Brave New (Open) World: Some OER Examples

This post is intended to act as a support to the previous three on the “Brave New (Open) World” series (posts 1, 2 and 3) dedicated to the Open Educational Resources. In the following lines I’ll be reviewing some examples of OERs which I consider of outstanding relevance. My intention, though, is not to order them by degrees of relevance, but simply to point out what makes them an exceptional resource for educators and the overall educational communities at large.




WikiEducator is an online community dedicated to the development, stewarding and continuous implementation of OERs, and is itself an invaluable OER for the global educational community. Backed by the Open Educational Resources Foundation an independent non-profit based at Otago Polytechnic and financially supported by the Commonwealth of Learning, this is a very active community focused on the development of projects towards free and open edicational content. However, they aim higher, and the scope of their work included the discussion of OER policies, implementation, best practices and funding as well as learning design. On their own words, their objectives are (WikiEducators, 2013):

  • planning of education projects linked with the development of free content;
  • development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning;
  • work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs.
  • networking on funding proposals developed as free content.


Architecturally this website is a wiki, which makes it content-focused and collaboration-driven. This a true community of research and learning, and the projects are developed and maintained by the efforts of educators all over the world. Networking is assumed as an objective and an integral part of all the community concept, thus making it conform to the nature of the internet culture itself and a true example of the connectivistic principles for education in the network world stated by Siemens (2004): “The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into

organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed.”



OER Commons

The OER Commons project was launched in 2007 by ISKME – Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, a private non-profit US-based corporation, and grew to be one of the first results when googling OER, thus giving it a high level of visibility. It is an impressive repository with over 30.000 resources for education and educational purposes that are freely accessible and usable, licensed under (when not stated otherwise) a creative commons attribution-noncommercial v3 license, divided into many categories, levels and ages. We can find there complete syllabi, unit plans, lesson plans, texts, multimedia, quizzes, all kinds of activities and resources for learner and educators.

This repository is not an isolated effort. It is,in fact, part of a global strategy in Open Education by its supporting entity, ISKME, which provides services in the education market at a global scale, such as consulting and training for other institutions. Their financing model includes not only those services but also public and private donations and grants.

The items are organized in a comprehensive way, and the user is given the ability to tag the different resources and store them in a personal space for easy retrieval at a later time.

Despite the fact that this repository is aimed at the “little OER” (Weller, 2010), resources produced at a small scale by individuals or groups/communities, we can find “big OER” (Weller, 2010) catalogued in the website’s search engine, although they are not stored locally. This variety of resources is probably part of the explanation of its success.


OpenLearn & OpenLearn LabSpace

LabSpace is the public OER repository for The Open University’s OpenLearn project. It is noteworthy that OpenLearn began as a two-year project in 2006 but became a full-blown initiative after that. Although OpenLearn offers pre-packaged courses, activities and materials focused on the learner’s needs, those can be reused out of their original context. LabSpace is focused on educators and allows for the public sharing of resources, with online tools for mixing and re-authoring existing resources.

At this moment, though, the LabSpace is on a process of redesign and will only be fully functional again in the summer of 2013 under the name “OpenLearn Works”.

As noted in the second post of the series when the focus was sustainability, this is a massive project in terms of both content and funds. Funding comes in part from the William and Fiona Hewlett Foundation, but the lion’s share comes from the OU’s budget. Many are the perceived benefits of the initiative, and those explain in part the continual success of the project:

