Open Educational Resources (OERs) are freely available, normally digital assets for research, education and assessment. They could include anything from whole lectures to images, pictures, software, techniques, sound or films.
OERs are part of a broader movement known as ‘Openness’ which seeks to increase access to educational materials and create a set of licences that is more flexible than existing copyright law allows. Despite the advantages that many institutions see in OERs being used for marketing purposes, OERs are fundamentally driven by an altruistic notion that education should be available to all.
Creative Commons is one of the organisations that provides a range of licences for rights holders to make their work available as an OER; open software (normally referred to as ‘Open Source’) licences are normally licensed via the FOSS (Free Open-Source Software) Community under the GNU Public Licence.
OERs are not a free-for-all; the authors of each piece of work still retain the copyright but allow varying degrees of usage; this may be to distribute only, there may be restrictions on commercial use, whilst other licences will allow you to change, re-purpose and re-distribute. For information on the levels of licensing from Creative Commons please refer to the Creative Commons licences webpage.
OERs take time, expertise and infrastructure to create. It is therefore unsurprising that many institutions are considering whether the perceived benefits of enhancing reputation, content marketing and efficiency are outweighed by giving their main business assets away for free.
Finding Open Educational Resources
There are many sources for locating OERs: Table 1 below contains some of the best known repositories. Once you have found content and sources you feel are relevant, you will need to apply some basic evaluation before you use them in teaching and learning.
Proponents of OERs argue that the key aspect that drives quality is the significant exposure that developers and institutions have to their peers. Reputation is an important criterion you should use when selecting OERs but it need not always be that you search through MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or The Open University; discuss OERs with your colleagues and see where they are sourcing materials from.
When selecting an OER consider some of the following attributes. For more detailed criteria, please refer to the JISC Toolkit on OER Quality Considerations.
- Reputation of author or institution
- Standard of technical production
- Fitness for purpose
- Clear rights declaration
Learning object repositories
- Creative Commons: This site will allow you to search a range of well-known sources including YouTube, Flixr and Wikimedia.
- Xpert: The University of Nottingham has developed this repository for learning objects created by using the Xerte Online Toolkit.
- (MERLOT) Multi-media Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching: MERLOT is a repository of peer reviewed resources available for use.
- YouTube Edu: This is the Open University’s YouTube site.
- OER Dynamic Search Engine: Just type in your search term once and this site will search hundreds of OER sites for you.
- MIT OpenCourseWare: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology courses are all freely available online.
- iTunesU: This is an OER repository for iTunes on a huge range of subjects from highly reputable sources such as the Open University.
If you are looking for images, see our article Copyright-free images for use in teaching activities for a list of sources.
Using Open Educational Resources
Most of the current research on OERs has tended to focus on their production and the way they are distributed; a large body of knowledge has developed therefore on who has produced them and what they have distributed, with some analytics showing where the usage is most concentrated.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a clear development where instructors are bringing a large tapestry of open resources together and creating courses.
There is very little research into how educators are using OERs with students although they enable educators to draw on a large range of knowledge. Some notable benefits are:
- It can be inspirational for educators to share and review the work of others in their field.
- They enable the sourcing of learning objects that may be costly or take time to produce, such as audio or video.
- Students already source and synthesise information from a variety of sources, but without structure and scaffolding that an expert can provide them with; this is value that OERs provide to education.
The Open University’s OpenLearn resource on OERs
This unit on ‘In situ editing: Repurposing educational content‘ focuses on MIT’s open courseware, Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative and the OU’s OpenLearn and takes you through the process of repurposing an OpenLearn resource. It takes 5 hours to work through the unit and associated activities, but you can skip the activities.
The Oxford University conducted this OER Impact Study in 2011 into the uses of OERs by educators and students. It covers benefits and pedagogy and considers issues of sustainability and strategic factors.
The UK OER Synthesis and Evaluation Project was a large scale research project to look at the impact of OERs on teaching and learning. These pages will direct you to the research on teaching, learning and pedagogy, including a ‘Pedagogical Framework for OERs’.
This JISC guide to open educational resources provides a comprehensive overview of the history, benefits and different approaches to using OERs.
The Open University has developed a 15-hour online course, Creating Open Educational Resources, which covers using, creating, pedagogy and the legal aspects of OERs.
To find out more about the Openness Movement, this interesting and ‘free to download’ book (The Open Book) from 25 crowd sourced experts explores the impact of the Open Knowledge movement on work, educational, society and culture.