By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education
Since 2002, the annual Horizon report identifies emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching and learning. In 2010, the project advisory board, comprising international scholars, educators, policy leaders and industry representatives, described “open content” as a key trend, expected to reach mainstream within the next twelve months (p. 6).
In fall 2010, UNESCO launched online forums on OER-related topics, the discussion centered on the challenge of “Taking OER Beyond the OER Community.” As another initiative, the “European Consultative Group on Open Educational Practices” developed a roadmap towards quality management in OER. As these examples show, the idea of educational material freely and openly accessible on the Web attracts substantial attention.
One major reason why the concept of open educational resources has gained such prominence is the everyday experience of informal and incidental online learning shared by practitioners and researchers alike. Easy-to-use tools and wide access to networks result in informal learning becoming more visible as a part of learning in general. We use the World Wide Web as a convenient part of our everyday information infrastructure – in private contexts, for scientific purposes, in schools and universities, and at the workplace. Search engines and directories are often the starting point for navigating the Web. But where do users end up in their quest for easily accessible yet valuable content? At this point, OER comes into play, describing the open access to information for learning purposes.
The term “open educational resources” was coined in 2002 in a forum held by UNESCO, which dealt with improving access to educational material for developing countries, as “the open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes” (24). Leveraging ICT to equalize access to education has ever since been a core motivation for the OER movement. While it is difficult to give a clear-cut definition of OER, the following selected examples provide an overview of the variety of projects and their respective scope (see Stella, 2010; Butcher, 2010):
- The independent non-profit OER-foundation is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations achieve their objectives through OER and provides the collaborative authoring platform WikiEducator.
- The OpenLearn initiative was launched in October 2006 to provide access to material derived from Open University courses in a free to use learning environment.
- In 2000, Richard Baraniuk and his colleagues from Rice University developed the project Connexions that offers collections of free scholarly material (learning objects) as well as authoring and retrieval tools.
- The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University offers full courses including instructional components such as intelligent tutoring, virtual laboratories, group experiments and simulations.
- The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 200 higher education institutions worldwide, currently providing over 2500 courses.
- The community Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Teaching Online (MERLOT) provides peer reviewed material – currently more than 22500 resources.
- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s pioneering open courseware initiative, funded in part by the Hewlett Foundation, started in 2001 and has since made over 2000 courses available for free.
- The University of the People has recently started its second year of studies.
- JORUM is an online repository service serving teaching and support staff in UK higher education that also provides OER freely available to everyone.
- Over 150 universities in China participate in the China Open Resources for Education initiative, with over 450 courses online.
- Eleven universities in France have formed the ParisTech OCW project, which currently offers over 130 courses.
- Seven universities in Japan have formed the Japanese OCW Alliance that offers over 140 courses.
- The Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) initiative brings together teachers and teacher educators fron across Africa.
The OER idea is as simple as it is convincing: Free access to educational material facilitates learning. As Elia Tomadaki from the British OpenLearn project puts it: “With open learning, people have greater access to higher education material than ever before, at their pace and time and from anywhere in the world” (Scott & Tomadaki, 2007). Many scholars, journalists and educational practitioners predict OER to be a disruptive technology: “Open courseware is a classic example of disruptive technology . . . an innovation that comes along one day to change a product or service” (“An Open Mind,” New York Times, 16 April 2010).
As educational content is increasingly available for free over the Internet, making effective use of informal and incidental learning opportunities online has become a challenge for students, teachers, researchers and self-organized learners. Information is everywhere, but how do we make sense of our everyday information ecology?
To address this question, I developed a survey and invite you, the readers of ETC journal, to participate. It has also been distributed among the forum participants in this fall’s mailing list discussion “Taking OER Beyond the OER Community.” The questionnaire is designed to allow you to reflect your OER practices and visions. Results will be published in ETC by the end of 2010.
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