What’s that about Open Educational Resources?

Flexible learning and flexible pedagogies call for considerations about globalization and sustainability and its impact on openness in education and learning. And here Open Educational Resources, OERs, are seen as a potential in supporting educational transformation, giving access to free educational material to educators and learners worldwide.

“One of the most important effects on learning coming from the Web development was the dissemination of Open Educational Resources (OER) (Seely Brown & Adler, 2008). This term was coined during the UNESCO’s “2002 Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries”:

”The open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes.  – UNESCO (2002)” (Tosato and Bodi 2011)

The latest follow-up on this declaration is the 2012 Paris OER Declaration, where “The World Open Educational Resources Congress”, the UNESCO initiative on OERs, recommends to states, that they should:

  • Foster awareness and use of OER.
  • Facilitate enabling environments for use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).
  • Reinforce the development of strategies and policies of OER.
  • Promote the understanding and use of open licensing frameworks.
  • Support capacity building for the sustainable development of quality learning materials.
  • Foster strategic alliances for OER.
  • Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts.
  • Encourage research in OER.
  • Facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER.
  • Encourage the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds.

So the focus on OERs means an awareness of the need to create and share educational materials for a globalized world – materials for education and for free studies – and the aim is to rise the accessibility and the level of education around the world in a time where so many people need education, and the creed is for lifelong learning.

Well, what are OERs?

OERs can be:

  • full courses
  • course modules or parts of courses
  • lesson plans
  • textbooks
  • lectures
  • videos
  • podcasts
  • games
  • tests
  • software like computer-based simulations or experiments.

When we talk about Open Educational Resources, we also talk about Open Access. Open Access is part of a global move towards openness, participation, transparency and accessibility as ideals of education today. And although there seems to be limits to the actual meaning of ‘free’ and ‘open’, the definition of Open Educational Resources must be extended to integrate some of the implicit understandings of the aims and intentions behind OERs. Tosato and Bodi put it this way:

“Nowadays there is a growing consensus that a definition of OER needs to incorporate three interrelated dimensions  (Mackintosh, 2011): educational values (OERs should be free) , pedagogical utility (OERs should embed the permissions of the reuse, revise, remix  and redistribute), and technology enables (technology and media choices should not restrict the previous permissions).” (Tosato and Bodi 2011)

So the following key words must be considered in relation to each other when creating, using and working with OERs:

Open                            Free for real?                Retain

Access              Open Access as intention         Reuse

Participation  A scale from Copyright to CC    Revise

Collaboration                                                  Remix


The definitions of Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute according to David Wiley: The 5 R’s Framework.

Sustainability and quality of OERS                    

In the discussions of the future of education, the idea of OERs is combined with the idea of sustainability. David Wiley has given a definition of sustainability in relation to OERs and states, that:

”Hereafter sustainability will be defined as an open educational resource project’s ongoing ability to meet its goals.” (Wiley (2007:5)

So here sustainability means that materials that are distributed as OERs must be able to be used again and again, that materials are kept up to date and are revised regularly, and that they go on being accessible online and are cost-efficient. This is what Wiley calls to “find a way to sustain the production and sharing of OERs”, and as an equal matter, OER projects must also be able to find  “a way to sustain the use and reuse of their OER by end users”, so that distribution continues to be possible despite technological changes and materials still are presenting innovative practices and still motivate learners to engage in their studies (Wiley 2007:5-6).

The question of sustainability in OERs implicates quality assessment, and here is a list of criterias that can be taken into account when evaluating and assessing OERs:

  • accuracy
  • reputation of author and institution
  • standard of technical production
  • accessibility
  • fitness for purpose  (Jisc Infokit)

But an important aspect of OERs is the educators or teachers own use and production of OERs – when they  move away from seeing themselves as only consumers of educational materials and start taking part in producing and reusing and sharing OERs. For the educator much of the learning, both about the subject and how to teach it, comes from the process of creating the material. The whats, hows and whys of choosing content is being discerned alongside the whats, hows and whys posed in relation to course design. And when we are talking of combining and building knowledge, we are also talking about developing creativity while discussing quality in educational materials:

“…it is evident that creativity is becoming a crucial skill to develop, and it is one of the most important tools for the production of new knowledge and more generally for self-learning (Ferrari et al, 2009). In this context, when we talk about creativity we refer to the ability to deal with change, the ability that we put in place when we address new problems, when we invent new strategies to tackle them. The creativity is also important to create new knowledge: we are able to increase our personal knowledge if we are able to integrate different contexts (Olimpi, 2010). To reach this goal [it] is important to develop new personal synthesis that rely on new forms of abstraction or generalization.” (Tosato and Bodi 2011).

