Open Education Practices: A User Guide for Organisations/OER Literature Review
The following text was prepared by Ruth Jelley, Researcher for the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, at La Trobe University 2013.
The literature on open educational resources (OER) plots a history of the introduction, use and development of the OER movement, from its original definition by UNESCO in 2002, to a range of recent case studies. Some note that the definition of OER varies, but most advocate for the definition outlined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: “OER are 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”. OER are deemed to include open courseware, learning objects, textbooks and journals.
Though there is general agreement of the definition of OER, the concept of ‘open’ still varies. Those who equate openness with modifiability argue that the move towards providing free and ready access to materials that have restrictions on reuse and modification conflicts with the intentions of the open education movement (Baraniuk & Burrus, 2008; Bissell, 2009; Blackall, 2008; Hilton & Wiley, 2012). Conole (2012a) notes that it is the modifiability of OERs that distinguishes them from learning objects. The issue of the openness of OERs is particularly pertinent in the current climate where discussion of MOOCs dominate in tertiary education circles. Baraniuk (2008, pp. 230-231) states that resources that can be shared but not adapted are “… merely ‘reference’ materials”, and that such practices “… [stifle] both innovation on the materials and also community participation.” Blackall (2008) is also critical of the use of copyright licenses that place restrictions on the reuse of ‘open’ materials. Locked or proprietary formats also present barriers to true adaptability and reusability of open materials (Bossu, Brown, & Bull, 2012).
Proponents of OER highlight the shared philosophies and benefits between open education movement and the open source software movement (Baraniuk, 2008; D'Antoni, 2009; Wiley & Gurrell, 2009). Opening up source code and educational resources to peer contribution demonstrates the ability of peer groups to improve the quality of reusable resources. In the same way that peer review feedback – a process so familiar in the academic world – contributes to the improvement of published materials, allowing peers to contribute their expertise directly to a software code or educational resource leads to an improvement of the code or materials (Wiley & Gurrell, 2009). Wiley and Gurrell (2009) note that quality is highly dependent on context. Quality in OER is judged as much on its applicability to a certain group – or groups – of learners as it is on such aspects as accuracy.
Underpinning the support for OER and the open education movement more broadly is a commitment to social justice in making education accessible to all (Conole, 2012b; Joyce, 2006). Some believe that government-funded institutions – such as universities in Australia, New Zealand and the UK – should be more open with the products of their endeavour, including their published academic articles as well as educational materials. This has arisen out of growing acceptance and expectation of openness, particularly with internet materials (Blackall, 2008). Both the open education movement and the increase in adoption of online teaching methods have been facilitated by the broadening reach of the internet.
The move towards openness in education is matched by a trend towards greater incorporation of online teaching and learning in formal education contexts (McAndrew, Scanlon, & Chow, 2010) and greater acceptance/proliferation of Creative Commons licensing (Rolfe, 2012; Wiley & Gurrell, 2009). The global applicability of Creative Commons licensing has facilitated a wide adoption of OER, yet the literature generally reveals low levels of awareness among academics about copyright and open licensing options such as Creative Commons and GNU Free Documentation licensing (Bissell, 2009; D'Antoni, 2009; Rolfe, 2012; Wiley & Gurrell, 2009). Bissell considered the problem to be so widespread that he deemed it necessary to publish an article to educate his peers about copyright and open licensing.
Conole (2012b) calls for a greater investigation of OER practices, to ascertain ways to address the low usage rates. Conole’s claims of low usage rates of learning objects and OER are backed up by case studies and reports that demonstrate lack of awareness of OER and widespread confusion over copyright issues (Bissell, 2009; Conole, 2012a; Joyce, 2006; Rolfe, 2012; Wiley & Gurrell, 2009). An OECD report on OER suggests that a lack of institutional policies on OER “is in many cases related to a lack of knowledge and capacity among administrators and academics in terms of OER and, with regard to copyright and [intellectual property] implications, a reluctance to address legal issues” (Joyce, 2006).
The literature promotes a wide range of benefits of OER, such as encouraging lifelong learning (Joyce, 2006), improving teaching skills through resource development and adoption of learner-centred pedagogies (Carey & Hanley, 2008; Conole, 2012b; Joyce, 2006; Rolfe, 2012), reducing costs for students and faculties by reducing reliance on commercial textbooks (Joyce, 2006), improved collaboration between colleagues within and between institutions (Joyce, 2006; Rolfe, 2012), reducing barriers to translation of materials into other languages (Hilton & Wiley, 2012), improving accessibility for vision-impaired learners, and keeping educational resources up-to-date by avoiding lengthy (and costly) publishing processes (Baraniuk & Burrus, 2008; Joyce, 2006). Some equate OER adoption with opportunity to improve teaching skills and methods, as well as the opportunity to connect, share and collaborate with colleagues (Baraniuk, 2008; Petrides, Nguyen, Kargaliani, & Jimes, 2008).
