OERs and giving it away

Why publish open educational resources?

Sun shining through trees © The University of Manchester.

I am involved in the delivery of Open Knowledge in HE (OKHE), an open module on open knowledge/openness in higher education (from The University of Manchester, available to all). I am enjoying being part of the module and hearing participants’ experiences of and thoughts on openness.

The module is split into three topics, the second of which includes discussion of copyright and licensing as they relate to openness. This is very relevant to my job in eLearning. I’ve written this post as an exploration of this, including why I believe in openness and why I’m lucky that my employer does too.

If you work in education and/or are interested in openness, I hope that my perspective will be interesting. Either way, I’m happy to receive responses :-)

Open Educational Resources (OER)

“[OER] are teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse at no cost.” — oercommons.org. CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0

Openness is a term in fashion at the moment, so it isn’t always clear what it means; in what way(s) is a particular resource ‘open’? For me, a big part of what is good about OER is the reuse aspect.

Many educational resources are open in that anyone can freely access and them. You might call this ‘open to learners’. In this case, the copyright holder allows learners to view their resources (by not restricting their availability e.g. by price), but may not allow educators to use the resources in their teaching. With this definition, you might argue that any content available publicly online is an OER (as far as it could be used as an educational resource).

Openness beyond access

I believe that openness is about more than access; it is about surrendering more of your control — in the case of OER, doing this to improve the value of that resource to educators (not just learners). One of my arguments for OER is that the increased value is felt by all — including the copyright holder and/or original resource creator. Making resources open encourages you to structure and document them well, to make life easy for ‘the next person to use them’. Sometimes that ‘next person’ will be you…

Sharing resources openly and allowing others to reuse them can also lead to gathering more feedback and suggestions on the resources, which can help to improve them. Equally, it can lead to better usage from ‘your own’ audience. If your resources are discoverable through Google, not hidden behind a login, they will be easier to find for all.

Another argument for OER is that licenses such as Creative Commons allow us to surrender some control without losing anything. There is nothing to be afraid of; when you license something, you are in control over how much control you retain

What really defines OER for me is that the openness deliberately goes beyond this in ways which makes the resources more useful to educators. For me, OER are not only be free to use, but free to distribute (generally under certain conditions) and to reuse/remix.

Some examples

My Learning Essentials artwork © The University of Manchester.

I am lucky to work on the My Learning Essentials resources, which are released under CC BY-NC 3.0. Every month, I look at online usage statistics and see how many institutions link to and embed the resources. We also receive emails from people who have adapted them to suit their own needs. All of this is lovely, but I believe it also enhances Manchester’s reputation.

Here are some open educational resources from My Learning Essentials. You may find these useful within OKHE, as they relate to academic writing — or you may simply see them as examples of resources which are released openly.

In addition to these resources being open access, we release the source files openly. You can view all OERs from MLE — workshop resources and eLearning project files — on Jorum. How easy have we made these to reuse?

If any of the topics above are relevant to your practice, can you see yourself using these resources? If you had time, would you be interested in modifying them to suit your requirements? What are the benefits/disadvantages to the copyright owning institution (The University of Manchester)?

Open Knowledge in Higher Education

All core materials in OKHE are released under CC BY-NC-SA (all of those written specifically for the course by the OKHE admin account. We cannot make all materials available under this license, because of our choice of open course structure (all participants can contribute to the course, and we think that it is important that they license their own work) — and that’s OK!

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