OER Handbook/create OER

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Note: The page is outdated, please see http://www.wikieducator.org/OER_Handbook/educator instead.

When creating OER, it is important to think about the tools used and how the creation process works. Some tools are more conducive to building OER than others. In this sense creating OER's with OER tools can be considered an "open process." In this section, open formats will be discussed as well as common "open source" programs for OER creation. Keep in mind that the act of creating something that is made available to everyone for the common good is more important than strict usage of open source programs and absolute adherence to open formats.

Open Formats

As discussed in the "Get OER" section, some formats are better than others for OER creation. As you create OER, it is best to keep the individual file(s) into formats that are as open as possible. When the file formats are kept open it prevents the OER from inadvertently being "locked" up.

Here's an example of an OER being "locked" up:

A teacher wants to make a collage. She imports several PNG photos into Photoshop and creates the collage. She saves the file as a PSD and exports a copy as a PNG to post on the web. While others can edit the PNG, it will be a lot easier to edit the PSD file. However, in order to use PSD files, the person has to have a copy of Photoshop.

Sometimes getting locked into a particular format or program is unavoidable.

A teacher wants to create an animation. She uses a copy of Flash. Although the animation worked perfectly for the lesson, she now realizes that she's now needs to use Flash every time she wants to make a change and that others who want to make changes to the animation need Flash as well.

In the example above, the teacher uses Flash, a popular animation program. While Flash is very powerful and popular, editing Flash files can be difficult/impossible without Adobe's Flash programs. Unfortunately, open alternatives to Flash are still in a primitive state and not nearly as widespread. Therefore, in this particular case, it may have been impossible to keep the OER in an open format and compatible with open programs. In situations such as these the best thing to do is to make an editable version of the file available. For example, the teacher may make the FLA (which is the editable Flash file) available along with the SWF (the file that is typically put in web pages) with a Creative Commons license. While anybody who wants to localize or remix it will still need to use Flash, they will at least have the ability to do so.

The meaning of open source

If you've followed the software industry over the past few years, you've probably heard of "open source." The term "open source" is an shortening of "open source code," and refers to the legal status and availability to the programming code that makes up a piece of software. To better understand the meaning of open source software you should first understand how traditional software works. With traditional software the only people who are allowed to look at the programming code (the so-called "guts" of a program) are the creators and owners of the software. The creators and owners are also the only people allowed to modify the software. In contrast, anyone may look at programming code of open source software and make changes to that coding. Some corporations sponsor open source initiatives, but many projects are started and maintained entirely by volunteers. Although open source software has been around since the 1970's, it has not been until the last ten years that open source software has been in the mainstream. Probably the most prominent example of open source software is the Linux operating system. Linux is actually several different operating systems that run on the same internal parts and is entirely open source. Although Linux has not been adopted widely in home use, it has been used a lot for website hosting and similar tasks.

Open source programs are valuable to OER because of their adaptability and freedom. Open source programs tend to support open formats better and because anyone can view the programming code, they are easier to modify and change to meet new circumstances. Most open source programs are too complicated for the average person, or even those with basic programming skills, to modify and change, but many find reassurance that at least open source software could be changed legally without having to obtain permission. Some in the OER community like to support open source programs because they see philosophical parallels between goals of OER and open source programs.

Open source programs

The following is a list of open source programs arranged by type of program. This list is by no means comprehensive, as there are thousands of open source programs available today.


Open source office programs is a great example of open source programs competing well with their proprietary counterparts. Two items of caution. First, be careful when selecting a format to save in, especially when you plan on switching between a proprietary office program and an open source one. For example, Open Office saves word processing files as ODT, which cannot be opened in Word without a special plugin. Second, be careful about using online office suites as you do not have complete control over your information. Though many of these services have privacy policies which stipulate that they will not use your information, these services may be incompatible with privacy laws regarding student's grades.

Program Name Uses of Program Compatible formats Operating Systems
Abiword Word processor that uses little memory. Similar to Word. Rich Text Format, Plain Text, HTML Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Open office one of the most well-known open source programs on the internet today. Open office is made of six different programs: a word processor, spreadsheet, math equation editor, drawing program and database application. Depends on the program, but includes many of the popular formats. Windows, Mac OS X (called Neo Office) , Linux
Scribus desktop publishing software meant for designing brochures and newsletters (similar to Adobe's InDesign) Unknown Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Zoho Online suite of office programs including word processor, spreadsheet and PowerPoint-like presentation software. Depends on the program, but includes many of the popular formats. Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (web browser based)


Because creating video and animation programs can be complex, there are few open source programs for video editing. Blender is an excellent program, but has a steep learning curve; be sure to give yourself plenty of time to learn this program. Cinelarra, while a good program, can be buggy. Also note that some of these programs only work on Linux.

Program Name Uses of Program Compatible formats Operating Systems
Blender Complex 3D animation and pictures, similar to Maya Many of the common image and movie formats such as MOV, JPEG, TIFF, etc. Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Cinelarra editing video and audio Unknown Linux only
Kino Basic video editor, similar to iMovie DV, AVI Linux only


Besides Open Office, GIMP is one of the most well known open source programs currently available. Paint.Net is very easy to use, but is only available for Windows. Tux Paint is a great program for younger students.

