MET:Open Educational Resources

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--ChrisAitken 17:20, 27 February 2011 (UTC) --Revised Pronger (talk) 09:39, 3 March 2013 (PST)

Open-source courseware and resources allow for openly formatted and licensed documents, software and media to be used for instruction, learning, assessment and research. These resources are shared on web spaces for the purpose of improving upon online and blended learning spaces (Sharma, Sugumaran & Rajagopalan, 2002). Open Educational Resources (OER) include curriculum, full courses, coure materials, learning modules, open textbooks, media, tests, software and learning tools used to support learning.

The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation used the term OER to refer broadly to "open courseware and content, open software tools, open material for e-learning capacity building of faculty staff, repositories of learning objects, and free educational resources" (Andreatos & Katsoulis, 2012). These digital learning resources are free of cost and free of copyright restrictions for educational use, otherwise know as "fair dealing" in Canada. OERs fit well with the nature of distributed networks of learning that require, free, easy, quick, shareable resources. This capability of OERs affords distributed learning otherwise restricted by the commercialized publishing industry marking a return to pure education with the sole purpose of sharing knowledge (Wikieducator, 2011).

Watch this digital stop motion that provides an overview of Open Educational Resources. It was created as an OER in May 2015 Open Educational Resources and licensed under a CC-BY.

Open Source Courseware

Perhaps the most visible example of an OER is the Open Courseware project(OCW) originating from MIT in 2002, which now provides undergraduate and graduate level materials and modules from more than 1.700 courses (Brown & Adler, 2008; Guttenplan, 2010). MIT's OCW introduced open licensing terms to encourage others to build on its materials while forbidding resale. MIT partnered with Utah State University to develop OCW, where Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology David Wiley helped set up a distributed peer support network for the OCW's content through voluntary, self-organizing communities (Ticoll, 2003). In helping develop MIT's OCW, Wiley built on his work developing the Open Content License, under the principle of free on open sharing of information (Grossman, 1998).

Several other academic institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Universtiy of Michigan, University of California Berkley and Stanford, many funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, have also published open courseware (Guttenplan, 2010). The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation have contributed over $110 million since 2012 towards the development of open educational resources (Hafner, 2010). This began a global open learning movement that has extended past the institutional level.

Curriki emerged as one of the first OER for formal education. Curriki provides a central online site for open source curriculum development, in order to provide access to open and free instructional materials for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Curriki allows educational professionals to become an active community in the creation of curricula.

WikiEducator was launched in 2006 with the goals of creating and promoting open education resources (OERs), and providing a platform on which people can collaborate using OER. Wikieducator uses software developed by Wikipediaand related free software technologies for mass-collaboration in the authoring of free content. Wikieducator later developed its OER University, which aims to provide flexible pathways to formal accredidation from participating educational institutions through free online courses developed by participating institutions (Wikieducator, 2011). Since OER are meant for education and not for accreditation, they cannot award degrees or provide formal academic support to people using them (Hafner, 2010). It is therefore up to formal educational institutions to decide whether to allow credit for open course completion.

Similar to WikiEducator and Curriki, Wikiversity supports learning communities, through mutually developed learning materials, documents and activities. Similar to Curriki, Wikiversity allows users to create a curriculum framework for a particular course in conjunction with content experts. Learning outcomes are identified and learning activities and assessments are developed towards these learning objectives. Unlike formal educational courses, Wikiversity allows users to modify learning activities and resources, and contribute to the learning environment (Friesen & Hopkins, 2012).

The Saylor Foundation is a non-profit organization that finds, vets, and assembles resources into openly modified, peer-reviewed courses. The site offers over 200 courses similar to those in traditional US colleges. The Saylor Foundation works with consultants and subject matter experts to find and compile reliable open resources for their courses, and creates new resources when needed under Creative Commons licenses (Marcus, 2012).

