Sir John Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) suggests that social software and Open Education Resources (OER) is the new miracle of education. The miracle of open educational resources is that sharing and adaptation are now easy because everything is held electronically and when you give knowledge away, you still have it for yourself to use.
The notion of sharing knowledge is not a new phenomenon. Since medieval times teachers have shared their knowledge with learners and scholars have shared their research findings to build new knowledge. However, advances associated with the printing press and commercialization of the publishing industry have locked down free sharing of printed knowledge through copyright legislation. While the publishing industry must be commended for their role in widening access to academic knowledge through their distribution channels and their custodianship in promoting quality, the downside is that we cannot freely adapt and share academic content under restrictive copyright regimes. The OER movement constitutes a return to the traditions of the academy, namely that the sole purpose of education is to share knowledge.
The term "Open Educational Resource(s)" (OER) refers to educational resources (lesson plans, quizzes, syllabi, instructional modules, simulations, etc.) that are freely available for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing. The concept was first used in July 2002 during a UNESCO workshop on open courseware in developing countries (Johnstone, 2005). Most definitions of the term include content, software tools, licenses, and best practices. OER is a burgeoning field of practice and exploration as evidenced by the growing number of research studies including the OECD (2007), OLCOS (2007), and Hewlett Foundation (Atkins, Brown and Hammond, 2007) reports. There is an emerging research community gaining momentum and focusing on investigating the impact of OER on learning and the education environment.
The OER model is based on the following value propositions:
Aligning academic practice with the core value that education is fundamentally an endeavour of sharing knowledge;
Reducing the costs of producing expensive online courseware for individual institutions;
Sharing the risks associated with internationalisation while enabling institutions to compete through value added services and local customisations (co-opitition model)
Course materials developed by teams of professionals can produce high quality outputs.
Existing OER approaches can be classified into two broad models:
Producer-consumer models where an institution or consortium develop materials and release courseware under an open license which can be reused by other providers for example MIT's OpenCourseware (http://ocw.mit.edu) Peer-production models which encourage open and unrestricted participation aimed to leverage the benefits of mass-collaboration and the principles of self organisation, for example Wikipedia, Wikiversity, and COL's WikiEducator.