There is no one, standard definition of open educational resources. However, the following broad definition of OERs from OER Commons seems to be generally accepted by the community:
'Open educational resources are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner. Examples of OER include: full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world.'
OERs exist within a wider ‘open’ movement and context, explored below.
The open movement
A range of ‘open’ philosophies and models have emerged during the 20th Century as a result of several different drivers and motivations – including sharing freely, preventing duplication, avoiding restrictive (copyright) practices, promoting economic efficiencies and improving access to wide groups of stakeholders.
Many of these have been driven by and created by communities that recognise the benefits to themselves, and sometimes to wider groups. Some of these are listed below:
- Open source (relating to business and technology)
- Open source software
- Open source hardware
- Open standards
- Open access (research)
- Open design
- Open knowledge
- Open data
- Open content
- Open courseware
- Open educational resources
- Open educational practice
Several of these ‘movements’ or ‘philosophies’ have been significant within the education community both in terms of research and learning and teaching (particularly educational technology). Whilst it is widely expected that sharing and openness would bring benefits to some stakeholders in the educational community, traditional cultures and practices, managerial approaches and processes, and perceived legal complexities have been identified as barriers to sharing both within and across institutions. (CD LOR, TRUST DR, sharing e-learning content, good Intentions report)
Whilst the terms ‘open content’ and ‘open courseware’ are sometimes used to mean the wide range of resources to support learning and teaching, one is fairly broad and the other very specific. We have chosen to use the term open educational resources (OER) as this relates to resources that are specifically licensed to be used and re-used in an educational context.
What are educational resources?
Whilst purely informational content has a significant role in learning and teaching, it is helpful to consider learning resources by their levels of granularity and to focus on the degree to which information content is embedded within a learning activity (Littlejohn et al, 2008):
- Digital assets – normally a single file (eg an image, video or audio clip), sometimes called a ‘raw media asset’
- Information objects – a structured aggregation of digital assets, designed purely to present information
- Learning objects – an aggregation of one or more digital assets which represents an educationally meaningful stand-alone unit
- Learning activities – tasks involving interactions with information to attain a specific learning outcome
- Learning design – structured sequences of information and activities to promote learning
What are open educational resources?
The following definitions and examples are taken from a paper prepared by Li Yuan at Jisc CETIS in 2008 concerning the state of open educational resources internationally. This well-received paper can be accessed from the CETIS website.
The term open educational resources (OERs) was first introduced at a conference hosted by UNESCO in 2000 and was promoted in the context of providing free access to educational resources on a global scale. As mentioned above, there is no authoritatively accredited definition for the term OER at present, with the OECD preferring, ‘digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research’ (OECD, 2007).
Stephen Downes presents a useful overview of what open educational resources are in open education: projects and potential.
Engagement with OER can be light touch. New staff should be encouraged to source open materials when creating new educational materials (from CC resources or other OER), and to fully reference all other assets in their teaching materials. An academic’s own digital assets such as images, pod casts and video can be released under a CC licence to web 2.0.
GEES project final report
OER initiatives aspire to provide open access to high-quality education resources on a global scale. From large institution-based or institution-supported initiatives to numerous small-scale activities, the number of OER related programmes and projects has been growing quickly within the past few years.
According to OECD in 2007, there are materials from more than 3000 open access courses (open courseware) currently available from over 300 universities worldwide:
- In the United States resources from thousands of courses have been made available by university-based projects, such as MIT OpenCourseWare and Rice University’s Connexions project
- In China, materials from 750 courses have been made available by 222 university members of the China Open Resources for Education (CORE) consortium
- In Japan, resources from more than 400 courses have been made available by the 19 member universities of the Japanese OCW Consortium
- In France, 800 educational resources from around 100 teaching units have been made available by the 11 member universities of the ParisTech OCW project
- In Ireland, universities received government funding to build open access institutional repositories and to develop a federated harvesting and discovery service via a national portal. It is intended that this collaboration will be expanded to embrace all Irish research institutions
- And in the UK, the Open University has released a range of its distance learning materials via the OpenLearn project, and over 80 UKOER projects have released many resources which are used to support teaching in institutions and across a range of subject areas
A number of search engines exist to search open educational resources. These include:
- OER Commons – “Find Free-to-Use Teaching and Learning Content from around the World. Organize K-12 Lessons, College Courses, and more.”
- Temoa – “a knowledge hub that eases a public and multilingual catalogue of Open Educational Resources (OER) which aims to support the education community to find those resources and materials that meet their needs for teaching and learning through a specialized and collaborative search system and social tools.”
- University Learning = OCW+OER = Free custom search engine – a meta-search engine incorporating many different OER repositories (uses Google Custom Search)
- XPERT – “a Jisc funded rapid innovation project (summer 2009) to explore the potential of delivering and supporting a distributed repository of e-learning resources created and seamlessly published through the open source e-learning development tool called Xerte Online Toolkits. The aim of XPERT is to progress the vision of a distributed architecture of e-learning resources for sharing and re-use.”
- OER Dynamic Search Engine – a wiki page of OER sites with accompanied search engine (powered by Google Custom Search)
- Jisc Digital Media (view via UK Web Archive) maintain guidance on finding video, audio and images online, including those licensed as Creative Commons.