not the teaching and learning thing. That’s the institutional marketing thing.
I’m not sure we ever should – should, would, do? – compete in terms of teaching and learning, unless you’re talking about raising our game. This is an opportunity to see how other people operate, and it spurs us on to do better. So in a sense, we kind of said collaborate and compete is irrelevant.
Are you competing, then? If your university can show that the materials that you’re producing is as good as MIT, for example, but that’s competing, though, isn’t it?
No, that’s ...
You’re putting yourself into the same spaces, then.
Showcasing what you do is not the same as competing. Is it?
I think it is. Well, I think it is. But see, if I was a student and I was looking, I did a search on a particular course. And I found yours, I found MIT, maybe. And then yours was underneath it. And it’s like MSA, oh, this is in America. Oh, what’s that one? So you’ve obviously put yourself into the same place as somehow you’re competing with them. Just by being next to them.
Yes, but if you see it like that then, in effect, nobody would contribute anything, because then, okay, if I can’t – sorry. If I’m not as good as MIT or Oxford, then I’m not going to bother. If you take that, you put stuff in, and if people, especially where the collaboration comes in, you can see what other people are doing. You think, well actually, maybe mine could be better. So you make it better.
I don’t see that you start off from the point of view of saying I’m going to be as good as Oxford, MIT, Rice, whatever. I think if I go in with that attitude, I’m never going to do it. So in a sense, I wouldn’t compete. It’s learning from rather than competing.
Something that came up when we were talking about collaboration was that what if the people, I had an example where one of the people we’re potentially collaborating with is concerned that we might actually collaborate with their competitor.
So there’s some interesting sort of dynamics that go on in terms of collaboration as well. Who you collaborate with, and at what scale you choose to collaborate.
Collaboration and competing might be right next to each other. If it’s right nowadays to take something that’s been produced by a high quality institution and vary it by adding in your good ideas to make it even better. And if people do that successively, it’s a bit – I’m trying to think of another analogy for that. There’s something we often do with it. Take the best possible model that we’ve seen, and then just make it that little bit better. Pass it back in, and somebody else also improves it. Unfortunately, I can’t think of what the model is.
Standing on the shoulders of giants.
There you go. Exactly. So collaboration and competing are right next to each other. To and fro.
This is why I find it very strange. Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but I can’t understand why Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation are backing things like open systems like this. It just seems sort of counter ...
Sorry. You keep waving the mike around.
Oh, sorry, yeah. Yeah, it just seems the opposite of the sort of normal model of things.
What would you think their normal model is?
Well I always thought Microsoft was always the opposite of openness, really. And Hewlett Packard was sort of the same sort of thing. [INAUDIBLE].
The foundations – whoever sets up – are separate from whoever it is that set them up. They have deeds of trust. So, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is set up by William Hewlett of Hewlett Packard. There’s actually a separate Hewlett Packard Foundation, just as there’s companies named Packard, there is also [? facts ?], just like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is totally separate from Microsoft.
It’s his own money set up, and in their trust deeds, which all sort of charities or foundations like that would have to have, they have their purposes. For them, their purpose is what you might call social enterprise. They do funding in education and environment, and one or two others. And they have a particular focus on the eastern part of the US.
Mainly the US, and they only do a little bit outside of the US, as it happens. What tends to happen is that as a foundation they will come in and want to think, what’s the sort of new area which we can do? We can add monies to? Perhaps which governments wouldn’t do, which other people wouldn’t do, that we can do as a philanthropic organisation.
And that would be very much driven by the people, by what sort of strategy the board sets out, but then the individual officers they’d employ. So it would be a bit like with Open Source software, the Andrew W Mellon Foundation did a lot in that. You probably didn’t know that. They funded a lot of things in the early days around that. They just saw it as social enterprise.
We’re saying we’re not expecting to get a commercial return out of it. As a foundation, we invest in the hope that there will be some greater benefits and things that come out of this. And so they just saw this as being part of it. So they’re trying to do – fund things which there might not be funding for in any other way.
This is the way other sorts of charities and things like ... Anyway, that’s a slight sort of digression. Things just carry on. And obviously collaboration and competition is one of those things, it’s two sides of the same coin. It’s difficult to separate them out very clearly. One thing which is clear, I think, as Jonathan said in terms of academia and higher education in general, it’s built on a philosophy of sharing. Sharing ideas, sharing knowledge. Unlocking knowledge, sharing knowledge. That’s what the MIT strap line was for their MIT OpenCourseWare. Because that’s part of it. It is a collective endeavour. So a lot of it is collective, and the higher education system actually works on that collective endeavour, by and large. And particularly the external examiner system. You give of your time. And there’s all those types of things. The whole education publishing system works like that.
