Creating open educational resources
Creating open educational resources

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Creating open educational resources

2 What makes a good OER?

What is an open educational resource?

The term ‘open educational resource’ is one that encompasses a broad range of items. It can describe a single image or an entire short course, and materials can be in any medium or a mixture. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has defined OERs as ‘digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research’.

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What do we mean by OER? Just recently, well there’s one definition. There are many, and they range from really quite narrow to pretty broad. ‘Digitised materials offered freely and openly for educated students and self learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research.’
Not necessarily materials that are originally created with education in mind. They merely have to be potentially relevant to education. And you’re talking about a very wide range of granularity. I mean, this ranges from the whole course, which is what the OpenCourseWare initiative focused on initially.
And the OpenCourseWare consortium, again, initially based on. Down to just items like photos or diagrams, which can be incredibly useful. And that’s quite an interesting task to set yourself to find a Creative Commons licence diagram of something even as commonplace as an eye, a human eye, to see just how easy it is to find that.
And many things in between. Modules, topics, case studies or articles from newsletters, magazines, et cetera. The first one is perhaps fairly obvious, but a good OER is ‘findable’. It’s awfully easy to lose something completely. You know it exists, and still you can’t find it.
So it’s really important to put your resource somewhere where people are going to find it. The best place is usually, if you’re lucky enough to be part of a community that has a repository that is specific to them, take for example LORO for language teachers, or Medev run a resource for medical teachers, and so on.
That’s often the best place, but don’t forget you can put resources in multiple places. They don’t have to be in just one place. A good OER is ‘clearly described’. This is also often overlooked. You go to somewhere like, I don’t know, Jorum, which is one of the repositories, and you find a sort of supposed description of the object, the resource.
But it tells you so little. It doesn’t give you nearly enough information to be able to tell without examining the resource itself in some detail, whether it’s going to meet your need or not. So this is a sort of rather neglected area, where we are. The description of it. The whole question of metadata and sort of formal descriptions has come and gone.
But generally it’s a lost cause, really, to have proper metadata to describe learning resources. But, nevertheless, you need something. ‘Clearly licensed’ – you’d be surprised how many OERs are implicitly licensed for use and reuse by others, rather than explicitly. It would appear to be the case, but you search in vain for anything that actually clearly indicates what licence is being applied to this.
And any sort of exceptions that might apply. So that’s a sign of a good resource. Clearly licensed and visibly licensed. ‘From a source you trust’ – it really does make quite a difference, knowing where something comes from. It doesn’t mean to say an OER from someone you’ve never heard of and a university you’ve never heard of couldn’t be a good resource.
It depends (a) on where you found it, as well. If you found it in a place where, generally speaking, you trust what’s put there as being good, worthwhile quality, then that’s probably a reasonable thing. But often the institution it comes from, the reputation of the individual, et cetera, these are good guides.
‘Easy to modify’ – it’s no good just saying something is licensed as share alike, i.e. something that you are entitled to modify. If you’re sharing it as a PDF, and you’ll be amazed how many OERs are published as PDFs. And that’s absolutely fine if all you want to do is use it exactly as is.
But if you want to use it as part of something else, and modify it and adapt it, that’s useless. So it needs to be easy to modify both technically and organisationally. You know, the way it’s structured needs to be such that it can easily be disassembled and reassembled.
‘Free-standing – does not assume knowledge of other resources’ – I mean, this is quite a problem for us, to mention that we now as a matter of routine aim to put 10 per cent of all OU modules out as open educational resources. But it’s quite a lot of work making sure that that 10 per cent doesn’t make all sorts of assumptions about bits that haven’t been included. So it needs to be free-standing.
A good OER is ‘free of copyright content’. You’d have thought all OERs would be free of copyright content, but they’re not. And the OU is certainly, the OU policy has been to include copyright content where we can get it licensed. So you may well have something that isn’t OER, but has been licensed for use in a particular context within an OER.
But then when you reuse it, you would not be covered to use that copyright material, which is a bit of a pain if you’re in that position. So I would say a good OER is free of that. And another sign of a good OER is it’s being used or recommended by people like you.
You know, the recommendation makes a big help. And my last point, a good OER is ‘imperfect’. Now that’s a funny thing to say, but what I mean is you don’t need perfection in OER. The judge of its worth is whether it meets your need.
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What’s so special about OER?