  •             “Enhancing the reputation of The OU. Providing OER is seen as innovative and altruistic placing the provider with other high visibility providers with strong reputations such as MIT and Stanford. In the case of OpenLearn the external approval was also reflected in awards such as the IMS Global Platinum Award in 2007.
  • Extending the reach to new users and communities. Access to the OpenLearn content has been truly global with over 6 million unique visitors to date, the majority from outside the UK. Visitors have come from over 225 different countries/territories including from such places as the Vatican, Guinea-Bissau and the Marshall Islands.
  • Recruitment of students from those who come to see OpenLearn. OpenLearn offers a space where users can see the approach and structure of material before registering, or not, as they choose. A reasonable estimate of recruitment influenced by OpenLearn is the approximately 10,500 students since launch who have made use of OpenLearn before they register for a course at The OU in the same online session.
  • Supporting widening participation. A range of activities have been established linked to the free and open resources available on OpenLearn, for example to introduce groups of disadvantaged learners to the process of learning without the expense or delay in needing to waive fees or set up separate access to learning materials, and setting up special access to OpenLearn content for learners with restricted access in prisons.
  • Providing an experimental base of material for use within the university. The open material has provided a catalyst for reuse and sharing within the organization and has been used as the basis for experiments in semantic search, automated conversion of learning material to speech, and feeds of regular sections of content.
  • Accelerating uptake and use of new technologies. OpenLearn used technologies that were just starting to be rolled out for student use in the University, for example XML authoring and the Moodle learning environment. These needed to be developed more rapidly to meet OpenLearn timescales and were then released openly to the community as well as feeding back into The OU.
  • Acting as a catalyst for less formal collaborations and partnerships. OpenLearn provides a way to encourage joint activity with smaller organisations where previously these may only have been considered when external funding to support the activity was available.” (McAndrew & Lane, 2010)





McAndrew, P & Lane, A. (2010) Newsletter – Issue 18 – The impact of OpenLearn: making The Open University more “Open”. Retrieved May 21, 2013, from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from

Weller, M. (2010). Big and Little OER. In Open Ed 2010 Proceedings. Barcelona: UOC, OU, BYU. Retrieved from





Brave New (Open) World: Licensing of Open Educational Resources

This is the third and last post on Open Educational Resources. On the first and second the focus was, respectively, context and sustainability, and this one will be dedicated to licensing. Licensing is a cornerstone of OER and a deep knowledge of its mechanisms is essential for the success of any OER project.


Open Educational Resources, as noted in previous articles of this series, are difficult to define in just one sentence, since the concept is very general, with a lot of different sub-concepts and practices being part of it, thus generating still a lot of debate on how to properly define it. Hoyle’s (2009) characterization of “big OERs” and “little OERs” shows us how difficult it is to agree upon a common definition of the concept.

Notwithstanding that fact, what is certainly agreed upon is the “open” character of  OER, and that in practice translates in two main aspects: the accessibility of the shared resources and its level of openness.

By accessibility we mean the use of open or de facto standards on the files we share, so that the users of the shared resources can use them on open-source (preferably) or widely used applications, and when feasible, if sharing non-editable files, sharing its editable precursor or source files as well.

The level of openness brings up the question of what are the terms by which we want to share our own resource. Although it may seem pretty straightforward to license everything under an open license such as Creative Commons, some thought must be put on the process. What level of freedom should the consumer of the OER be given? Freedom to use is granted, but should he/she be able to modify it? To adapt it to his/her needs? To mix it withother OERs? And if so, should he/she be able to distribute it in a new format or repackage it? Is there a need for attibution? If so, should the original OER be repackaged, does it maintain attribution need? If distributed in a specific format that is not open (such as a non-editable pdf, should the consumer ber allowed to, by any means, alter it? Some of those questions are addressed on Creative Commons (2006), which is widely thought of as very adequate for licensing content.

However, the resources that are part of the OER concept are not only learning contents, but also tools and implementation (OECD, 2007). Software can fall under the first two categories, since it can be the content to be shared and the tools needed to interact with the content. Creative Commons doesn’t provide a good solution to the open licensing of software due to its unique characteristics, and therefore another license should be applied. According to the Open Source Initiative (2013), the licenses that completely adhere to the concept of open source software are:

Licensing must be a major concern of both the deliverers and the consumers of OER, because it protects intellectual property, for one hand, and legitimizes their use, for the other, preventing their abusive use for other reasons such as profit.


Creative Commons. (2006). Choosing a license.

Downes, S. (2007). Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects3, 29-44. Retrieved from

Hoyle, M (2009). OER And A Pedagogy Of Abundance

OECD (2007), Giving Knowledge for Free: the Emergence of Open Educational


Open Source Initiative (2013) Open Source Licenses.

Brave New (Open) World: The Sustainability of an Oper Educational Resources Ecosystem

This is the second post on a series about Open Educational Resources. On the first post the focus was on contextualizing the OER trend on the larger “openness” movement that has been characterizing the digital ager, and in this one I’ll consider how can such projects thrive if they are based on free resources, how are they sustainable and what do we mean by that.


