Learning Technology

What’s the (re)use of OER?

2 March 11th, 2011 at 03:03

Back in 2006, I recall Professor Chris Ennew asking if I’d ever heard of MIT’s Open Courseware initiative. So began my involvement in OER. Since then, the most commonly asked question around OER has always been, “do staff really want to use OER?” Over time the emphasis has changed slightly towards, “where is the evidence staff want to use OER?” A recent JISC call for case studies has tried to explore this question and our own contribution to the debate saw the publication of a case study on the reuse of a handout on SPSS.  Pleasingly, this case study created quite a buzz in certain OER quarters, with many excited and reassured with evidence that OER is being used and reused. However, my personal favourite tweet was from ‘neutral_life’:

On the face of it, this was just about reusing a handout. Certainly the member of staff at Nottingham is bemused by all the interest. But does this illustrate the problem? In searching for evidence of reuse, the focus understandably has been on OER. Given the significant funding provided, it’s only natural to want to see a return on the investment. There remains much debate around tracking reuse technologically. However, this raises tricky questions around data protection and trickier problems of tracking use beyond the initial download. Examples of new courses being developed through OER are also few and far between, but this hasn’t stopped the OER Foundation who have announced plans to deliver accreditation based on OER. Still my gut feeling is that most examples of reuse are likely to be similar to the case study above and hidden in the everyday practice of teaching; perhaps seen as too mundane to capture: it’s just reusing a handout after all!? Evidence is still being sought, so I look forward to hearing about the other JISC funded case studies.

But let’s take a step back and re-examine the original question, “do staff really want to use OER?” Looking at this question, the focus as discussed is on OER, but if we replace OER with “do staff really want to use other peoples’ content in their teaching?” I think we get a clearer picture.

Throughout the JISC/HEA funded BERLiN project, the main issue faced at Nottingham in publishing OER—and this is true for all OER initiatives—was copyright. In fact, every item submitted for publication before editing had at least one item of unknown provenance; whether the items were incorrectly cited or of unknown origin. For example, of the courses submitted under BERLiN for open publication:

  • 83% contained images without any associated attribution, mainly within Powerpoint slides. Usually, the images were not essential to the learning.
  • 17% included graphs or tables without associated attribution
  • 34% contained referenced text, sourced and referenced correctly. All were deemed acceptable for publication.

So evidence that reuse does occur? The next question then is, given the amount of reuse of third party materials, why do staff not make more use of open resources? Given the potential risks associated with copyright infringement, and the sometimes time-consuming risk adverse strategies in publishing OER, encouraging the routine use of open materials in preference to more immediate but potentially copyright infringing resources becomes a compelling argument for any institution to consider. Perhaps the OER movement needs time to catch on within institutions or OER needs to make reuse easier. Is it still just too quick and easy to make use of what is found through Google? At Nottingham, we’re trying to promote OER reuse through online courses, workshops and services such as the Xpert Media Attributor. The aim is to demonstrate where to find open resources, providing workflows to facilitate effective reuse, rather than just rely on Google, which will return rich results but not necessarily open resources. Pleasingly, it seems to be working and on just one day this week (10th March 2011), 73 images were ‘attributed’ through the Xpert Media Attribution Service. 73 in one day! For a team publishing OER, this is 73 less items to worry about.

It’s a journey, and we’re still learning. However, one thing I am increasingly confident about is that staff do reuse other peoples’ content, for ideas, illustrations, commentary, extrapolation, or whatever. After all, this really is nothing new.

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