UNESCO OER Toolkit Draft

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UNESCO Open ODL / OER Toolkit

Back to the handbook outline: [[1]]

A guide for participating in the international open education commons

November 2007

Prepared by J. Philipp Schmidt, University of the Western Cape, --Philipp 08:21, 24 January 2008 (CET)

This is a DRAFT!!!

For the most recent version (July 2009), go to the draft on the UNESCO OER Community wiki

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (CC-BY-3.0)



FORE Free and Open Resources for Education

FOSS Free and Open Source Software

OCW Open Courseware

OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

ODL Open and Distance Learning

OER Open Educational Resource

OLCOS Open eLearning Content Observatory Services

RDF Resource Description Framework

RSS Real Simple Syndication

USU Utah State University

UWC University of the Western Cape


Tertiary institutions around the world are recognising the value of sharing curricula and educational content and materials, collaborating in their further development and extension, and doing so under the umbrella of free and open access to knowledge. Unfortunately, so far, very few universities from developing countries have joined this emerging open education movement.The term “open education” in this document refers to a new form of teaching and learning, enabled by open educational resources (OER). Others use “open education” to mean accessible distance learning, which we refer to as “open and distance learning” or ODL.

There has been an implicit assumption that knowledge flows from developed to developing countries, and little attention has been paid to the special needs and requirements of institutions in the South, as well as the contributions they can make to a universal knowledge commons.

There is growing consensus that open educational resources (OER) offer benefits to universities in developing countries. This document attempts to provide some guidelines and documentation based on experience in projects around the world. It is designed as a toolkit and sets out, in practical terms, how universities can:

  • Publish open educational content and materials
  • Make other people's open educational content and materials accessible to lecturers and students; and integrate them into teaching and learning.

The first section of the document describes the background (history and evolution) of open education in the context of open distance learning, and open educational resources; and offers some general pointers regarding project planning and implementation.

The toolkit then zooms in on the producer and users perspectives mentioned above – while keeping in mind that more often than not users and producers are the same people. Practical advice is based on case-studies from around the world, and a wealth of online resources has been compiled to accompany the document.

All resources are stored as bookmarks in the social bookmarking site del.icio.us and tagged with the term “oer-toolkit”. Resources are also grouped in sub-sections (for example tools, or research), and the appropriate combination of tags is specified in the following way throughout the document:

Del.icios.us tag: oer-toolkit

The final section of this document provides a broad overview of the fundamental changes to the way we learn and teach, that some are predicting, including rip-mix-learn practices in teaching and learning, and the dissolution of barriers between disciplines, institutions, and peer-learners.

Intended Audience

This document is primarily aimed at academics, IT staff, librarians, and students at developing country universities who are investigating options of becoming active participants in the OER world, as publishers and users of OERs.


Open and Distance Learning (ODL)

“As a force contributing to social and economic development, open and distance learning is fast becoming an accepted and indispensable part of the mainstream of educational systems in both developed and developing countries, with particular emphasis for the latter. This growth has been stimulated in part by the interest among educators and trainers in the use of new, Internet based and multimedia technologies, and also by the recognition that traditional ways of organizing education need to be reinforced by innovative methods, if the fundamental right of all people to learning is to be realized.” (Open and Distance Learning. Trends, Policy and Strategy Considerations, UNESCO, 2002).

Web-based open and distance learning holds considerable potential for sustainable development by increasing access and quality of education towards realisation of the fundamental right to education for all. Web-ODL can lower the cost of higher education, decrease some of the access barriers to participating in higher education, increase flexibility of education programmes, and support lifelong learning. This will lead to higher levels of education, which are associated with better health, governance, lower crime and other development indicators. Furthermore, a skilled workforce is required to support a strong national economy, and education is an important enabler of innovation, which drives growth in today's knowledge-intensive global economy (Nelson and Phelps, 1966).

Initially the term “open” in open and distance learning was meant to express increased access to education, especially to some groups who had previously been excluded. Recently however, this concept of openness (some prefer the term “freedom”) in open and distance learning is defined with respect to shared and collaborative development and ownership of educational resources and content.

From ODL to Open ODL and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Over the past few years a significant number of initiatives and projects have sprung up to support the development and sharing of open educational resources (OER). The term Open Educational Resources describes liberally-licensed educational content (text, audio, video) and other resources that support the production, distribution, and use of such content.There is no generally accepted definition of OER. The term was first used in July 2002 during a UNESCO workshop on open courseware in developing countries. Most existing definitions include content, software tools, licenses, and best practices.

The authors of OERs grant anyone the freedom to use their materials, modify, translate or improve them, and share them with others (some licenses restrict modifications or commercial use). Most open educational resources are provided in digital formats, which makes it easier to share and adapt them. Wikipedia, the volunteer-created encyclopaedia, is an OER, textbooks can be OERs, and open courseware (OCW) is a type of OER that organises educational content into courses. Open educational resources do not lead to degrees, they don't include formal instruction or study groups, or assessment and accreditation. OERs do not replace existing campus-based or distance education offerings.

There are now many incredible projects, but two have attracted a lot of attention: Wikipedia and the MIT OpenCourseWare project. (Some text in this section was adapted from Surman and Schmidt 2007)

  • In January 2001, Wikipedia was launched as an online encyclopaedia that anyone could edit. Most people thought that it would never work. During its first month it collected 17 articles, by April it had 1,000, in October more than 10,000 and by the end of 2002 it crossed the 100,000 article mark. http://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaEN.htm It is now the largest encyclopaedia in the world and a tremendous resource for students and lecturers.
  • In 2002, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched its OpenCourseWare project. It announced that it would publish all of its course materials online, open for others to use, modify and share free of charge. The world of higher education was in shock - how could MIT give away its "crown jewels" when the rest of the world was trying to commercialise teaching and learning activities? With a combined belief in open access to education and the power of collaboration to improve materials, and with financial support from the Hewlett Foundation, MIT began to release hundreds of courses to the public. The success has been resounding. As of today, MIT has published over 1700 courses online, which are being accessed by more than one million users every month.http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Global/AboutOCW/evaluation.htm

In the years since, dozens - or, more likely, hundreds - of initiatives have emerged to promote the cause of open educational resources. This includes initiatives focused on: creating royalty free textbooks for primary and secondary schools; making content licensing easier for educators; packaging and indexing educational materials so they are easier to find and use; nurturing online communities for teachers and authors; and growing open education as a field and a movement. Important global players like the Hewlett Foundation, UNESCO, Sun Microsystems or the OECD have also stepped into (and helped to create) an open education space.

Del.icio.us tags: oer-toolkit projects link to del.icio.us search

For example, MIT started the first open courseware project in 2002. Today, the open courseware consortium counts more than 100 members from across the world who have committed themselves to publishing course materials on-line using free and open content licenses.

The issue of open educational resources and content has also attracted attention from researchers and international institutions. The UNESCO International Institute for Education and Planning (IIEP) has organised an on-line discussion forum on open educational resources that brought together 480 participants from 90 countries. The discussion covered a wide range of issues, including the availability of OER, barriers to participation, and what technology is needed to support OER.Catriona Savage to IIEP-OER mailing list 5 June 2007

A first set of exploratory studies have been undertaken and published by the OECD (2007), OLCOS (2007), and the Hewlett Foundation (Atkins et al. 2007), and a research community is emerging to investigate the effects of OER on learning and the education environment.

Del.icios.us tags: oer-toolkit research

Benefits of Open Educational Resources

Open educational resources as part of Web-ODL have a range of benefits for both users and producers/ publishers. Different projects care about different benefits, but it is useful to keep in mind the broad set of positive outcomes that OER projects are experiencing.

“Taking into account the almost total absence of lab equipment and textbooks in our library, I found the solution was use of OERs available on the Internet.” Gerald Rwagasana, National University of Rwanda case-study (2007) (translated from French)

OER can increase access to educational resources. OER can help counter the rising costs for higher education by sharing investment for development of educational resources and content and allowing others to adapt these to their needs (Mackintosh, 2007). Lower cost increases access. In addition, OER reduce search costs and uncertainty if particular materials can be used legally or if their use constitutes infringement of copyright.