Program Name Uses of Program Compatible formats Operating Systems
GIMP Image editing, similar to Photoshop JPEG, PNG, GIF, XCF Windows, Mac OS X (somewhat difficult to install), Linux
Inkscape Drawing tool, similar to Illustrator SVG, PNG Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Paint.NET Image editing, similar to Photoshop JPEG, GIF, PNG Windows
Tux Paint Image editing, especially designed for children Common image formats (?) Windows, Mac OS X, Linux


Audacity is probably the definitive open-source audio editing tool. Songbird has some nice features that set it apart from other music players.

Program Name Uses of Program Compatible formats Operating Systems
Songbird Audio and video player with built-in web browser; easy download of audio files from a website MP3, MPEG-4, OGG, ACC, WMA Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Audacity Audio recorder/editor WAV, AIFF, OGG, FLAC Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

Elgg is meant for institution deployment and not necessarily for an individual classrooms. Moodle, by contrast, can be used in an individual classroom, or by an entire school. Many educators have deployed Moodle in their classroom, so there is a wealth of information available about using it.

Course management

Program Name Uses of Program Compatible formats Operating Systems
Elgg Social networking software that students to have their own webpage. HTML, common image formats Linux, but viewable on any system with a web browser
Moodle Learning management system, similar to Blackboard/WebCT HTML, common image formats, eventual IMS support Linux usually, compatible with others


eXe one of the most basic HTML editors available and is well-suited for people who are unfamiliar with the internet. Bluefish is geared towards educators who already know HTML. If you understand the basic concepts of web development, Filezilla is easy to use.

Program Name Uses of Program Compatible formats Operating Systems
Bluefish HTML editor HTML, CSS Windows (some difficulty with installation), Mac OS X, Linux
eXe HTML editor with modules (such as quizzes) for easy site creation HTML, CSS Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Filezilla FTP (File Transfer Protocol); used for moving pages and images to a website Any type of file found on the internet Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

Other considerations besides being open

One thing to consider is the availability of an open format. Some open formats are not very widely known, meaning some might be hesitant to use them, even though there is nothing wrong with them. Additionally, open source software is free to download, but not everyone may want to use a particular open source program. An example might be using GIMP. GIMP is an image-editing tool that can do many of the things Photoshop can. However, GIMP's user interface is different from Photoshop's, which means it may take a little bit of time to learn. Another thing to consider is that open source software tends to be "works in progress" and can have bugs. If you are working on a project with other educators, make sure you've talked about which programs and formats you will use.

Policy makers

Open formats and programs

A list of formats and how "open" they are can be found in the "Get OER." But in addition to the openness of a given format, another consideration is how open the programs used to modify and distribute the OER. The programs most conducive to OER are called "open source software." For example, an OER made in Flash can be used so anyone can use it, but other people cannot edit it without their own copy of Flash. This limitation can be a potential barrier when it comes to adoption and the localization and remixing of OER.

Before reading this section, it should be clear that the purpose of this OER handbook is not to evangelize open source software, as is common in many spaces of the internet. Instead, this handbook seeks to explain what open source software is and how it affects OER.

Meaning of open source

(Will be the same as the section above)

Open source programs

There are many open source counterparts to proprietary programs. These programs are often very similar feature-wise and in appearance.

The following is a list of popular open source programs:

(list of open source programs as above)

Additional software to be listed

Content Management systems

The choice of a CMS depends largely on the needs of organization. Each of the CMS's listed below are equally free and open. Some the PHP-based CMS's have more pre-built modules for extending functionality than other languages because of the prevalence of PHP.

CMS Name Features of CMS Compatible formats Operating Systems
Drupal PHP-based. Many free modules are available. HTML, many common image and video formats can be displayed Linux, Mac OS X
Joomla PHP based. Extensions for additional functionality available. HTML, many common image and video formats can be displayed Windows(?), Linux, Mac OS X,
Plone Python based. Emphasis on internationalization. HTML, many common image and video formats can be displayed Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

Advantages of using open source

  • Cost
  • Ability to modify source without author permission
  • Avoid vendor lock-in
  • Ability to give back and enhance the program for others
  • Some open source projects are very receptive to feedback and feature requests
  • Support of open formats

Disadvantages of using open source

  • User interfaces are sometimes not as polished
  • Documentation on lesser known projects can be underdeveloped
  • Few projects reach maturity
  • Projects tend to be a "work in progress;" software can be buggy
  • Very few projects have a formal support, such as phone support

Considerations of open source workflow

Adopting open source programs in the development of educational resources should be done carefully. Before deploying or mandating the use of an open source program, be sure to have it tested by staff to make it fulfills all possible needs when creating OER. If an open source program does not meet all of the necessary requirements, then a careful inventory of the costs and benefits. Another consideration is the amount of training needed for staff to become proficient in using the program. The larger the number of staff that needs to learn the new program, the larger the training costs. The lack of documentation may or may not be an issue depending the technical aptitude of staff. It should be noted that support for enterprise-level software such as Moodle can be purchased at prices that are competitive, or cheaper, than support for the corresponding proprietary software.

Even though open source programs are free, they do have cost in terms of time and maintenance. Open source programs are updated frequently and that can take a little time to update. The length of time is highly dependent on the nature of program and the updates. Unless the update is a security one, they can typically wait until routine maintenance is done. Many open source programs have a history of updates and when they were released. If you have concerns about managing installed talk with IT staff at your institution.

Additionally, is not uncommon for open source programs to lose support and cease development. Most of the programs listed above have strong community support behind them, and in some cases, non-profit organizations.

Nevertheless, it may be worthwhile to see how long the project has been in development. You may also want to contact the open source project and ask about similar organizations that use their software. Also, consider having a backup plan in case using an open source program does not work.