Week 2: Introduction to Open Educational Resources (OERs)

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba.

Open Educational Resources provide an opportunity for educators both individually and as collectives (such as institutions) to work collaboratively rather than competitively on the creation of knowledge and artefacts.  These artefacts can vary ranging from topical content, lesson plans, and teaching approaches, to curriculum maps, and assessment tasks.  The output of these collaborative efforts are then freely available under special copyright licensing for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing to a world-wide audience.  So why a special copyright license?  Consider the following very prolific Australian advertisement.

This advertisement is placed at the commencement of all (legally) purchased DVD and Blu-ray movies in Australia and has done-so for the past 10 years.  Copyright provides a legal mechanism for creators of non-tangible goods based on intellect, to be protected in a similar way to tangible goods.   You wouldn’t steal a car, right? Modern society in the 21st Century has seen an information revolution where knowledge and content has shifted from scarcity to abundance, making it a commodity that can be easily traded, shared and also stolen.  But is it really stolen?

The concept of reuse, adaption and sharing through copying is quite a shift from the traditions that have held for so long.  Ironically OER initiatives seek to use copyright law provisions to protect similar non-tangible goods from exclusivity and control.  The creative commons licence states that any reuse of such licenced material must also be licenced the same way.  An example of theft in this instance could be a company taking creative commons (non-commercial) work and selling it as their own.

The ultimate measure of whether there is any future for OERs is whether business models can be successfully built around it.  Altruism alone in my view will not sustain the OER movement.  A large part of the world economy is based on the capitalist model – a free and open market for trade in all manner of wares, including non-tangibles such as intellectual property.  This is a competitive model of wealth creation where scarcity and exclusivity provide an edge or advantage.  The principles of the OER movement shifts more towards a communist model where ownership is less important and collaboration is favoured over competition.

After reading about both the Cape Town and Budapest declarations, I am undecided as to whether I would sign.  The declarations hold high ideals in the interests of the greater good, but when faced with the pressures of capitalism to return on investment, ideals are easily compromised.  It would be a worthwhile exercise to follow-up on institutional signers and evaluate their performance against the strategies outlined in the declarations to see whether they are holding to their ideals.

The Cape Town Declaration’s 3rd strategy (Open education policy) makes specific mention of government funded educational resources, ideally being open in the vein of OERs.  In the Australian higher education context, and despite a more left-wing government, there is a continual push towards a competitive model between institutions.  While an OER approach among government funded universities would be quite advantageous in terms of pooling resources and sharing work, it does mean Universities will have to find other ways to differentiate themselves to again compete for market share and funding.

Considering the ideas expressed by Eric S. Raymond in the Cathedral and the Bazaar, there is evidence to suggest that sound business models have emerged in the open source software movement.  Companies like Red Hat, and Canonical have managed to carve out a market and survive and prosper by bundling and supporting the open source operating system GNU/Linux.  Educational institutions may well be able to innovative in other ways to give them an edge over their competitors, while sharing intellectual property through OERs.

Always interesting times.


7 thoughts on “Week 2: Introduction to Open Educational Resources (OERs)

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  1. Damo, good to see you back studying. Hoping the work/life balance thing is working out.

    Reading your thoughts – especially the Raymond mention – got me thinking about the difference between OER and OSS, and the tension between collaboration and doing your own thing. Here follows the nascent perspective argument.

    I’m not sure the comparison between OERs and OSS can be taken all that far due to the inherent differences between the nature of the artifacts. The artifact for OSS is the working piece of software, for OERs it’s the learning resource (of varying levels of granularity).

    One of the problems I see with OERs is that everyone has their own preferred method of introducing a topic. One of the barriers for OERs seems to be teachers preferring to create their own, rather than use an existing one.

    This seems much easier with OERs than OSS.

    Even with the difficulty of doing it with OSS, there’s still the problem of forked and competing projects (Gnome and KDE, Linux and BSD are some historical examples).

    Not well thought out/expressed that thought, but maybe you see where I’m coming from.

    I like the idea of OERs, I just think it’s really difficult to get it broadly used.

    There’s some tension between the idea of OERs and the institutional environment and subsequent at my new institution.

  2. G’day David. Early days on the work/life balance – it’s going to be an ongoing battle of competing priorities.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment on my blog.

    Mentioning the tension between collaboration and doing your own thing reminds me of a presentation by George Siemens’ (http://elearnspace.org/media/CCK08_Wk5/player.html) and my reflections (https://damosworld.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/groups-and-networks/) on his ideas around connectives and collectives.

    Teachers having their own preferred method of introducing topics relates to connectives in a network. As connectives we have a desire to retain some level of autonomy and individualism, and as a teacher, this would translate into personal preferences for introducing topics for instance. I am wondering now what proportion of teachers create artefacts anew, and how many re-use or adapt from existing as OER practitioners. I am hopeful that while re-use may be low, adaption will be higher, but have no evidence to that supports or refutes this idea.

    I think ideally, you want a combination of re-use and adaptation. Too much of one or the other will be less than optimal for developing a healthy learning environment. Too much re-use will result in assimilation of ideas which can stifle innovation and stalls evolution. Too much creation anew or even adaption to an extent will limit the benefits of OERs in terms of sharing the costs of development of such resources, as you are constantly re-inventing the wheel.

    Likewise in OSS I actually don’t see forked and competing projects as a problem for the same reason. Too much convergence stifles innovation and stalls evolution, while too much adaption limits the benefits of sharing the burden (software development costs). For instance, Gnome and KDE have continued to evolve and improve partly on the basis of one-upping the other. Some really clever stuff has come out of these projects. I’m sure similar comparisons could be made between the BSDs and Linux.

    What does draw both models together is that you have the freedom to re-use or adapt if you choose to, unlike closed models where it can be very difficult or impossible.

    I think I have expressed this idea (probably better than here) in my blog post under the “Achievement of the complex” and “Innovation is deviation” headings of my blog post (https://damosworld.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/groups-and-networks/).

    Hope this makes sense.

    I do agree that there will be ongoing tensions between the idea of OERs and the institutional environment, while the higher education model at least in Australia continues to operate on a primarily competitive rather than collaborative model of funding. Again, im not arguing for or against competition or collaboration, but a better balance of both.

  3. Thanks for your comment Skip. Although you may have pasted the wrong link into your response above as it links back to this article.

    It is probably my personal politics bleeding through, but I do tend to have more socialist views. Must everything be a commodity that can be owned, controlled, and sold in the name of capitalism, even words, thoughts and ideas? Perhaps there should be “some” things that remain public domain, or within the control of a democratically elected government. The ideals of free enterprise may be all good and fine when there is healthy competition. However, when that is not the case, these things happen:


    You have one company who has copyright ownership of a significant proportion of the world’s literary works. I find this personally very concerning. You see cases of monopolistic or duopolistic control all the time in Australia, partly because it such a small economy. In many industries, there are usually only a couple of big players, and the consumer loses as a result.

    I haven’t constructed my thoughts here very well, as I’m on the hop. Will try to gather my thoughts and make a more coherent post in the coming days. 🙂

    Good you catch up again Skip.


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