OER – Seeing the Wood for the Trees


Image source: https://flic.kr/p/5NtW7N

All these years in the OER game and I couldn’t see the wood for the trees! There… I said it. Now let me elaborate.

Since my introduction to OER in 2010, I have been an avid practitioner, researcher, advocate and a trainer who believed that this new philosophy would change the world. In hindsight, perhaps it was my computer science background that made me believe that OER would do to education what FOSS did to software. Eight years and two World Congresses later, I’m still struggling to figure out why OER hasn’t caught on as a smarter way of teaching and learning in contrast to FOSS which has become a global force to be reckoned with.

As I see it, there are two approaches to OER. First, and perhaps the more successful, approach is to pay someone to write a course, slap a creative commons license on it and use it as a prescribed open textbook. Both teachers and learners find this approach to be straightforward as they needn’t do much else to get the ball rolling. However, when it comes to the second approach of repurposing existing OER to create a course or textbook, everyone seems to run for the hills. Why? because it’s so darn difficult to do!

Let me break it down for you:

Changing mindsets

“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 teachers, this closed mindset continues to overshadow their work in the form of intellectual contributions which should not be used by others. Simply put, many teachers believe that their intellectual prowess is defined by copyright. If you are serious about OER, the first step is to convince yourself that being open will only enhance your academic standing.

Identifying the license

Once you have decided to create a course or textbook by repurposing existing OER, you need to figure out a license for the final product. What you can and cannot do with an OER depends on the license it was released under. Many teachers 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 teaching and learning; it’s just not that simple. Identifying the license upfront will save you a lot of headache down the road.

Selecting the course

If you don’t want to end up writing the whole thing from scratch, you need to be smart when selecting the course. Pick a course where sufficient material is available as OER, official manuals or peer-reviewed textbooks are available for cross-checking the integrity of the OER, and subject matter expertise is available in the course development team to repurpose the OER.

Forming the team

The composition of the course development team needs to be perfect with respect to expertise and team dynamics. This is especially challenging when members needed to have a general acceptance of OER and a thorough understanding of how to use it within the licensing framework.

Finding OER

The course blueprint is the starting point of the material development life cycle and outlines the topics, learning outcomes, assessments, practical work and references. Using the blueprint, OER for each topic needs to be identified. This is done by identifying, reviewing and shortlisting reputable (hopefully quality assured) OER repositories to be searched; and manually trawling each repository to find suitable resources. Once suitable OER are identified, they need to be checked for fit-for-purpose before use. Further, the OER need to be cross-checked with a trusted resource such as a manual or textbook to ensure content integrity.

Adapting the OER

From my experience, this is where we see the most number of casualties. If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then this is where the romance with OER ends for many. Why? because teachers just don’t have the technical skills to repurpose OER.

In the past eight years I have trained hundreds of teachers across the world on using OER for course development. However, I never realized that they lack the skills to repurpose OER for their teaching and learning needs. Without the ability to create fit-for-purpose OER themselves, it is highly unlikely that teachers will proceed to adapt existing OER to create new derivations. As such, all the time, money and resources spent on training teachers in the use of OER is futile without skilling them in repurposing HTML, open documents, PDFs, images, audio tracks, animations and videos. Further, it will be even more pointless to train them in these skills using anything other than FOSS.

I’m happy to finally see the wood for the trees when it comes to propagating the OER movement. I continue to believe that OER can do to education what FOSS did to software. One reason for the significant uptake of the FOSS movement is the technical skills of the adopters and adapters. It is high time that we look at the OER movement through the same lens. As such, I don’t believe that training people in the “theory” of OPEN will lead to any sort of sustainability. They will not come just because I built it. Skill them and they will come is my new approach to OER.


All views expressed in this post are my own and claim no affiliation to any institution, organization or individual.


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