Open Educational Resources or “OER” have emerged mostly over the last 10 years. Distributing free educational resources can be traced back much further back. What has turned into a “movement”, relates strongly to the connection to resources being digitized and shared over the Internet, and the particular copyright licensing associated to the resource. Duplicating resources that are in a physical format such as paper or disc carries a significant cost. The more copies that are shared, the higher the costs. The higher the duplication and distribution costs, the more limited the possible distribution of the resource.
A working definition of Open Educational Resources has been included in this report to help provide a bridge between the various definitions found in the literature:
Open Educational Resources (OER) are digitized educational resources that are freely available for use by educators and learners, without an accompanying need to pay royalties or license fees. The digitized resources may be shared via the Internet or using media such as disk-drives. OER are usually, but not exclusively, licensed using Creative Commons licenses. Both the original owners of the material and the subsequent users need to clearly understand the terms of these contracts to appreciate the ways in which materials may be remixed and shared.
Firstly, this definition takes the narrow opinion that an OER should be digitized so that it may be sharable at no (or negligible) incremental cost via the Internet. Where an object needs to be in a physical format before it can be practically used, that resource could still be shared in digital format (e.g. The designs or plans may be published and transmitted), and the physical form re-created by the user on receipt of the digital version. This is to support the school of thought that the replication of the resource must be as ‘near to free’ as possible, while not eliminating the possibility of sharing physical resources.
Secondly, the definition takes the broader view that not all people or organizations are alike and so different copyright licenses will continue to emerge. A suggestion is provided in the report’s appendix on how content may be cited when mixed from works carrying different copyright licenses, providing that all the licenses of works used allow for the sharing of works free of charge, to accommodate this emerging reality.
Copyright laws have been developing and protect the rights of the owner of a published work, which helps to protect the business rights for people and businesses whose livelihood depends on the sale of their works. In academe however, many people would like to share knowledge widely for a number of reasons. An institution that produces excellent educational resources might like to show the world how good it is by allowing anyone to use their resources. They know that every time a resource is used from their institution, they gain visibility and prestige which cannot be purchased with advertising money. If the publishing institution or educator has really produced a good quality resource, their name could potentially become synonymous with high quality education, thereby attracting accolades.
Advances made by Creative Commons1 have supported the opportunities for individuals and organizations to publish works free of charge for others to use. When a Creative Commons license is selected and displayed in a resource, the owner of that resource tells potential users of the work, that it may be used free of charge. Different options provided by Creative Commons enable the owner of the work to communicate restrictions they would like observed, such as the work may be used for non-commercial purposes only, or that if a resource is adapted (i.e. a derivative work is created), that the new work must also be shared. The OER movement owes much to Creative Commons for creating a license framework within which it can now operate.
Institutions and individuals who release resources as OER have a world of choice as to where they publish these resources. Many institutions have chosen to create their own website or repositories of resources. In order to find these resources, potential users, such as teachers, lecturers and learners must search the websites one-by-one, or use one of the aggregation search engines that have emerged. There is no standard method of meta-tagging resources or storing them, neither is there a standard method of licensing resources, other than that there is general consensus that one of the Creative Commons licenses should be used.
￼Momentum in the OER movement has been achieved by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and others that invested millions of dollars (US) in projects that have created resources, created repositories, supported institutions to review their policies and trained educators how to better use computers to create and share learning resources. If the funded projects have been successful, institutions and governments should now begin to recognize the potential of OER. One only needs to imagine if a similar course is created by a team of educators in each of nearly 200 countries around the world, what duplication of effort must exist. Would taxpayers not be pleased to hear that the best available learning content had been adapted and contextualized to local conditions, saving millions of dollars across all subjects and levels of study?
The industry that may be faced with the greatest change in its business model may be the commercial publishing industry. In the recent past, we saw how the business model of an encyclopedia could be dramatically changed by another one that is offered free of charge. The publishing industry seems poised to face such a challenge on a global scale. For educators, the ‘not invented here’ syndrome will have to give way to environments that encourage the sharing of resources that support productive use of time, rather than re-invention of existing resources.
One of the reasons why OER could fulfill an important global role, is that it may assist in providing opportunities for the few hundred million people who are outside the formal education system and have little or no hope of ever entering it.
In cases where bandwidth remains unavailable, equipment exists to provide for OER to be shared. It however needs to be deployed and used. Widely available and cost effective bandwidth is crucial to providing access to learning resources, and in many cases, education. Affordable and widely accessible bandwidth is an area of infrastructure development for urgent attention by governments.
An educated and skilled workforce is needed in all countries, as quality education is critical for economic social development.The OER Movement has the potential of contributing towards closing the gap between those who are able to access formal education systems and those who have little chance of entering or re-entering one. The OER movement also has the potential of advancing research through sharing knowledge (freedom of information), rather than proliferating proprietary sentiments over knowledge created in institutions of learning.