Sep 24, 2007

OpenED: A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement

Open Educational Resources, past & future (3/3)
Three interesting papers about open educational resources are discussed this week in the course "Introduction to Open Education", given by David Wiley. These papers, although partly overlapping, show some interesting facts about OER, motivation, production, copyright, and all other related issues, as well as some compelling ideas and arguments about the future learning landscape in which OER have to prove themselves sustainable and useful. Since my thesis focuses on this future, trying to figure out how a sustainable OER environment will look like for Delft University of Technology, and possibly other technical universities, especially the reports that show a glimpse on the future addressed my interests most. Both the OLCOS report as the Atkins, Brown, and Hammond report had a strong focus on the future, where the OECD report mainly introduced OER, described different OER models, showed interesting projects, and included more facts about OER-related aspects. This post will discuss a report commissioned by the OECD, named "Giving Knowledge for Free, the Emergence of Open Educational Resources".


  • Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD, 2007)
  • Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS, 2007)
  • A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond, 2007)
What do these overviews of the field have in common? What do they emphasize differently? What are the aims of the authors of each report? Do you see a bias toward or against any ideas, organizations, or approaches in any of the reports? Which report spoke the most clearly to you, and why do you think it did? Based on where the field is now, and these initial ideas about where it might go, what part of the open education movement is most interesting to you?

A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities
A Review of OER: Achievements, Challenges, and New OpportunitiesThe third paper discussed this week is another interesting one. The following three rather well-known authors have described in detail what the next step is for funding open educational resources initiatives:
  • Daniel E. Atkins, Professor of Information, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the University of Michigan and Director of the Office ofCyberinfrastructure, U.S. National Science Foundation;
  • John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist of Xerox and Director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC);
  • Allen Hammond, Vice President, Special Projects and Innovation at World Resources Institute.
The goal of the paper, which is written for the Hewlett foundation, is to:
  • Review investments by Hewlett Foundation
  • Describe results of investments
  • Provide an overview of complementary projects
  • Give suggestions for future investments.
After an introduction to open educational resources, the authors provide an extensive, but not complete overview of investments in open educational resources. They describe major remaining challenges, such as sustainability, access, object granularity, quality assessment,IP (Intellectual Property) issues, and more. The second part introduces major socio-technological changes that have an enormous influence for the OER-landscape, both creating great opportunities as large remaining tasks to be done. Important changes concern open source software and content, web 2.0 technologies, better access to and performance of ICT , and an improved understanding of learning. These changes will enable the emergence of a global "Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure", the subject of the final part of the paper. This OPLI , as the authors have called it, is both social as technological, and is the product of the fostering of the right social interactions and development of the right tools. The OPLI initiative will, along with other concurrent transformative initiatives, address large international challenges, namely
  • to significantly transform effectiveness of and participation in scientific discovery and learning;
  • to enable engaged world universities, meta universities, and a huge global increase in access to high-quality education; and
  • to create cultures of learning for supporting people to thrive in a rapidly evolving knowledge-based world.
An elaboration follows about how this OPLI looks/should look like, what dynamics surround it, technologies relate to it, and what attributes it has. Besides this interesting focus, the report provides an interesting perspective on learning and the digital divide, explaining the large role reserved for mobile and wireless technologies in that context, especially in underdeveloped countries.

In the text below I will shortly discuss the different aspects that appealed or interested me in the report.

The report starts with an overview of most projects funded by the Hewlett foundation, explaining the configuration and objectives of the different projects. The OER movement has spread out in different, sometimes redundant, but mostly complementary directions. Different models for the production of educational resources have been adopted, legal issues are addressed through the use, development and promotion open licenses, language barriers by supporting translation programs, and technological issues by developing and financial backing of open source software projects. An interesting remark is given at the end of the introduction, where the authors warn for a "success disaster", explaining that "more institutions and even more examples of any one course aren’t necessarily better" and that there is a need for "incentives and mechanisms to promote creation and access to fewer instances of the same course but with more support material, more commentary, more examples, etc."

Even though I do see a resemblance in the approach described in the OLCOS 2012 Roadmap paper, where OER value chains are described, there is a difference. OER value chains are not so much about creating less instances of better quality, but on fostering learning of and with OER, regardless of the number created. It is possible that there are numerous resources, most of them useless, but the environment in which these are offered may be more important that the actual resource itself.

