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Article:Why should we share and be open?

(Author: Dr Bronwyn Hegarty, 2014.)

Before we can go any further, it is important to discuss the importance and benefits of sharing resources and knowledge. Firstly, effective personalized learning is enabled. To facilitate this, educators and learners need to be able to access, re-use and modify learning materials so that they are relevant to their context (Siemens, 2003). This context may include the subject, culture and learning environment. Sharing and re-use relies on people contributing to openly accessible file sharing sites and repositories of material. (For example, Slideshare, Youtube, Scribd, Flickr, Picassa, Wikipedia, Wikibooks and Merlot etc.)

Secondly, practitioners are contributing to the global learning community when they promote re-use of their materials. This sharing of knowledge means that learning is enriched and broadened, ideas are disseminated and lifelong learning is facilitated. People don’t need to attend formal classes to learn something new. People who share may also interact and this widens the network of peers who can contribute to the learning process and as such participation and learning is defined by the collective (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011).

Thirdly, sharing resources provides a wider and richer array of material for educators and learners to access, and strengthens the learning experience. The possibility that peers will scrutinise resources that are shared is likely to result in better quality and more valuable resources being made available. Do you agree? Also, pedagogical innovation is more likely when alternatives to development are available and when people can see what is possible, and how easily it can be done (Educause, 2010).

Fourthly, sharing resources has been shown to save time and money in development and in the promotion of educational products (Blackall & Hegarty, 2011). This relies on people not only taking freely available resources but also contributing to the pool. When teachers develop presentations and audio and video resources, and share them openly they are enabling others to link to them, and reducing the need to develop similar resources. OER can also reduce costs for the learner who may not be able to afford high fees for formal education. However, organisations can generate income by offering facilitation and accreditation opportunities (Blackall & Hegarty, 2011; Stewart, 2011).

Finally, sharing can open up new opportunities for collaboration. This has been demonstrated by the collaborative efforts involved in a number of research initiatives and also the setting up and running of open courses and consortia. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a prominent example of this. Collaboration possibly makes the ventures not only more cost-effective but also of better quality when many viewpoints are enactioned.

If the sharing of open resources is going to be achievable and manageable, flexible copyright licensing laws are needed to ensure that the material open practitioners create and share is available for re-use and modification (Siemens, 2003). Creative Commons licensing provides multiple options for sharing resources.

Even so, you may be wondering what possible benefits can this bring to you individually, to your learners and your organisation? To engage in further learning about this topic, you may be interested in the free Open Content Licensing for Educators course at:

Benefits for teachers?

The first thing teachers might ask is, “What’s in it for me?” It is a perfectly reasonable question, and the benefits of OER and OEP are not always immediately obvious. Some of the benefits of sharing resources have already been discussed. “If teachers have a strong Internet presence, they can enter into open discourse about about their subjects, model effective practice, and lead networked learning by example. If they share their knowledge and ideas, and actively seek assistance with what they don’t know and understand, and can do this with the backing of their institution, they can enter into more creative teaching environments” (Blackall & Hegarty, 2011: Models of Open Education).

Sharing resources can enhance the quality and diversity of learning and teaching through expanding the personal knowledge that teachers hold as well as their skills. This can flow onto the teaching methods that are used and the design of the learning environment where learner-generated content and active participation in the learning process is encouraged (Conole, 2013). The peer interaction that is encouraged by an open pedagogy relies on having a connected professional community of individuals who trust each other and openly share ideas and knowledge. This leads naturally to opportunities for peer review and helps to develop skills for reflective practice where professional learning and reflection become integrated into everyday activities.

Benefits for learners?

When teachers are asked to change how they practice, and managers are asked to support this they like to know how a new method is likely to benefit the learners. They may have questions such as: How are completion and retention rates going to be enhanced? Will students be more satisfied with their learning experience? The use of participatory open practices encourages learners to actively engage in the learning process to share their ideas and understanding as well as the outputs of their studies. The chance to contribute to a social learning environment and create learning materials can be motivating and is most likely to deepen the experience leading to more effective learning (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011).

Learning in a transparent manner using social media offers opportunities for peer assessment and feedback, both aspects known to be very valuable for developing knowledge and encouraging reflective learning (Spiller, 2009). Also, learners who can access a wider variety of resources and explore topics relevant to their specific needs and are participating actively are likely to be more interested in the subject. Additionally, more sustainable educational practices can emerge when students are encouraged to engage in learning environments that are designed to be co-operative, experiential, inquiry-based and reflective (Ministry of Education, n.d). Learners are supported to develop skills for real world situations acting in teams where interaction using a variety of media to solve problems and find creative solutions is commonplace (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011).

