Open Education Resources

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During this discussion we start connecting the dots between trends, factors and activities that help support and contribute to “Open Learning.” The notion itself spans numerous trends and dialogues happening in a variety of networks across the world. Examples of complementary notions include:

  • Freedom Culture (societal)
  • Enterprise 2.0 (general/organization)
  • Education 3.0 (pedagogical/organization)
  • Open Source Teaching and Learning (pedagogical/learning activity design)
  • Personal Learning & Personal Learning Environments (personal pedagogy)

All of trends are based conceptually on openness as an enabler and have been catalyzed by the underlying principles of open access and the success of Open Source Software (OSS) and Open Educational Resources (OER).

Although open learning and open organizations might be our end game, we can identify small steps through illustrating and sharing our work in OER and nascent developments at Penn State.

After providing a broad overview of “Open Learning,” brief descriptions of current activities will be provided to frame some open discussion during the session.

Just a Few Questions

What is open education?

Tell me, what is “Open Education?”

What are some characteristics that speak to open education?

How would you know it if you:

  • saw it... or
  • experienced it… or
  • provided it… or
  • supported it?

Would you even know it?

Are These the Folks Who are Doing It?

Do ANY of these do “Open Education?”

Are Open Educational Resources Relevant?

Many folks would argue that Open Educational Resources (OER) are critical to Open Education. Taken broadly, OER include ANYTHING use in the educational context including learning designs, software, open standards & specs, design patterns, and content including Open CourseWare (OCW). David Wiley, for example argues in Content Is Infrastructure that open content is the intellectual infrastructure that supports the further development of open education. This sentiment seems shared by with WikiEducator community, that puts weight on the collaborative development and sharing of “free / libre” content. The last point here is worth some exploration. Kim Tucker, in Say Libre argues for the least restrictive license possible. The arguments for “Libre” content frequently are about restrictions that reduce the usefulness of the content for sharing, reuse, and redistribution.

How Open Are You?

  • Does the content need attribution?
  • Can it be shared?
  • Can it be modified (derivatives)?
  • Can it be redistributed using a different license?
  • Can it be use for commercial purposes?

What do you think?

Resources (blog posts, similar projects, etc...)

Just an Overview

Freedom Culture

This captures the notion, in the context of intellectual assets, that there are significant social benefits to open and free expression and that much of the dominate intellectual property regime strongly biases against free/libre content including code and other forms of expression. The free culture movement is a social movement that promotes the freedom to distribute and modify creative works, using the Internet as well as other media. Examples of some interesting artifacts that describe or build on the “Free Culture” that lends itself to education include:

Enterprise 2.0

A system of Web-based technologies that provide rapid and agile collaboration, information sharing, emergence, and integration capabilities in the extended enterprise. Taken from Enterprise 2.0: Agile, Emergent & Integrated, which is a report distributed by AIIM, based on a survey they conducted along with some partner organizations.. Is a notion that supports the use of technologies that “open” the organization. Although not related directly to “Open Education,” we can imagine that certain organizations are structured in ways that promote openness and the adoption of technologies that support agility.

Enterprise 2.0 refers heavily to the SLATES (Search, Links, Authorship, Tags, Extensions, and Signals) and FLATNESSES (Freeform, Links, Authorship, Tagging, Network-oriented, Extensions, Search, Social, Emergence and Signals) frameworks. FLATNESSES grow from and builds on SLATES.