The BCcampus OER initiative seeks to create a source of digital materials that are available for immediate free use eliminating the weeks and months of time it can take to seek permission to use existing digital materials. Not only can the original developers use the resource but any educator across BC's public post secondary system can use the asset immediately without having to go through a permission seeking process. Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

In addition to the benefits for recipients and users of open educational resources, the institutions and individuals creating and publishing these resources are also rewarded through increased status and visibility, and increased demand for other services and products.

“[Course] Developers whose work is used by hundreds or thousands of other people receive recognition that can be used to support performance measures and reputation. By having development of OER done via a collaboration across multiple institutions faculty develop a network of professional peers who all collectively are working on a set of common resources over time.” Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

“The objective of this project is that by offering short courses on the level of Higher Education users will be attracted to following a formal education on that level.” Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

Finally, the collaborative models for development and use of OER, allow communities of practice to develop. Open collaborative models have been shown to increase innovation in some areas (von Hippel, 2005) and working in communities has the potential to improve learning for students, and increase knowledge sharing and peer-support among lecturers (Wenger et al. 2002).

“In a country like NZ with limited economic resources, we have more to gain by being an active member in a global community of open educational resource sharing and development. There’s a phrase used in open source - “What you give, you receive back improved.” Sharing and reusing can cut the costs for content development, thereby making better use of available resources.” Richard Wyles, New Zealand OER Project case-study (2007)

The emergence of open education

While the OER movement has produced a significant amount of content, and is looking to include secondary materials, such as lesson plans and teaching aids, as well as software tools, the term “open education” has started to be used to describe far reaching developments that include OERs.

There is a growing sense that the OER movement is part of a broad shift that will fundamentally impact the way we teach and learn, and affect many aspects of the education environment, including how we think of assessment and accreditation, and the way courses and content are structured for particular use cases. What such an education environment could look like is the focus of the final section of this document.

General notes on project implementation

While OER is a relatively new area, with specific implementation challenges, the general best practices of project planning and implementation apply just as much. If anything, because OER is a new field, there is a stronger need to carefully track and assess progress to record successes and identify challenges.

Project planning document

It is common practice to sum up the main ideas and objectives for a project in a planning document, that serves as a planning tool and also a touchstone to make sure the project remains on course. OER projects usually try to cover the following points in such a document:

  • Define the purpose and main objectives of the project, and describe the reasons why it should be undertaken.
  • Define the target groups and beneficiaries and how the project will have a positive impact on them.
  • Describe how the project aligns strategically with university policy (why this project is taking on at this time and how it fits within existing structure and processes) .
  • List and describe your key stakeholders and partners and how you envision collaborating with them.
  • Describe the technology requirements, not only in terms of hardware and software, but also ongoing support services and training.
  • Provide an overview of your staffing needs.
  • Sketch out an estimated time frame during which you want to achieve certain goals. OER projects do not necessarily end at some point (universities produce new courses and content, and the project could continue to publish these). However it is important to create some milestones to determine if the project is achieving its goals, and to decide if it should be continued or not.
  • Draw up a project budget and identify sources for funding.

[Add a link to template document]

Most of these points depend on what you want to achieve with your project. Are you mainly interested in publishing some of your universities courses, or are you encouraging students and lecturers to use existing OER in their learning and teaching? We return to the details of all of these sections in the remainder of this document.

Making the case

Publishing materials under free and open content licenses extends academia's age-old tradition of making knowledge available. However, in a time where commoditisation of knowledge is preached and demanded of educational institutions in an effort to reduce cost, there can be significant resistance among researchers, lecturers and administration. Familiarising oneself with the benefits that existing projects are experiencing (see section above) and preparing well for “making the case” are important steps on setting-up a project within your institution.

“[You need to] be well prepared when you make the case for publishing course materials under free and open licenses. Lecturers have a great deal of scepticism and are concerned about giving up control - make sure you understand their concerns and address them, and hand out a "cheat sheet" with the main points after your conversation.” Philipp Schmidt, Free Courseware Project UWC case-study (2007)

Ongoing marketing of the value of the initiative to academic staff and senior management might be required.

Initially this meant explaining why the university was 'giving away' its content. We've used internal printed publications, the intranet, the university screensaver, events, webcasts, a monthly newsletter, staff development training sessions, a mailing with staff payslips and regular meetings to get the messages out to staff. Laura Dewis, Open Learn case-study (2007)

Monitoring and evaluation / Measuring success

Del.icio.us tags: oer-toolkit evaluation

Just like any other project, an OER project should have a clearly defined vision and mission, which describe the positive impact that is expected, and how it can be achieved. The vision and mission provide the starting point and foundation for your monitory and evaluation activities. In addition, a project needs to decide on a M&E framework (for example outcome mapping, or theory of change) design indicators, and a methodology to collect data and track progress.

“On several places [of the website], we have added short surveys. One general survey is about the background of the users. Each course also has added two different surveys, one type aiming at users who do not want to study the course (e.g. after reading the introduction) and one type aiming at users who do study the course. Goal is to find out more about the motives users have to come to the go-no go decision.” Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study

At a minimum OER projects aim to measure web traffic using one of the web server log-file analysers. Google Analytics is a user-friendly and web-based example (http://www.google.com/analytics/) that is used by a number of OER projects.

If you have resources to conduct surveys or interviews with some of your users, it will help you better understand the value that your project provides, and how it can be increased. Some content management systems let you easily add surveys, which your users can choose to fill out.

The open courseware consortium has a working group that is currently developing a comprehensive evaluation framework for the consortium as a whole. Elements of the evaluation framework can be adapted by individual institutions to their specific needs. Some of the evaluation metrics listed are (http://ocwcforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=93):

  • Webmetrics: Webmetrics are the measures collected regarding how and who is accessing the OCW websites that are a part of the Consortium. Example data collected from the logs from these sites include: traffic volumes, visitor geographic origin, visit characteristics, visitor profiles (if log-in required) referral sources
  • End-User Surveys: These surveys are designed so that the end-user (‘traditional-aged’ students, faculty members, instructors and informal users as learners) of the materials can provide self reports regarding their use of the materials, perceived impact of use, value and quality of materials, level of adoption of materials and so forth.
  • End-User Personal Accounts (email, profiles, interviews): Feedback from users often comes in the form of email questions, concerns, stories of success, etc. These emails are useful forms of collecting information regarding problems and pitfalls as wells as success stories.

A good example for an open courseware evaluation is the annual report published by the MIT Open Courseware project. It uses webmetrics, end-user-surveys, personal accounts (including detailed interviews with different types of users). The indicators used by MIT and parts of the methodology can be adapted to smaller or different projects. http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/about/stats/index.htm

Additional resources that support design of an M&E framework are provided by the OpenLearn project at the Open University UK. The project sets out different ways (and rationales) for gathering data from its three key user groups: Guest users; registered users; and enthusiastic users (McAndrew 2006).

Requirements, constraints and enablers

A number of strategies will be useful for any OER project, regardless if it publishes materials, or uses other organisations materials. Some general enablers for successful projects are listed in this section.

Buy-in from senior management at your institution

Get institutional buy-in at senior management level. At the University of the Western Cape, we have an official free content, free and open courseware policy, which provides the political backing for the project. In addition, the Rector is strongly in support of increasing UWC's role in the knowledge society. Spend time speaking to the administration at the senior level to make sure they understand the aims of the project, and can provide some support when the project needs it.