Most people give of their time, free to run that. And there’s a lot of people questioning that. The open access publishing models, and all sorts of things like that. But it is the case, the basic premise of higher education is that collaboration. But of course both done as an individual, academic level, for departmental to a subject, to an institutional, there are elements of competition that come in there.
You’re competing with the person next door for that research grant. You’re competing with that person to get promotion. You’re competing with those people, that other institution, to get more people into your institution. Or more widening participation of students, or whatever it is. There’s always that element which there is aspects of competition. But it’s also built upon. So it’s difficult.
There is no set answer. You have to look at every circumstance on its own, and work out if you’re collaborating. Obviously all the people are collaborating, it’s for them to try and work out what is it we’re getting out of this in a collaboration. What are the downsides?
Are we putting anybody else out doing this? But that happens throughout. That happens throughout the area. It’s just part and parcel of what we do. It’s just that there’s competition in all sorts of different forms, and there’s collaboration in all sorts of forms.
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‘OER business models, and their sustainability and viability’:

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So I’m just going to finish up with my ideas of views about business models and sustainability. How do you sustain things? How do you make them viable? Now, the general model which The Open University has taken is to mainstream [INAUDIBLE] within existing business model, practices and processes. What I mean is, I said earlier that we don’t have an OER policy.
We have a learning and teaching strategy in which openness and open media are talked about. But it’s talked about in terms of how does that help assist, support, a learning teaching strategy, whether it be for formally registered students. Whether it’s for informal learners using open media. Whether it’s for outreach, whatever it is.
So it’s more about saying how does Open Education Resources support those activities? How does it support collaborative work with industry? Work-based learning. So it’s not just about OER themselves, it’s about how does the openness of Open Education Resources support the activities we’re doing? You looked at the Open Learning Research report, there’s quite a lot about this.
A good example around this is that in the first two years we set up the Open Learning Repository to be out there for learners. Without any formal policy or practice around it, our online advisory staff, also telephone advisory staff, when students or others ring in saying, can you help with this? Because the way we had to operate things with students of a distance all over the place.
Many of those advisers, off their own bat, were using and referring students, potential students, to Open Learn as part of the advisory service they were offering. So we found out they’re doing this and doing that, and we talked to the Student Services Division. They said, oh, yeah. This is great, we need to embed this. This is important. It’s not all those variety of services.
It’s just they’re realising, ah, this repository, this offers a scope for us to help advise students around what’s your mathematical ability? Well go and look at this material on mathematics, basic mathematics. Can you work through this? People who for English is not their first language. Will I cope? Is my English good enough? Go and look at this material. Work through it. Can you understand it?
Can you post to some of the forums in Open Learn? Can you get other people, too? You see, you know, foreign postings in there from people who are saying, how good is my English? I’ve written something, how good is it? And other people saying, yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s not bad. So it’s about some of those confidence building. The ways in which another example that we found is we’ve had little projects involved in this.
Is that one of certainly secondary school teachers, particularly of a sort of sixth form level using Open Learn as a supplement to what they’re teaching in their A-level programmes. Or as part of a guide to saying, for getting some of their students to think about going to university. Not necessarily going to Open University. Just think about you’re concerned about going on to higher education. Look at this material.
Do you think you can cope doing this? This is the toughest type of material you’re going to be finding when you get there. If you can work through this, you can understand this, you’re okay. So again, it’s that way in which once it’s out there, and it’s open, different people can use it for many different purposes. In ways which it wasn’t necessarily set out designed like that.
There are obviously things you can do if that’s what you want to do, to purpose it for those reasons. So, the best way to make OER stick is to make sure that OER is useful and seen as valued to as many parts of the institution’s work as possible. Whether it’s teaching and learning, or it’s research, or whether it’s outreach. Recruitment, whatever it is. Recruitments can be important.
We already talked about it being there as a shop window for recruitment. And typically the second bullet point there, a typical model for online resources, or doing things like that, particularly online academic resources, is what’s called the Freemium model. Freemium model is not new. It’s actually the late 19th century when – I can’t remember if it was Mr Gillette or whether it was one of the others – first came out with the safety razor. And they give away the blades for free. Then people would – I can’t remember which way around it is. But anyway, you can either give away the blades or the holders. Giving millions of them away to people for free. And of course then people say oh, I like this, I’ve tried this, and they have to buy more blades.
Come to think of it, I think it’s probably one free one with one blade in it. Try this, oh, it’s great. Of course then people want to come pay for something. So you provide something for free, which entices people to buy something else. So it’s not new. It’s used throughout. And Open Education Resources – in particular an institution repository – is a typical Freemium approach. Because oh, here’s something for free.
You can see something about what our teaching materials are like. Oh, you want to find out more? Get on things? Oh, register with us, sign up for the course. That happens.