Every enduring human activity needs some degree of sustainability be it a biological demand, a socio-economical arrangement or other. Indeed, the development and complexification of humankind (as well as other organisms and systems) is based in their sustainability. Sustainability is, after all, the capacity to endure (Cobb & Rowe, 1995).

After contextualizing the Open Educational Resources in terms of their conceptual definition (which, as we noted, is far from being unanimously agreed upon), we intend now to discuss its sustainability. There little discussion whether OER are useful or benefitial to the spreading of knowledge based on the principle that knowledge is a common heritage of humankind and should be available to everyone at close to no cost, but we can’t be naïve and assume there are none simply because we don’t see them, or pretend not to. This particular field is, moreover, extremely permeable to other forces that come into play, such as politics, economics and finance, and all those have varied degrees of influence in the how, why and to whom the knowledge is shared.

We are going to focus here on what Martin Weller (200), citing Hoyle (2009) classifies as “big OERs”, large-scale OER projects whose quality is generally excellent, since they are backed by institutions able to control their development and quality standards, as opposed to the “small OERs”, individually resources produced at small costs and whose quality is usually assessed by informal peer-review or though use. Examples of the former concept would be MIT’s OpenCourseware, UKOU OpenLearn or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and of the previous would be every individual resource we find in repositories such as OER Commons.

Downes (2007) elucidates us by providing examples of costs of OER such as OpenLearn and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: ~$190.000 USD per year for the later and $3 Million USD per course on the later, a whooping $600 Million USD per year, 40% of the the UK Open University’s yearly budget. This figures are, obviously, from before 2007, and we’d expect them today to be, if anything, higher.  And where do those costs arise? Again, on the later case “the bulk of the costs are in staffing ($154,300 USD) with contract programming; travel and expenses; computer services and overhead taking up the rest”(Downes, 2007) and on the later the development and maintenance costs are included in that $3 Million USD per course mentioned earlier.

“It becomes clear that by ‘sustainable’ we cannot mean ‘cpst-free’, and indeed, we may be forced to agree with Walker (2005) that the production of OERs may entail a large scale investment. Rather, with Walker, we note that by ‘sustainable’ we must mean “…’has long-term viability for all concerned’ – meet provider objectives for scale, quality, production costs, margin and return on investment”. This is significant: for after all the consumer of resources obtains the resource for free, then the provision of the resource must be sustainable (whatever that means) from the provider perspective, no matter what the benefits to the consumer.”(Downes, 2007)

Even though OER and adoption is increasing, the decision to move forward cannot be based solely on the measuring of a priori perception of OER costs. Free or cheap as they may be, there are others associated that mustn’t be overlooked at, such as implementation, training of staff, hardware, support and others. We can establish a parallel with the open source software world, and that’s why it is necessary to consider a “total cost of ownership” for the OER adoption. The good news is: look at the implementation of Linux in the enterprise server world.

The benefits of OER do not measure at the same level for every single institution, be it a producer, a consumer of both. Its sustainability must also be understood as attaining the strategic objectives of each particular institution, which will necessarily be different from the others. “Thus ‘sustainable’ in this instance may mean not merely financially cheaper, but capable of promoting wider objectives” (Downes, 2007). On this same topic, David Wiley (2006) states:

“open educational resources projects must find two unique types sustainability. First they must find a way to sustain the production and sharing of open educational resources. Second, and of equal importance, they must find a way to sustain the use and reuse of their open educational resources by end users (whether teachers or learners)”.

Another approach to sustainability that shouldn’t be ignored is the non-economic dimension of it. We cannot measure the sustainability of OER just in terms of net gain or loss, but have to consider its social and philosophical implications. Institutions may be driven not by profit but instead by their social responsibilities and missions (and many are), and for those the sole purpose of contributing for the development of humankind by sharing knowledge may be their measure for sustainability.

Every OER project, whatever its size, objectives and sponsors, is naturally unique, thus the different dimensions of its reality, the models adopted for its running and completion are equally unique and particular to them. Models of funding, technical approaches, content and staffing are diverse, depending on the varied types of funders (governments, NGOs, pan-governmental programs, etc), technical requirements, content to be produced or shared, organizational aspects, etc.


Cobb, C., Halstead, T., & Rowe, J. (1995). The genuine progress indicator. San Francisco, CA: Redefining Progress. Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2007). Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects3, 29-44. Retrieved from

Hoyle, M (2009). OER And A Pedagogy Of Abundance

Yuan, Li; Macneill, Sheila; & Kraan, Wilbert (2008). Open Educational Resources – Opportunities and Challenges for Higher Education.