“Having a board member [of the University] as project father helps in cases of conflict. Because this experiment was set up as a project, I, being the project leader, had no power to force people to perform activities for the project. In fact, I am dependant on the willingness of people to join. In some cases this was not enough. The project father can pull some strings then to make things happen.” Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

It is important to gather some level of initial support before launching the strategic planning and design of a Web-ODL project. This may include identifying champions in the senior management structure; establishing a policy that sets out the institutions position with respect to licensing of content; or simply raising awareness of the potential that Web-ODL offers to the management and leadership of the university. It is also important to keep in mind the existing management structures and policies, so that a Web-ODL project can be positioned to support these. At the same time, potential obstacles need to be understood so that they can be addressed appropriately. Finally, it makes sense to establish first linkages with existing projects and departments, who could collaborate with or support the Web-ODL project. This may include digital media design and production facilities, individuals who have experience with ODL from previous positions, or the library, which often holds considerable expertise related to licensing of content and the legal requirements.

Embed use and publication of open content and materials in university policies

Most universities have mission statements or other documents that describe their main goals and objectives. It is useful to investigate how an OER project would fit into such an institutional mission, to participate in development of university policy with respect to OER, and to communicate the results clearly within the university context.

Link to national or provincial policy goals

Many countries and provinces are recognising the opportunities that ICT and ODL offer to socio-economic development and are anchoring their support in policy and strategy documents. Relating your project to this policy environment can give it further credibility and communicate what broad goals you are contributing to.

“This past year saw the first comprehensive look at higher education in British Columbia in 45 years. The resulting report called Campus 2020 http://www.campus2020.ca/EN/the_report/ presents 52 recommendations for strengthening BC's public post secondary education sector. A number of these call for effective use of educational technology.” Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

“When the project succeeds in reaching her target, it contributes in fulfilling the Lisbon Agreement of 2000: in 2010 at least 50% of the working population of the Netherlands between 15 and 45 years old will have at least a higher education level.” Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

In addition, existing policies (both at institutional and higher levels) can run counter to your efforts. It is important to publish these contradictions and work towards resolving them if possible.

“However, it remains a challenge to have on the one hand an OER development program that promotes collaboration and open sharing while on the other hand you have an enrollment and delivery system that is based on competition.” Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

Connect with other initiatives at your institution

Especially for small project with limited resources it is important to collaborate with other projects within the university and build on work that is already being done.

If an e-learning group exists, a lot of their activities can be leveraged (for example, by asking lecturers who are actively using e-learning to open access to their materials). The e-learning team can spread awareness and can identify "champions" to focus on. If there is a legal department that has expertise in copyright law, try to get them on board for advice. There are a number of complex legal issues related to the use and publishing of free and open content in universities - for which legal input is crucial.

In many universities the library plays an important role governing the institutions intellectual property, and its staff has considerable expertise in dealing with copyright legislation and regulation to ensure that the university resources are published and promoted in a way that supports the institution's mission. In addition, many libraries are driving open access project that deal with very similar issues as open educational resources projects – both in terms of getting support from management and academics, and the legal issues concerned. A good collaborative relationship with the library can be a great support for a small OER project.

Collaborate with others outside of the university

Tap into the existing international communities of practice to share your experience, and get advice and support from others. If you are interested in publishing course materials, consider joining the Open Courseware Consortium (http://www.ocwconsortium.org). Alternatively there are a number of informal networks for the OER community, usually centered around content repositories.

Notably, UNESCO's IIEP discussion forum, has been an important driver for discussion, sharing of expertise, collaborative development of research priorities and has grown into a truly international community of practitioners. To subscribe to the mailing list, send email to virtual.university@iiep.unesco.org.

There are a number of events and conferences that bring together many projects, researchers and initiatives in the OER world. They provide good opportunities to find out what others are doing and share experiences. Presentations are often archived online (sometimes including audio or video recordings) and made available after the conference. [Del.icio.us tag: oer-toolkit events] Two examples are:


The Open University NL OER project received grants from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

The majority of funding for the well-known OER projects so far has come from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. There are a number of other donors that have supported OER projects and research, but usually on a far smaller scale, including UNESCO, IDRC, Open Society Institute OSI, and The Shuttleworth Foundation.

Universities that are funding their OER activities from internal budgets are an exception, but in some cases, especially in developing countries, this might be the only option for support.

[In terms of funding], the project has been incubated by the Information and Communication Services group within UWC. We have also had some generous support from the German Government's Center for International Migration and Development (http://www.cimonline.de), who co-fund the project manager's position. From this foundation we have started moving towards project funding for research projects (more on this below) which allow us to explore new and exciting ideas. Philipp Schmidt, UWC Free Courseware Project case-study (2007)

Some projects are driven by civil society and volunteer based, including the OOPS translation initiative and the initial efforts that eventually grew into the South African High School Science Text Books project. Finally, there seems to be growing awareness among the public sector in some countries that supporting OER projects makes sense for goals aimed at socio-economic development and to simply save money.

Another unique aspect of the BCcampus initiative is that it is funded using public tax payer money provided through the Ministry of Advanced Education. Investment is made annually via a competitive Request For Proposal (RFP) process and on June 11, 2007 a fifth round of funding was announced bringing the total investment so far to $6.25 million dollars (CDN). Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

Publishing your own content

Different publishing strategies

University staff and students are chronically overworked and often reluctant to try out new things that might add to their workload. An OER project should identify how it could complement the existing ways of dealing with educational resources, in ways that will create more resources to be free and open.

Lecturer focused strategy

Make it easy for lecturers to get involved. Provide support services for moving their content online, and implement workflows that include a quality control step for the lecturer.

A lecturer focused strategy tries to make it as easy as possible for lecturers to publish their materials. Typically lecturers will need support to address licensing issues, and require help designing their materials and turning them into web-based resources (HTML pages, etc.). Adding support and services to move content online is the MIT OpenCourseWare strategy, and has been widely copied and replicated in other institutions; although usually on a much smaller scale.

Especially in the context of developing country universities, there are some challenges to the lecture-focused approach:

  • Lecturers are busy, expecting them to do more work is often not feasible. And even those that are enthusiastic and want to help, often find it difficult to balance their many other responsibilities.
  • Since we can't expect the lecturers to take on much of the work themselves, we need to provide support services, both for developing digital course materials, and navigating copyright restrictions that might apply. Good and experienced staff in both of these areas is in high demand and scarce, which means salaries are high.
  • Providing the needed support services usually requires a long-term source of funding and support from the institution.

Student focused strategies

Another strategy that some universities are experimenting with is to involve students more directly in the production of OERs. The University of Michigan's dScribe project provides incentives for students to record lecture notes, and collect presentation materials and upload them onto their repository. The lecturer only provides the materials she prepared to teach the class, and reviews the final result. Most of the work is done by students. Students at the University of Michigan stated that the main benefit of working on the project was to get more time and opportunities to interact with their Professors. At developing countries, other incentives might need to be provided – such as prizes or payment as part of student-work arrangements.

Finally, there are some cases, where students started collecting and publishing OERs without incentives, or even involvement of the institution. However, we lack understanding how such grass-roots projects could be encouraged in other universities; their bottom-up approach almost defies by definition any attempt by the university itself to be involved.

[Add info on Hungary case-study and link to video]

Deciding which content to publish

Especially smaller institutions that lack financial and human resources, should think carefully about the costs and benefits of publishing OERs. Such an analysis will invariably pose the question, what resources (if any) should be published under free and open licenses.

Factors that can help you answer this question include:


If your institution has unique knowledge and expertise in a particular field, it is likely that your OERs will attract a lot more attention than (yet) another Introductory Economics course you might publish.


What are the areas where your institution would like to be seen as a thought-leader and expert in the field? OERs provide an opportunity to showcase your knowledge and you should think about which areas are most important for the reputation of the university. If your work helps create a positive public image you are likely to find support from the administration, and possibly easier access to internal funding.


There will be some academics that are already publishing materials openly, but who would be benefit from a little bit of extra help or support. They might need legal advise, or would like help improving the design of their html pages. Working with lecturers who are genuinely on board with the idea of open education will make your work easier, increase the amount of OER you can publish for your budget, and is likely to draw in others by setting a positive example.