But you can look at that Freemium model in many different ways, because it could be signing up for a whole course, or you could, as is what is happening with a lot of those outfits and institutions, and FreeTechnologyAcademy, and University of the People, is they might be starting to disaggregate some of those functions. You can get all the content for free, but you want some tuition? Ah, you pay for that.
You want somebody as a personal tutor? Ah, you want to have some accreditation, let’s have some assessment. Oh, here’s this little exam. Oh, but you have to pay for that. So again, it’s people looking at those models to do that. I mean, it’s separate to doing the one which is obviously a lot of online internet companies do, which is having the advertising there.
You could have advertising there, and more people advertising. But generally I don’t think many higher education institutions are going to probably go down that model of having lots of advertising on their site. But it could be as well. Of course you can get donations from supporters to keep you going. You can get grants from funding bodies, but say they’re periodic and they never last forever.
And you can get the free labour of volunteers. That would appear to be a university. If you can get a system going which people just give all of their time free, then of course it can sustain itself. It’s just like any community initiative, just on a bigger scale where everybody gives of their time to do something. But it does need those people who’ve got the time. It means they have to have an income of some sort from elsewhere.
They need to be happy and give their volunteer labour. Because even the biggies still need donations, for sure. You’ve been on Wikipedia about every December. You get an appeal from Jimmy Wales saying can you give us some money?
They need about 25 million dollars to run for the small core of full time staff who are sort of maintaining the system and things like that, but they still need some money. Still need to get it. And so let’s make an appeal every year. Let’s get that sort of money in, just to keep them going.
I mean, otherwise Wikipedia rests upon a volunteer labour of all those people who go in and make all the contributions, whether they’re valued or not. But I mean, it’s that contributor to model. You’ve already seen this before, the Open Education Resources Foundation, it’s sitting behind WikiEducator, now the OER University Foundation is such that you join as a member.
You can be a platinum member by offering 10,000, 25,000 US dollars per year. Sign up, join in, you can be part of the club. What do you get in return? I don’t know, you have to look at the details and see what you get in return for that. But it’s a sort of membership model, a bit like the OpenCourseWare consortium is for MIT. Donate now.
It’s all free, but your contribution helps us share MIT’s course materials around the world. So donate. You can make those calls. So it’s not just big players like Wikipedia, it’s other big players like MIT OpenCourseWare can do this. It’s not enough to fund their whole operation by any means, but they’ve got a lot of alumni donations and things, and it does work, it does bring in some monies.
But it’s working hard to go. And of course if you want to work on this, I’ll just point out that there’s a free course on Open Learn about building relationships with donors. Finding out how to do that. And if that’s not enough, you can actually do the module, full module as well.
Hope it’s still running, I can’t remember. I didn’t check whether it is. But there are these things doing. But it’s recognising that obviously getting that type of funding is hard work.
I guess when you’re kind of looking at this now, with the idea of the collaborate and complete, it brings it very much back to sort of you’re competing for funding.
Yes, you can be competing for funding. Because you can do things like this. It’s one of our school fellows has worked on this – CharityWise. It’s another good example of where you can do things for a sector and extend out HE resources where you might not expect to.
So this is about working with the voluntary sector, and all those trustees, those charities have got to run these things, and know what it is they’ve got to do. Can we provide materials to support the training and development of those trustees? And this sort of CharityWise is just pointing to stuff on Open Learn, which is relevant to that.
So there is an element in which when it is free, it does add to that voluntary economy, that sort of sharing gift economy out there. It’s not just about the market economy, it’s not just about can we get some money in? There are other ways in which we can measure that value. Not just in the monies. And as I say, this is not just about publicly funded institutions as well.
It’s a not for profit private corporation, KaplanUniversity. It’s actually a member of the OpenCourseWare consortium. It’s feeling that there’s opportunities in here. And just like some educational publishers have picked up on it, just like the music industry. If you really want to find out about a lot of the sort of models, you can find the just funded Strategic Content Alliance.
And their blog has these business modelling publications. It’s about the different sort of strategies that different institutions are using to fund it. But when you look at them on the whole, you’ll find there’s still many of them seen as projects or activities which are not necessarily central to the institution’s mission.
My view is that, you know, to make OER viable, you have to work out how does it support the vision and mission of your institution. And so it’s equally important that what you put out as Open Education Resources reflects something of the institution or vision and mission. It’s got to fit in with what you’re doing, because quite quickly institutions have tried to evolve.
And it’s not just Open Education Resources. Some of these start with open access publishing of the research and the like, but it’s all a way in which they’re trying to look at how that openness adds value to that institution. And what it does, and how it does it. So it’s again about retaining and being true to your identity as an institution, and thinking about it.
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