Thursday, March 1, 2012

OpenEd Researcher Badge #1 - Open Educational Resources

This is the third posting of the three posts required to earn the Open Ed Researcher badge in the OER course at BYU in the winter of 2012.  This last post links to articles and other materials related to the Open Educational Resources movement.  The movement intends to increase the availability of educational resources to greater populations by making them available at little or no cost to the learner.

Peer Reviewed Article #1
Educational Resources: Enabling universal education 

I selected this first article because the researchers do a great job clearly stating the justification and motivation that are important supporting the development and deployment of OER.  The citation (APA format) is:
Caswell, T., Henson, S., Jensen, M., Wiley, D. (2008). Open educational resources: Enabling universal education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(1), 1-11. Retrieved from
The authors note that education has been deemed a critical human right.  They write:
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to education, and that "technical and professional education shall be made generally available (United Nations, 1948)."
This right is the motivation to find ways to make education generally available.  But there are costs associated with educational resources.  The authors address the role of the costs of education, particularly distance education in the abstract for the article.  The abstract states:
Traditionally distance education was limited in the number of people served because of production, reproduction, and distribution costs. Today, while it still costs the university time and money to produce a course, technology has made it such that reproduction costs are almost non-existent. This shift has significant implications, and allows distance educators to play an important role in the fulfillment of the promise of the right to universal education. At little or no cost, universities can make their content available to millions. This content has the potential to substantially improve the quality of life of learners around the world. New distance education technologies . . . act as enablers to achieving the universal right to education.
The challenges with the development, production, and deployment of OER include costs, ownership, competition, and quality.  As the OER community continues to expand and more participants engage in these development and deployment activities, creative solutions to the challenges are evolving.

The remainder of this article discusses OCW as a critical OER component.  My last post covered OCW so I will not review the authors writing of the history and the state of OCW as an OER resource.

I think this article is an important conversation about OER.  The motivations for creation and deployment are addressed as well as an acknowledgement that there are costs.  This acknowledgement is an important part of the approach that we must take with institutions as they consider their role in supporting OER.

Peer Reviewed Article #2
Designing for innovation around OER

The second peer-reviewed article that I have linked is found in the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME).  This journal is an open access, peer-reviewed journal "that focuses on the implications and use of digital media in education." (JIME website at  The citation (APA format) is:
Lane, A. (2010). Designing for innovation around OER. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2010 (2),, accessed 2/21/2012.
This article talks about work done at the Open University in the U.K.  The article reports some of the experiences encountered in the design of learning activities and courses using OER as content.  The researcher was attempting to answer two questions:
  • How do we make it easier or more effective for adult learners of all abilities to engage with OER and gain from that experience?
  • How do we make it easier or more effective for teachers to use, re-use, rework and remix OER for their own purposes?
The author used an analysis that considered the stages in OER product development suggested by McAndrew (2010) [Ref: McAndrew, P. and Lane, A. (2010) The impact of OpenLearn: making The Open University more “open”, Association for Learning and Technology online newsletter, Issue 18, Friday 15th January 2010, ISSN 1748-3603, accessed 2nd September 2010 from]

These stages are:
  1. Legal: release of copyright through creative commons
  2. Practical: provide access to content
  3. Technical: develop an environment for open access
  4. Pedagogic: understand the designs that work
  5. Economic: devise a model for sustainable operation
  6. Transformative: change ways of working and learning
The author cites specific instances from design efforts at the Open University that incorporated OER in these stages.