Also recurrent in the literature is the issue of sustainability of the OER movement (Baraniuk, 2008; Barrett et al., 2009; Reed, 2012; Rolfe, 2012). Of major concern is the longevity of OER repositories that have been set up using significant financial investment. Baraniuk (2008) discusses how some repositories may move to fee-for-access models (as recently seen with the Flat World Knowledge repository), however he states that the subject of his case study, Connexions, the aim is to provide ongoing value to a critical mass of engaged users. Reed (2012) also pitches that “the success of the open content movement is reliant on wide participation and a critical mass of ‘open’ content”, (p. 1). This idea of a ‘critical mass’ of content and participants engaged in OER relies on broad collaboration across academia; what Rolfe refers to as a “positive collegiate culture” (p. 1), which she argues needs to be supported at an institutional level (Rolfe, 2012).
A range of case studies have emerged in the literature, however, few of them detail the process of searching for and using OERs, or developing OERs themselves. Petrides and Jimes (2008) is the exception. In their article they present a case study investigating how a group of volunteers went about developing OERs for use in high school science education in South Africa. The study describes the content development process, as well as the volunteer recruitment process and, more briefly, the process of seeking external funding. The case study has some commonalities with other case studies (see below), particularly in relation to the need for collaboration. Many of the content development processes described follow the processes that professional educational publishing houses follow. If this project had the benefit of an experienced publishing professional, many of the difficulties described could have been accounted for in advance, if not avoided. What this reveals is that, even without this experience, those who engage in OER content development encounter the same issues as do professional publishers, and overcome the issues in their own way. There are arguments both for and against the need to incorporate publishing expertise in such operations. What is notable about this case study is the externality of the project. Rather than the educators themselves developing open content for use in their own teaching, the volunteers essentially set up their own publishing house, mimicking the activities of corporate educational publishing. This model encounters the same problems as will always be faced with external content development, namely problems with trialling materials in a live classroom situation. If not developed by educators, it is likely the materials may not be fit for purpose in a real educational setting and will require amendment by educators to fit the purpose. The shortcomings of this approach supports Carey and Hanley’s assertion that it is necessary to have a good “pedagogical content knowledge” in order to develop, or compile, OERs (Carey & Hanley, 2008).
Other OER case studies vary in their context and their focus. Baraniuk’s (2008) case study of the Connexions OER repository explores the opportunities and challenges facing the OER movement. In the same volume, Carey and Hanley (2008) use the MERLOT repository to explore notions of OER practice, focusing on the skills required for educators to effectively build and provide the resources needed for their students. They extend upon Baraniuk’s ideas on community of practice, noting that the skills required need to be nurtured within educational institutions. Carey and Hanley (2008), as well as Joyce (2006), highlight the importance of developing institutional strategies that support the use and development of OERs. Rolfe’s case study documents a peer survey that explored awareness of OER and attitudes towards the development and use of OER at De Montford University, UK (Rolfe, 2012). The respondents in Rolfe’s study echoed the call of Carey and Hanley (2008) for an institutional strategy and vision regarding the deployment of OER. Bossu et al. (2012) report on the state of play of OER in Australia, following their survey of ‘key stakeholders’ in OER in Australia. They call on the Australian government to provide policy support for OER, however they do not take account of the pressures the academic and educational publishing sectors are currently placing on the government to ensure the longevity of their activities in Australia (Book Industry Strategy Group, 2011). Schmidt-Jones (2012) conducted a study of the use of her own OER in the Connexions repository, which revealed a wide range of users and uses of her content, ranging from teaching to self-guided learning across formal and informal learning environments. This is most revealing of the fact that an author cannot control how their OER may be used, and that by applying the most flexible of usage licenses, the material can benefit a wider range of teachers and learners. The subject of the OER itself – music education – perhaps lends itself to use for more informal study, however it provides interesting insights into the way OERs can be used in inquiry-based learning. It demonstrates that learners who are motivated can find educational resources themselves, and if those resources are high-quality, and free and easy to access, OERs can be valuable tools in inquiry-based learning contexts.
Though each of these case studies has a limited focus, together they provide a fuller picture of the practice of developing, using and maintaining OER, and detail the ongoing challenges of sustainability and institutional barriers to OER adoption.
Baraniuk, Richard G. (2008). Challenges and Opportunities for the Open Education Movement: A Connexions Case Study. In T. Iiyoshi & M. Vijay Kumar (Eds.), The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge (pp. 229-246). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Baraniuk, Richard G, & Burrus, C Sidney. (2008). Viewpoint: Global Warming Toward Open Educational Resources. Communications of the ACM, 51, 30-32.