More interesting than the examples given in the first part are the remaining challenges. The authors argue that the approach taken by MIT, which relies for a great part on a centralized organization to maintain quality, provide support, and take care of copyright issues, might not work for other institutions. I agree. MIT is an extraordinary university that enjoys not only numerous valuable connections, but a owns a lot of money to be able to support this way of producing materials. Putting a single course online costs $25.000, where the costs of producing one extra course on Connexions, relying on decentralized support and intuitive tools, costs zero. My interest in sustainability issues is high, so I will repeat here the suggestions of the authors. The following approaches need to be explored:
  1. Encourage institutions, instead of pioneering faculty to embrace OER;
  2. Open educational resources should not be seen as distinct from the courseware environment for formally enrolled students... This is a very interesting issue, because my experience after interviewing a number of participating teachers and producers of OER at my university, is that they DO SEE THE OER ENVIRONMENT AS A SEPARATE ENVIRONMENT, more as a showcase for their department or faculty. The statement made by the same authors on the USU project reflects the same, that USU IP philosophy "suggests that two different digital course resource systems would emerge within a university: one built entirely of creative commons material, and another built within theIP environment of the institution’s digital library/repository allowing access to copyright material only to authenticated members of community.";
  3. Distributing costs through membership based services;
  4. Student participation in creating OER or providing support;
  5. Along the same line.. addressing the voluntary efforts of individuals in a network (or "micro-contributions from many");
  6. The use of social software in producing and supporting OER.
They further emphasize that unless an OER initiative has a critical mass of active and engaged users, it cannot become sustainable. Another point that interested me concerns the type of media format for resources. The well-known and broadly used .PDF format, chosen by MIT, should be re-examined. More flexibility is given by using the XML format, which both Rice University's Connexions as Open University's LabSpace (of the OU OpenLearn initiative) have adopted. Unsurprisingly, because both initiatives try to enable the user to remix their resources online, so better resources are being created over time. The authors address this issue a bit later, mentioning that
"the grand challenge here is how we might close the loop on the use of open educational material so that we can create virtuous learning loops that constantly improve the material through use (and through the numerous learnings from remixes, etc.)."
I think they mean the same as David Wiley, who argues that "to create the highest chance of reuse in other contexts, make your OERs as context-specific as possible." This seems odd to me, because granularity might be just as important: If you make a 1000 page book about a very specific subject, it can be very informative, but 500 2-page information units might be better useful for others... right?

The authors, in their promotion of the learning loop, provide a part of the solution, and argue in favor for a "post-publication review based on a more open community of third-party reviewers experienced in using the materials" rather than the traditional and exclusive pre-publication review, where material is accepted or rejected.
Connexions, again, is used as an exemplary initiative adopting this more decentralized model. Two criteria are to be met to guarantee success with this model; the first enabling users to evaluate and credential modules, the second to search and find modules of high quality. Especially the second is addressed very well by Connexions, by their concept of lenses:
"Traditional publication employs a pre-publication peer review process, but the fast pace of Connexions content development requires systems of quality assurance that do not rely on such long and exclusive processes. Connexions opens up the editorial process to third-party reviewers for post-publication review. While Connexions users will have access to all content in the Commons (of any quality), users will also have the ability to preferentially locate and view Modules via Lenses, each of which have a different focus provided by a third party. Examples of Lens sources might include:
  • Professional societies, universities, school boards, publishers, consumer unions
  • Colleagues and peers
  • Most popular, most linked, highest user ratings
  • Learning assessment rating"
A more elaborate (and illustrated) description can be found on their site.

The future for OER
The authors argue that the focus for the Hewlett foundation, and the actors in the OER landscape in general, should shift from a culture of sharing towards a culture of learning, or a learning ecosystem. By shortly touching upon the skills needed in a knowledge economy, marginal change in educational practices is deemed not sufficient, but the focus should be on how technology (emphasizing wireless and mobile technology) can create powerful changes in the educational system and school. Their main focus point in the rest of the report concerns their proposition to promote and support an Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure (OPLI). They describe enablers for this, concurrent transformative initiatives, and international grand challenges. There are quite some similarities in the observations described in the "OLCOS Roadmap 2012" paper, although that one is a bit more extensive on the trends and challenges and less focused on an OPLI in specific. Enablers of the OPLI are socio-technological changes, such as open source software, web 2.0 technologies, rich media, gaming and social networking, but the changing learning landscape, and the deeper understanding of learning in general is mentioned as well. Still, the focus is on internalizing knowledge, instead of connecting to knowledge, as proclaimed by George Siemens in his "Learning theory of the future". At the same time, it stresses the importance of new Web 2.0 technologies that enable building a network of people and information resources, which is a prerequisite for learning through connecting.

Some interesting notes on the OPLI
So Atkins, Brown, and Hammond propose the Hewlett foundation to shift the focus from sharing towards learning, by fostering an Open Participatory Learning Initiative (OPLI). An OPLI is not something that is organized, designed and made top-down, and is something that concerns organization and culture, as well as technology. The authors call it
"a decentralized environment that (1) permits distributed participatory learning; (2) provides incentives for participation (provisioning of open resources, creating specific learning environments, evaluation) at all levels; and (3) encourages cross-boundary and cross cultural learning."
An OPLI is a set of organizational practices, technical infrastructure, and social norms. They stress that such an environment cannot be built or designed, but that is should emerge and develop, with social, organizational, and cultural issues in tandem with technology. In such an environment the teacher is an enterpreneur (I like that), and shares material, exercises, projects, etc. Unfortunately, the authors forget to mention that the student is as much an enterpreneur in in such an environment as the teacher, by connecting and sharing ideas, and creating an identity in this highly dynamic world. The Internet, with all its Web 2.0 technologies, will become a living dynamic practicum.

The report has an emphasis on how materials can be re-used and remixed/repurposed where appropriate. It also recognizes enormous potential in social software and social sites for critiquing and sharing experiences to make open educational resources better. The report ends with a summation of criteria for this environment, which needs to be fostered by the Hewlett foundation, and numerous other organizations. At the same time, these are criteria for the allocation of funds. The idea is that money, information and organizational efforts should go to projects that reinforce these trends of openness and contribute to this worldwide Open Participatory Learning Initiative. And with "participatory" in mind, I give a imaginary but noticable online wink to my university...