The author then proceeds to describe how the OpenLearn project aligned with the five principles of design developed by Kahle (2008) [Ref: Kahle, D. (2008) Designing Open Educational Technology, In Eds Ilyoshi, T. and Vijay Kumar, M.S., Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, pp 27-45, MIT Press. 2008. ISBN 0-262-03371-2, accessed 2nd September 2010 from] that were considered as an approach to innovative instruction using OER.  The author writes about these principles:
Kahle (2008) has written about the primacy of design for educational technologies and that for open educational technologies in particular he proposed five principles:
  1. Design for access – who is the technology open for?
  2. Design for agency – the degree of user action and control over the technology;
  3. Design for ownership – allowing people to have a stake in the technology through open licensing;
  4. Design for participation – encouraging community involvement in developing or extending the technology;
  5. Design for experience – take note of the aesthetics of use as users will quickly make judgements on this.
Through all five principles there are elements that involve innovation pre the release of the technology coupled with continued innovation post the release (the concept of perpetual beta . . .)
The author again gives specific examples of the implementation of the design project, categorizing an example within each of the five principles.

This was an interesting study and I learned about these important principles that are helpful in designing instruction using OER both by students and teachers.

Peer Reviewed Article #3
Open Educational Resources: New Possibilities for Change and Sustainability

The third peer-reviewed article that I have linked is found in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.  I deemed this article important because of the observations made by the author about sustainability of OER efforts and lessons that might be drawn from his analysis.  The citation (APA format) is:
Friesen, N. (2009). Open educational resources: New possibilities for change and sustainability. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning10 (5), 1-13. Retrieved from
 This article reports research where the author investigated OER projects.  The author writes that the article
presents the results of an informal survey of active and inactive collections of online educational resources, emphasizing data related to collection longevity and the project attributes associated with it.
The attempt of this survey was to see if OER collections could be sustained over the long term or if such repositories could be expected to become inactive or disappear after some time as had happened with other academic collection efforts across many institutions and organizations, and in many different fields.  The author found that there have been some OER collection efforts that have been instituted, grown for a time, and then become inactive or discontinued.  He writes,
There is little use in establishing a “universal educational resource” – however effective for human and educational development it may be – if it is neglected or goes offline after a few years.
The author prepared two tables of OER collections that he reviewed for this research.  The first table showed a collection of projects that were still functional and could be considered sustainable at the time of his research.  The second table showed OER efforts that he found to be discontinued and were not sustained.  In his review of these efforts the author defined a sustainability crisis window of three years.  This means that most products confront a substantial sustainability challenge at this time and there must be a solution to their challenge or it is likely that the collection will go inactive or be discontinued.

He lists lessons for sustainability that might be derived from the research.  The first lesson is:
importance of ongoing, operational institutional or consortial funding for educational resource collections and the difficulty of realizing alternative funding models. Online educational resource initiatives of this kind, one can conclude, need to be seen as processes or services rather than as products that persist of their own accord.
Where a collection is part of the institutional mission then it appears that the strategies of the institution will incorporate support and funding for the sustenance of the OER effort.

The second lesson Friesen documents is "the importance of community."  He writes that there are few broadly general collections that cross multiple categories and subject matter.  There are many more however that are pertinent to certain smaller categories or topics and benefit from an interested community within that area of interest.

