Interoperable Open Education Resources (OER)

Michael Collins
May 27, 2016 · 4 min read
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Markdown has exploded in popularity recently for scientists, engineers, writers, and others interested in publishing in flexible and open formats. With tools like GitBook, GitHub, PanDoc, Grav, and Jekyll, a single person can write in one place and publish everywhere and in every format. Arguably, it is now easier to sustain digitally written content for longer than in the recent past due to these tools and formats. No more dissertations trapped on old floppy disks. It’s truly an exciting time, as much as a person can be excited about version control and markdown documents.

Authoring for Remix


Things we want to transport:

  1. Course structure
  • Content
  • Pedagogical strategy
  • Metadata related to communicating these aspects

Things we don’t want to transport (outside of a single learning system)

  1. Student submissions, profile information, or assessment data
  2. Discussions (unless they become part of the content)
  3. Analytics
  4. Non-licensed (copyright protected) material

“The best part is, Google might be doing all the heavy lifting.”

Let’s examine the word transportability. Transportability is made possible only when standards are in place that enable interoperability between systems. Standardization is what makes the content go-round. Here is a useful and somewhat annoying fact. There exists standards that transport the things that I have listed under the don’t want to transport list and there exists no standards for the want to transport list (content and pedagogical strategy). Here’s why: have you ever had a disagreement about whether to call something a lesson, section, topic, unit, or whatever other term describes this abstract collection of stuff that helps people learn? You are not alone. These arguments, while silly, are important because language carries meaning. The only answer is to use abstracted words to define the structure to avoid further disagreement. To accomplish this, the plan is to use standardized tagging. This tagging can be applied to existing content using existing words like lesson or exercise, and it will happen at the HTML layer. The best part is, Google might be doing all the heavy lifting. For free. Keep reading.

Interoperable OER Standards

The first iteration of this standard will be tested at a full-day workshop later this summer. The tentative plan is to create a GitBook plugin to lower the bar for faculty to experiment with the standard and quickly publish. If successful, participants will not only be able to publish OER, they will create interoperable OER, which allows anyone to participate in education remix.


  1. Standards help with transportability
  2. There are no standards for OER course structure
  3. We are defining OER standards, schema, and tools for publishing and remixing [UPDATE: See]
  4. OER standards = Sustainable OER

Originally published at on May 27, 2016.

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