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Open Educational Resources (OER): About OER

What are OER?

Some definitions:

  • "technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users  for non-commercial purposes" (UNESCO, 2002)

  • "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use of re-purposing by others" (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007)

In other words, OER are educational resources that have been released under less-restrictive licenses than traditionally published material.

OER can take many forms, such as:

  • textbooks
  • images
  • articles
  • PowerPoint decks
  • Full curricula
  • Anything else you might want to use in the classroom

Atkins, D.E., Brown, J.S., & Hammond, A.L. (2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. http://www.hewlett.org/uploads/files/ReviewoftheOERMovement.pdf

UNESCO. (2002). UNESCO promotes new initiative for free educational resources on the Internet. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Education News. http://www.unesco.org/education/newsen/080702freeeduress.shtml

Why Use OER?

  • Lower cost than traditional textbooks: often OER are free, but even those that aren't are generally offered for very reasonable prices, sometimes both electronically and in print
  • Greater flexibility for instructors: depending on the license used, many OER allow instructors to change them, combine them, or update them any way necessary to tailor them for their classes and then even re-post them for others to do the same
  • Increased timeliness/relevance of materials: traditional textbooks can take years to publish, which means material is often outdated by the time the books are available, but OER can be published instantly and updated constantly
  • "Bridging the gap" between formal and non-formal education: schools like USD can use OER to reach socially excluded groups at little cost to the learner, providing a way for educational institutions to engage with their communities

The Challenges of OER

OER offer many of advantages for both faculty and students, but they also have some challenges the community still needs to tackle:

  • The question of quality: instructors want to make sure they are using the best possible resources for their classes, regardless of cost; untenured faculty depend on the prestige of traditional publishers and peer-reviewed journals for the reappointment and tenure process. Fortunately some repositories are beginning to offer rankings and even forms of peer review for OER.
  • Lack of agreement on standards: it is time consuming to combine documents that were posted using different technical standards, and it is confusing to sort through resources posted under different intellectual property licenses. Best practices need to be set for both technical standards and intellectual property standards to simplify things.
  • Language, localization, and technology access: these factors limit who can make full use of materials; resources in English, for example, will only be accessible to a certain population, and there are still people who do not have consistent internet or computer access.
  • Preservation issues magnified by short lifespans: because the cost of an OER repository is on the institution that manages it, most do not last very long; this means that if you find an open resource you like, you should back it up on a drive you have control over because there is no guarantee the repository where you found it will exist indefinitely.