The author writes how these perceived lessons
are commensurate with a survey report recently released by UNESCO . . . the document ranked 15 of the top concerns of the “OER international community of interest”. The issue of sustainability of OER projects . . . was one of the top concerns (4th out of 15). The top three challenges or issues speak clearly to issues implied in the sustainability challenge:
  1. awareness raising and promotion;
  2. communities and networking of creators and users; and
  3. capacity development, specifically as it relates to the development and pedagogical application of OERs.
These concerns share a number of characteristics in common: None are related to technology or to technological solutions . . . None raise issues such as ease of use or cost-savings – two concerns receiving considerable attention in the literature . . . Instead, these top concerns, as the report’s author explains, are of a “community focused” and “decentralized” nature. They underscore incompatibilities between pedagogical and community cultures, on the one hand, and the practices and priories associated with developing, sharing, and utilizing online instructional content, on the other.
The author concludes the report by discussing the MIT OCW collection and the benefits that the institution derives from their support for this initiative.  The author summarizes the findings of a review of the project done at MIT which:
highlights a range of factors associated with the success of this project. Some of these factors and findings [are]
  1. the fact that MIT courses and course contents are benefitting users globally. The majority of use takes place outside of the United States itself, with a substantial minority of users coming from outside of OECD-member (or developed) nations . . . in other words . . . the majority of its use is from nations with less developed university infrastructures than the USA.
  2. the majority of the use of MIT courses is for self-directed, informal learning, namely to “improve” or “enhance personal knowledge” or to “explore areas outside [one’s] professional field” . . . In other words, the majority of the use of this material not only takes place outside of the USA, it also occurs outside in the context of reuse and adaptation by teachers or instructional designers.
  3. A correlative finding is that the MIT resources . . . are actually being used and followed as courses, within the context of the syllabi and other course structures and conventions.
  4. A fourth and final finding (or rather, set of findings) is connected to the relationship of the project to MIT itself as an institution. This finding provides clear evidence of multiple areas of significant benefit accruing to MIT the institution from the open courseware project, and it provides a positive illustration of important possibilities for change . . . Majorities of students and faculty at MIT . . . use the site to support their study and teaching, and 32% of faculty say that putting materials online has improved their teaching . . . Finally, the role of the project in student recruitment is significant: 16% of the student users employ the MIT courses to “plan a course of study,” and “35 percent of freshmen who were aware of OCW prior to deciding to attend MIT indicate the site was a significant or very significant influence on their choice of school”  Therein lies one of the most powerful drivers of adoption of OERs . . . Simply put, this is enlightened institutional self-interest.

This paper addresses issues about sustainability that need to be considered beyond the monetary cost/benefit decision at institutions.  There are benefits to the world, but there are also possible benefits to students and faculty on campus, improvements in teaching, and possible reputational and recruiting advantages by sustained presence of OER in institutional strategy.

Additional Resource #1
Open Educational Resources: The Value of Use

This video is a report from Oxford University that looks at the creation, addition, and deployment of OER in extended learning efforts in continuing education activities at the University.  In addition to explaining OER and describing its use, the report shows that the use improves the quality of teaching on and off of campus. The report also highlights the effect of OER blended in courses on the students trust and research of content on the internet.

Additional Resource #2
Open Education Resources (OER) Explained

This is a video clip of testimony by Reuven Carlyle, a legislator in the state of Washington, where he explains and recommends the use of OER in K-12 instruction in the state.  He discusses the quality of the open texts and the money that will be saved through pursuing using these texts in K-12 in Washington.  This links very nicely to a post in the OER class made within the last week of similar testimony given by the same legislator recently.

Additional Resource #3
Open Source goes to High School

This video link reviews the Open High School of Utah and reports on the experience of students, families, and teachers in using OER in the instruction at the truly open high school.  This documentary style video gives a real flavor for the experiences and motivations to improve learning with OER tools and strategies.

Additional Resource #4
AFFORDABLE AND OPEN TEXTBOOKS: An Exploratory Study of Faculty Attitudes

