Issues on Access to OER

The UNESCO Open Educational Resources Community launched a discussion on access issues regarding OER from 9 to 27 February. The first week’s discussion focuses on identifying and classifying the main barriers in accessing OER. A range of issues have been mentioned so far, including access in terms of:

· ability and skills; (Does the end user have the right skills to access?)

· file formats; (Are the file formats accessible?)

· local policy / attitude; (Do attitudes or policies pose barriers to using OER?)

· languages; (How well does the user speak the language of the OER?)

· disability; (Does the OER meet WAI accessibility criteria?)

· licensing; (Is the licensing suitable / CC?)

· awareness; (Lack of awareness is a barrier to OER.)

· discovery; (If the OER is hidden, not searchable, not indexed, it’s hard to find.)

· infrastructure; (Lack of power/computers makes access hard.)

· internet connectivity / bandwidth; (Slow connections pose a barrier to access.)

In the second and third weeks, participants are invited to share their experiences in working around these issues and to discuss possible solutions. For further information on Access2OER and participation in the discussion, please visit http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=Access2OER.

Using Widgets to create and share open educational resources

After the widgets working group meeting last week, I started to look at how widgets have been or might be used by educators and learners to support teaching and learning practices. Unsurprisingly, initial searching via Google brought me a number of articles and web links about using widgets in education. What was most interesting to me was Mark Marino’s work; a lecturer in the writing program at the University of Southern California, he and his colleagues have developed the Topoi Pageflake, a webpage containing a series of modular “widgets” that allows visitors to “rip, share or repurpose any of its content”. According to Marino, the idea is

to create pages around particular learning tasks built of widgets that target different learning styles (text, video, interactivity). Then, users can copy, cut, or change whatever doesn’t work for them. Each student and faculty member can create his or her own lesson plan based on the tools they find most useful.

In his presentation entitled “Widgets: The Slicing and Dicing (and Splicing) of Sharable Learning Content” at the Educause Webinar, Marino shared how the production of portable course content in widgets has opened up his writing course. I think this is definitely worth looking at and further exploring by educators who are interested in making their course content open for free access and sharing teaching and learning resources with others.

Beyond Content –thoughts and reflections from OER programme briefing meeting

If I could use two sentences to describe what I have understood about the JISC/HEA Open Educational Resources Programme at the briefing meeting in Birmingham last week, these would be:

  1. the programme will make a wide range UK HE educational resources freely available with minimum technical requirements and by using various platforms and tools; and
  2. the programme will look for culture change, sustainable processes and institutional policies.

This one year pilot programme is to explore what works, what doesn’t work and to seek best practices in promoting free accessing, reusing and sharing educational resources. Further information about presentations and discussions on the breifing day are avalailbe at Lorna’s blog. It is clear that proposers are not only being asked to set a goal of publishing (x) number of open courses on (x) platform, they are also required to go deeper into thinking of and planning something more than content.

I don’t really know how potential bidders will actually plan something to address issues beyond content but I would like to share some initial thoughts and reflections from the meeting:

Firstly, OER and the culture of sharing. It is clear that simply publishing teaching materials online for others to have free access will not be enough to change cultures and teaching practices. The value of OER will not be best achieved through static resources, but rather through their potential to engage a wide range of educators and learners to share ideas and expertise, and collaborative knowledge building. Therefore, institutions should not only require staff to develop content for the use of others, but also encourage them to use content created and modified by others in order to improve our collective knowledge and improve the quality of teaching and learning at universities as a whole. I think a culture of openness and sharing will only emerge when OER has embedded and become an integral part of teaching practice and learning process in HE.

Secondly, sustainability and community building. One question was raised at the discussion concerning the situation in which a person involved in an OER project moves from one university to another – who would continue updating the content? One participant suggested that if the content was on open domain then he/she should be able to continue working on such content no matter which university he/she would work for. This suggests that when institutions think about how to sustain the OER they should not only focus on further funding for the project but also on the need to explore the opportunities for community building. It is important that institutions should invest in people who produce and use the content, as well as establish a new kind of shared ownership of learning material with a grassroots community to keep content alive and updated.

Finally, IPR and copyright policy. This is something that everyone is talking about. Many questions and issues were raised at the meeting. One of the participants asked a question: Could there be a standard institutional IPR and copyright policy which supports OERs so that institutions only need to sign an agreement? It seems a good idea but it is not practical or possible to do so at the moment, at least for this programme. Therefore, institutions will need to review their policies and make their own decision on how to support free and open access to teaching and learning materials. Clearly, an institution will need a deep commitment to openness and a strategic approach in order to make teaching and learning resources truly open and shareable and bring the desired changes to teaching and learning practices.

If you are interested in the JISC/HEA OER programme or would like to share your thoughts and discuss some issues related to OER projects, please join us at the CETIS OER/OU OpenLearn meeting at Open University on 27th February. Further information and online registration for the event is available at http://jisc.cetis.ac.uk/events/register.php?id=164.