Benefits for managers and organisations

“Open education means that learning materials must be free for others to use and integrate in the manner they choose” (Siemens, 2003). This does not mean that organisations cannot earn money from the materials they create. Open education materials may be offered free in one context or format and generate revenue in other ways. For example, an Anatomy and Physiology for Animals textbook was developed by Dr Ruth Lawson using wikibooks, and made freely available to Veterinary Nursing students all over New Zealand. The book could be downloaded as a pdf. The book was also published on a self-publishing site called , and sells at a reasonable price. The School of Veterinary Nursing at Otago Polytechnic has generated worthwhile income from printed copies of the book.

Terry Anderson at Athabasca University also provides free open access to educational resources. For example, he offers a free download of a pdf version of: The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd edition). It can also be purchased as a paperback and an e-book.

Programmes where learners are able to sample courses and see the resources and learning they can expect can provide unanticipated and free marketing opportunities. Accordingly, marketing budgets could be trimmed or diverted into other areas for attracting students. For example, making more efficient use of social media, and encouraging and supporting staff to share their material and expertise can lead to more exposure, not only for individuals, but also for the organization (Blackall & Hegarty, 2011).

Also, collaborating to share in the development of OERs may be a more sustainable model as it has the potential to reduce workloads and enhance productivity. However, the true meaning of sustainability depends on the objectives of the organization, since resource generation is not cheap nor is the cost of training staff to use technologies. If OERs are going to be sustainable, that is, “affordable and usable” consideration needs to be given to “volunteers and incentives, community and partnerships, co-production and sharing, distributed management and control” (Downes, p. 41).

Several recommendations for teachers, learners and policy makers and organisational leaders are made by Schaffert and Geser (2008) to promote and support open educational practices by using tools and methods that support collaborative learning processes and sharing of resources. They also recommend using open licensing to facilitate sharing and re-use of resources.

What issues can you identify?

A number of barriers are associated with the use of OERs (OPAL, 2011). For example, suitable high quality materials may not be available, academic staff may not feel that they have sufficient time or skills to search for, use or create OER, and those resources they can re-use might not be culturally suitable. Also, organisational strategies and policies might not support the use of OER. Policy regarding IT systems is particularly important, to ensure that organisational firewalls do not block access to a variety of technologies and materials. To be successful, OERs need to be integrated into learning designs and they must be relevant and add value to the learning experience (Conole, 2012). At a professional level, practitioners may not be interested in OER or pedagogical innovation, and according to the OPAL (2011) report, the majority of respondents surveyed regarded this as a barrier of considerable importance along with lack of supportive policies and infrastructure for OER.

According to Cape Town Open Education Declaration, a number of barriers may prevent the vision for open education practices being realised. The authors believe that educators are not always aware of the growing collection of open educational resources. Governing bodies in the higher education sector and organisational leaders are often unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of open education or unprepared to develop policies and strategies to support it. A major factor is the lack of willingness to adopt more open and consistent licensing practices so that resources can be shared and re-used more easily across platforms and organisations. Also, “the majority of the world does not yet have access to the computers and networks that are integral to most current open education efforts” (para 5).

Three strategies are put forward in the declaration, to encourage educators and learners to participate actively in the movement, and for policy-makers to make open education resources and practices a priority and supportive for those creating resources (educators, authors, publishers and institutions) and intending to release them openly (see para 7 – 9).

Web-Based Resources


Further Reading

Additional Resources about Open Education

This handbook is designed to help educators find, use, develop and share Open Educational Resources (OER) to enhance their effectiveness online and in the classroom. Contributions are welcome.
In this volume, 28 authors discuss policy and practice at a national and international level. “The promise of OER as a way of providing enhanced quality education to potentially greater numbers of students. Policy makers and practitioners will be able to draw many precepts and possibilities from the rich variety of experience and reflection contained within this volume.”

Professional Development opportunities in Open Education Resources and Practices

  • Open Education Resource university (OERu) - Free open online courses relating to Open Education Resources and Practices. At:
Courses on a range of open education topics are available, including open licensing and open education practices, and digital citizenship.
The project aims to provide a series of introductory resources for students, academic staff and education managers seeking to learn the basic ideas, concepts and theories related to open, flexible, and distance learning (OFDL). The resources will form a self-paced professional development programme that will provide linkages into the global community of OFDL organisations and research.