Barrett, Brendan, Grover, Velma, Janowski, Tomasz, van Lavieren, Hanneke, Ojo, Adegboyega, & Schmidt, Philipp. (2009). Challenges in the adoption and use of OpenCourseWare: experience of the United Nations University. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 24(1), 31-38. doi: 10.1080/02680510802627803
Bissell, Ahrash. (2009). Permission granted: open licensing for educational resources. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 24(1), 97-106. doi: 10.1080/02680510802627886
Blackall, Leigh. (2008). Open Educational Resources and Practices. Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, 11(4), 1-13.
Book Industry Strategy Group. (2011). Final Report to Government: Commonwealth of Australia.
Bossu, Carina, Brown, Mark, & Bull, David. (2012). Do Open Educational Resources represent additional challenges or advantages to the current climate of change in the Australian higher education sector? Paper presented at the ascilite 2012, Wellington, NZ.
Carey, Tom, & Hanley, Gerard L. (2008). Extending the impact of open educational resources through alignment with pedagogical content knowledge and instututional strategy Lessons learned from the MERLOT community experience. In T. Iiyoshi & M. Vijay Kumar (Eds.), The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Conole, Grainne. (2012a) Design for Learning in an Open World. Vol. 4. Explorations in the Learning Sciences, Instructional Systems and Performance Technologies. New York: Springer Science+Business Media.
Conole, Grainne. (2012b). Fostering social inclusion through open educational resources. Distance Education, 33(2), 131-134. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2012.700563
D'Antoni, Susan. (2009). Open Educational Resources: reviewing initiatives and issues. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 24(1), 3-10. doi: 10.1080/02680510802625443
Flat World Knowledge. (2013). Why Flat World Knowledge is Moving from Free to Fair on January 1, 2013. Retrieved 25 January, 2013, from http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/free2fair
Hilton, John III, & Wiley, David. (2012). Examining the Reuse of Open Textbooks. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(2), 45-58.
Joyce, Alexa. (2006). OECD study of OER: Forum report (pp. 15). Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning.
McAndrew, Patrick, Scanlon, Eileen, & Chow, Doug. (2010). An Open Future for Higher Education. Educause Quarterly. Retrieved from Educause Review Online. Website: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/open-future-higher-education
Pawlowski, Jan M, & Bick, Markus. (2012). Open Educational Resources. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 4(4), 209-212. doi: 10.1007/s12599-012-0219-3
Petrides, Lisa, & Jimes, Cynthia (2008). Building Open Educational Resources from the Ground Up: South Africa's Free High School Science Texts. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 1-16.
Petrides, Lisa, Nguyen, Lilly, Kargaliani, Anastasia, & Jimes, Cynthia. (2008). Open Educational Resources: Inquiring into Author Reuse Behaviors. Paper presented at the Times of Convergence. Technologies Across Learning Contexts: 3rd European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, EC-TEL 2008, California, USA.
Reed, Peter. (2012). Awareness, attitudes and participation of teaching staff towards the open content movement in one university. Research in Learning Technology, 20(0). doi: 10.3402/rlt.v20i0.18520
Rolfe, Vivien. (2012). Open educational resources: staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20(0). doi: 10.3402/rlt.v20i0/14395
Sapire, Ingrid, & Reed, Yvonne. (2011). Collaborative design and use of open educational resources: a case study of a mathematics teacher education project in South Africa. Distance Education, 32(2), 195-211. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2011.584847
Schmidt-Jones, Catherine Anne. (2012). An Open Educational Resource Supports a Diversity of Inquiry-Based Learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 1-16.
Wiley, David, & Gurrell, Seth. (2009). A decade of development…. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 24(1), 11-21. doi: 10.1080/02680510802627746
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (2012). Open Educational Resources. Retrieved 24 January, 2013, from http://www.hewlett.org/programs/education-program/open-educational-resources
- D'Antoni, Susan. (2009). Open Educational Resources: reviewing initiatives and issues. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 24(1), 3-10. doi: 10.1080/02680510802625443
- Wiley, David, & Gurrell, Seth. (2009). A decade of development…. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 24(1), 11-21. doi: 10.1080/02680510802627746
- Baraniuk, Richard G. (2008). Challenges and Opportunities for the Open Education Movement: A Connexions Case Study. In T. Iiyoshi & M. Vijay Kumar (Eds.), The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge (pp. 229-246). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. Baraniuk, Richard G, & Burrus, C Sidney. (2008). Viewpoint: Global Warming Toward Open Educational Resources. Communications of the ACM, 51, 30-32.
- Pawlowski, Jan M, & Bick, Markus. (2012). Open Educational Resources. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 4(4), 209-212. doi: 10.1007/s12599-012-0219-3
- Rolfe, Vivien. (2012). Open educational resources: staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20(0). doi: 10.3402/rlt.v20i0/14395
- William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (2012). Open Educational Resources. Retrieved 24 January, 2013, from http://www.hewlett.org/programs/education-program/open-educational-resources.
- Joyce, Alexa. (2006). OECD study of OER: Forum report (pp. 15). Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning.