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UNESCO-UNEVOC has compiled a short selection of academic or professional articles that might help to clarify the signification and the use of the term "Open Educational Resources (OER)". It goes thus beyond the definitions stored in TVETipedia while not pretending to offer an exhaustive bibliography on the topic.
These two references are introductions to OER published by recognised international institutions. COL (Commonwealth of Learning) is one of the leading international organisations providing distance education while HEA (Higher Education Academy) is a British non-profit organisation focusing on teaching and piloted by British universities. Both guides are written in plain English and focus first on the meaning of OER.
In the selected quotes, the author of the HEA guide develops a short history of the “OER” concept, before highlighting its core terminological issue: the level of “openness” it implies. A table from the COL guide illustrates this challenge further.
“Open Education (OE) and OER have their origins in the open source, open knowledge and free sharing movements in the latter part of the twentieth century, although the relationship of those movements to education has been a symbiotic one. Alongside these there were developments in open and distance learning that drew on rapid innovations in technology. In 1994 the term ‘learning object’ was introduced by Wayne Hodgins to describe any packaged digital resource that had defined educational aims and could be shared. This idea has been criticised because it fixes resources to a specific context with no sense of reuse and adaptation. Nevertheless the notion of shared learning resources brought about attempts to define standards for cataloguing and searching for teaching materials online. A further development grew from the work of one of the leading developers of the early intellectual framework for OER as adaptable and repurposable, David Wiley at Utah State University; he promoted the idea of ‘open content’ (analogously to open sources software) and licencing, which in turn led to the foundation of the Creative Commons in 2001.
These ideas and structures are the basic building blocks of the OER movement today: an understanding of the nature of the teaching resources and their use and repurposing, mechanisms for accurately and consistently describing them in larger collections, and frameworks for dealing with issues around intellectual property rights. Combined with a growing body of pedagogy that draws out the underpinning notions of knowledge, learning and the educational context where resources are always appropriately developed sets the scene for OER.
In 2001 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began its Open Courseware (OCW) initiative, making the vast majority of its teaching materials and courses available freely on-line. This promoted the idea of larger-scale release of teaching resources resulting in the formation of the Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC) to bring together all those engaged in this scale of resource.
In 2002 the term ‘open educational resources’ was adopted by UNESCO, an organisation that has done much to promote OER as driver for educational change across the globe. In 2012 an historic declaration by UNESCO, following a world-wide survey, called on all governments to make all educational materials freely available.
The nature of openness is not always clear-cut; alongside being freely available and intellectual property rights, questions may be asked about the political, social, economic, governance, pedagogic and technological aspects of what openness means in higher education. In a movement that is global in its reach and aims this results in different notions of how openness is understood in specific social contexts. It is for this reason that a simple definition of OER is hard to pin down.
A growing body of literature exists on the question of openness and defining OER. One popular attempt to define openness from David Wiley sets out four requirements, the ‘4R Framework’ of reuse, revise, remix and redistribute (Wiley, 2006)
This is an important point, since it says that OER should be more than unchanging learning objects. There is, therefore, in the OER movement a commitment to look at openness beyond just a solution to IPR(Intellectual property rights) questions. Tuomi (2006) sets out the case for considering three different aspects of openness: technical, social and the nature of the resource itself.” pp.6-7 (in Introduction: “A very brief history of OER” and “Openness”)
“A quick perusal of the Internet demonstrates that there have been numerous attempts to define the concept of OER. While similar, these definitions do highlight different combinations of the key ideas. The grid below identifies common elements and some differences across the definitions:
“Understanding Open Educational resources”, Prepared by Neil Butcher & Andrew More, edited by Sanjaya Mishra for the Common Wealth of Learning, 2015 - ISBN 978-1-894975-72-8
No matter how the “open” of OER is defined, the concept generally raises high expectations. These two policy documents highlight how “OER” are perceived and which roles are usually assigned to the concept in terms of public policies. The Paris Declaration was validated by 400 delegates gathered in Paris during the UNESCO Congress on OER. The Cape town declaration was organised by the OSI and Shuttleworth foundations (private sector). Both were signed by various stakeholders from the private and public spheres.
The selected quotes focus on an aspect that is usually one of the top expectations of OER: how can they help improve access to learning?
“We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.