Which of the areas in which your institution has special expertise are most important in the community that you are trying to serve with OERs? For example, a university in Southern Africa might have knowledge on land management that is highly relevant to other universities in the same region. On the other hand, this university might also offer a course on a particular aspect of colonial history that is widely studied in other parts of the world. Defining where sharing your knowledge would have the most beneficial impact for your university and your community will help you define which materials to publish. And ideally this does not need to be a question of either or, but rather which course comes first.

“The British Columbia Ccampus OER initiative targets development at credit based, fully online learning courses in areas of high student demand and labour market need.” Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

Intellectual Property

Unfortunately there might be some courses that are both unique and relevant, but where the copyrights to a lot of the original materials used in the class-room are owned by other people. Clearing those copyrights might be too much effort (depending on your budget) and publishing the course without providing access to these materials might not make sense depending on who you are targeting as your intended audience. For example self-learners are not likely to have access to academic journals or libraries to access the missing content. However, if your main goal is to enable lecturers in other universities to include the materials in their courses (and their students would have access to the copyrighted materials) then it might still be worth publishing the course.

Re-usability vs. context: courses, courseware, or learning objects?

There is a substantive body of literature on learning objects, and the value that creating small, re-useable objects that can be re-combined in many different ways might have. However, creating and organising such objects in a way that makes it easy for others to re-use them is a challenging task. And self-learners are likely to benefit from more context and structure to orientate themselves. Publishing whole courses is an easier strategy for new projects interested in experimenting with open education, but there are efforts to create modularised OERs that could serve as examples.

“To be re-useable in as many other educational settings as possible, these resources needed to be developed into the smallest possible 'granules'. In this way, future users may choose to pick only the materials they need to develop their own courses. However, if we develop the context and the activities within the context in too much detail, we may end up with a very exciting and authentic story as the backbone for our course, but future users may get stuck with an 'all-or-nothing'. It's the old debate around learning objects: how much meaning (context) do you need to add to make it a learning object? When re-usability goes up, contextualisation goes down (Stephen Downes).” Richard Wyles, New Zealand OER Project case-study (2007)


In some areas high-quality OERs might already exist and rather than duplicating efforts, new projects should focus on content and materials that are not yet widely available (in similar form and quality) as open educational resources. A thorough search (see below on how to find OERs) for existing materials should inform the decision which resources to publish.

Distance learning pedagogy

Many OER project focus on publishing existing content and materials that they use in their on-site of on-line teaching activities. MIT publishes the materials their lecturers us to teach in the class-room. The Open University UK makes available some of its resources, which were designed for on-line and distance use in the form “self-contained study units”. Smaller projects in institutions that do not have a history of distance education often lack the resources of re-working their materials specifically for individual distance learners. Little is known about the formation of self-learner communities to assess what benefit (and for whom) carefully designed distance learning materials might have over more loosely-structured content.

In addition, some projects include further information around the content, including ways to gauge one's progress, and the learning outcomes that can be expected from working through a set of materials.

Licensing guidelines

[Should this document make a stronger recommendation regarding what type of license to use?]

Del.icios.us tags: oer-toolkit licensing

The legal aspects of an OER project can be daunting. Excellent resources exist online, and you will find communities of practice that are willing to help with your questions, but the best solution is a local expert who you can rely on. This is another area, where it makes sense to identify and leverage existing expertise within your institution. If there is a legal department that has expertise in copyright law, try to get them on board for advice.

Copyright law varies from country to country, but it generally provides legal protection - over a limited period of time - for original works. It does not matter if these works are published or not, both are protected.

Copyright reserves certain rights to copyright holder, and others need to ask permission to do any of the following:

  • Create derivative works from the original work
  • Distribute originals or copies of the work
  • Publicly display or perform the work.

Once the copyright period is over, these limitations fall away.

In most countries, certain exemptions to copyright protection are set out in laws or regulation, referred to as fair use in some countries, or fair dealings in others. Typically education institutions will be allowed some flexibility in reproducing copyrighted materials for the purpose of education. However, the law is often unclear on the exact amount of flexibility, and republication on the Internet is certainly not allowed under fair use or fair dealings provisions.

Copyright alternatives – Creative Commons and other licenses

OER projects make use of free and open content licenses, which are based on the legal protection that copyright affords, but specify clearly which rights the author shares with users of the content. The most popular set of licenses are the creative commons licenses, but many other exist. Most creative commons licenses allow users to freely use and redistribute the licensed works, but they have to attribute the original author. Some licenses are more restrictive, and don't allow modification (creation of derivative works), or commercial use. Another option (Share Alike) is referred to as copyleft, because it requires all users to license any derivative works under a similar free and open license. The GNU Free Documentation license has special significance, because it is used by the Wikipedia project.

The long list of license options can be confusing. In addition, some licenses are incompatible with each other. License incompatibility means that content that is licensed under a particular type of license cannot be combined with content that is licensed under certain other licenses. A table that highlights which licenses are compatible with each other is provided in a later section of this document. License incompatibility has resulted in distinct knowledge silos of open educational resources. This is an unfortunate situation since most of the authors are trying to make their materials widely accessible and encourage others to modify and adapt them to local needs.

The following image demonstrates how license incompatibilities currently break the OER space into separate clusters of content. It uses four popular OER project (MIT OpenCourseware, Wikipedia, WikiEducator, and Connexions) and their license choices, which do not allow mixing of the content.

Illustration: OER Galaxies diagram by David Wiley (http://opencontent.org/blog)

The discussion over which license is the most free and open, and which of the creative commons options to use and which to avoid has raged on for many months. The ccLearn project, an initiative by creative commons and the Hewlett Foundation is trying to address this issue by educating on the use of particular licenses, and by creating a transition strategy that will increase compatibility between different sets of resource in the future. See their recommendations below.

To guide OER project struggling to find the right type of license, the ccLearn project (a division of creative commons that focuses on education) has defined three levels of freedom of OERs, and provides some guidelines on choosing the appropriate level of freedom (ccLearn, 2007). [NEED A LINK]

Some projects have designed their own custom licenses, for example the BCCampus license developed by the Bccampus project in Canada, which limits the Openness to use in the province of British Columbia.

The BC Commons license is similar to the Creative Commons license but limits sharing to the local context of BC’s public post-secondary system. Resources licensed via BC Commons are available to BC public post-secondary faculty and staff only. This option provides developers with an opportunity to experience sustainable development benefits through sharing on a local level, among peers, before considering the larger global context. Over 90% of OPDF developers have chosen the BC Commons license. Paul Stacey, Bccampus case-study (2007)

Clearing copyrights

One of the most burdensome aspects of publishing OERs is to verify and ensure that none of the materials you intend to license under such a free and open license, fall under someone else's copyright. In other words, you can't publish content that you do not own as OER without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

Launching an OER initiative in 2003 was not met with open arm enthusiasm by all. Having to deal with Intellectual Property and copyright issues up front caused our developers a lot of angst as these are contentious issues handled in different ways at each public post secondary institution. While a considered and legally counselled approach was built in to our OER initiative IP and copyright are emotional issues that tend to get people riled up requiring rational and continuous explanation to sooth. Paul Stacey, BCCampus case-study (2007)

The first step is usually to review the general guidelines with regard to ownership of resources developed by employees of your institution. Some institutions require all employees to cede ownership to the institution, others allow more flexibility. Further, universities might have clear licensing guidelines for resources developed by its employees. In this case the employee still holds the copyright, but can be required to license the materials under a specific license.

Fair use exemption usually do not apply to content published on the Internet, and the legal details are difficult to navigate even for an educated layman. It is best to clarify ownership, and publish only resources that you are legally entitled to.

A key BCcampus educator service is using contractual agreements and licenses to sort out Intellectual Property (IP) rights and copyright of resources in advance, as part of the development process. Agreements and licenses state: - who owns what - for what uses the property is offered - what conditions of acknowledgement and/or payment apply to each use. Paul Stacey, BCcampus case-study (2007)

Get legal advice from the experts

It is extremely useful to develop a good working relationship with one of your universities lawyers, or at least a copyright expert based at the university (good places to start looking are the Law Faculty or the library).