This article is a research report from the University of California that explores the attitudes of faculty towards the use of open textbooks in higher education.  There were interviews and focus groups conducted with faculty to determine their attitudes about open textbooks and how that might effect strategies that an institution might want to follow to benefit students through the savings that might be realized through the use of open texts.  The author writes:
Our results show that faculty want a diversity of choices. They are independent thinkers, exceptionally busy, suffer from extreme information overload, are generally dedicated to ensuring their students’ success, and do not take well to “one size fits all” solutions. It was clear from our focus groups and survey that any discussion about textbook affordability solutions must also take into account that most faculty are active and independent decision makers when it comes to choosing a textbook or other curricular materials for their courses; the top-down high-school model of textbook adoption is anathema to many professors and instructors.
Complicating the picture are the natural, heterogeneous needs among the institutions, disciplines, and courses encompassed by higher education; the type of institution and the level and content of the course will ultimately determine which curricular forms offer the best solutions. Faculty made clear that their students represent a plethora of learning backgrounds and goals, and desire flexibility and choice in textbook options. What is notable and cannot be ignored is that purely electronic solutions will not be universally embraced in the near term. Reasons for resistance included students’ need for the safety net of a printed textbook and the positive pedagogical practice of engaging with the text by “writing in the margins” (which is not a practical reality in current electronic platforms).
The author was generally positive towards the faculty and understanding of their concerns.  The observations about the faculty attitudes align with my own experiences in conversation with faculty on my campus about open texts (and frankly all other open movements in education).  There is suspicion of motives, questioning of quality, and a general reluctance to divert from the traditional models of instruction and resourcing prevalent in higher ed for lo these many years.  This is an interesting read and creates opportunities to understand concerns that must be addressed if there is a desire to pursue adoption of these openness initiatives.

  Additional Resource #5

This final article is a report on the efforts to use OER in blended learning teaching strategies in situations where students might not have resources that would present opportunities to access OER outside of a classroom setting.  The article reports on the BLOSSOMS project from MIT where the faculty created short learning objects that could be presented by the teachers in their classrooms and blended into instruction.  The authors describe the project as follows:
The BLOSSOMS initiative is guided by eight major considerations:
  1. Technology is changing education, allowing a much richer menu of learning opportunities than was available before. Some believe that historians—in the future—will cite education as one of the top three transformative effects of the Internet.
  2. The Open Source movement is creating learning materials free of copyright restrictions.
  3. The World is co-inventing major environments on the web (e.g., Wikipedia).
  4. Many high school students, both young women and young men, are turned off to studying math and science, seeing it as hard work with little relevance in their lives.
  5. Teachers in high schools need appropriate technology-enabled means to leverage their skills in order to further engage and excite the students.
  6. For many teachers, a blended or hybrid model that combines traditional face-to-face with technology-enhanced teaching will be a less threatening way to leverage their effectiveness through technology.
  7. Much teaching of mathematics in high schools is done formally, often in theorem and proof mode, and the style of student learning is too often rote memorization for an exam, and then forgetting.
  8. New ways need to be developed to help students engage in creative critical thinking, often assembling in unusual ways concepts and facts learned in more traditional modes
  9. Students need to be shown that mathematics and science can apply in exciting and useful ways in their lives, both professional and personal, thereby increasing the numbers who will select engineering, science and mathematics as career goals.
The BLOSSOMS video modules are not intended to replace an existing curriculum but rather to enhance the teaching of certain lessons, encouraging critical thinking and creating interest to pursue further math and science studies. Students in the classroom setting would watch a segment of a BLOSSOMS video, none lasting longer than about 5 minutes. Then after each segment, the in-class teacher would guide the students with an active learning exercise building from the video segment. After the learning objective is accomplished, the video is turned on again for another short segment. This iterative process continues until the exercise is over, usually lasting a full class session.
This explanation of the goals of the program and its operation was interesting.  The rest of the paper outlines  philosophies and addresses some of the issues that were raised in the other documents and videos that I have linked here.

In summary, the use of OER is driven by motives that could be considered admirable and that are intended to extend education under the assumption that it is a basic human right.  There are design issues that need to be addressed when implementing OER in instruction.  Sustainability is an issue with all OER collections and there need to be institutional strategies and benefits in order for OER to be sustained at institutions of higher ed.  OER has many dynamic uses and can be a cost-effective way to extend the blessings of learning to students and to improve the teaching of faculty and academics.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent as always.

    "The use of OER is driven by motives that could be considered admirable and that are intended to extend education under the assumption that it is a basic human right." There are a number of people who consider these motives naive, because they believe that the only stable motivation is financial. However, as we're learning, there are other powerful motivations as well. And people in a state of financial security are particularly susceptible to these other motivations.