Walker, E. (2005). A reality check for open education. Utah: Open Education Conference. [slides] and

Weller, Martin (2010). Big and Little OER. In Open Ed 2010 Proceedings. Barcelona: UOC, OU, BYU. []

Wiley, D. (2006) On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education,

Brave New (Open) World: Contextualizing Open Educational Resources

This is the first of a series of posts where I’m going to analyse the Open Educational Resources as one of the fundamental changes to the education landscapes in this digital age we live. In this first post I’m going to focus on the context of OERs and why they are here.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are a dream come true to educators all around the world. Who can deny having plenty of educational resources at hand that can be used as-is, repurposed and redistributed at no charge is a good thing? Who never felt the need for more resources than those provided in textbooks? For that matter, who among us didn’t have to build their own syllabus from scratch, gathering resources anywhere, even daring to cross the shady borders of fair use of copyrighted materials and the plain breaking of the law?

What are we talking about when referring to OER? The terms Educational and Resources are self-explaining enough, but what do we mean by Open? Let’s take a deeper look at that.

The term “Open” in this context is related to a movement for “openness” that has been pervading various fields of knowledge and society, such as finance (opennessin finance), governance (open government), education and research (open education, open educational resources, massive open online courses, opencourseware, open textbooks, open access), technology (open source software, open hardware, open networking, open standards). It is important to note, though, the different ways in which it is used on the different fields, sometimes meaning “transparency”, “free”, “collaborative”, “accessible” or any combination of those. This “openness” movement seems to be related to the advent  of the digital age, the network society, where the balance between speed and cost of communication and transmission of knowledge, along with a growing culture of empowerment of the individuals in terms of content creation and consumption, is very different from the previous “analogic” age, allowing for an effective sharing of knowledge with mutual benefits. Moreover, the “openness” movement is conceptually related to a philosophy that sees knowledge as a social good belonging to everyone, hence it must be shared at the broadest possible range to close the developmental gap at a global scale.

The multiplicity of meanings for the word “open” makes it difficult to agree upon a definition of OER, fueling the debate among academics. According to Yuan, Macaill & Kraan (2008) “the term was first introduced in a conference hosted by UNESCO in 2000 and was prompted in the context of providing free access to educational resources on a global basis”, but doesn’t give any precise and authoritative definition of OER. The same authors mention as well that the most widely accepted definition of OER (a working definition, that is), is OCDE’s (OCDE, 2007):

“digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, and research”

This is a somewhat limited definition of OER, because it appears to limit itself to contecnt that can ben shared through electronic means. That content can be varied, and includes not only full courses, courseware, content modules, learning objects, collections and journals but also lesson plans, syllabi and other educational content. This is only one of the three areas of “resources” stated by the OECD (2007), the learning content. The other areas include tools such as software, to suppoort the development, use, reuse and delivery of learning content, including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systemscontent development tools and online communities and implementation resources: intellectual property, licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design principles of best practice and localize content (OECD, 2007). Downes (2007) gives us a wider view of the OER concept by reminding us of the greater scope of educational resources usually needed to fulfill education other than mere “digitized materials” by citing a list from a report by UNESCO:

Visiting lecturers and experts

Twinning arrangements providing for the international exchange of students and academic staff

Imported courseware in a variety of media

Externally developed sponsored programs

Inter-institutional programmes developed collaboratively

Information resources of the Internet (UNESCO, 2002)

The debate on the nature of OER, what should be considered to be part of it or not, is not ending soon. Opinions are vary, but the core concept of openness is always there, and it supposed an inexorable change for higher education in since its appearance.


Downes, S. (2007). Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects3, 29-44. Retrieved from

Gurell, Seth (autor) & Wiley, David (editor) (2008). OER Handbook for Educators 1.0. []

OECD (2007), Giving Knowledge for Free: the Emergence of Open Educational Resources,

UNESCO (2002). Free access to 2,000 MIT courses online: A huge opportunity for universities in poor countries. Paris,

Yuan, Li; Macneill, Sheila; & Kraan, Wilbert (2008). Open Educational Resources – Opportunities and Challenges for Higher Education.