Open Formats

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Image courtesy of "Flattop341"

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 and accessible 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 would 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.

In this instance, the teacher had a couple of options. She could 1) Use an open-source alternative to Photoshop, such as the GIMP, or 2) Use a more open format when making edits, such as TIFF. The scenario above isn't too harmful, because at least the PNG file is available for use, but ideally the OER would be available in a format that is more conducive to editing.

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

A teacher wants to create an animation. He uses Adobe Flash to produce it. Although the animation worked perfectly for the lesson, he now realizes that needs to use Flash every time he 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, editing Flash files can be difficult/impossible without Adobe's program. 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 difficult 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.

Open enough?

There is some disagreement about the necessity of an open formats in OER. Some believe that by definition OER cannot use a closed format because technically nobody beyond the file format copyright owner is allowed to alter the format. Others take a more pragmatic view and acknowledge the benefits of open formats but stress that OER creators need to do what works for them (Various).

As you develop your OER and use OER produced by others, you will begin to have a sense of how much you value open formats. In some ways, the case for open formats is difficult, because it isn't until you've personally had a problem with a closed format that the problems arise. This handbook advocates a "middle-of-the-road perspective" with regards to the necessity of open formats. As you gain more experience developing OER, you will develop your own opinion about open formats.

Other Considerations Besides Open?

One thing to consider is the availability of an open format. Some open formats are not very widely known, and some might be hesitant to use them, even though there is nothing wrong with them. Additionally, while open source software is free to download, not everyone may want to use a particular open source program. One example might be the GIMP (see the Images program section). 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 time to learn. GIMP's user interface also looks less polished than Photoshop's, which tends to give users the impression that program has poor quality.

Another thing to consider is that open source software tends to be "works in progress" and can have bugs. Try using the program a few times to make sure it is stable. If possible, you should also make sure the open source software has all the capabilities necessary. If you are working on a project with other educators, make sure you've talked about which programs and formats you will use before starting.


Joyce, Alexa. OECD forum final report. Retrieved 21 Mar. 2008 from
Various. FOSS solutions for OER - summary report. Retrieved 21 Mar. 2008