Writing Commons is an open peer-authored textbook spearheaded by Joe Moxley at the University of South Florida. Writing Commons evolved from a print textbook into a crowd-sourced online resource for college-level writers (Writing Commons, 2013). Massive open online course (MOOC) platforms have also used peer-authoring in building online eBooks. For instance, the University of Minnesota's Cultivating Change Community (CCMOOC) generated over 50 chapters from 150 contributing authors for the CCMOOC eBook and companion site (Cultivating Change, 2013). MOOCs have since expanded to become integrated within formal institutions at the post-secondar and secondary levels (Pérez-Peña, 2012), yet still incorporate the original principles of crowd-sourced interaction and feedback, and connectivist design. In 2012 MIT and Harvard University formed edX, a joint-MOOC platform to offer open university-level courses online. This initiative was based on MIT's "MITx" and offers more structured formal courses to online students. In some cases edX courses offer the possibility of earning academic credit or certificates for supervised examinations. On edX, students will help evaluate each others' work, and may even participate in some of the teaching online (Lin, 2012).

Open Source Educational Resources

The proliferation of free Web 2.0 software tools has enabled teachers to create new learning experiences online. An important notion of the OER movement is that educational resources should be free for teachers and students to use. Flickr, YouTube, Wikimedia, and Morgue File, for example, are image repositories that allow people to use their files under different licensing agreements. Audacity and Screenr are being used in education for quick and easy audio and screen captures. Students can participate in group writing projects using Google docs. Teachers are distributing presentations and tutorials on Slideshare, Vimeo , and YouTube. OER also include a number of social media platforms, including: WordPress (blog software and web publishing), MediaWiki (wiki server software) and Vue (mind mapping software). Common Curriculum, an online curriculum designer, allows users to create curriculum, share your curriculum design, and connect to other teachers using it. There are many more, and new ones are continually being added. For example:

Resource Type Open Source Software Examples Proprietary Software Equivalent Examples
Word Processing Writer, AbiWord, KWord, LibreOffice Writer Microsoft Word, Apple Pages
Spreadsheets Calc, LibreOffice Calc, KSpread, Simple Spreadsheet, Gnumeric Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, Lotus 1-2-3
Desktop Publisher OpenOffice Draw, Scribus Adobe FrameMaker, Microsoft Publisher
Presentation Beamer, Kpresenter, Impress, LibreOffice Impress Microsoft PowerPoint, Keynote, Coral Presentations
Internet Browser Chromium, Firefox, SeaMonkey, Flock Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome
E-mail Client Sylpheed, Thunderbird, Zimbra Apple Mail, Outlook Express
Instant Messaging Google Talk, iChat, Skype aMSN, Centericq, Kopete, Pidgin, PSI
Media Player MPlayer, Totem, VLC, Xine, Media Player Classis QuickTime Player, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player
Audio Player Zinf, AmaroK, aTunes, Rhythmbox, Songbird, XMMS iTunes, Winamp
Film Editor Avidemux, VirtualDub, Cinepaint Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Studio, iMovie, VideoPad, Windows Movie Maker
Learning Management System Moodle, Canvas Lectora, Blackboard, Desire2Learn
Drawing/Photo Editing Tuxpaint, Gimp, Blender Kidspix
Audio Editor Audacity

Learning Objects and Repositories


Susan Nash (2005) defines a learning object in the broadest sense as a digital object "used to in order to achieve the desired learning outcomes or education objectives." A learning object can be as small as a paragraph or as large as a complete online course and come in the form of HTML/Text files, simulations, JAVA, Flash, QuickTime movies etc. (George Mason University, 2010). Dave Davies (2005) describes learning objects within a larger organization of raw assets, learning objects, and content packages. It is the assembling of raw data with an instructor’s comment or annotations for example, that makes a learning object useful for a particular learning content (Davies, 2005). When these learning objects are published free of copyright restrictions, educators can share and adapt them to fit their learning context. There have been some attempts to create repositories for educators to distribute and adapt learning objects on a global scale. The most well know repository is Merlot with over 14,000 learning resources (WikiEducator, 2007)

