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. It is the leading trend in distance education/open and distance learning domain as a consequence of the openness movement.There is no universal usage of open file formats in OER.
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.
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.
- 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. However, a study found that very few classes were actually using these materials (http://www.nacs.org/Portals/NACS/Uploaded_Documents/PDF/Research/OCLresults2014.pdf).
- 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 Michigan Department of Education provided $600,000 to create the Michigan Open Book Project in 2014. The initial selection of OER textbooks in history, economics, geography and social studies was issued in August, 2015. There has been significant negative reaction to the materials’ inaccuracies, design flaws and confusing distribution.
- 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.