"7 Things You Should Know About Open Educational Resources"

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THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT…
OpEn EDUCATIOnAl
RESOURCES
What is it?
Open educational resources (OER) are any resources avail-
able at little or no cost that can be used for teaching, learning, or
Scenario
research. The term can include textbooks, course readings, and
Dr. Bartlett is on the history faculty at a small, private institu-
other learning content; simulations, games, and other learning ap-
tion, where his academic work focuses on U.S. race relations
plications; syllabi, quizzes, and assessment tools; and virtually any
and the civil rights movement. For several years he has culti-
other material that can be used for educational purposes. OER
vated his interest in the labor movement in the United States,
typically refers to electronic resources, including those in multime-
and he hears from several students that they would like to
dia formats, and such materials are generally released under a
take a course on that topic. Unsure whether he has the time
Creative Commons or similar license that supports open or nearly
or expertise to pull together a curriculum on such a course,
open use of the content. OER can originate from colleges and uni-
Bartlett turns to educational resources online. Among the
versities, libraries, archival organizations, government agencies,
materials that he finds is a full course on labor relations that
commercial organizations such as publishers, or faculty or other
initially looks like everything he will need to teach the course
individuals who develop educational resources they are willing to
at his university. It is available for free; it includes readings, a
share.
bibliography of supporting sources, assessments, and sam-
How does it work?
ple projects; and it comes from a repository of courses that
The term OER generally refers only to digital resources and,
were developed at a respected institution.
as such, tends to focus on usage in online or hybrid learning envi-
As he digs deeper into the materials and thinks about the
ronments, though electronic content can certainly be used in face-
specifics of the course he wants to teach, he starts to see
to-face environments as well. Each resource is issued under a li-
gaps in the resources from the open course. He browses ad-
cense that spells out how it can be used: Some materials may only
ditional resources and begins to search through collections
be used in their original form; in other cases, learning resources can
in related disciplines. Of course, materials from history pro-
be modified, remixed, and redistributed. OER are typically found in
grams are important, but Bartlett also uncovers free educa-
collections or repositories. These can be offerings from a single
tional resources from political science, economics, and soci-
institution, such as when a college or university makes available
ology departments that fill out the syllabus of the course as
online the resources from its courses, or they can be collections of
he envisions it. Much of the historical context for the labor
materials gathered from individuals or departments from a wide
movement parallels that of the civil rights movement, but
range of separate institutions. Instructors and individual learners
Bartlett starts seeing his own specialty from a somewhat
can download OER and use them in formal or informal learning
different perspective, based on the research he does for his
situations, and one of the hallmarks of OER is their flexibility—many
new course.
are modular in nature, allowing them to be used in novel combina-
tions to suit particular learning activities. Because open resources
In a relatively short time, and at no cost other than his time,
Bartlett not only constructs a syllabus and coursepack for
are so malleable, they can be adapted to keep pace not only with
the course on labor, he also incorporates some of the open
new technologies but also with changes to academic disciplines
resources that he came across into his courses on race.
and teaching methods. Depending on the resource, these updates
Some of the resources he finds allow users to modify them
might be made by the creator or by users of the resource.
and repost them online, and Bartlett takes advantage of this
Who’s doing it?
option for some of the materials he uses. The students who
One of the longest-running and highest-profile OER initia-
take his new course on labor relations tell him how much
tives is the OpenCourseWare project from MIT, which began in
they like the course, and he also hears compliments about
2002 and today features all of the course materials from roughly
the new materials included in his civil rights classes.
2,000 MIT courses. The OpenCourseWare model has been repli-
cated by dozens of colleges and universities around the world,
which are putting full course materials online for anyone to use.
Having access to an institution’s course resources is not intended
to be equivalent to taking a course at that institution, but users can
take advantage of that access to supplement or direct their own
learning. Other OER efforts include Connexions, which was begun
more >>
© 2010 EDUCAUSE
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-nonCommercial-noDerivs 3.0 license.
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/
educause.edu/eli
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT…
OpEn EDUCATIOnAl
RESOURCES
What is it?