  • Search denotes that Enterprise 2.0 content should be subject to discoverability.
  • Links refers to the ability to create interconnections between content.
  • Authorship is largely focused on usability. Every participant should have access to Enterprise 2.0 platforms, without any required training. Interaction with the system should be low-barrier.
  • Freeform stresses that authorship, described as low-barrier, should be “no barrier”, i.e. free from a learning curve or restrictions. It also includes open, low-barrier approaches to signals and integration (modular programming) and stresses the need for freeform interfaces to functionality.
  • Tags refers to the use of metatags in dynamic fashion to identify the relevancy of tagged content. Tags create a taxonomy, or several taxonomies, and can be combined to create a Folksonomy.
  • Extensions leverage technology to uncover patterns of user activity.
  • Signals represents the use of technology to push content to interested parties, promoting proactive collaboration.
  • Network-oriented states that not only must the technology platform be Web-based, but that all content must be Web-addressable.
  • Social stresses transparency (to access), diversity (in content and community members) and openness (to structure) need to be core values of the Enterprise 2.0 environment. It is interesting to note that in this facet, the cultural side of Enterprise 2.0 is stressed as much as the technical.
  • Emergence stresses that the platform must provide approaches that detect and leverage the collective wisdom of the community.

Education 3.0

The notion of Education 3.0 is characterized by rich, cross-institutional, cross-cultural educational opportunities within which the learners themselves play a key role as creators of knowledge artifacts that are shared, and where social networking and social benefits outside the immediate scope of activity play a strong role. Derek Keats and Philipp Schmidt outline the nature of the concept in The genesis and emergence of Education 3.0 in higher education and its potential for Africa, in which they outline the challenges that Web 2.0 technologies pose to traditional universities. They outline how learners are engaging as active creators and consumers of content in a generative cycle, by engagement across traditional educational boundaries.

Although the following factors are cited as catalysts for Education 3.0, it is also recognized that must Universities are unable to take advantage of the opportunity are remain passive repositories of information leveraging traditional one-way transmittal oriented methods of education.


  • Wide diffusion of of e-learning
  • Growing interest in alternatives to teacher-centred approaches such as constructivism
  • Local, regional, and international collaboration to create repositories of educational content
  • Awareness for the need of recognition of prior learning
  • Increasing use of the Internet to find information and just in time learning


  • Increasing use of information technologies in daily life and for social purposes
  • Increasing social use of online virtual spaces
  • A new definition of self and society that includes computer mediated social structures, and people outside of one's immediate physical environment


  • The widespread adoption of personal computers and the Internet
  • The emergence of Web 2.0, including blogs, podcasts, social interaction tools, etc.
  • E-Learning platforms or learning management systems that incorporate features of Web 2.0
  • Free and open source software


  • The development of alternative licensing mechanisms to traditional copyright, which promote the use and reuse of (educational) content without requiring further explicit permission by the author or copyright holder or payment of royalties


  • Internet mediated peer-production has emerged as an efficient organizational model for development of information goods and complements the traditional understanding of firm- and market-organized production processes

Open Source Teaching and Learning

What if we captured learning designs and shared them openly, storing them in open formats, running them on open source software, and used open educational resources for content?

Learning Design

The core elements of a learning design are a series of activities that include details about whom is involved in each activity and their roles; what is to be done and how to do it; an overarching description of the “flow” of these activities; and potentially the reason for this learning design.

Specific Meaning of Learning Design

Learning design, as treated in dialog on Terra Incognita about the Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) takes a relatively restricted definition of learning design. As treated within the context of Open Source Teaching, “learning design” refers to a specific body of recent technical work that attempts to describe how software can “run” a sequence of learning activities. The ability to run the activities is based on a run-time system executing a machine-readable “design” document.

Open Source Teaching

If learning designs capture the heart of the education process, then could we, by analogy, call them the “source code” of teaching? If teachers then share their learning designs with each other under Open Content licenses, this might represent the birth of Open Source Teaching. Furthermore, associating Open Educational Resources with a learning design, couples OSS and OER in a meaningful and contextually relevant way.


Teachers have built patterns relative to how they think about and practice eLearning. The cornerstone application supporting many online programs is the Course Management System (CMS). Learning design systems have not tried to add all the traditional CMS features to their core “workflow” features. This means that frequently a CRM and a Learning Design System (LDS) will be needed; in many cases, technical restrictions make this difficult or impossible. Learning Design Systems are still in their infancy and have had some important limitations that have made them seem too rigid for some instructors.

