Monday, 16 January 2017


The idea of open educational resources (OER) has numerous working definitions. The term was firstly coined at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on Open Course ware 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: “digitized 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 licenses”. (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 Wiki Educator 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. 
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.

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