Open educational resources (OER) are any resources avail-
able at little or no cost that can be used for teaching, learning, or
Scenario
research. The term can include textbooks, course readings, and
Dr. Bartlett is on the history faculty at a small, private institu-
other learning content; simulations, games, and other learning ap-
tion, where his academic work focuses on U.S. race relations
plications; syllabi, quizzes, and assessment tools; and virtually any
and the civil rights movement. For several years he has culti-
other material that can be used for educational purposes. OER
vated his interest in the labor movement in the United States,
typically refers to electronic resources, including those in multime-
and he hears from several students that they would like to
dia formats, and such materials are generally released under a
take a course on that topic. Unsure whether he has the time
Creative Commons or similar license that supports open or nearly
or expertise to pull together a curriculum on such a course,
open use of the content. OER can originate from colleges and uni-
Bartlett turns to educational resources online. Among the
versities, libraries, archival organizations, government agencies,
materials that he finds is a full course on labor relations that
commercial organizations such as publishers, or faculty or other
initially looks like everything he will need to teach the course
individuals who develop educational resources they are willing to
at his university. It is available for free; it includes readings, a
share.
bibliography of supporting sources, assessments, and sam-
How does it work?
ple projects; and it comes from a repository of courses that
The term OER generally refers only to digital resources and,
were developed at a respected institution.
as such, tends to focus on usage in online or hybrid learning envi-
As he digs deeper into the materials and thinks about the
ronments, though electronic content can certainly be used in face-
specifics of the course he wants to teach, he starts to see
to-face environments as well. Each resource is issued under a li-
gaps in the resources from the open course. He browses ad-
cense that spells out how it can be used: Some materials may only
ditional resources and begins to search through collections
be used in their original form; in other cases, learning resources can
in related disciplines. Of course, materials from history pro-
be modified, remixed, and redistributed. OER are typically found in
grams are important, but Bartlett also uncovers free educa-
collections or repositories. These can be offerings from a single
tional resources from political science, economics, and soci-
institution, such as when a college or university makes available
ology departments that fill out the syllabus of the course as
online the resources from its courses, or they can be collections of
he envisions it. Much of the historical context for the labor
materials gathered from individuals or departments from a wide
movement parallels that of the civil rights movement, but
range of separate institutions. Instructors and individual learners
Bartlett starts seeing his own specialty from a somewhat
can download OER and use them in formal or informal learning
different perspective, based on the research he does for his
situations, and one of the hallmarks of OER is their flexibility—many
new course.
are modular in nature, allowing them to be used in novel combina-
tions to suit particular learning activities. Because open resources
In a relatively short time, and at no cost other than his time,
Bartlett not only constructs a syllabus and coursepack for
are so malleable, they can be adapted to keep pace not only with
the course on labor, he also incorporates some of the open
new technologies but also with changes to academic disciplines
resources that he came across into his courses on race.
and teaching methods. Depending on the resource, these updates
Some of the resources he finds allow users to modify them
might be made by the creator or by users of the resource.
and repost them online, and Bartlett takes advantage of this
Who’s doing it?
option for some of the materials he uses. The students who
One of the longest-running and highest-profile OER initia-
take his new course on labor relations tell him how much
tives is the OpenCourseWare project from MIT, which began in
they like the course, and he also hears compliments about
2002 and today features all of the course materials from roughly
the new materials included in his civil rights classes.
2,000 MIT courses. The OpenCourseWare model has been repli-
cated by dozens of colleges and universities around the world,
which are putting full course materials online for anyone to use.
Having access to an institution’s course resources is not intended
to be equivalent to taking a course at that institution, but users can
take advantage of that access to supplement or direct their own
learning. Other OER efforts include Connexions, which was begun
more >>
© 2010 EDUCAUSE
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-nonCommercial-noDerivs 3.0 license.
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/
educause.edu/eli
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT…
OpEn EDUCATIOnAl
RESOURCES
Where is it going?
at Rice University, and the Open learning Initiative from Carnegie
Mellon, as well as the University of the people and even iTunes U.
