Beyond Open Access: Leveraging OER for University Teaching and Learning

By Olcott, Don | Distance Learning, May 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Beyond Open Access: Leveraging OER for University Teaching and Learning


Olcott, Don, Distance Learning


Introduction

The growth of open educational resources (OER) by colleges and universities has been steady over the past 5 years. Today, universities across the globe are using OER to supplement formal instruction, reduce costs of instructional content, and leverage capacitybuilding opportunities for educational systems in developing countries (Kanwar, Kodhandaraman, & Umar, 2010; McGreal, 2012). OER, in and of themselves, cannot solve the immense challenges that define the digital divide. These challenges must receive increasing priority in the political, economic, social, and ethnic spheres to position education for development as a viable capacity building strategy in developing nations (Butcher, Kanwar, & UvalicTrumbic, 2011).

Despite the recent growth, OER may be the best-kept secret on the planet. There is clearly a need to expand the promotion, benefits, and cooperative sharing potential of OER in the broader university community at the grass roots level. Indeed, major organizations including UNESCO, the Commonwealth of Learning, OpenLearn, OERAsia, Connexions, MIT, and other agencies have been instrumental in promoting OER in education.

This article will provide a status report on some of the reoccurring and emerging issues for university adoption and use of OER. Although it is difficult to present concepts that are directed at practitioners new to OER and at the same time include analyses of issues for experienced OER users, the importance of expanding awareness and dialogue of OER suggests that this dual focus is warranted. A list of key questions for university leaders will be presented in the final section of the article. Appendix A will provide a list of key organizational resources for OER.

Defining OER

The definitions of emerging innovations tend to progress through a number of definitional iterations. This is due, in part, to the newness of the innovation and the impulse of practitioners to infuse new ideas and concepts into the process. OER have been around for a decade and we have seen the definitional continuum progress from the generic to the specific. A few recent examples are highlighted below.

Hylen (2007) states that OER refers to full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a major contributor to OER project initiatives, has defined OER as: "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 or repurposing by others" (The William and Hora Hewlett Foundation, 2010, para. 2).

UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (2011) define OER:

Open educational resources (OER): OER are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been released under an open licence that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007). Use of open technical standards improves access and reuse potential. OER can include full courses/programs, course materials, modules, student guides, teaching notes, textbooks, research articles, videos, assessment tools and instruments, interactive materials such as simulations, role plays, databases, software, apps (including mobile apps) and any other educationally useful materials. The term OER" is not synonymous with online learning, eLearning or mobile learning. Many OER - while shareable in a digital format - are also printable, (p. v)

OER are not synonymous with online learning or distance education. The World Web, particularly the Internet, has become a gateway for accessing OER in digital formats. OER can be integrated as an instructional component in an online learning or mobile learning course yet these same OER may also be readily accessible in print formats. …

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