OER – From Practice to Culture


Open Educational Resources (OER) are fast becoming a major part of the Education landscape especially with the new thrust towards “open”. Conceptually, OER are a sensible and cost-effective way of incorporating quality material, including multimedia, into a particular teaching and learning scenario. Realistically however, this is easier said than done. To be able to fully harness the potential of OER, you need to understand some of the guiding limitation of the philosophy. The following will get you started:

The road from OER practice to culture
The road from OER practice to culture

Make the effort to change your mindset

“Open” doesn’t come naturally to many of us. From childhood, many of us have been accustomed to living in closed spaces whether it be our bedrooms at home, our classrooms at school or our offices at work. When considering academics, this closed mindset continues to overshadow our output in the form of number of intellectual contributions which we have made that should not be used by others without our permission. Simply put, many academics believe that their intellectual prowess is defined by copyright. This is true of many academic Institutions as well who believe that opening up their intellectual property would be similar to putting their crown jewels on public display with no security.

If you are serious about adopting the philosophy of OER, the first step is to convince yourself that being open will only enhance your academic standing. For example, publishing your research work in an open access journal will fare you better in terms of visibility than publishing in a closed journal. Similarly with OER, your work will be used, reused, revised, remixed and retained by many while always ensuring that you get the credit for it. It’s a simple numbers game really where more exposure to your work results in increased academic visibility for you. Get to know the 5Rs of OER.

If you take, remember to give back

OER are not just about taking free stuff and using it in your own work. Many individuals as well as institutions are guilty of this. Yes, the philosophy of OER allows you to freely take work by others and use it in your own work, even commercially, with just an acknowledgement. However, this only makes you a partial OER practitioner as you are not contributing to the open pool of resources. If you believe in an open mindset then you must remember to share back your own work under a free license.

Know your licenses

What you can and cannot do with an OER depends on the license it was released under. Many practitioners take for granted the multiple levels of freedom or restrictions dictated by different licenses. Not all OER can be readily mixed and matched to create the ideal derivation for your particular teaching and learning requirements; it’s not that simple. In this regard, knowing your licenses and what they allow you to do will save you a lot of headache down the road in your OER initiatives. The Creative Commons is the de facto license scheme used by many OER initiatives due to its simplicity in use, robust legal code and widespread acceptance. About The Licenses  is a good place to start your journey towards OER practice.

Plan ahead

Failing to plan is planning to fail holds true for OER as well. Before you, as an individual or an institution, decide to go down the OER route, you must decide what practical changes you are willing to live with. For example, if you believe that others shouldn’t make money out of your work and that they should share back what they have derived, you will decide to license your work under a CC BY-NC-SA license. However, this decision will seriously limit the number of OER available to you for reuse/remix and make your work less open/useful to others questioning your rationale for going OER in the first place. Therefore, be certain about the license and format you will release your work under before starting. Play the OER Remix Game to see how you fare.  Once you are certain, it becomes much easier to search and locate resources which match your requirements.

Practice first, policy will follow

You don’t necessarily need a policy directive from your Institution to go embrace the concept of OER. In most cases, policy will follow voluntary practice. Your pioneering work in OER will encourage your institution to implement the necessary policy frameworks to assist you, protect you and guide you in your journey towards a more open culture. If you feel that OER is a philosophy you believe in, just go ahead and practice it.

Build capacity

You might have the perfect institutional OER policy. This means nothing if the people on the ground have no clue about OER. So, it all boils down to “cluing-in” your teachers. i.e. capacity building is the name of the game.

Start by defining what OER are using the 2012 Paris OER Declaration. Tell them that there are many forms of OER available such as course materials which can be found using COL’s Directory of Open Educational Resources (DOER) or OER Commons, images such as the ones found in Wikimedia Commons or Flick: Creative Commons and video from NPTEL. Explain that the “O” stands for the 4Rs of OER with a 5th R being added recently. Guide them through the ALMS analysis to give them an understanding of how accessible an OER should be and point them to the Creative Commons to make sense of all the copyright mumbo-jumbo. Finally, give some training in free and open source software (FOSS) tools such as Open Office, CollaboraGoogle Docs (not FOSS), GimpAudacityVirtualDub and PSPP to empower them.

Setup a repository

Now that your teachers are developing new OER, you need to find a central place to put them. The library website is the popular choice. However, since your OER should be accessible freely by anyone with an internet connection (else why go OER in the first place?) whereas the library should only be accessible to your students, it pays to have a look at a few FOSS repositories such as DSpace to host your OER. This will also help you to manage web traffic better when thousands of visitors come looking for OER from your institution. Adopt a metadata standard for marketing your OER to search engines. Two of the popular ones are IEEE-Learning Object Metadata (IEEE-LOM) and Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI). The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), initiated by the Creative Commons, is now part of DCMI. Once you have figured out which repository platform and metadata standard you will be using (if in doubt, ask the librarian), you would want to decide whether to host it internally or on the cloud. As your collection of OER grows, you will need more and more storage space. This need will be exponential if you create a lot of multimedia material such as video. A word to the wise, go for cloud based hosting from the start. It’s comparatively cheap, reliable, scalable and relatively safe.

Conduct QA     

Take your quality assurance (QA) seriously when it comes to OER. You are putting the reputation of the institution on the line. Check whether your OER are relevant to your students with respect to content and pedagogy. Look at the licenses and file types to see if your OER are desirable. Use COL’s TIPS framework or the External Review Toolkit for ODL and eLearning Courses to guide your OER QA process. Also, make sure you form an OER task force which can help teachers and students with issues or doubts.

Recognize and Reward

Many of us are needy when it comes to rewards and recognition. Being a teacher myself, I believe that teachers are worse. Having said that, most of the time we are not looking for monetary rewards but rather recognition of our intellectual labors of love. Let’s face it; locating, reusing, revising and remixing OER is no walk in the park. It requires a lot of effort, persistence and perseverance.  As an institution, look at how contributions to OER can be openly recognized. This will act as a motivating factor. Including contributions to OER as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) can also be a viable way of recognizing the toil a teacher has to go through to make that textbook open. Also, a small bonus wouldn’t hurt.


OER are just one part of an already prominent open movement. Ultimately, all these movements should converge into an Open Culture where shared knowledge forms the basis of a much wiser human race.



Abeywardena, I.S. (2012). A report on the Re-use and Adaptation of Open Educational Resources (OER): An Exploration of Technologies AvailableCommonwealth of Learning.

Original source: COL Blog used under CC BY-SA.

The views expressed in this blog are my own personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commonwealth of Learning.


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