Search and Discovery of OER
OER are only useful if educators can find them. There are a few places on the Internet where educators can now find OER, although these are still different in many ways, and no single search engine is still able to find resources from all of the sites. This is expanded on in the appendix of this report mainly under the headings of ‘Learning Content Repositories’ and ‘How to find OER’. The area of tagging and finding OER, irrespective of where they are hosted on the Internet, remains a challenge
Issues of interoperability are covered more in the appendix to this report. Interoperability issues can seem to sometimes create a rift between people, depending of what kind of software they happen to use and what philosophy of freedom they have adopted. If inclusiveness and acceptance of difference between people is to be practiced, the OER movement will need to find more efficient methods to share OER of different formats, without prescribing the formats to educators. Why should an educator be required to change from their favorite computer program to satisfy a requirement of a particular platform? When a user uploads a document to a sharing platform such as Scribd, a range of formats may be uploaded and Scribd makes the changes it needs to accommodate the new content. Scribd also allows users to download the documents in a range of formats, depending on the options selected by the uploading user. Something Scribd does not do is to provide any tools to re-mix multiple pieces of content and then download the final result.
Issues of compatibility have improved dramatically over the last 10 years. The often cited difference between OpenOffice Writer and Microsoft Word has been improved upon by both programs having converters built-in to convert from the other format. The next step is most likely to be for platforms (such as Scribd) to improve their online tools to be able to seamlessly convert between formats and to enable users to copy and paste sections from any document into one document, while building a bibliography that includes details of the copyright licensing of each section that has been included.
The quality of learning materials, once online, is for everyone to see. Some platforms in the eCommerce sector, enable users to rate content or to rate the providers of content. If institutions have sufficient confidence in their learning content that is placed online, any user could see what other educators had to say about the materials and add comments from their own experience. In the spirit of OER, they could also improve the content directly. When future platforms are established that focus on the sharing of content from multiple sources, a form of rating scheme may need to be introduced. This could be a combination of an individual rating scheme, an institutional rating scheme and a way for formal accrediting agencies to rate content.
The Open Education Quality Initiative (OPAL) is trying to address quality issues in OER by helping to ‘boost the use and acceptance of OER in Europe and beyond, by establishing a European Quality environment for individuals, organisations and policy makers, helping them to define, identify and develop quality for OERs.’ (OPAL, 2011).
The original OER were created in English, due to the location of the main funding agency in California in the USA. The practice of funding English-language OER has been widened to include Spanish and Chinese OER through partner institutions in the US, Mexico, China and elsewhere. The Internet at one point contained a majority of English-language web-pages but that too has changed. Websites in multiple languages have proliferated and along with them, the need to be able to translate on-the-fly.
It is clear that technologies that support OER need to support multiple languages and alphabets or scripts. As a starting point for the next phase of development of the OER movement, systems will need to automatically accommodate the languages with the largest user-base in the world. Using the UN official languages, these would be:
- Russian and
- (UN, 2011).
Provided platforms are able to perform adequately with these languages and alphabets or scripts, other languages could be added, provided countries and communities believe the languages should be included and funding sources are available to support the creation and translation needed.
Sustainability – Emerging Business Models
In some cases, publishers may be able to benefit from free texts that are published on the Internet by charging for publishing the print versions of these as books. In other cases, publishers may contract out their expertise in helping to produce finished texts for free distribution via the Internet where the upfront costs can be covered, for example by governments, funders or institutions. The traditional print market for these books may still remain the domain of the publisher.
We expect there will be markets for the traditional publishing models for many decades to come, but publishers will continue to face the challenge of maintaining pace with developments. An example of a publisher that has come up with new models of publishing is Flatworld Knowledge. This publisher is making many of its texts available free of charge in digital format and only charge for print editions. Educators and learners who download digitized books can opt to print the books locally either in their entirety, or in parts if they wish. Other subscription models also exist to increase the options available to authors and users of materials (Marketwire, 2010).
Where institutions still consider their printed or other learning materials to be their primary business, consideration should be given to evaluating the value of learner support, assessment and accreditation. MIT and the UKOU have shown that giving away their learning content has increased the demand for their services. Learners can acquire much of the learning content online already, so there is less motivation than in the past to consider ‘study packages’ to be the principle product being sold by institutions.
As previously mentioned, unconventional institutions such as ‘the ‘University of the People ’ (UoPeople) is a tuition free, non-profit, online academic institution headquartered in Pasadena, California, founded by entrepreneur Shai Reshef. The organization is devoted to providing universal access to equality, online post-secondary education to qualified students, despite geographic or financial limitations. UoPeople’s pedagogical model draws on the principles of e-learning and social networking, coupled with open-source technology and open educational resources.’ (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2011a). The costs of running such institutions are being radically reduced through the use of OER and overheads covered through sponsorships and the use of volunteers. Institutions like UoPeople along with sites like WikiEducator and Wikiversity could establish for-profit or non-profit, global institutions once they have a broad enough body of educational resources and the recognition of at least one formal accreditation system.
‘The Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) is an initiative that was created by the Ministers of Education of small states.’ (West, 2009). This initiative is not an institution in conventional terms, but up to now has provided capacity building in the development of OER for 32 of the smallest states in the world. The initiative has created a Transnational Qualifications Framework (TQF) to form a basis on which these small states can exchange educational resources and qualifications. Any of the nationally recognized institutions in these small states may in consultation with the VUSSC management committee and the TQF, begin to offer programs internationally under the banner of VUSSC. By doing this, institutions in the smallest of countries could offer programs that carry accreditation in multiple countries (West, 2009).
The Windows to the Universe site provides free content related to Earth and Space Sciences, with Google Adwords as a source of income. Windows to the Universe currently offers two types of membership. At US$9.99 per year a Regular Member enjoys certain benefits, such as discount in the online store, access to updated calendars and a journal tool. At US$20 per year, educators and teachers can become Educator Members, which will in future provide benefits such as free access to webinars and the ability to download pdfs for classroom activities. Other membership formats are currently being considered. Both membership options give access to an advertisement-free version of the website (Windows to the Universe, 2011).
The WikiEducator website mentioned earlier in this report, reports that it has over 18,000 registered users who have collectively produced more than 16,000 articles or pieces of learning content. This site is supported by donors, including its users.