Open Educational Resources may offer enourmous potential in supporting the development of creativity, as they can be used and reused by teachers and learners in a range of contexts of both formal, non-formal and informal learning, as well as contexts of both individual and collaborative learning in relation to both product and process.” (Tosato and Bodi 2011).

Moby-Dick and the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide”

In previous blogposts I have used New Media Literacies’ project “Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom” as an example in discussing communities of practice, participation culture and digital literacies.I have mentioned that I see the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide”, which is to be found online, as Open Educational Resources. If analyzed through the lens of the two types of sustainability presented above and the quality assessment criteria also mentioned above, the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” is not sustainable as OER. The quality of the project and the innovative practices that the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” introduce to and present tasks and questions for are very high, and it second the presentation of the project and the research behind it in the book “Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom”. But a lot of the links in the online material are not working or leading to websites that has nothing to do with the project or material. The videos behind some of the links can mostly be found by searching them online, so neither the production and sharing of the OER, or the use and reuse of the OER by end users can be attained. So the problem is accessibility.

Well then, could I use this OER?  Yes, indeed, as an inspiration and a starting point, but I would also have to revise and remix the material.  The inspiration from the participatory culture and its aesthetic and creative practices of remixing is a key experience to me, and the emphasis on social and cultural understanding in the canonical novel Moby-Dick and the dialogues between readers, I could adapt to my own practice while discussing with the traditions of literary pedagogies. But I think, that students should also get to know other aspects of the digital literacies that are put at work in the “Teachers Strategy Guide”. In a networked world dealing with connectivity, interactivity and dialogue, aspects like the following also belong to a common knowledge of digital literacies:

Hypertext                                            Multi-modalities

Media affordances                             Critical thinking

A deep sense of an intended public   Copyright and CC.

Students should have a proper knowledge of the components of digital texts. And they should not just be engaged with digital skills and tools or digital competences, they should also work with creativity as knowledge building and culture as context for reading Moby-Dick in the perspectives of ‘negotiation’ and ‘cultural translation’. And the processes of reading and interpreting should help fostering an understanding of literary history and creating historical consciousness while working with the relations between the past, the present and the future.

And then the perspectives of reading in a participatory culture and of OERs may meet at the end, in remixing these two quotes next to each other to challenge both learner and teacher perspectives :

“It’s necessary but no longer sufficient to train learners to think like fledgling literary scholars; we must also prepare them to engage more broadly in conversations about transforming their lives and, in the process, the role of reading and writing in their communities and cultures.” (McWilliams and Clinton 2013:185)

“The new challenges of the information society lead to a new profile of teacher competence: teachers have to interact with a knowledge that is accelerated, globalized and complex and with students having new features.” (Tosato and Bodi  2011)

This blogpost has been edited on 25. November 2015 to update David Wiley’s 4 R’s Framework to his 5 R’s Framework: 5 R’s of Reuse.

Further reading:

Jisc Infokit: Open Educational Resources

McWilliams, Jenna and  Katie Clinton (2013): Conclusion: Reimagining and Reinventing the English Classroom for the Digital Age In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

Open Education Handbook (2014)

Tosato, P., & Bodi, G. (2011). Collaborative environments to foster creativity, reuse and sharing of OER. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning. Special Themed Issue on Creativity and Open Educational Resources.

UNESCO Paris OER Declaration 2012

Wiley, David (2007): On the Sustainability of Open Education Resource Initiatives in Higher Education, OECD

Elna Mortensen

What’s that about Open Educational Resources?

2 thoughts on “What’s that about Open Educational Resources?

  1. Dear Elna
    I like everytime to read your blogpost
    Again this one is very reflective and deep
    Yo really make the most of teh blog, your own reflections, combined with litterature
    You also refr to your earlier blogs
    Also the design of your blog, I must congratulate you for, with tags, how to leave comments, how to see earlier blogposts and later
    And also how you use those citations boxes, and to include both images and film clips
    Great and rich work Elna
    I will encourage you to continue to blog and also to tweet them out..

    Concedring the text on the topic as such, I cant more than agrre with you
    Maybe a reflection and questions fpr you
    1. How can we with the use of OER encourage academics and learners to work more towards an open educational praxis and coulture
    2. What could the incentives be for learners? academics? and the institutions?
    3. How can we with teh use of OERs work more towards the flipped classroom
    4. How can we encourage the approach you are citing “It’s necessary but no longer sufficient to train learners to think like fledgling literary scholars; we must also prepare them to engage more broadly in conversations about transforming their lives and, in the process, the role of reading and writing in their communities and cultures.” (McWilliams and Clinton 2013:185)
    5. and this one as well “The new challenges of the information society lead to a new profile of teacher competence: teachers have to interact with a knowledge that is accelerated, globalized and complex and with students having new features.” (Tosato and Bodi 2011)

    Keep going,
    Caring is sharing, sharing is caring


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