OpenED: OLCOS Roadmap 2012

Open Educational Resources, past & future (2/3)
Three interesting papers about open educational resources are discussed this week in the course "Introduction to Open Education", given by David Wiley. These papers, although partly overlapping, show some interesting facts about OER, motivation, production, copyright, and all other related issues, as well as some compelling ideas and arguments about the future learning landscape in which OER have to prove themselves sustainable and useful. Since my thesis focuses on this future, trying to figure out how a sustainable OER environment will look like for Delft University of Technology, and possibly other technical universities, especially the reports that show a glimpse on the future addressed my interests most. Both the OLCOS report as the Atkins, Brown, and Hammond report had a strong focus on the future, where the OECD report mainly introduced OER, described different OER models, showed interesting projects, and included more facts about OER-related aspects. This post will discuss a report commissioned by the OECD, named "Giving Knowledge for Free, the Emergence of Open Educational Resources".


  • Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD, 2007)
  • Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS, 2007)
  • A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond, 2007)
What do these overviews of the field have in common? What do they emphasize differently? What are the aims of the authors of each report? Do you see a bias toward or against any ideas, organizations, or approaches in any of the reports? Which report spoke the most clearly to you, and why do you think it did? Based on where the field is now, and these initial ideas about where it might go, what part of the open education movement is most interesting to you? Why?

OLCOS report
OLCOS Roadmap 2012The report that appealed to me most was the OLCOS roadmap 2012. Where the OECD report gave a nice overview of current issues with OER, and focused more on the educational resources themselves, and the insitutions and persons involved in creating and using them, the OLCOS report really focused on learning. The goals of the report are as follows:
  • The OLCOS Roadmap has been produced to provide educational decision makers – politicians, directors of institutions, managers of educational networks, teacher organisations and other stakeholders – with orientation and recommendations to help them make informed decisions with respect to Open Educational Resources (OER);
  • A tool for understanding the relevance of OER and identifying required actions;
  • The Roadmap provides an overview of current and likely future developments in OER through presenting and assessing drivers/enablers and inhibitors for open educational practices and resources.The objective is to identify possible achievements in a time-horizon set for 2012, and to specify how the related challenges could be addressed (recommendations);
  • Furthermore,the OLCOS Roadmap may help in de defining and prioritising some key areas on which activities should be focused (e.g. some major inhibitors), and in conceiving mechanisms.
As I mentioned before, it appealed to me because it is critical and has a clear and realistic view of the future. The focus is on learning: it discusses OER from a perspective of how people learn, and what skills are necessary in a knowledge society, and what the implications are for education. Barriers for this future are clearly identified, but also the opportunities are described in detail. It has a similar view on OER as Atkins, Brown and Hammond (2007), who stress the importance to shift from a culture of sharing towards a culture of learning. It is obvious that OER alone will not be enough, will not be sustainable, but that institutions should embrace the wider open movement, and create environments where open educational resources will flourish. Educational repositories without tools to interact with other users, and to re-use, discuss, and add content will not be sustainable. Literature and research findings about the sustainability of online communities should be used to make communities of interest/practice around OER. MITOCW is a great resource, but their top-down configuration is old-fashioned, and adheres to educational practices that will soon be outdated. The only reason that this specific project will stay sustainable, is that MIT is a rich institution, with numerous sponsors that are willing to maintain the quality and production of their OER. Other institutions may not be very wise in copying this model, because, even thoughOLCOS mentions the trickiness of business models around OER, my opinion is that there are numerous opportunities for OER.

It is interesting that OLCOS mentions the skills needed in a information rich society. The opportunities to educate people differently have increased likewise. Learning should occur according to a competency - focused, collaborative paradigm of learning and knowledge acquisition. Providing OER as "canned products" is not sufficient, because the learning will not happen collaboratively. The emphasis should be on the learner, who should be able to discuss, make, and add resources within a learning community. In that way, the learner is behaving both collaboratively and competency-focused. His or her active participation will both increase personal learning as providing the learning community with an engaged learner (and possibly contributor). Learning communities and communities of practice,complemente with OER, also increase possibilities for lifelong learners.

Canned products, industrial, teacher centered, professional bureaucracy...
In the OLCOS report a strong argument is made that OER will not so much add value in learning environments that are centered around the teacher:
"In such a model teachers may download Web-accessible open teaching material to prepare classes, and students may use some content to prepare material for lessons, but this will remain a one-way channel of content provision, in which physical textbook or course content is replaced by digital material. Teachers and students will remain consumers of prefabricated content, not themselves becoming creative and collaborative, and they will not “pay back” with their own content. Hence, there will be no proliferation of value added content, i.e. content that contains results derived from learning processes such as enriched material, use cases, novel methods put into practice, lessons learned, etc. that other teachers and students may want to re-use and develop further."
This is exactly my critique on the educational system: IT DOES NOT TRIGGER THE STUDENT TO BE ACTIVE, SEARCHING, BEING INNOVATIVE. Next week I will post an evaluation on a wiki I implemented in a course as a student assistant, and you will be able to read that the students in class were, contrary to our expectations, very reluctant in using this "new" technology. I do not blame them, they are raised to be passive consumers of content, and now they need to make their own learning experience.

Value chains for open educational content
The OLCOS report therefore suggests an approach they call Open educational content value chains.
"Collaborative learning practices are most likely to allow for such value chains to emerge and progress, because the learning community will:
  • use some existing digital content or courseware as a starting point;
  • consult other available content from e-learning repositories or other relevant sources of information;
  • document their own study process and results, such as use cases, experiences, lessons learned, guidelines, etc. (note: documentation also includesmetadata);
  • make this enriched content available again to other learners, e.g. via repository and/or syndication services, and
  • thereby share the results for re-use, and enrichment, by other learners."
Similar to this, is the proposition of Stephen Carson, who describes a blog-like manner of referencing OER, and in that way creating an educational blogosphere. That model does not depend on a number of highly flexible resources, but on a large number of resources that do not necessarily need to be flexible and serve, if adequate and of high quality, as reference teaching material for educators. This model is in between the rip-mix-burn model (flexible materials adapting to one’s own needs), and the wiki model (striving for consensus, collaborative editing)

Educators might have a problem with this approach, because of inexperience, pride, or other issues. The report mentions also that there exists little experience in grading or assessing students according this new approach. It reminds me of one of my favorite books. Somewhere in the phenomenal classic "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", Robert Pirsig describes his experience of non-assessing (and later peer-assessing) students in his collaborative quest for defining quality. He questions the term quality, tracing it back until Plato, and explains how the two camps of ratio, science, and objective science versus the more artistic, subjective, rhetoric camp of imagination came into being. His book is a beautiful (true) story about a boy and his father, and a philosophical attempt to merge the two. It's been a while I read this book, but it possibly was that little piece of work that got me interested in education. It was a very interesting view on education, that probably had quite some influence on myself.

The Roadmap Briefs describe (both short as long-term) drivers and inhibitors in the areas described in the report. They can be used as starting points for discussing OER initiatives strategically. They concern the following levels:
  • Policies, institutional frameworks and business models
  • Open Access and Content repositories
  • Laboratories of open educational practices and resources
The "not too visionary outlook" in the report mentions new roles of students and teachers, technologies that will enable the easier creation and licensing of resources, the larger role for popular Web 2.0 technologies aswikis and weblogs, and new standard OER processes implemented within universities. The last chapter is filled with interesting and valuable recommendations for
  • educational policy makers and funding bodies;
  • boards, directors and supervisors of educational institutions;
  • teachers;
  • students;
  • educational repositories; and
  • developers and implementers of e-learning tools and environments.
It is an extremely insightful and valuable report when you are involved in OER matters. I will certainly use it.

OpenED: Giving Knowledge for Free

Open Educational Resources, past & future (1/3)
Three interesting papers about open educational resources are discussed this week in the course "Introduction to Open Education", given by David Wiley. These papers, although partly overlapping, show some interesting facts about OER, motivation, production, copyright, and all other related issues, as well as some compelling ideas and arguments about the future learning landscape in which OER have to prove themselves sustainable and useful. Since my thesis focuses on this future, trying to figure out how a sustainable OER environment will look like for Delft University of Technology, and possibly other technical universities, especially the reports that show a glimpse on the future addressed my interests most. Both the OLCOS report as the Atkins, Brown, and Hammond report had a strong focus on the future, where the OECD report mainly introduced OER, described different OER models, showed interesting projects, and included more facts about OER-related aspects. This post will discuss a report commissioned by the OECD, named "Giving Knowledge for Free, the Emergence of Open Educational Resources".


  • Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD, 2007)
  • Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS, 2007)
  • A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond, 2007)
What do these overviews of the field have in common? What do they emphasize differently? What are the aims of the authors of each report? Do you see a bias toward or against any ideas, organizations, or approaches in any of the reports? Which report spoke the most clearly to you, and why do you think it did? Based on where the field is now, and these initial ideas about where it might go, what part of the open education movement is most interesting to you? Why?

OECD report OECD Report
The OECD commissioned a report on Open Educational Resources, specifically mapping the worldwide OER landscape. Through a large survey amongst universities (and OER stakeholders), several workshops, and based on extensive literature research, the author (Jan Hýlen) and research group tried to answer the following questions:
  • How can sustainable cost/benefit models for OER initiatives be developed?
  • What are the intellectual property rights issues linked to OER initiatives?
  • What are the incentives and barriers for universities and faculty staff to deliver their materials to OER initiatives?
  • How can access and usefulness for the users of OER initiatives be improved?
The OECD report describes the context of its study, and a number of challenges that need to be addressed by educational institutions. It then intends to define open educational resources (OER), by explicating "open", "educational", and "resources". It continues with an overview of all institutions involved, and by explaining the varying setups or models adopted by institutions. Other important current issues that are discussed are the motivational factors of sharing OER, licensing OER, sustainability issues, and access and usefulness of OER. The report ends with a number of policy recommendations on different levels, ranging from international to institutional.

The context and challenges

Through globalization, also in the educational world, universities have to act both more collaboratively and are faced with more intense competition. Universities and educational institutions have been slow to adjust to the needs of lifelong learners, a group increasingly important in the knowledge economy. Technology has caused major economical and social changes, which both offer great opportunities for higher education, as well as pose numerous financial, technical, and qualitative challenges. A number of developments that can have a great impact concern the larger role of learning and games, the rapid growth of creative participation in developing digital content with web 2.0 tools that enable users to "contribute to developing, rating, collaborating and distributing Internet content and to develop and customise Internet applications. The rise of user-created content, or the so-called rise of the amateur creator, is a central pillar of the participative web and comprises various media and creative works (written, audio, visual and combined) created by Internet and technology users (including content from wireless devices such as photos)." This trend is seen by all discussed reports as one of the most important issues influencing the OER landscape.

What are OER and who produce/use them?