The abundance of OER can leave users spending a long time
Although OER projects use different models for how they func-
searching for a resource that fits their needs, and the volume of
tion, all endorse the notion that teaching, learning, and research
OER will only increase. OER repositories and the tools to search for
are improved when educational resources are more open and
and filter resources will need to build out their capacities and ca-
more accessible.
pabilities to help instructors and individual learners navigate the
growing sea of open content. part of this process is evaluating the
Why is it significant?
credibility of individual resources or collections, and new mecha-
Educational resources developed in an open environment
nisms are likely to emerge to facilitate this. To some extent, partner-
can be vetted and improved by a broad community of educators,
ships (with certain publishers, for example) have begun to fill this
resulting in materials that represent what the educational com-
role, allowing faculty members to choose from lists of reviewed (or
munity sees as most valuable. By providing educators with new
“approved”) open resources; other means of assessing the quality
access to educational material, open resources have the potential
of OER will surely be developed. Even when a resource is deemed
to spur pedagogical innovation, introducing new alternatives for
accurate and effective, resources might need to meet even higher
effective teaching. OER have the potential to expose students and
standards to be included in for-credit courses. What organization
instructors to the long tail of content, most of which never finds
will have the authority to sanction a resource or a collection of re-
its way into widespread educational use. Moreover, learning re-
sources for degree- or certification-granting programs?
sources that can be modified and reused promote collaboration
What are the implications for teaching and
and participation—two key elements of a Web 2.0 approach to
learning?
teaching and learning.
Few disagree that the infusion of OER into higher education is
The resources required to develop high-quality learning materials
likely to have far-reaching effects on the character of teaching and
and activities for a full complement of courses can be prohibitive
learning, though the nature of that change is the subject of some
for many institutions and instructors. By distributing the costs
debate. One of the more radical viewpoints is that the OER move-
over a larger number of users, OER brings a greater range of tools
ment will lead to a future in which all of the components of an edu-
within reach of more users. OER can also lower the costs for stu-
cation will be available online for free and that learners will have
dents to obtain educational content. OER and online or hybrid
the opportunity to construct a course of study—though it might
learning are natural partners in efforts that take advantage of—
not be called a “degree”—from the wide and growing pool of open
and prompt—developments in educational technology that facili-
content. Others envision a less disruptive future for OER, suggest-
tate new media, new formats, and new means of distribution.
ing that the model for higher education will persist in a form not
What are the downsides?
wholly different from what it is today, but enhanced with high-
like all educational resources, the quality of OER can be
quality, open, digital content. Regardless, OER will expand access
uneven and depends largely on their sources. Some OER are sim-
to educational resources to more learners, more of the time. In
ply ineffective at presenting content in a valuable manner, and not
particular, adult learners, students who work full time, and other
all OER collections have a feedback mechanism by which users
nontraditional students stand to benefit from open resources be-
can share their evaluations about the quality of a resource. The
cause they are available for independent, self-directed study.
value of educational resources tends to decrease without periodic
Open resources are one way to address the rising costs of educa-
updating, and many open resources are not kept current. Even
tion, and they also have the potential to facilitate new styles of
within an OER repository that is operated and sanctioned by a
teaching and learning. Giving faculty the ability to pick and choose
respected institution, individual resources might not be held to
the individual resources they want to use—and to modify those
the same standard of quality as the institution’s other offerings.
resources and “assemble” them in unique ways—promises greater
The flipside of the flexibility of open resources is that many need
diversity of learning environments.
to be adapted for use in a departmental or institutional context to
meet local requirements or needs. Some open resources do not
comply with accessibility requirements for users with disabilities.
Whenever content is shared, and especially when it can be modi-
fied, questions arise over intellectual property and copyright con-
cerns. In some cases, faculty resistance to opening their resources
can be an obstacle.
EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit membership association created to support
those who lead, manage, and use information technology to benefit
higher education. A comprehensive range of resources and activities
is available to all EDUCAUSE members. The association’s strategic
directions include focus in four areas: Teaching and learning; Managing
the Enterprise; E-Research and E-Scholarship; and the Evolving Role of
IT and leadership. For more information, visit educause.edu.
June 2010
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