Commons Based Peer Production (CBPP)

Commons-Based Peer Production serves as a descriptive economic and social model that explains how Free and Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) and OER work from an economic and social perspective, when traditional theories of the market and firm cannot account for the growth and sustainability of OSS and OER. CBPP provides opportunities to discuss accessibility, affordability, and relevance of Open Resources used in education with the benefit of a well-developed and -articulated economic and social model.

CBPP is essentially the model that describes why OSS and OER work. It accounts for why individuals forming groups of varying sizes will create information and cultural assets with a net common-good impact for non-monetary rewards. The model is based on the assertion that information resources are truly public-good resources in that they are non-rival; that is, the use of an information resource by an additional individual does not reduce the source of information, unlike physical resources. The model helps explain the nature of motivation and incentives that would normally be provided by restrictive intellectual property licensing, and identifies the circumstances under which CBPP is more efficient than other forms of organization. Thinking in terms of CBPP opens opportunities to discuss accessibility, affordability, and relevance of open resources used in education with the benefit of a well-developed and -articulated economic and social model.

Regulators concerned with fostering innovation may better direct their efforts to provide the institutional tools that would help thousands of people to collaborate without appropriating their joint product and to make the information they produce freely available, rather than spending their efforts as they now do, to increase the scope and sophistication of the mechanisms for private appropriation of this public good. Benkler, Y. (2002).

Accessible and Usable Tools & Content

Well, it’s not so open if “you” can’t access it. Why is Fluid important to Open Education?

  • Each learner is unique.
  • Learning is personal.

Do you need to have information magnified? Do you wish to avoid using a mouse? Would you like a simpler presentation and organization of the information? Do you want the information displayed in two languages? Whether you are getting course information, registering or submitting an assignment, Web applications on campus, built with Fluid, will configure to meet the needs and preferences you specify. – Fluid Web Site

Illustration of Customization at Configuration-time Illustration of Run-time Transformation
File:ConfigurationTime.jpg File:RuntimeTransformation.jpg

Some Open Education Resources Initiatives/Activities

Some Open Education Initiatives/Activities/Projects

  • Schools Open Source Project - From Web Site: "The Schools Open Source Project is a Becta funded initiative to help schools with awareness, adoption, deployment, use and ongoing development of Open Source Software. A number of schools are already realising the benefits of OSS within their ICT strategy. This project will work to share their experiences along with good OSS practice from other sectors with the wider community of educational practitioners, including teachers, decision makers and IT specialists."
  • Open Source Software Advisory Service (OSS Watch) - From Web Site: "OSS Watch provides unbiased advice and guidance on the use, development, and licensing of free and open source software. OSS Watch is funded by the JISC and its services are available free-of-charge to UK higher and further education. If you want to find out more about open source software, we're the people to ask."

Open Learning Activities at Penn State

College of EMS launches open educational resources initiative

Penn State Live, Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Everywhere teachers and learners have access to the Internet, they now also have access to a rich collection of educational resources created for the popular Penn State course "Geology of the National Parks."

Professor Richard Alley, principal author of the course, observed that "some of the world's best geological features are enshrined in the U.S. National Parks. Geology of the National Parks is a tour of important geological ideas as well as a virtual tour of some of the beautiful places in which these ideas are revealed."

Nearly 1,000 Penn State students enroll in the course each semester, which is offered both online and in the classroom. However, many more interested individuals around the world can't afford to enroll in the formal course, or don't need to earn academic credit. Now they too can benefit from Alley's insights.

The collection -- which includes digital video (such as recorded lectures), a complete digital textbook, and many illustrations and animations -- is part of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' new “open educational resources” initiative (

Alley, his wife Cindy, and colleague Sridhar Anandakrishnan created the resources over the past 10 years in collaboration with instructional designers and media specialists in the college's John A. Dutton e-Education Institute.

