The term Open Educational Resources (OERs) was first introduced at a conference hosted by UNESCO in 2000, which broadly defined it as:
The open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for noncommercial purposes (UNESCO, 2002:24).
However, since then others have attempted to define OERs in quite explicit and specific terms:
…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 or 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 (Atkins, Brown & Hammond, 2007:4).
There are several challenges to the OER ‘movement‘ that will need to be tackled by the various stakeholders, be it governments, funding bodies, institutions, organisations or individuals. The three key issues that I perceive to be ‘barriers‘ to furthering the development and adoption of OERs include:
- Copyright issues – Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) sit right at the heart of the OER ‘movement’ and has been seen as the “root cause” of its “slow development” and take-up. Some of the copyright-related issues raised for its use and production are around the practicalities of obtaining rights (it is not always easy to locate the appropriate licence holder); legal interoperability (in terms of “unintended compatibility” between materials and tools licenced under different licences); and tutors and researchers largely unaware that they are entitled to some rights to ensure that their materials are not used inappropriately (Yuan, MacNeill & Krann, 2008). One way to address this issue is to apply Creative Commons licensing which has seen as a “critical infrastructure service for OER” (Atkins, Brown & Hammond, 2007), with licenses that can range from “All Rights Reserved” to “Some Rights Reserved”.
- Quality issues – The rapidly growing number of learning materials and repositories makes the issue of how to find the resources that are most relevant and of best quality a pressing one (Yuan, MacNeill & Krann, 2008). A number of approaches to quality management issues which have been used: institutionally-based involving the branding or the reputation of the University to “persuade” the user that the materials are of good quality (e.g. The Open University’s OpenLearn or MIT’s OpenCourseWare); peer-reviewed has been an approach that has been successfully adopted in open source software projects and open access journals which could be applied to OER, but it would require an agreed and credible criteria to evaluate OERs against (e.g. Jorum or MERLOT); and open user reviewed is seen as a “low-level” or “bottom-up” approach allowing individual users to decide on whether a learning resource is of high quality or not (e.g. Connexions).
- Interoperability issues – This is ensuring that learning materials can be accessed, downloaded and integrated across multiple platforms to ensure that these can be reused and repurposed by others, especially if they are located in less developed countries. The adoption of open standards and specifications like IMS and SCORM have been developed to “enable interoperability, accessibility and reusability of web-based learning content” (Yuan, MacNeill & Krann, 2008). However, whilst these standards are helpful to achieve the re-use of content, they are not appropriate for the modification of content. In this case, a number of standardised content formats such as DocBook, Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) or Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) have been mooted as being of potential value. Similarly, simple and well-structured HTML could be useful for this purpose (Yuan, MacNeill & Krann, 2008).
D’Antoni, S. (2009). “Open Educational Resources: reviewing initiatives and issues”. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 24(1), pp. 3-10. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02680510802625443 [Accessed 11.3.2013].
Atkins, D.E., Brown, J.S. & Hammond, A.L. (2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. California: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Available at: http://www.hewlett.org/uploads/files/Hewlett_OER_report.pdf [Accessed 11.3.2013].
Kanwar, A. & Uvalic-Trumbic, S. (Eds.) (2011). A Basic Guide of Open Educational Resources (OER). Vancouver, BC: Commonwealth of Learning; Paris: UNESCO. Available at: http://www.col.org/resources/publications/Pages/detail.aspx?PID=357 [Accessed 11.3.2013].
UNESCO. (2002). Forum on the impact of open courseware for higher education in developing countries: Final report. Available from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001285/128515e.pdf [Accessed 11.3.2013].
Yuan, L., MacNeill, S. & Krann, W. (2008). Open Educational Resources – Opportunities and Challenges for Higher Education. Bristol: Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) CETIS. Available at: http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/images/0/0b/OER_Briefing_Paper.pdf [Accessed 11.3.2013].