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.”
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 archive.alt.ac.uk/newsletter.alt.ac.uk/newsletter.alt.ac.uk/4ii7jyi4jnx.html
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm.
Weller, M. (2010). Big and Little OER. In Open Ed 2010 Proceedings. Barcelona: UOC, OU, BYU. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10609/4851