It is a simple idea – that you license content in a manner that explicitly encourages use and adaptation – but it has proved a very powerful one. Watch the following video for an elaboration of what’s so special about OER.

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Just a little bit, you know – what is it we’re talking about? You know, OERs are a slightly nebulous concept. And why are they so important? You know, what’s ...? Because on the face of it, it doesn’t sound like that big a deal. Okay, something has a slightly different licence from what you’d normally have on a piece of content. So what? Well, this is a so what. What are we talking about? Well, obviously, we’re talking about content of some sort or another.
And I come back to what that content might be in a minute. But you increasingly hear the phrase ‘open, educational practice’, or ‘practices’ as well. And this is, if you like, what follows from making the content free to use and reuse and adapt. And this is where you start to use the content to reach to people who otherwise wouldn’t be your students, you know – new categories of learner.
It’s where you explore different ways of delivering your curriculum. I did a bit of research a while back on how students use technology, both to support their learning and in their non-student lives. And what the, sort of, discontinuities between the two were. One of the things that emerged from that was the extent to which students almost totally ignore the huge amount of work that their library had done to pull together resources just for them – creating collections in this sort of nicely walled garden for them – they bypassed entirely.
They use Google, they use Wikipedia. And if they didn’t find it in Google, they missed it – even though some things just for them had been created. So it’s, in a sense, the sort of practices around education are changing. And we’ll be hearing a bit more about some of those. OERs are an amazing tool for collaboration. You’ll be hearing about some of the projects which have OER at the heart.
I don’t know how many of you have been involved in sort of multi-partner projects. I can recall one that I was involved in quite recently. It was a two-year project. And we got the partnership agreement between the five institutions involved agreed in month 23 of the 24-month project. That’s how long it took us to sort everything out.
If you say everything we produce will be published with a Creative Commons licence, you don’t need a partnership agreement. All of that’s gone. And, not only do you have a vastly simplified way of collaborating between members of the consortium, but you also have a tremendously strong selling point to the funder. Namely, that everything you do for the purposes of your consortium members is equally available to help anybody else in a similar situation.
It’s proved to be a strong support tool for communities. I was speaking to a regional grouping of staff developers recently, and they hadn’t been using OER. But they immediately saw how helpful it would be to support them in their collaborative, mutual support activities which were already under way – but as a way to build on that and take it further. You’ll hear from Andy the role we all can play in marketing and bringing in new students.
There are some really interesting new models being built on the back of OER. We mentioned one of them last night which was the OERUniversity. And that’s one. There’s another one called BADGES, which is a new approach to recognition of learning that hasn’t been acquired in the conventional university setting, but has been acquired through use of OER. I also think that you shouldn’t overlook altruism and connecting with people’s strong beliefs.
None of us got into higher education to help strengthen the bottom line of our institutions, important though that might be. We came into it for other reasons. And, in many cases, it’s really caring about the capability of education to change people’s lives, to have an effect on people, to build civic society, et cetera – these reasons. And OER is a tremendous vehicle for people who care about education this way, to actually do more of what they care about.
And, I think, as we move from higher education as something that’s perceived as being a common good to something that is a private gain, for those that graduate – and it’s happening astonishingly rapidly in this country – this move from a, probably, state-funded system, where the assumption is that it is society that benefits from having a well-educated population to one where things are much more individualistic, in terms of how it’s viewed, with students as consumers, et cetera ...
Well, OER is almost a safety valve for that. There’s a level of frustration within universities, with the sort of changes and what they’re bringing – it’s quite palpable. And you can see OER as a sort of – a way to, if you like, subvert the system. And do what really needs to be done anyway. I leave that up to you. And there are many more reasons for it.
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Characteristics of a good OER

A good OER is:

  • findable – it can be in multiple locations
  • clearly described
  • clearly licensed (normally through Creative Commons)
  • from a source you trust
  • easy to modify
  • free-standing – it does not assume knowledge of other resources
  • free of copyright content
  • being used by/recommended by people like you
  • imperfect – it just needs to work for you.

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