Together with this person, review the existing law and regulations, and develop a licensing strategy that fits within the university policies and allows the level of freedom most appropriate to your situation.

Applying licenses to different types of contentCreative commons licenses are applied in different ways to different types of media:

  • Text: Insert license into text documents (for example, add a footer with the license terms)
  • Audio: In the case of MP3 files, the license can be inserted into the file, in the form of so-called ID3 tags.
  • Video: Insert a short sequence that displays license icons at the beginning and end of the video and print the license details on the medium (CD/DVD) and cover.
  • E-learning system: Many software applications now allow automatic integration of licenses, which will then be appended to all pages.

License icons and template text are available for download from the http://www.creativecommons.org site, and a set of common questions and answers is provided for those wanting to learn more: http://wiki.creativecommons.org/FAQ.

Training and support

Design a training plan that covers how lecturers and students can be prepared for participation in your project. Some of the qualifications needed are outlined in the Project Team section, and they might include some legal background on licensing, html editing skills, subject knowledge, etc.

In addition to training, ongoing support must be available for lecturers and students in OER projects. If the institution has an existing training program that already includes some of relevant skills (for example, basic ICT training, or e-learning focused training), it might be possible to add some specific OER modules into these sessions.

Also, consider how such training could fit into human resource policies. For example, in South Africa universities can apply to the State to obtain a training subsidy for certain types of training. Such opportunities can be used to offset some of the costs of training.

For example, in the case of UWC, one of the training team members is paid by the human resources department, because the University is recovering sufficient funds from the Government.

The project team

The staffing needs of an OER project greatly vary and depend on the amount of OER you intend to publish, if you want to include a research aspect in the project, the budget that is available, and the amount of support you can get from other university employees.

After staffing needs have been identified, the human resources department can usually help determine the best strategy for finding suitable staff. Hiring new staff or allocating time of existing staff are two options. Usually, working with existing staff who are familiar with the university reduces the need for training.

A general outline for a mid-sized OER project

Project Director

  • Strategic recruitment of faculty
  • Training and supervision of course production assistants
  • Management / Resolution of intellectual property issues
  • Technical oversight of project
  • Outreach, assessment and development efforts
  • Coordination with larger campus community
  • Communication with international networks and broad OER community

Course Production Assistant

  • This is a good position for graduate students
  • Some HTML skills desirable, but not necessary if HTML experts can be called upon
  • Focus on familiarity with the discipline, so as to best adapt/develop the strengths of the course to suit the online environment
  • Basic intellectual property management

Undergraduate Student Workers

  • Different students can fill different roles, including:
  • Routine clerical work (e.g., metadata entry)
  • Photography if necessary
  • Some coding and/or design work (e.g. flash module)
  • Intellectual property management (in collaboration with Course Production Assistant or other IP expert)

Other Campus Professionals

  • Intellectual Property Consultation with General Counsel’s Office
  • University librarians


Technology is not the most important aspect of an OER project, but choosing the right solution can make your work a lot easier and more efficient. The best solution is the one that does not get in your way and provides the levels of reliability and the features you need. No technology is perfect and there will always be some problems or features you find missing – the process of managing the technology and making sure it enables you to achieve your goals is as important as the particular type of software or hardware you are using.

The technology infrastructure needed to support an OER project includes not only hard- and software, but also IT services such as backup, administration, troubleshooting, installation, support.

The system we use is the eduCommons system of the Utah State University. A lot of valuable support was given by people of the USU, including a full install from distance and several visits to the Netherlands to educate and support the system developers. Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

The first step of designing your technology solution is a technical analysis to describe the institution's current hardware and software and network environments and the infrastructure that is necessary for meeting the project goals.

For example, many universities have some form of learning management system (LMS) or content management system (CMS) in place, where lecturers store and archive their electronic materials. An OER project should take into account the existing infrastructure and how it could be expanded / complemented by specific OER technologies.

The technical analysis can be a detailed and complex process, and it is beyond the scope of this document to cover every possible technical requirement and configuration. An expert in this field should be involved to facilitate the process – ideally, a software engineer experienced in planning and implementing institution-wide software applications.

However, there are enough standard software applications developed for OER projects so that non-technical users can choose a solution that serves their needs.

Some considerations to keep in mind when designing your technology set-up are:

  • What features are crucial to my project?
  • What is the publishing process and how does it connect to existing systems and applications?
  • Are these features provided by any of the standard packages or will I need to custom-build a solution?
  • What expertise and skills exist in the institution?
  • What types of support are available?
  • Who are we targeting with the resources (how will they access them)

If you do not have a technology background, it pays off to get competent help with the technology and look around at what others are using in terms of software platforms and content standards before deciding on your solution.

Illustration : Free Courseware Project Technology infrastructure at UWC

The following sections list some example applications. Please note that this list will not be up-to-date for very long and that the set of bookmarks on http://del.icio.us (tagged with both oer-toolkit and technology) will provide a more complete list of resources.

Del.icios.us tags: oer-toolkit technology

Publishing platforms / Repositories

  • Utah State University has developed the Zope/Plone based courseware publishing and repository application educommons, which is widely used by open courseware projects. It is designed specifically for publishing materials, not for collaboration or learning activities. Educommons is designed to be locally installed, but USU is working on a hosted solutions where smaller institutions could store their materials on a server that is based at USU. http://cosl.usu.edu/projects/educommons
  • Some projects have extended the Moodle learning management system to include features required for publishing OERs or using them. However, these projects (at least so far) are not making their code available widely or publishing documentation on how to install the modifications on a standard Moodle system.
  • The Open University UK has created a hosted system based on Moodle at http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/ [While there is a note that some software was released under the GPL, it is not obvious where to download that software and how to install it]
  • Utah Valley State College runs on a moddle system, but again, it is not obvious how to find the extensions and modifications that were made to the original Moodle system and how to download and install them. http://open.uvsc.edu/
  • Rice University's Connexions project has developed a software platform that contains a number of special features for collaborative content development. The objective was to enable lecturers to share their materials, and extend and modify them online within the system. Connexions can also be implemented as a repository, but most users register and access the server hosted at Rice University.
  • http://cnx.org/aboutus/technology/architecture
  • Most learning management system have ways of publishing content publicly. They might not support adding free and open content licenses to the site, or integrate workflows designed for clearing copyright and multiple quality control levels, but if your institution has expertise with a particular learning management system it would make sense to investigate if it could be used for open courseware as well.
  • The SoftChalk [2] content authoring tool allows users to package content in a number of formats including IMS Common Cartridge version 1.0. It also allows users to choose the appropriate Creative Commons license [3] to content and share content via SoftChalk CONNECT [4], an open Learning Object repository.
  • Example open source LMS are http://www.sakaiproject.org, http://www.moodle.org, and http://kewl.uwc.ac.za.

Web traffic analysis

Google Analytics is a web-based tool for analysis of web server traffic. It tracks how many users access your site, where they come from and provides some information on how they navigate through your pages. http://www.google.com/analytics/

Standards and interoperability

Technical standard affect the ability to exchange information and content. It is important for OER projects to understand the relevant standards. Publishing course materials with free and open licenses in formats that require the user to purchase a certain software application limits how free and open the resources really are.

Standards are relevant for OER projects in a number of areas:

  • Content packaging and exchange formats – This is an issue most relevant for projects publishing whole courses, who want to enable users to download the courses into their local learning management systems; or exchange open courseware between projects. IMS Content Packaging CP is the standard for course materials that was informally agreed by the Open Courseware Consortium. Unfortunately, different software applications implement the IMS CP standard in slightly different ways – this means that specific import/export filters must be created for packages coming form different providers. Some example providers include: the proprietary WebCT/Blackboard learning management system; the MIT OpenCourseWare repository; the educommons courseware platform. In addition, there are conversations about the benefits of the new IMS Common Cartridge standard, and it is expected that many open courseware projects will eventually move towards IMS CC. SCORM is another content packaging standard. Due to the complexity of the standard it finds relatively little support among open source software project or open courseware initiatives.