The resources, which Penn State calls "courseware modules," are freely available for non-commercial use under a University-approved open source license developed by the Teaching and Learning with Technology group of Penn State Information Technology Services. Open source licensing is permitted under University policy RA-17, which establishes that academic departments control the use of courseware modules that their faculty members create.

Students who wish to earn academic credit and get feedback from Alley and his instructional team still need to register and pay tuition to Penn State.

Other pioneering contributors to the EMS Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative include Paul Howell, professor of materials science, MATSE 081: "Materials in Today's World"; Michael Adewumi, vice provost of International Programs, PNG 520: "Phase Relationships in Reservoir Engineering"; Sarma Pisupati, associate professor of energy and mineral engineering, EGEE 102: "Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection"; Ian Turton, research associate in geography, GEOG 585: “Open Web Mapping”; and David DiBase, Dutton Institute director, GEOG 482: "Nature of Geographic Information"; among others.

"I hope that this is the beginning of a comprehensive University initiative in OER," said DiBiase.

Impact of Open Source Software & Open Educational Resources on Education Series

During the past year and a half we have been running a blog-based series of postings. The stated goal of the project/Series is to collect and expose the thoughts of practical innovators in education who can provide insights on the impact of OSS or OER in a forum that allows for some commenting and discussion. The postings and comments are then available as Open Educational Resources on WikiEducator, Connexions, Terra Incognita, and other venues. I know of a number of instances in which the content has been adopted in classes and included in graduate research work and I imagine these resources being used in a number formal and informal educational setting across disciplines.

  • For commentary about OER and related topics, and the posting in the Series see the Penn State World Campus blog Terra Incognita
  • The Series is supported (schedule, links, description, etc.) on WikiEducator

Demonstrating the Potential use of OER in a Work Flow

The idea of Commons Based Peer Production is based on an ecosystem that supports sharing, reuse, modification, and contributions to a larger community.

What if we purposefully expanded our “source” materials to include those in public OER repositories?

We could:

  1. Identify materials that met our needs and quality standards,
  2. Pull them out of the repository,
  3. Tag them,
  4. Modify them,
  5. Add appropriate meta data,
  6. Recontribute them to the larger community for further reuse.

Along these lines we are demonstrating a way to fit Connexions into our existing workflow. This is the first alternate 'end point' we are trying to provide for content sharing -- one of potentially many 'end-points.' Connexions happens to be the low-hanging fruit of content sharing for us, precisely because the CNXML (Connexions XML) workflow so closely matches our own. As it stands now, when we export a course from CASE to our courses server, we are constructing an XML document out of the content and pulling in all sorts of metadata specific to our workflow. CASE then uses this XML document as the starting point for constructing a set of navigation tools to wrap around the content, providing the flow and connections among activities, tools, and content.

There are two ways we can use this to our advantage:

  1. Since we are already building an XML file out of our content, it is a simple matter to alter the XML slightly to become a validated CNXML document. At this point we already have a proof of concept export function in place that exports validated CNXML. Once a file is exported, it should be easy to include some metadata such as Author, Creation Date, and Licensing, and import it into Connexions.
  2. Since we are building a wrapper for content out of an XML document, it should again be a simple matter to take the XML from a different source, a CNXML document, and use that to construct what we know as a 'course'. Although we don't have this working yet, there is nothing technical standing in our way.

Using these two methods we should very easily be able to differentially pick and choose both content that we want to use from the Connexions project in our own courses, and share content back into the community as a way to bolster the community, spread goodwill, and increase our good reputation as a provider of quality content, and contribute to a community -- all without significant changes to our existing workflow.

Although we can limit this workflow to non-academic content such as materials that support orientation, internal training, faculty development, and presentation materials, working together with academic units, it could also support academic content.

After we get past the "technology," what sorts of questions should we be asking about design?

Proposed Outcomes

Emergent knowledge.

Time and Location

10:30 to 11:30 on August 12, Foster Auditorium, Pattee Library

Discussion Participants

This session is one of the main sessions that will be held in Foster Auditorium. Everyone will be in attendance.