There are a number of approaches that may be taken to release OER, the choice of which is most appropriate will depend on individual circumstances, such as the scale of the initiative (eg is it a single individual choosing to release their own resources, an institution or a wider consortium?), the aims of the initiative and the technical resources available.
Storing and dissemination
One of the first considerations is how to store and disseminate the resources themselves. The main points to consider are:
- Whether the primary site for hosting and disseminating the OER should be local and specific to the initiative releasing them, or part of a wider (global, national or subject-based) community.
- Should the OER be disseminated through a formal repository or more informal channels such as blogs, wikis etc., including locally installed software or public social sharing sites.
- Should the resources themselves be hosted in a range of places, or should there be a primary site which provides information to secondary sites (eg in the form of RSS/ATOM feeds, or via metadata harvesting) which can then link back to the OER.
- Whether the system that manages the hosting and dissemination of the OER is separated from the processes of creation and release of OER (eg a remote point of deposit once the resource is finished) or whether integrated systems are used to manage all the processes from creation through to dissemination.
- Whether all the OER will be on a site that is completely open, or whether access restrictions will apply to some resources or some other parts of the site.
Description and metadata
Another consideration is that of resource description and metadata. It is good practice for resources (where possible) to include some text that provides a basic description, for example: a descriptive title, keywords or short abstract so that users can quickly identify the topic of the resource; some details of the creator(s) of the resource (eg the authors names and/or the institution where the resource was created); the date of creation; copyright and licence information etc.
This information can help people trying to select suitable resources, and its presentation within the text of the resource (especially when used as, e.g., the title element of an HTML document) helps to facilitate resource discovery by search engines. Clearly for some resource types (images, sound recordings) this may have to be handled in some other way.
Some systems require similar information about the resource to be recorded in the form of structured metadata so that it can be used for resource management. For example, one of the easiest way to organise a large collection of resources is to ‘tag’ them with subject key words, or to record author details in a specific format, either at the time of deposit or at a later date.
This simple metadata can then be used by the system to present resources by topic or as a result of a search query so that they may be found quickly and easily. However, metadata creation has to be either done automatically (which can be imprecise) or manually (which can be resource intensive). For further guidance see the Jisc CETIS pages on OER description.
Consider a repository
One approach to managing OER is to host them in a formal repository system. The Jisc-funded Good Intentions report contains an overview of UK repositories for teaching and learning and goes into more detail on the types of repositories available for resource dissemination. A 2007 guide to setting up learning object repositories is available.
The repository may be owned and operated by the institution producing the OER, however some institutions choose to use an existing repository rather than set up their own. The Creative Commons, free to anyone, worldwide. Only members of UK Further and Higher Education Institutions, using the UK Access Management Federation to authenticate, can deposit into Jorum, but anyone is able to search, browse and download the resources.
A complementary method for disseminating OER, which is sometimes used as an alternative to a formal repository, is to release resources through third party social sharing websites such as Flickr, SlideShare, YouTube, Vimeo, iTunesU. This has some advantages in that it uses existing, technologically sophisticated websites with wide user bases and a high profile on web search engines; however there are also risks and dissemination through these channels may not align well with the objectives of some OER release initiatives.
For further information on these see the CETIS pages on distribution platforms for UKOER resources.
Distribution across the web
Once the OER are released some consideration should be given to how information about them (and indeed, the resources themselves) may be distributed across the web. This is often done through the use of RSS feeds to aggregate content from a diverse and wide range of individuals, subjects and institutions. RSS feeds can power both audio and video podcasts meaning that individuals can ‘subscribe’ quickly and easily to content and courses that interest them.
CETIS has a guide to OER Syndication via RSS. Jorum also has guidance on RSS Registration and Bulk Upload. Jisc CETIS have also coordinated work which includes the Jorum and many providers of OER looking at how to maximise the potential of feeds for transferring OER and information about them.
Once a resource is released as an OER there may be a requirement (eg from the funder) to track the use of it and comments made about it. This is less easy than with copy-protected resources since one cannot know where the resource will be hosted by third parties. Work on how to achieve this tracking is at an early stage, however some options are presented in the section on the CETIS wiki on resource tracking for OERs.
The Jisc / HE Academy UKOER programme provided funding and support to enable individuals, subject communities and institutions to openly release existing materials. The lessons learned, approaches adopted and barriers overcome offer models and guidance to support wider release in the UK.
An overview of the technical approaches used across the Jisc/HE Academy UKOER programme is available from CETIS in their report Technology for Open Educational Resources – Into The Wild – Reflections on three years of the UK OER Programmes.