“Materials are being developed in XHTML that enables them to be transformed into different formats, and learning design and technical specifications include adherence to accessibility standards.” Richard Wyles, New Zealand OER Project case-study (2007)

  • Meta-data – Meta-data is information that describes something, in this case a course or other educational resource. A number of meta-data schemas exist for use with educational content. The Open Courseware Consortium members agreed on the Dublin Core specifications. With regards to educational taxonomies there is no agreed standard for OERs, and as social tagging and bookmarking services become more prevalent, and specialised search engines are being developed, the might be less need for agreed taxonomies in the future.
  • RSS / Atom feeds – Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds are used by many open courseware projects to publish basic information about their courses. Atom is an alternative format that provide the same functionality, and most applications that work with feeds support both. For example, members of the open courseware consortium are encouraged to create RSS feeds with a minimum set of course information. RSS feeds are an important input for aggregation and specialised search engines. Some OER repository solutions automatically publish RSS feeds with a basic set of fields (for example, the educommons software).
  • RDF – Resource Description Framework (RDR) defines a way of storing descriptive information of a resource in a way that a computer can understand. In the OER context, RDF is usually mentioned with respect to storing meta-data about a course (for example, using the Dublin Core set of definitions for meta-data), or embedding creative commons licensing information in a resource. Usually end-users do not have to worry about dealing with RDF. Applications that can be used to create or host content should provide functions to add meta-data and automatically make it available within the HTML pages of the content.
  • File formats – Using open standard formats for all your files, ensures that users who might not have access to proprietary software applications can still use (view and edit) your resources. An example is using the Open Document Format (ODF) for text document instead of the proprietary Microsoft Word (.doc) format.

One of the courses first published was a course on Java programming. For this, a programming environment (size 62 Mb) had to be downloaded and installed locally. (...) The most complaints came from visitors not using a Windows platform (6% of the visitors), because they were not able to install the Java environment. Robert Schuwer, Open University NL case-study (2007)

Course and content production tools

OER projects often repurpose existing electronic documents that lecturers might have created for teaching their courses. In some cases these materials exist within learning management systems (as HTML pages), other times lecturers are using presentation slides or text documents.

Quality free and open source software tools exist in all areas needed by OER projects:

A number of online portals provide lists of further free and open source software including for education. See for example:

Social learning, Social networking tools

There is a growing understanding that both social activity, and construction of artefacts, enable and aid learning. Researchers are experimenting how social software tools that support the networking, interaction, and collaboration of users can be more closely integrated into the teaching and learning. Some refer to rip-mix-learn practices of education.

This is not a key priority for most OER projects, but it is useful to keep track of the developments of social software tools and how they complement the resources that your project publishes.

A list of social networking tools that are designed with learning in mind can be found here: [Insert link for social network software comparison from UWC project].

Examples include:

Case-studies and examples

A small but growing collection of case-studies can be found on the UNESCO IIEP wiki at http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories.

MIT Open Courseware

The MIT OpenCourseWare project (http://ocw.mit.edu) was the first large scale open courseware endeavour, has produced over 1700 courses so far, and widely promoted the ideas of open courseware. MIT publishes the materials that lecturers use to teach their classes – these are not necessarily designed for online use, and many courses require access to additional (non-open) reading materials. MIT uses a lecturer based production model, in which it provides significant support to the lecturers in order to publish their materials. The project has a significant budget and provides legal and technical assistance to MIT's lecturer. MIT has also reached out to potential users of their materials and worked with universities in developing countries interested in hosting local mirror sites (see below) of their content. MIT OCW has also been one of the founders of the Open Courseware Consortium, an effort to connect the work of individual institutions and create a network of open courseware publishers who can collaborate and support each other.

Open University UK

The Open University UK is taking a different approach to open courseware, and publishes materials specifically designed for online learning, but only offers some modules of its full courses freely (http://openlearn.open.ac.uk). For Open UK, this is a way to showcase some of the learning materials for prospective students. In addition, the project has a strong research component, which is interested in collaborative development of materials, and use by self-learners. Openlearn has designed a number of software applications that support users interested in finding other users, and allows upload of modified versions of the materials.

University of the Western Cape (UWC), South Africa

The Free Courseware Project promotes the publication and use of free and open educational resources at the University of the Western Cape, a previously disadvantaged South African university. Besides publishing materials that are relevant in its socio-economic environment, the project aims to integrate OERs more directly in teaching and learning. It has added a research component that studies "rip-mix-learn" practices in a higher education environment in which barriers between institutions and disciplines shrink, and learners become the creators of content and learning. The UWC project has a very small budget and staff, and relies on collaborating with many partners within the university and beyond. It engages with the international OER community to benefit from other projects' experience and share the lessons that were learned.


Question: Should this section come earlier?

Following the information in this section, a very simple break-down of implementing a publication focused OER project will have the these steps:

  • Create your project planning document (see above)
  • Make the case to get some initial support within your institution
  • Define your publishing strategy
  • Student focused, or lecturer focused, or both
  • Set-up the project team
  • How much staff do you need, and how can you leverage what is already happening at your institution?
  • Set-up the technology and support services you need
  • Ideally, build on what exists already or choose proven solutions that many others are using to have access to online support and help.
  • Work with lecturers and students to implement publishing strategy
  • Working with people to make sure they understand the project's aims, get the support they need, and feel that you are sincere about the implementation.
  • Review your progress and adjust strategy as needed
  • Use the data that is available to you, and try out new strategies to increase your reach or impact.

Using other peoples' content

This section describes how OERs can be used by institutions that are not (yet) publishing their own materials. It covers:

  • Searching and finding existing OERs
  • Local hosting of other peoples' OERs
  • Integrating OERs into teaching and learning at your institution

Searching and finding OERs

Del.icios.us tags: oer-toolkit search

There is a general sense that by now the open education movement has produced a huge amount of free and open content. Much funding has been provided to support content production, the open courseware consortium counts more than 150 institutional members, and there are numerous wiki sites for the collaborative development of content.

Unfortunately, the experience of trying to find good, appropriate, and clearly licensed as free and open, materials can be frustrating.

Search engines provide one way to navigate the OER field. A well-formed search query on google yields a useable list of links, but requires further careful assessment of each individual resource to make sure it fits the requirements.

The following section provides links to some example sites. Given the rapid developments in this aread, the list will be outdated almost immediately, but provides an overview of the kinds of resources that exist. A more up-to-date selection of resources are saved as http://del.icio.us bookmarks tagged oer-toolkit.

Search engines

A number of specialised search engines and services have been set up to make finding educational resource easier. They have different strengths, and do not provide the accuracy and speed that we have come to be used to in our standard websearches. The list is constantly growing, but some examples are:

  • ccLearn While not operational yet, expectations are high that the recently announced specialised search engine developed by Google and the Creative Commons ccLearn project with support from the Hewlett Foundation will improve things considerably. The key difference to a general google search is that the project is currently collecting URLs of OER providers. http://learn.creativecommons.org/projects/oesearch/
  • Search Creative Commons Creative Commons offers a number of specialised search engines (including google, yahoo, flickr, etc.), which only bring up results that are licensed under creative commons licenses. http://search.creativecommons.org/
  • Commenwealth of Learning Knowledge Finder was recently replaced by a set of specialised google searches, one of which focuses on open educational resources. This means that the CoL has created a list of websites they consider good sources of OER materials, and your search will be restricted to that set of websites. http://www.col.org/colweb/site/pid/2919
  • OpenCourserWare Finder developed by Utah State University, collects a list of courses from some of the well-known open courseware sites, and organises them taxonomically. It offers a nice and fast user-interface, but new content (or new sites) do not show up immediately, and the current set of resources is biased towards MITs materials. http://ocwfinder.com/


Repositories of training and educational materials offer a range of resources developed by many different organisations and individuals and for different subjects, age groups, purposes.

