Definitions of OER
The concept of open education encapsulates a simple but powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that the open web provides an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and reuse knowledge. In short the "open" in Open Educational Resources means they must be free and provide the permissions to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. However, we need to examine the concept in more detail.
Reflecting on the requirements for a definition of OERDavid Wiley indicates that the word "open" can have different meanings in different contexts and in practice it is a continuous (not binary) construct. "A door can be wide open, mostly open, cracked slightly open, or completely closed. So can your eyes, so can a window, etc."
A precise definition of OER impinges on the range of opinions regarding fundamental questions associated with interpretations of the meaning of the freedom to learn, for example:
- Should a definition of OER include the requirement of an open content license, for example a Creative Commons license or the GNU Free Documentation License?
- Is no-cost access to a learning resource on the Internet sufficient to qualify for a definition of OER?
- Must a definition of OER incorporate the rights to adapt and modify a resource without restriction for different learning contexts?
- Does the concept of freedom include the right to earn a living from OER?
- Are restrictions on reuse permissible for a definition of OER?
- Is there a requirement for technical related provisions, for example that an OER must be distributed in editable file formats?
Critical analysis of an OER definition
Consider, for example, the following description of OER and reflect on the questions which follow.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) describes OER as:
|“||...digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research. OER includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licences. This report suggests that "open educational resources" refers to accumulated digital assets that can be adjusted and which provide benefits without restricting the possibilities for others to enjoy them.||”|
Reflections on the OECD definition of OER
Indicate whether the following statements, with reference to the OECD definition above, are true or false:
- OER must include an open content license to qualify as OER.
- Incorrect. Materials dedicated to the public domain would qualify as OER (the public domain declaration is not a license). However, in the absence of a clear description of the licensing terms, we cannot assume that materials accessible on the web qualify as OER. Therefore the majority of OER will utilise an open content license.
- Correct. Materials dedicated to the public domain do not use an open content license yet meet the generic requirements for OER.
- A digital version of the OER must be accessible at no-cost to all users.
- Correct. A free (gratis) version of the resource must be accessible for all users.
- Incorrect, a no-cost version of the resource must always be accessible for all users.
- The OECD definition requires that users must be free to adapt and modify the OER.
- Incorrect. The OECD definition is problematic because it does not clearly state that modified works are permitted. It is ambiguous on the terms of reuse, and could exclude modified works because the definition only "suggests" (not requires) that OER should not restrict the freedoms of others to enjoy them including the freedom to "adjust" the original.
- Correct. The OECD definition is ambiguous on the rights to modify OER, and suggests that reuse is restricted to "verbatim" copies of the original. We can infer this because it only "suggests" (not requires) the right to "adjust" the original.
- The OECD definition would permit an entrepreneur in the developing world to repackage and distribute a collection of OERs to users who do not have access to the Internet in return for a fee for this value-added service.
- Incorrect. The OECD definition merely "suggests" that the possibilities for others to derive benefit and enjoy them should be encouraged, but stops short of incorporating this as a requirement for OER.
- Correct. The OECD definition restricts reuse to teaching, learning and research, thus excluding entrepreneurial activities around value-added services for OER distribution.
These questions illustrate that a definition of OER entails more than the requirement to provide access to digital resources on the web. Moreover, there are multiple dimensions which must be considered when evaluating the "openness" of open content. Educators and administrators need to consider their choices regarding permissions carefully when creating OER and deciding which OER to incorporate in their teaching because this impacts on the freedoms associated with the resources as well as the freedoms of future users.
- Atkins, D.E., Brown, J.S. & Hammond, A.L. (February 2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. Report to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. p. 4.
- Downes, S. 2011. Open Educational Resources: A Definition.
- Creative Commons. Undated. What is OER?. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- Wiley, D. (No Date). Defining the "Open" in Open Content. Retrieved 27 December 2010.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2007). Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. Paris: Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, OECD. p. 10.