So what are open educational resources? The report shows that defining OER is very difficult, but adopt the most commonly used definition of “digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research”. Open educational resources are offered online on websites, mostly in English, and the OECD identified over 3000 Open Courseware sites worldwide in 2007. This is not even a complete picture, because there are numerous sites that do not offer courseware, but freely available educational resources that are not considered courseware. The focus on courseware is that the origins of this worldwide movement can be found at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), with their ground-breaking
Open Courseware (OCW) initiative in 2001. This initiative adopted quite a top-down approach of creating resources, pre-reviews all materials before publicizing it on their website. Many OCW initiatives that followed copied this approach, but some took another turn. The Connexions project for example, which even predates the MIT OCW initiative, enables users of OER to produce or improve OER through easy-to-use tools, addressing the user-generated content culture in a better way. The OECD report shows the different categories of producers of OER, making a distinction in the scale of operation and the type of provider. This last factor is the most interesting; it shows that there are several initiatives, such as MIT OCW and other OCW initiatives, follow a centralized "institution" provider model, whereas others, such as Connexions and MERLOT depend on a community of producers who collaborate "wiki-style" to create content.

The important issues for providers of OER

There are numerous reasons for institutions and individuals to use, share and create open educational resources. Because my task is to develop a plan for the OER project at my university (and possibly other technical universities), the results of the research findings interested me very much. For example, the respondents indicate that barriers for producing and using OER in their own educational setting are little support from management & no reward system, lack of time & skills, and little interest in pedagogical innovation. A lack of business model for open content, something pointed out as an important challenge in the OLCOS report, has a negative influence in the production of OER as well. An important finding is that for individuals altruistic reasons are not as important as more personal practical considerations. After a few interviews with participating teachers at my university that certainly holds true. On the other hand, (possible) financial gain is considered by respondents as the least important factor for sharing and contributing resources. More than 60% percent of the respondents found the following issues very important in the production of OER (in order of importance):
  • Be acknowledged as the creator, also when resource is changed/adapted;
  • Have a quality review of the resource;
  • Know the changes made to the resource;
  • Know how the resource is used and by whom;
  • Be rewarded personally for contributions (not financial).
The motivation for institutions to be involved in this "open" movement comes forth from both positive altruistic, financial and marketing effects, and from threats and negative effects of not being involved. The drivers for involvement are the same as mentioned in other reports, such as better access, better hardware (including cameras, mobile technologies, media equipment) and software (i.e. Web 2.0 tools) that empower users to develop and improve online content. The following table gives a nice overview of the drivers, inhibitors and motivations for developing and sharing open educational resources.




Widening participation in higher education Altruistic reasons Altruistic or community supportive reasons
Bridge the gap between non-formal, informal and formal learning Leverage on taxpayers’ money by allowing free sharing and reuse between institutions Personal non-monetary gain
Promote lifelong learning “What you give, you receive back improved” Commercial reasons

Good public relations and showcase to attract new students It is not worth the effort to keep the resource closed

Growing competition – new cost recovery models are needed

Stimulate internal improvement, innovation and reuse

Underlying drivers

Underlying inhibitors

Technical: Increased broadband availability; increased hard drive capacity and processing speed; new and improved technologies to create, distribute and share content; simpler software for creating, editing and remixing. Technical: Lack of broadband and other technical innovations
Economic: Lower costs for broadband, hardware and software; new economic models built around free content for recovering costs. Economic: Lack of resources to invest in broadband, hardware and software. Difficulties to cover costs for developing OER or sustaining an OER project in the long run.
Social: Increased use of broadband, the desire for interactivity, increased skills and willingness to share, contribute and create online communities. Social: Absence of technical skills, unwillingness to share or use resources produced by someone else.
Legal: New licensing regimes facilitating sharing of free content. Legal: Prohibition to use copyrighted materials without consent.

Copyright issues

Copyright plays a central role in sharing open content. On my university, the content management system (Blackboard:(...) is stuffed with copyrighted material. This does not create a problem, because it is a closed resource. Teachers use large amounts of copyrighted materials, which is much more difficult when you want to "open up" to the rest of the world. Fortunately, open licensing of content happens more often, and the tools to do that are becoming better usable. I am not so much interested in the clearing of copyright within open educational resources, but more so in the licensing of "new" open educational resources. Creative Commons is a license that seems very clear and useful within the OER landscape. It is the most commonly used license as well, and is being adopted by my university as well. Producers of OER can say whether they want to attributed, if content can be used commercially, if the content should be shared with the same license, and if derivatives can be made of the work. The value of these licenses, and its future impact is being questioned by many, such as Our Worship Dr. Wiley :), who argues that the Share-Alike option can create problems. He therefore drafted his own license , specifically for Open Education, to overcome these problems. It seems that it will have to compete with the Creative Commons Learn division, but we'll discuss this later.

Sustainability of OER

This is the most relevant part for me, because my thesis concerns the sustainability of the OER project at my university. Obviously, I will not focus on just economical, or just social sustainability. An ICT environment needs both financial support as social and institutional acceptance, making it a complex, intertwined issue. In designing viable alternatives for sustaining OER I will address the different aspects relating to this concept, such as costs and benefits, technical compatibility, social and institutional acceptance, and social gains. Sustainability, or the continuous ability to meet the goals set by the organization, is not purely a financial issue, but motivation, usefulness and quality of materials, and other issues are important as well.

Wiley (2006) explains that there are two important challenges concerning sustainability in an open education program. The first challenge is meeting the costs for creating and redistributing the educational resources. The second challenge is to create resources that will be used and reused, i.e. valuable resources! The creation of OER requires individuals to put time and effort in developing them, digitize material, checking for copyrights, and provide quality assurance. Costs that are made for providing bandwidth or other costs for the dissemination and sharing of resources need to be taken into the sustainability account as well. The second challenge, providing usable resources, has to do mainly with the format of materials, and consequently the ability to reuse the materials. Reusability of materials, explained in more detail later, concerns the ability to contextualize, translate, adapt, and use educational resources. This is important, because the effectiveness of education depends not so much on the information itself as on the way the information is brought to students. There is a trade-off to be made here. Although reusability is an important objective in open education programs, many resources are published in formats that do not allow easy formatting and localization. As explained by d'Oliviera , in many cases it involves much less knowledge and costs to produce materials formats less easy to adapt or localize, than in more flexible formats as XML. The reusability issue and the costs to transform materials into more flexible formats, such as costs for training, technology, and mechanisms, are part important when discussing sustainability, because they both addresses social acceptance as the economical viability. The illustration below gives a nice overview of the main sustainability challenges.