  • Connexions is Rice University's online repository and collaboration portal for OERs. Connexions does not focus on whole courses, but structures content as modules – the idea is that users can combine modules in different ways, depending on their needs. Users are encouraged to store and develop their materials on the site. There is both a search function and users can browse by subject, language, popularity or title/author. Connexions currently contains 4615 modules.September 2007 http://www.cnx.org
  • Curriki let's users upload educational resources, and provide ratings and comments. It has recently been launched and does not offer the amount of materials, the other sites feature. http://www.curriki.org
  • Itrainonline aims to be a set of training materials. Most of the resources are licensed as free and open content, but the licenses are often contained in separate files, which have to be downloaded. It makes it more difficult to determine if a resource can be freely used. Itrainonline organises resource in subject areas, and offers a site search. http://www.itrainonline.org
  • MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching) is provided by the California State University Center for Distributed Learning. It is a clearning house for learning and teaching resources, and allows users to assess the quality of the materials, in the same way amazon users can post reviews and comments about books. In an informal study, many of the resources found were in fact not open educational resources, but copyrighted. MERLOT lists 17741 resources and allows browsing by discipline or search.September 2007 http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm
  • WikiEducator aims to be a central site for the collaborative development of OERs, research on the use of OERs, and planning of educational projects that involve OERs. WikiEducator is a relatively new project and has not published the same amounts of content as the other repositories so far. It is set-up as a wiki, which allows keyword search and organises its resources by level of education. http://www.wikieducator.org

Clearing house / Recommendations and reviewsOERCommons OERCommons offers a clearing house of information about OERs developed and hosted elsewhere. It organises materials by subject, type of object (course, lesson plan, etc.), media type and intended audience and allows users to rate and comment on the resources. It has a very nice user-interface, and is one of the few services where the licensing details of the materials are specified clearly. http://oercommons.org

Individual project sites

A number of institutional OER projects stand out for the amount and quality of resources they have published. One starting point is the list of open courseware consortium members with active repositories that is provided on the OCWC site (http://www.ocwconsortium.org/use/index.html). The MIT OpenCourseWare project (http://ocw.mit.edu) deserves special mention since it was the first large scale open courseware endeavour, and has produced over 1700 courses so far. The materials are not designed for online learning, and often the important reading materials are not available. The Open University UK is taking a different approach to open courseware, and publishes materials specifically designed for online learning, but only offers some modules of its full courses freely (http://openlearn.open.ac.uk).

Photo, Video, and other media resources

A number of sites with no direct educational focus, host collections of user-generated content, including photos, videos, or presentations. Many of these are licensed liberally under creative commons or similar licenses and can be used as open educational resources. Just some examples:

  • Photo: Flickr.com offers a neat search feature that helps you find creative commons licensed photographs (you can even specify cc-license options, for example, asking it to list only pictures that you are allowed to modify)
  • Video: Youtube.com does not provide a similar feature, but all of its videos can be freely watched. While most people consider free access alone not a sufficient characteristic for an open educational resources, youtube offers access to a wealth of quality educational videos. Finally, there are limitations on how they can be included in commercial endeavours, and there is some legal uncertainty what that means for commercial education providers. On the other hand, The Internet Archive has a video section that contains only liberally licensed works at http://www.archive.org/details/movies

A list of other (mostly video) resources can be found here: http://soundblog.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!D380EA83E108537F!2532.entry

Local hosting of materials

Rather than accessing OERs online, there are some reasons, especially in developing countries, why you might prefer to create local repositories. In essence this means copying the materials onto a computer that is in your local network, so that your users do not need an Internet connection to access them.

The obvious reasons are scarcity and cost of bandwidth in some parts of the world. For example, in 2004 “Denmark – a country roughly the size of Costa Rica - ha[d] more than twice the international Internet bandwidth than the whole of Latin American and the Caribbean combined” (ITU 2004). And a recent visitor to Tansania noted that he had roughly equal bandwidth connecting his house in the US than the whole country shared. Comment by Philip Greenspun during workshop at University of the Western Cape, August 2007.

Local hosting saves cost, and greatly increases the speed at which users can access the resources.

Finally, having a local copy of the materials enables new ways of modification and collaboration. For example, exporting a course from MIT into a local wiki (a website that can be edited by its users) enables a professor to include updating and modifying the course materials as part of the assignments.

There are a number of ways how local copies of materials can be provided:

  • Web-site mirror: A mirror is an (exact) copy of a website. Some popular web-sites are hosted on mirrors across the world to reduce the access times for users from different regions. Static mirrors are one-time snapshots of an existing web-site. Dynamic mirrors are usually “seeded” with a substantive amount of content copied from the original server, and then updated dynamically based on user requests. For example, if a user in the local network requests a web-page that has not been copied to the local mirror, then it has to be downloaded from the international site. At the same time it is added to the local mirror, so that the next user accessing the page, will get the (now available) local copy, saving additional trips to the international server.
  • Web proxy/ cache: A proxy server acts as a “middleman” between a user and a resource. A proxy server can be used to filter access to unwanted resources (block users on a university campus from accessing music download sites for example), but it can also be used to direct users to local copies of web resources. This can be done in a way that is invisible to the user, who is not aware if she is accessing the original resource or seeing a local copy of it. She types in the URL for the web site she is interested in, and the proxy server decides if the content is sent back from the local copy or has to be downloaded from the international server first.
  • Copying content: A labour intensive process of copying materials from websites into a local repository. This is the least attractive option for users interested only in accessing the materials, since it requires a great deal of customisation to ensure that hyperlinks continue to work, and is unlikely to reproduce a user experience similar to accessing the original materials. However, if you want to modify and adapt materials, some form of copying into a different local system will be required. Using some of the existing standards (described above) can make the process easier. For example, some courses from the MIT OpenCourseWare project can be exported as IMS Content Packaging archives, which can then be imported into a local learning management system – and modified there. A number of tools allow automatic downloading of web-content for local hosting and can also make the process significantly faster (see for example: wget http://www.gnu.org/software/wget/).
  • Mirror sites run by others: Finally, there is a possibility that the resources you are looking for already exist as mirror sites on a network in your country or region, which can usually improve access speeds (and depending on the way your Internet Service Provider charges for access, reduce cost). For example, in South Africa the Tertiary Education Network (TENET) hosts a mirror of MIT's open courseware repository. Access speeds to this local mirror are much faster from university networks in South Africa than to the original MIT site.

Legal issues of using other peoples' contentThe same license restrictions that were discussed above in the context of publishing your materials, apply to the resources published by others. This includes license incompatibilities, so that you might not be able to combine OERs from different sources into a new “product” and redistribute it. The license compatibility table below can help you determine if different types of content can be combined or not. However, you can always keep two content sources technically separate, yet use them in combination in a class. This is an area that will require case-by-base attention.

The following diagram further highlights the complexity of this issue:

Illustration : http://creativecommons.org.tw/licwiz/english.html

Integrating OERs in teaching and learning

Little is known about how OER can be included as source materials for learning, or created by students and teachers as part of the learning and teaching process. Some institutions are using and producing OERs as part of innovative teaching practices, but research on the impact on quality of education, and the ways we can assess students and quality is only starting to emerge.

In the literature on OER and learning (see for example Downes 2005, Keats and Schmidt 2007) different strategies for supporting and using OER from the perspectives of lecturers and students are described. However, there is as of yet little analysis and understanding of how positioning learners as participants in a global knowledge commons – rather than seeing them in clearly defined roles as students and teachers within disciplines and institutions – will change the way higher education functions. So, the following scenarios are as much snapshots of what is happening in a few places, and suggestions for getting involved in the OER world, from the perspective of lecturers and learners.