This emerging open education movement combines the established tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint. Educators, learners and others who share this belief are gathering together as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective. The expanding global collection of open educational resources has created fertile ground for this effort. These resources include openly licensed course materials, lesson plans, textbooks, games, software and other materials that support teaching and learning. They contribute to making education more accessible, especially where money for learning materials is scarce.” in Preamble
“The World OER Congress held at UNESCO, Paris on 20-22 June 2012
Mindful of relevant international statements including:
“Cape town Open Education Declaration: Unlocking the promise of Open Educational Resources”, Shuttleworth Foundation, Open Society Foundations, 2007
The previous references highlighted how openness and the expectations attached to it were keystones to the OER identity. This peer-reviewed article tempers the link between "openness" and "access to education". It is not assertive in its conclusions: it studies only a very specific kind of OER (the “MOOCs”) - which many would consider as a “free” more than an “open” resource – and is based on a limited amount of empirical data. However, it does demonstrate that “offering” resources do not automatically reduce inequalities, raising (indirectly) the question of how we should understand OER.
In the selected quotes, the authors make a literature review on the limits of MOOCs for reducing the “knowledge gap”, and then submit their own empirical results: MOOCs, no matter the topic, are mostly used by people who already have a higher educational status.
This situation is not only valid for developing countries, but for developed countries as well, although the issues are different in developed countries and more connected to societal values and dispositions. Ho et al. (2014) came to the conclusion that “despite the optimistic and aspirational declarations of many MOOC providers, these courses are not, as of yet, making education “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind, and bank account-blind” (Agarwal, 2013, para. 3).
Usage gap and MOOCs. More fundamental issues arise out of the language and the contextualisation of OER. A larger part of existing OER has been created in developed, industrial nations which mean that they are created in the respective languages of those countries and rely on the local requirements of the learners: “OER produced in Western industrialized countries may not necessarily fit the needs of learners in developing countries” (Richter & McPherson, 2012, p. 202). This applies in the same way for MOOCs which are primarily organised by universities and address topics on an academic level. These demands may overtax those groups of people who have a low level of prior education. Even common languages like English, in which most MOOCs are offered, are an insurmountable barrier for the underprivileged which again brings an advantage to those who are able to speak English because of their education.
Furthermore, the different forms of use and levels of motivation are of relevance. Thus, the German Conference of Rectors (HRK) states in its comment on MOOCs that they are mainly “exploited by those who are already highly committed to their studies, while low achieving students tend to not make use of them”
In summary, a hypothesis can be developed against the theoretical background outlined above, stating that there is a certain possibility that MOOCs are and can be especially exploited by those who already have a higher socioeconomic status and are often better educated.
The empirical data indicates that MOOCs are mostly used by people who already have a higher educational status. It is not only true for university MOOCs; it seems to have become a common phenomenon which also appears in other MOOCs that are not designed for academics in the first place. A particular reason might be in the courses themselves, which offer content at a level mainly designed for students in higher education. Furthermore, the theoretical considerations on the digital divide provide evidence that barriers exist regarding access, usage, and reception among the potential participants, which keep them from using these offerings properly. This again results in disadvantages for these groups compared to groups that have a higher educational and / or socioeconomic status.” (extracted from “Digital divide and MOOCs” and “Conclusion”)
The previous reference highlighted that most OER are created by Higher Education institutions and targeted at their graduates. This reference from UNESCO focuses on ICT (including OER) for TVET.
In the selected quotes, the authors sum up the current OER initiatives within the TVET field and conclude that there is still “a long way to go” before OER can fulfill their potential in this area.
There are few OER content repositories specifically focused on technical and vocational subject areas. This is likely to change in the future as development partners and other agencies turn their attention towards OERs for TVET. USAID has recently embarked on a project through Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to raise awareness about the educational possibilities of OER in TVET and aims to stimulate greater sharing and use of OER across the Asia-Pacific region.
The National Learning Network project in the UK has recently placed online more than two thousand learning objects, many of which were developed specifically for TVET subjects. They can be viewed online and be downloaded, although the licensing conditions for own use is unclear. The Australian government funded the development of the Flexible Learning Toolboxes and the Learning Object Repository Network. The network was developed to enable learning resources to be shared and reused across the Australian training system, but it was closed in 2011. In Canada, since 2003, BCcampus has leveraged CAD9 million in Provincial education funds for post-secondary institutions to develop technical and vocational OERs. Countries where elearning in TVET is a recognised policy priority have government focus, and funds, to progress this important initiative. These materials are available to all post-secondary institutions within the jurisdiction but unfortunately, in both cases, the majority of the education resources are not freely available outside the country (in the case of the Australian toolboxes) or outside the Province (in the case of British Colombia). TVET development would benefit if the OER movement, which is gaining traction in higher education, were to turn its attention to technical and vocational education and assist in bringing such resources to a truly open forum. The acceptance and use of OERs still has some way to go in TVET but they are likely to prove meaningful in this sector as they have in basic and higher education. pp. 16-17 (in "Future trends")
This article is an element of the TVETipedia Glossary.