Reflecting sustainability, or the "ongoing ability to meet the goals of a project", on the above, it means the the ability to produce, share, localize, and learn from open educational resources. This does not imply that solutions are always to be sought in the financial domain. Benkler (2005) explains the peer production of Open Educational Resources as a way to achieve sustainability. Open source software may provide with technical tools without substantive investments. Wiley (2006) claims that sustainability can be reached through the reduction of friction and decentralization, capturing intrinsic motivation of individuals to contribute without financial recompensation. He literally states that decentralization means the active involvement of students. This decentralization happens through the peer production of open resources and sharing them in P2P (peer-to-peer) networks. In a blogpost, he posits it very clearly:

"It seems to me that sustainability and scalability are problematic only when people rely on others to do things for them. Scalability and sustainability happen more readily when people do things for themselves. Centralizing open educational services is less scalable/sustainable. Decentralising them is more scalable/sustainable. Wikipedia has two employees and well over a million articles in multiple languages. We need to learn this lesson if open education is really going to reach out and bless the lives of people."

Downes (2007) follows the same argument, saying that the centralized model (MIT) uses more resources, and is likely to cost more, but offers more control over quality and content. The distributed model (Connexions), which assumes co-production of resources and decentralized management, may involve numerous partnerships, and rely on volunteer contributors. These approaches are much cheaper, but there is less control over quality and content. The table below shows a number of initiatives that are involved in the production of information, but following apparently opposing models. The examples of Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Brittanica are added on purpose, to show that a distributed control and management does not necessarily means lower quality. The quality review process and maintenance, as well as the production of information resources, is opened to a much larger group of people.

Low Control & Costs High Control & Costs
Wikipedia Encyclopedia Brittanica
Connexions MIT OCW
LabSpace LearningSpace

The OECD report sums up a number of possible revenue models that can be adopted to make a program more sustainable. The revenue or funding model is an important aspect that should be addressed, but there are more. First of all, it should be clear what objectives the institution has with the OER initiative. The following factors are always seen in the context of a project's goals, since sustainability is described as the ongoing ability to meet the goals of a project.

  • Organization: The configuration or model for the project. Is the centralized MIT model preferred, the decentralized Connexions model, or something in between?
  • Non-monetary incentives: Another interesting topic regarding sustainability is finding non-monetary incentives of participants, so that they can be utilized to build communities, and to sustain activities within the environment. How can you engage volunteers in production, support, and management?
  • Resource types: The types of resources that will be offered, and the media formats in which these resources will be shared are important considerations, because there are many instances when a certain format inhibits the reuse (for example videolectures, PDF, etc.).
  • End-user reuse: What kinds of reuse will be best contribute to the project goals? How will support be offered to the end user in case of reuse of content? Will this be done centralized, or decentralized in a network of volunteers?
  • Ways to reduce costs: How can the costs of a project be reduced, while still meeting project goals?
  • Funding model: How will the project be funded, now and in the future? (funding models will be explained a little later)
What about access and usefulness?
An important challenge is the ability to find OER that are relevant and of high quality. Metadata (data that describes resources or data) addresses this problem, but it can be a laborous task to add metadata to resources. And the fact "Everything is Miscellaneous" (David Weinberger), which means that descriptions of data and resources depend on the context in which they are used, and on person (or technology) using them, adds another dimension of difficulty to the matter. Like the matter on reviewing materials (i.e. pre-publication versus post-publication), there is the matter of adding metadata before and after publicizing materials. This metadata can also be about the quality of content, and the report offers an overview of the different possibilities in managing quality.
  • Peer reviewing is one of the most used quality assurance processes in academia. MERLOT has adopted this type of quality assurance process: after publication, materials can be peer reviewed. The process of peer reviewing is expensive and time-consuming, and for the greater part the resources linked to on the MERLOT site are not reviewed.
  • MIT, and many other OCW initiatives, rather closed enterprises use internal quality checks to make sure the content put online is of a certain quality.
  • A more decentralized way of managing quality is letting quality emerge from the use of contribution by users. Users can comment or rate materials, and usage of materials can be logged and made public. This way addresses the importance of the relation between context and quality. A very interesting example can be found in the "lenses" concept of Connexions.
  • Word of mouth, or recommendation systems are another way of managing quality.
Furthermore, the report questions the usefulness of higher education that offers a specified curriculum, delivered to a large group of students, and to be completed at a predetermined pace. By describing emerging technologies affecting the OER movement, it refers to the OLCOS research, which will be discussed a bit later.