Open Education Teaching Practices

Although education is increasingly taking place online in higher education, it is often within the boundaries of a controlled learning space such as a Learning Management System (LMS). Open education teaching practices involves applying concepts of open source to instruction through shared web spaces. The spirit of open education involves authentic learning experiences that occur within the community where there are no boundaries between the individual and the world (Barab & Duffy, 2000). In this sense, open source teaching practices closely resemble collaborative communities of practice. Learning activities that involve wikis, blogs, social networks, and RSS feeds are examples of authentic learning experiences of open education that engage community members breaking down the walls educators often create to separate life and learning.

Lerner and Tirole (2002) identify five key reasons of why people engage in open source development. First, open source resources allow people to reduce their costs by using materials from other builders. Second, through shared bug fixing and trouble shooting, people from around the world collaborate in a community of practice. Third, shared programming and resource development results in better performance measurement. Fourth, open source resources allow people to work in a non-hierarchical community while maintaining their autonomy. Lastly, there is greater flexibility for contributors to use their own resources.


Issues in licensing and intellectual property are continually brought up with OER. Since most educational content is protected under conventional, proprietary copyright terms, OER must be licensed under terms that allow for free sharing and editing of resources (Atkins, 2007).

A critical aspect of open educational resources is that they are free of copyright restriction (Hylen, 2007). The culture surrounding the open source movement is similar to the free software movement but with significant differences. In contrast to the free software movement, for instance, open source culture maintains that some intellectual property law is necessary to protect cultural produces and artists (Stallman, 2007). Yet, when an author contributes to a specific open source project, they do so under the project's license, thereby giving their work up to the public domain for others to copy, modify or redistribute (Pham, Weinstein & Ryerson, 2001).

Open source licenses grant licensees the right to copy, modify and redistribute source code (or content). Open source licenses may have some restrictions, such as a requirement to redistribute the software under the same license or to preserve the name of the authors and a copyright statement within the code (Nelson, 2006). Other OERs may have their own open license or be licensed under one of the six Creative Commons licenses that allow reuse as long as proper attribution is given. As an organization with ready-made licensing agreement that are less restrictive than proprietary "all rights reserved" copyrights, Creative Common licenses are a critical aspect of the OER movement (Atkins, 2007). Open licensing under Creative Commons allows for materials to be used under one of the following categories:

  • Attribution,
  • Attribution Share Alike
  • Attribution No Derivative
  • Attribution Non-commercial
  • Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives

Advantages and Criticisms

Given the high about of people who author OER, these resources respond quickly to the pace of change in knowledge. Since old media such as books are evolving at a slow pace in relation to new media, OER can respond to changes in knowledge faster than proprietary materials. Furthermore, OER are valuable for their multimodal characteristics in engaging users in a variety of photos, text, videos, and hyperlinks. Lastly, OER are cost-effective. They are freely available, facilitating education in all regions of the planet as long as internet connection is available (Andreatos & Katsoulis, 2012).

OER are championed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for their potential to widen access to quality education, particularly in the developing world (D'Antoni, 2012). Yet, OER are also criticized for being imperialistic in that, since OER are largely developed by people in the developed world, they disseminate knowledge according to the norms and preferences of developed countries (Mulder, 2008). This is particularly true in courseware, which often assumes a set of prerequisite background knowledge that may not be available in developing countries. Furthermore, since most OER are developed in English, OER often neglect or are limited to people who speak a different language than English. Lastly, while OER may promote education in many contexts, they assume a basic set of skills (reading and writing) and knowledge (critical thinking) that are not available to many people without access to basic education. This results in OER being produced largely for people privileged enough to already have access to basic education (Richter & McPherson, 2012).