Learner perspective

  • Sharing lecture notes (and audio recordings), exam texts, and model answers with other students (on public web-sites) can create useful knowledge repositories that support study efforts.
  • Encouraging lecturers to use OER readings where good alternatives to proprietary textbooks and articles exist; and using google scholar (http://scholar.google.com) to identify open versions of closed materials.
  • Writing summaries of academic articles that are read during course work, and sharing them with peers on public websites. Summaries of articles do not fall under copyright, which means publishing them creates access to some of the knowledge that is otherwise only available through closed journals and publications.The AcaWiki project is currently setting up a repository for summaries of journal articles, but in the meantime, you can just place them on any publicly available web-site or add them to the growing number of OER focused wikis.
  • Using social bookmarking and ranking tools to evaluate usefulness of resources; building social recommendation networks that make finding good resources easier.
  • Reviewing published OERs can help potential students determine which institution offers courses that best fit their interests. Once enrolled, looking through course descriptions helps them choose the courses they want to take.
  • Not just lecturers, but students are benefiting from opening up their own work to an international audience for feedback and comment. Having a public blog or participating in online discussion forums is one way to showcase one's work. In a more formal academic environment, publishing in open access journals ensures maximum access.

Lecturer perspective

  • Adapting and extending existing OERs for the local purpose, can enable access to high-quality materials, and save time during preparation of course materials.
  • Choosing OER as part of the readings to support a growing international movement towards more and higher quality OER
  • Publishing own materials as OER by simply allowing public access to online courses (if e-learning is used) or self-archiving of the key materials on sites that offer free hosting (for example, flickr.com for images, www.slideshare.com for presentations, etc.)
  • Sharing ones work in ways that makes it easy for others to access it and collaborate on adding more materials or examples, or translating the content into other languages (licensing content under free and open content licenses that allows this is a first step).
  • Teaching in ways that encourage students to access and produce OERs, supporting development of cognitive skills necessary to determine quality of on-line content, and experimenting with peer-based assessment models and reputation mechanisms that students are familiar with from social networking and e-commerce sites.

The future of open education

[This section is a stub / and needs work. It might make sense to separate this and publish independently, since this discussion is probably useful and interesting for a very different audience, and the document is getting too long as it is.]

OERs are just one aspect of a rapidly changing education environment that is referred to as open education (or open source education). (See for example Downes, 2005; Keats and Schmidt, 2007; Schmidt and Surman 2007)

As the movement is gaining strength, it poses a number of interesting questions related to sustainability and the role of universities in the innovation system and society.

One key question deals with the missing pieces that will allow OER to move from publishing content to truly changing the way we teach and learn. Susan d'Antoni summed up the requirements for this to happen as the four A's (2006): accessibility, appropriateness, accreditation, affordability. Others (for example Downes 2007) have started sketching out their ideas on some of these issues.

The following list provides an introduction to some of the questions the international open education community is looking to address in the next few years.

  • Student assessment - In an education environment that breaks down barriers between professors and students, new ways of assessing (and accrediting) students are required.
  • Quality of materials, education, learning - Quality is the primary concern for most people learning about open education and open educational resources.
  • Affordability - Sustainable production models for open contentOER projects often cite the open sources software development model as their inspiration. However, many of the factors that make open source software so successful, don't apply to OERs. And few of the well-known projects exhibit the same vibrant communities of contributors and users that one would hope for.
  • Global perspective - Cultural imperialism, funding in-balances, need for absorptive capacity, etc.
  • Accessibility and access
  • Appropriateness / Adaptation to local needs


Atkins D.E., Brown J.S., Hammond A.L. (2007), A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities, Hewlett Foundation. Available online.

Bays T., Dewis L., Jenson M. (2007), OCW Newcomer's Orientation, Presentation during OCWC Meeting, Santander, Spain, May 3 2007.

ccLearn (2007), Open Educational Resources Guiding Principles, Discussion Draft v.1.4.

D'Antoni, S. (2006) http://topics.developmentgateway.org/special/onlineeducation/template21.do

Dewis, L. (2007), “OpenLearn, The Open University case-study”, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:OpenLearn%2C_The_Open_University

Downes S. (2005), “E-learning 2.0,” eLearn Magazine, Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA. Available from http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=29-1

Downes S. (2006), “Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources”, National Research Council Canada, available from http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33401, last accessed January 2007.

Downes S. (2007), “Open Source Assessment”, Available at http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/06/open-source-assessment.html

Hippel von E. (2005), Democratizing Innovation, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA.

ITU (2004), ICT Statistics (data drawn from the ICT World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database), available at http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/ict/index.html.

Keats. D., et al. 1999. An E-Learning Strategy for the University of the Western Cape. Version 1.5.

Keats D.W., Schmidt J.P. (2007), The genesis and emergence of Education 3.0 in higher education and its potential for Africa, First Monday, volume 12, number 3 (March 2007), URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_3/keats/index.html

Mackintosh, W (2007), “WikiEducator: Memoirs, myths, misrepresentations and the magic,” Terra Incognita, Penn State World Campus, available at http://blog.worldcampus.psu.edu/index.php/2007/04/04/wikieducator/, last accessed 17 April 2007.

McAndrew, P (2006), “Gathering data from users of OpenLearn,” Open University UK Open Learn Project, Available from http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/document.cfm?docid=8555

McAndrew, P (2006), “OpenLearn Research and Evaluation Plan,” Open University UK Open Learn Project, Available from http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/document.cfm?documentid=8369

Nelson, R.R., Phelps E.S. (1966), “Investment in Humans, Technological Diffusion, and Economic Growth,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 56, No. 1/2 (Mar. - May, 1966), pp. 69-75

OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (2007), Giving Knowledge for Free - The Emergence of Open Educational Resources, OECD Publishing. Available from http://www.oecdbookshop.org/oecd/display.asp?sf1=identifiers&st1=5L4S6TNG3F9X

OLCOS (2007), Open Educational Practices and Resources. OLCOS Roadmap 2012, Salzburg, Available from http://www.olcos.org/english/roadmap/

Rwagasana G. (2007), National University of Rwanda case-study, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:_National_University_of_Rwanda

Schmidt, J.P. (2007), Free Courseware UWC case-study, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:_Free_Courseware_Project%2C_UWC

Schmidt, J.P., Surman M. (2007), “Open Sourcing Education: learning and wisdom from iSummit 2007,” Available from http://icommons.org/resources/open-sourcing-education-learning-and-wisdom-from-isummit-2007

Schuwer, R. (2007), Open University NL case-study, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:_OpenER

Stacey, P. (2007), BCCampus case-study, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:_BCcampus

Stoltenkamp, J., Kies, C. (2006), “Establishing an E-Learning Division at a Higher Education Institution: Lessons from the University of the Western Cape (UWC)”, forthcoming. Draft available at http://emerge2006.net/connect/site/UploadWSC/emerge2006/file46/ELearningDivision-1.pdf, last accessed January 2007.

UNESCO (2002), “Open and Distance Learning. Trends, Policy and Strategy Considerations,” UNESCO, 2002.

UNESCO (2002), Forum on the impact of Open Courseware for higher education in developing countries Final report, Paris: UNESCO, URL: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001285/128515e.pdf

Wenger, E., R. McDermott, & W. Snyder (2002), Cultivating Communities of Practice, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Wyles, R. (2007), New Zealand OER Project case-study, Available from http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=OER_stories:_New_Zealand_OER_Project

Additional resources

All of these resources are also tagged “oer-toolkit” on del.icio.us:

MIT Open Courseware How To (partly shared content with OCW Consortium How To) http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/HowTo/index.htm

Open Courseware Consortium How To (partly shared content with MIT OCW How To) http://www.ocwconsortium.org/share/howto/index.html

Utah State University, Center for Open Sustainable Learning (COSL) http://cosl.usu.edu/projects/start-an-ocw/

Annex A Licensing overview

[Need to investigate if something like this exists, or how much value it would have]

Annex B Del.icio.us Links (50 resources tagged oer-toolkit)

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