FAQ on OER
This page contains a list of frequently asked question on OER and Open education.
We utilize the SPARC definition: “Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research resources that are free of cost and access barriers, and which also carry legal permission for open use. Generally, this permission is granted by the use of an open license (for example, Creative Commons licenses) which allows anyone to freely use, adapt and share the resource—anytime, anywhere.”
Other OER Definitions:
The key distinguishing characteristic of OER is its intellectual property license and the freedoms the license grants to others to share and adapt it. These freedoms include:
If a lesson plan or activity is not clearly tagged or marked as being in the public domain or having an open license, it is not OER. The most common way to release materials as OER is through Creative Commons copyright licenses, which are standardized, free-to-use open licenses that have already been used on more than 1 billion copyrighted works.
Creative Commons licenses are customizable copyright licenses that work alongside copyright law to give explicit permission for users to reuse items under specific circumstances. Applying a Creative Commons license to your work changes the familiar “All rights reserved” to “Some rights reserved,” with explicit rules about what can and cannot be done with the item.
All OER are free to access, but not all free resources are OER. What makes OER different is their copyright licenses. Free-but-not-open resources cannot be edited without obtaining permission from the copyright holder.
Studies at both the K-12 and higher education levels show that students who use OER do as well, and often better, than their peers using traditional resources. Also, many OER are developed through rigorous peer review and production processes that mirror traditional materials. However, it is important to note that being open or closed does not inherently affect the quality of a resource. Being open does enable educators to use the
resource more effectively, which can lead to better outcomes. For example, OER can be updated, tailored and improved locally to fit the needs of students, and it also eliminates cost as a barrier for students to access their materials.
This question is possibly reflective of a deeply entrenched notion of educational materials as being ‘publications’, the quality of which is controlled by educational publishers. This notion has been – and remains – valid but reflects a partial understanding of the scope and diversity of educational materials used in many teaching and learning contexts. It also reflects a false delegation of responsibility for quality to a third party. This mindset shifts into the OER space in the form of an unstated assumption that one or more dedicated agencies should take full responsibility for assuring that OER shared in repositories online are of a high quality. In addition to this being practically impossible, it masks the reality that the definition of quality is subjective and contextually dependent.
In the final analysis, responsibility for assuring the quality of OER used in teaching and learning environments will reside with the institution, programme/course coordinators, and individual educators responsible for delivery of education. As they have always done when prescribing textbooks, choosing a video to screen, or using someone else’s lesson plan, these agents are the ones who retain final responsibility for choosing which materials – open and/or proprietary – to use. Thus, the ‘quality of OER’ will depend on which resources they choose to use, how they choose to adapt them to make them contextually relevant, and how they integrate them into teaching and learning activities of different kinds.
This task of assuring quality has been complicated by the explosion of available content (both open and proprietary). This is both a blessing, as it reduces the likelihood of needing to develop new content, and a curse, as it demands higher level skills in information searching, selection, adaptation, and evaluation. As institutions share more educational content online, they will want to ensure that this content reflects well on the institution and may thus invest in improving its quality before making it available in repositories. In the OER environment, quality assurance will thus be assisted by the development of such repositories, which will provide at least first levels of quality assurance.
But these investments on the part of institutions will simply serve, over time, to create more opportunities for finding good materials to use. The primary responsibility for finding the right materials to use, and for using them to support effective education, still resides with the institutions and educators offering the education.
The most important reason for harnessing OER is that openly licensed educational materials have tremendous potential to contribute to improving the quality and effectiveness of education. The challenges of growing access, combined with the ongoing rollout of ICT infrastructure into educational institutions, indicates that it is becoming increasingly important for them to support, in a planned and deliberate manner, the development and improvement of curricula, ongoing programme and course design, planning of contact sessions with students, development of quality teaching and learning materials, and design of effective assessment – activities all aimed at improving the teaching and learning environment while managing the cost of this through increased use of resource-based learning.
Given this, the transformative educational potential of OER revolves around three linked possibilities:
The transformative educational potential of OER revolves around three linked possibilities:
Deliberate openness thus acknowledges that:
The scope and availability of OER is ever expanding. Every week, new resources are being added to the global body of resources. A current problem arising out of this growth is that there is no single comprehensive listing of all OER (nor, given the rapid expansion of content online, is there ever likely to be one). This means that, in order to find appropriate OER, the searcher will need to employ a number of search strategies:
While search engines such as Google and Bing are a good general starting point for finding content online, there are also some specialized search engines that search specifically for OER. Their listings, however, are selective based on different search criteria so it is a good idea to try more than one. Here are a few of the popular ones
Searchers should also access the major OER repositories to search for OER. Most are institutionally based, focusing on the materials released by that organization. A famous example is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Courseware Repository (MIT OCW). Some repositories, such as MedEd PORTAL, have a specific subject focus, in this instance, medical photos and multimedia. Below are a few of the more significant OER repositories (See OER repositories):
There are many sites that have a search facility whose results point to places elsewhere on the Internet where resources match search criteria. They themselves do not act a repository, but have identified quality resources and store them in a database of web links. Their databases usually have a particular focus. In the case of OER Africa, for example, they highlight quality resources developed in and about Africa. Here are just a few:
Once a resource has been developed and an open license has been selected (see OER Commons: http://www.oercommons.org/ for more information), the resource will need to be stored in an online repository in order for others to access it.
There are various options regarding where these resources might reside:
In most instances, a user has enormous latitude to adapt OER to suit contextual needs where the license allows adaptation. If, however, the license restricts adaptation (as, for example, the Creative Commons license with a ‘No Derivatives’ restriction does), others may not alter the resource in any way. It has to be used ‘as is’. This right is not reserved often in OER.
The vast majority of published OER welcome users to adapt the original resource. Common ways in which OER can be changed include the following:
In many ways, the fact that changes may be made to the original is what makes OER – compared with other forms of copyrighted materials – especially useful to programme developers.
For the interested reader, a more extensive OER FAQ [PDF] is available.