Common Curriculum


Creative Commons

Google Course Builder



Khan Academy

MIT OpenCoursware


Open Courseware Consortium

OER University

Saylor Foundation





Writing Commons

See Also

Bridging the Digital Divide in Education with Open Source Software

Creative Commons

Educational Blogging

Khan Academy as a PLE

MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

A Moodle Approach

Wikis in Education

Stop Motion Video

Digital artifact created by Deirdre Grace for ETEC 510:


Andreatos, A. & Katsoulis, S. (2012). "Using Open Educational Resources in Course Syllabi." American Journal of Distance Education. 26(2): 126-139.

Atkins, D. E.; John S., Allen L. H. (2007). "A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities". Menlo Park, CA: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Accessed on 2013-03-01.

Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Brown, J. S. & Adler, R.P. (2008). Minds on fire: Open education, the long tail, and learning 2.0. Educause Review, 43, 16-32.

Cultivating Change. (2013) "About". Retrieved from "About." Accessed on 2013-03-01.

D’Antoni, S. (2009) "Open Learning: Open Educational Resources: reviewing initiatives and issues." The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning. 24 (1): 3-10.

Davies, D. (2005,September 17).If learning objects didn't exist you'd have to invent them [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Friesen, N., Hopkins, H.. "Wikiversity; or education meets the free culture movement: An ethnographic investigation". First Monday. 13 (10). Retrieved from Accessed on 2012-03-03.

George Mason University (2003). Teaching with technology guides: Introduction to learning object repositories. Retrieved from

Grossman, Lev (1998-07-18). "New Free License to Cover Content Online". Netly News.,2822,621,00.html Retrieved on 2010-02-28.

Guttenplan, D. D.(2010-10-11) "For Exposure, Universities Put Courses on the Web" New York Times. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-02-28.

Hafner, K. (2010-04-16). "Higher Education Reimagined With Online Courseware". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-28.

Hylen, J. (2007). Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. Retrieved 2013-03-01.

Johnstone, S. (2005). Open educational resources serve the world. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 28. Retrieved from

Lerner, J. and Tirole, J. (2002) “Some Simple Economics on Open Source.” Journal of Industrial Economics. No 2., 197-234.

Lin, Leon. (2012-02-05) "HarvardX & MITx merge under edX." The Tech. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-03-03.

Marcus, Jon. (2012). "Online Course start-ups offer virtually free college." The Washington Post. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-03-03.

Mulder, Jorrit (2008). "Knowledge Dissemination in Sub-Saharan Africa: What Role for Open Educational Resources (OER)?" Masters Thesis. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam. Retrieved from Accessed on 20013-03-03.

Nelson, Russell (2006-09-19). "Open Source Licenses by Category". Open Source Initiative. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-03-02.

Pérez-Peña, R. (2012-07-17). "Top universities test the online appeal of free". The New York Times. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-03-02.

Pham, A., Weinstein, M., & Ryerson, J.L. (2002). "Easy as ABC: Categorizing Open Source Licenses", Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-03-02.

Richter, T. & McPherson, M. (2012) "Open educational resources: education for the world?" Distance Education, 33(2): 201-219.

Sharma, S, Sugumaran, V. & Rajagopalan, B. (2002). "A framework for creating hybrid-open source software communities." Info Systems Journal 12: 7–25.

Stallman, Richard (2007-06-16). "Why "Open Source" misses the point of Free Software". Philosophy of the GNU Project. GNU Project. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-03-02.

Ticoll, D. (2003-09-04). "MIT initiative could revolutionize learning". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). Archived from the original on 2003-09-20. Accessed on 2013-02-28.

UNESCO. (2009). "Communiqué: The New Dynamics of Higher Education and Research for Societal Change and Development." UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-03-03.

WikiEducator. (2007). Open Educational Content es/olcos/Coleccion ejemplar de Repositorios de Contenidos Abiertos de E-learning. Retrieved from

WikiEducator. (2010). OER. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-02-28.

WikiEducator. (2011). About OER Univesity. Retrieved from Accessed on 2013-02-28.

Writing Commons (2013). About. Retrieved from on 2013-03-01