So what does this all mean?
The OECD describes a number of implications on international, national, and institutional level. On an international level, as argued by Atkins, Brown, and Hammond (2007), technological and legal interoperability should be fostered. OECD also mention a higher awareness and the development of a sound knowledge base on the production and use of OER. On a lower level, it is recommended that nations take a holistic approach to all kinds of digital learning resources and their impact on lifelong learning. The possibility for personalized learning increases with the availability of resources. Besides open learning resources, open source software and open licensing should gain considerable attention and promotion. On an institutional level, OER can have deep impact on the processes and protocols, affecting pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment. As mentioned before, universities both have more opportunities for collaboration and face more international competition. New generations of students will expect certain educational practices that fit their lifestyles. Their use of technologies should be reflected in education, so a well-reasoned IT strategy that includes e-learning should be implemented in each higher education institution. The report does not describe in detail the implications for learning, which is more elaborately discussed in OLCOS (2007).

Extra resources (not linked)
  • Benkler, Y. (2005), "Common Wisdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials" @
  • Downes, S. (2007) "Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources" Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge & Learning Object, 3, 29-44

Sep 20, 2007

Creative Commies, Gates and Marx

An interesting picture below this text, addressing Bill Gates' argument that copyright reformers are today's communists ... well Bill, to explain it in the words of Karl Marx:

"In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters." (

Bill GatesBut Bill isn't dumb, he knows this already. His social being is one that is opposite to many copyright reformers, not just because of his education, or wealth, but more so because he is responsible for this social being. By building up Microsoft, when the economy of professional bureaucracies was still favorable to him, and copyright law enabled him to make his billions, he formed a social being that determined his conciousness, his identity. By saying that copyright reformers are right, that indeed copyright law has turned into fetters of development, he would throw away his identity. Anyway, that would not be a wrong thing to do, but difficult. Because understanding is the first step to forgiveness. And, by quoting Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘understanding means to throw away your knowledge’. He might then even support this free and open culture... mm, or am I being too idealistic now?

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Sep 18, 2007

Horizon Report 2007 NMC

The horizon report gives a nice overview of trends in education and technology.
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As it does each year, the Horizon Advisory Board again reviewed key trends in the practice of teaching, learning, and creativity, and ranked those it considered most important for campuses to watch. Trends were identified through a careful analysis of interviews, articles, papers, and published research. The six trends below emerged as most likely to have a significant impact in education in the next five years. They are presented in priority order as ranked by the Advisory Board.

The environment of higher education is changing rapidly.
Increasing globalization is changing the way we work, collaborate, and communicate.
Information literacy increasingly should not be considered a given.
Academic review and faculty rewards are increasingly out of sync with new forms of scholarship.
The notions of collective intelligence and mass amateurization are pushing the boundaries of scholarship.
Students’ views of what is and what is not technology are increasingly different from those of faculty.

OLCOS Roadmap 2012 - Skills

In this authorative report on Open Educational Resources, education, and other related issues, skills for knowledge workers are discussed (amongst other things). Professional skills needed in a knowledge economy are acquired by using interactive, collaborative, and constructive tools as weblogs and wikis. The reason I am now blogging, and more or less used to it, is because of a course given by David Wiley ( Not because of my university, where not a single course mandated or suggested any of these technologies. (BTW. I assisted in setting up a wiki for a course, which was one of the first wikis to be used for a course on the uni :: evaluation on my blog next week)

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If students have their own Weblog they engage in a self-directed, constructive practice. As authors of postings they must make their minds up about a topic, gather, evaluate and interpret information, take a position, come up with convincing arguments and evidence, and find the right means and style of expression. And this practice is inherently social and conversational, because the students themselves experience being part of a distributed community of interest and refer to ideas and writings of others. The same is true if students work collaboratively on a thematic Wiki, where each of them can add information, edit and rework texts of others, etc. They engage in collaborative knowledge creation, which will include discussing certain assumptions, statements, information sources, etc.
blog it

Sep 15, 2007

Animoto video

I just tried the online video service ... it makes impressing videos of your photos, in less than 5 minutes. Nice..

Sep 3, 2007

OpenEd: Week 1 - The right on education and Open Access

I have found a reason for blogging: David Wiley’s course on Open Education. Although it somewhat interferes with my thesis, it also enriches my knowledge about the subject. And since my thesis is about “open educational resources”, it might even be enriched by this course. This week’s assignment is about the “Right on education”. The text below is an answer on the following questions.

“In your opinion, is the "right to education" a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, is open *access* to free, high- quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to *mandate* education through a certain age or level?”


So what is the right to education? The Dakar framework for action (2000), regarding this matter, call this the human "right to benefit from an education that will meet their basic learning needs ..." and "access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality".

So it is compulsory... and of good quality... and for free.. and we set the boundary at primary education now. Compulsory means being obliged by law, which in its turn requires countries to change their institutions in order to be able to make it compulsory. Compulsory means that kids will not be able to work at young ages. And that violators need to be punished (or educated?).
My initial response on whether it should be a basic human right: no. Of course, good education should be stimulated worldwide, but as long as there are people able to sustain their living and pursuit happiness without recourse to education, I don't think it should be considered as something every individual on this planet should have. It is just not comparable to right to live in freedom, without hunger, able to speak freely etc.

Open access to educational material means that anyone with an internet connection has open access... and not every person on this planet has an internet connection. Nicholas Negroponte's ambitious project, the One-Laptop-Per-Child (formerly known as 100-dollar Laptop), is trying to bring this access to poor regions in the world, but the poorest are still left out. This makes the two issues (free, obligatory, primary education and open access to educational materials) two different things, so you cannot say that open access is sufficient either, because there is no "open access" right now.

then almost all regions and people are connected to the internet, and it would be a great improvement. As Tomasevski (2001a) mentions:
"Getting the children, their parents and teachers involved in securing that funds for education reach their destination is not a particularly difficult task. It would rupture the vicious circle of enrichment of intermediaries and impoverishment of beneficiaries which aid often sustains." (p.21)
If you want to impose education, the above problem should be avoided. The open access to high quality open educational materials is important, but not enough to guarantee good education for all. These materials are probably contextualized for a certain environment/culture/ learning behavior, making them less practical for direct use. It would be wrong to "just" found more institutions and organizations to organize this knowledge into schools. Of course, external support might be crucial, but a large responsibility should be within countries themselves, or even better, the users and producers themselves. Open access also could improve chances of small grassroots initiatives worldwide addressing the need for education of those excluded because of

  • the inability of parents to pay any fees or expenses which may be required due to the loss of property and livelihood,
  • the absence of identity papers which are required for school enrolment;
  • the lack of knowledge of the language in which schooling is provided;
  • fear of the identification of children for what they are and repression or reprisals that may target the family if children are sent to school. (Commission on Human Rights, 1992)
Continuing on the last section, there is the problem of the "goodness" of education: What if the country is at war with another country? And implicitly includes biased material into education stigmatizing the opponents, which, in the end, will create a biased view inside kids, laying the foundations for a long-term conflict? Education is not just math and language, but also educating people to be good people. The inherent goodness of mankind should not be spoilt by biased educational practices.

Secondly, there are so many things that are necessary for a healthy and sustainable world, of which education could be one. We should not forget that billions of people have lived normal lives forever, without education. Well yes, the education in hunting, building houses, growing crops, taking care of animals, etc. Simple life is contrary to the vision we have on the world, and that vision is intertwined with the way we provide education. That vision is also a closed vision, but times are changing, as explained in Wiley (2006); "openness is the key to enabling other innovations and catalyzing improvements in the quality, accountability, affordability, and accessibility of higher education." Openness, participation, digitization, mobility, connectedness, and personalization are issues that need to be addressed when you want to stimulate or support education in a certain country. Otherwise an old-fashioned way of education will result in low effectiveness. I also believe that these "newer issues" may result in a better sustainable education system, but it could be too early to argue this.

Therefore, referring to the two issues mentioned by Greg (the right to refuse education), and Andreas (adapted to local realities) we should consider education as a means to increase people's chances on happiness within a certain environment. That may be through father-to-son hunting skills, or through a complex educational system where each person is supported to sustain this same complex environment. Well. When we then speak of the right of education, it sounds to me like something enforceable, something we can make happen. No thanks. We can give examples and resources, which are disseminated on the Internet, but what is done with it, should be something initiated by the end-user.

if it combines with qualitative education? I don't recall which newspaper, but about a year ago, I read about multinationals in India that used children in their factories a few days a week, but in addition provided free and high quality education. I think such a configuration might work in some countries where child labor can improve the living standard of families and the child's opportunities on better education. Derivatives are thinkable as well, such as a school on informatics where students are obliged to work for the school 1 day a week to pay for their tuition, but these are more applicable for older students, not primary school. The Netherlands now introduced a new law making education compulsory until 18 years of age (not 13, as in Tomasevski (2001b)), unless you have found a job to sustain in your living. A combination of working and learning is possible as well, and what you will see in many cases. But we should not forget that the Dutch economy is a good one, and that we have the privilege to pump billions into high quality education, and that every person has access to it. In poor countries this is impossible, and therefore I posted the (somewhat risky) statement about child labor in combination with high quality education.

About the quality and added value of education. If we consider education as something inherently good well, yes, then it would be unfair to exclude a part of the world population. Because we will become better than them, who not being able to become better. But education could stifle the development of an individual, or push him/her in the wrong direction. I don't want to sound too anti-capitalistic, but the focus within education (at least according to my experiences), and the worldview developed between students and in school buildings, is mostly about getting paid enough later. That means sustaining the existing structures and preparing individuals for that. Well, I don't really know, but have these existing structures been so positive for the world? Education for making money? Or education to make a better world? Two different things right?

I suppose everyone agrees that education should not only have a productivist view, but also "prepare learners for parenthood and political participation, .. enhance social cohesion and tolerance and, more than anything, .. teach the young that all human beings – themselves included – have rights."

Still, to get back to the productivist view of education: to prepare an individual for (professional) society, most importantly, to be able sustain one's living. That, largely, means work. When you talk about the right to education, you might as well consider the right to monetize that education. I have discussed that in an earlier section on child labor. Providing ways to make knowledge economically useful could be a form of financing education in countries where there is little funding.

Finally, a point about motivation. Motivation is the key to learning, and is not reached through imposition, but through support and stimulation. And listening. Mandating education to me sounds wrong. It is old- fashioned thinking, a Ford model for learning. We know some things pupils and students need to know, but we forget that motivation is more crucial, especially when information is at your fingertips. Kids can find the information if they want to, they can learn things themselves, if they want to. I hope I am right, otherwise the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project may not be so successful...

  • Commission on Human Rights – Analytical report of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1992/23 of 14 February 1992, paras. 70– 71.
  • Dakar Framework for Action - Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments, Text adopted by the World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal, 26–28 April 2000.
  • Tomaševski, K. (2001a) - RIGHT TO EDUCATION PRIMERS NO. 1 -- Free and compulsory education for all children:the gap between promise and performance, Novum Grafiska AB, Gothenburg, 2001.37837
  • Tomaševski, K. (2001b) - RIGHT TO EDUCATION PRIMERS NO. 2 -- Removing obstacles in the way of the right to education, Novum Grafiska AB, Gothenburg, 2001.37836
  • Wiley, D. (2006) - Testimony to the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education -- Panel on Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies