First Monday

Open educational resources in a global context by Paul Stacey

Can open educational resources help solve the global education shortage? Will a social authoring process enable developing and developed countries to create educational resources together? This paper analyzes these and other questions around the emerging use of open educational resources in a global context. Global perspectives are provided via analysis and extracts from discussion and case studies that took place in a UNESCO online discussion forum involving 480 participants from 90 countries. Open educational resource types, benefits, business models, and futures are explored.


Open educational resource types
Business models
Recommendations, calls to action, and the future




In 2001 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced its OpenCourseWare (OCW) (OCW, 2006) Initiative, considered by many to be the first open educational resource (OER) initiative. Since then OCW has been working with MIT faculty to publish materials from virtually all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses to the OCW Web site where they become accessible free of charge to any user anywhere.

It was a bold move and one in step with the emergence of a global knowledge society and the recognition of lifelong learning as an essential process for developing skills and knowledge. The demand for education is escalating around the world and OCW contributes to the public good by openly sharing MIT faculty course materials using the Internet as a network for low–cost global distribution.

Five years later OCW is still going strong with 1,250 of MIT’s 1,800 courses published as of December 2005 and has been joined by many other OER initiatives around the world.

To aid greater understanding of OER, UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) hosted a Forum on Open Educational Resources/Open Content (IIEP, 2005) that took place online November and December 2005, involving 480 participants from 90 countries. The volume of discussion in the UNESCO forum was wide and deep – a six–week long discussion with over 700 posts.

Analysis is structured around the following topics:

  1. OER types — with reference to related organizations, resources, and function/purpose. I will show how OER initiatives can be compared and contrasted across a set of variables including purpose, authors, resource format, pedagogical approach, and licensing.
  2. Business models — with reference to related approaches to copyright and economic considerations. I will show how sustainable business models for OER are still in their infancy and identify building block components that form the basis for business model construction. The limitations of the “provider/user” OER paradigm will be revealed.
  3. Recommendations, calls to action, and the future — in relation to implementation strategies and identified challenges. I will highlight key recommendations made by discussion participants aimed at fostering proliferation and widespread use of OER.

By presenting analysis in this structure my intent is to reveal a range of OER types, the degree of alignment OER initiatives have with one another, and suggest actions required to realize the full potential of OER.



Open educational resource types

To provide the foundation for discussion a variety of OER types were presented. Invited OER provider and user initiative leaders profiled their OER projects and facilitated discussion.


MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW)

The first open courseware initiative, MIT’s OCW is a free and open Web site, publishing course learning materials created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty for their own classroom teaching.

Each OCW course publication includes as a minimum:

Many OCW course publications go beyond this minimum requirement with a typical course providing six types of content.

Principles of Macroeconomics (Caballero, 2004) was presented as a typical OCW course publication where content is for the most part PowerPoint slides in Adobe Acrobat .pdf format. Unified Engineering (Hall, et al., 2004) was given as an example of the very best of OCW where extensive content has been published including video lectures. In my exploration I encountered Cellular Neurobiology (Littleton and Quinn, 2005) where the published lecture notes are actual scans of handwritten notes of professors.

OCW publications are static snapshots of course materials as used in a particular term by a particular instructor. As stable snapshots the OCW site is targeted to external audiences. It is not a site MIT faculty use for teaching.

Accessing OCW published materials does not require any registration. External use of the materials is not a degree–granting or certificate–granting activity.

With the publication of materials used in the classroom, OCW is not involved in making pedagogical decisions about courses. While the materials are published on the Web they are not intended to provide a full online educational experience. Content is not designed or reformatted to incorporate online learning pedagogies.

OCW materials are licensed for reuse via the Creative Commons Attribution–Non–Commercial–ShareAlike license (Creative Commons, 2005) that allows others to use, copy, distribute and make derivative works for non-commercial purposes.

OCW is striving to publish all of MIT’s 1,800 courses and at time of the forum had published 1,250.

There have been numerous initiatives around the world translating OCW materials and mirror sites now make MIT OCW available to users in Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese.

The goal of MIT’s OCW is to:

Select discussion forum responses to MIT’s OCW (IIEP, 2005)

Discussion participants sought to understand the extent of MIT faculty participation and faculty time commitment required for participation in OCW.

Has the level of participation by faculty changed over the years? Is the MIT–OCW model predicated on little or no actual faculty involvement over the longer term? (North America)

Discussion revealed that MIT faculty participation in OCW is voluntary and involves relatively small time commitments. Time commitment emerged as one of the major concerns expressed by MIT faculty when first approached about OCW. However, over 70 percent of faculty are participating and only eight percent have indicated they are not interested in participating. OCW staff are responsible for the actual publishing process and faculty coming up for tenure review are discouraged by there departments from publishing on OCW to keep their focus on activities that will help them earn tenure. This led many to suggest that perhaps MIT’s OCW initiative is not as exemplary as might originally have been imagined.

I view the issue of faculty engagement in open scholarship quite different from what has been expressed. (If faculty “participation” is simply granting consent to having course hand–out materials placed online, then the bar for faculty engagement is very low indeed.) (North America)

With multiple OER initiatives underway some discussion participants sought to contextualize them as generalizable models or approaches.

In several major ways the MIT OCW project is the paradigm setter for one of the two major approaches to providing open educational resources in higher education; the other approach is the learning object repository approach exemplified by MERLOT ( Course–based repositories versus LO–based repositories are the two major current models or paradigms for providing OER’s. (North America)

One issue that came up repeatedly among discussion participants was the usefulness, quality, and format of OER resources.

How about consistency? Do you attempt to help faculty in making material which bear your brand name have certain level of quality in terms of suitability for online self–paced education, or it is left to the effort of each individual faculty? (Africa)
A selection of a few dozen courses reveals that a main content component is frequently PowerPoint presentation slides (in PDF format). My own reading of those slides is mixed. In many cases, when read out–of–context, the slides would seem to have limited value even to those who may teach in the same field. But of more concern is the growing awareness that PowerPoint slides, in general, may be pedagogically limited in their usefulness. … Has there been any discussion within MIT–OCW about the heavy reliance on PowerPoint and, perhaps, movement to other types of media such as video or podcasting as a predominant mechanism for sharing knowledge? (North America)
I suspect that Faculty at the most disadvantaged universities lack time and other resources to scan your OCW and pick out material that they could usefully use. Have you considered this, is it worth considering this problem? Would it, for example, be worth considering an exercise with African countries (e.g. through AVU) to produce a short–list (not exclusive) of OCW most likely to be useful to LDC universities? Or have you considered, would it be feasible, to identify and tag OCW, which has been successfully used in African universities? (Europe)
When material gets translated into another language, what are the quality control measures you are currently using to ensure that translations accurately reflect the MIT quality, given that it will still be promoted as an MIT open course? (Africa)

OER initiatives have all adopted specific licensing provisions that define the degree to which the resources are “open” and available for others to reuse. The nature of the license and the extent to which it allows non–commercial and commercial use generated lots of discussion.

Could the British Open University (UKOU) use MIT’s OCW content without having to pay for it? In other words, since the UKOU sells its courses and their content, could they use MIT’s OCW content without having to pay for it? (North America)

Having launched the OCW initiative in 2001 and with 1,250 of MIT’s 1,800 courses now published many discussion participants wondered how the OCW initiative would evolve.

You are approaching now the end of the first phase devoted to the compilation of eventually all courses taught in MIT. I have to congratulate you for this huge and very useful work. But this is a “LIVING” creation. Newer versions will be created by the authors themselves or by other persons adapting them and offering perhaps an added value. How are you planning to manage this? (Africa)
How can providers survive in longer term with free information and free market? (Asia)
What is next? What would happen after all courses become online in one way or another? (Africa)

Rice University Connexions

Connexions supports collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web. Connexions contains educational materials for all ages from children to college students and lifelong learners. Connexions welcomes content from everyone. In some ways the Connexions grassroots content development model is the reverse of OCW’s institutional MIT faculty content only approach.

Most Connexions content is made up of smaller more granular content than a course. Small Connexions modules correspond to a page or two in a textbook and deal with just a few concepts. Connexions users can combine modules into larger course size content units which can also be published to Connexions as content. The motivation for modularization is to make Connexions content re–usable in as many different contexts as possible and to support multiple ways of presenting the same material based on an instructors understanding of their domain or a students learning style.

Connexions’ first critical mass of content was developed in the area of engineering but the most popular materials are in fact in music. The Circle of Fifths (Schmidt–Jones, 2006) gets the most visits per day and is available as a published set of Web pages in Connexions or a downloadable .pdf. When accessing this content on Connexions additional links to prerequisite, supplemental and similar content are provided. In addition courses using this content are listed, an Introduction to Music Theory (Schmidt–Jones, 2005) course in this example. Connexions’ content is mostly informational with activity–based content through assignments, exercises, readings, and assessment elements less common.

Authors of Connexion’s content are required to apply to become a member of Connexions and have an account. Authors can edit their content on Connexions at any time and other members who have an account are free to suggest and contribute edits. Connexions considers itself a “living” repository.

Connexions is more than just a repository where OER modules are stored. It provides authoring tools for creating content modules, a course composer for combining modules into customized courses, and a roadmap for helping students navigate through non–linear modules. Connexions is used for delivery of teaching and learning.

Accessing Connexions materials does not require any registration. External use of the materials is not a degree–granting or certificate–granting activity. Connexions does not provide student’s access to instructors for interaction and exchange. While Connexions materials are published on the Web they are not necessarily designed for online learning. The Web–based materials cannot be exported as a download for use in a course management system. Download are only available as .pdf files.

Connexions materials are licensed for reuse via the Creative Commons Attribution license (Creative Commons, 2005) that allows others to use, copy, distribute and make derivative works, including for commercial purposes. Connexions hopes that allowing commercial use will lead to creation of inexpensive paper books and CD–ROMs from Connexions materials for use in parts of the developing world with limited Internet connectivity.

At the end of 2005 Connexions had over 2,800 modules in the repository. Connexions houses contributions from authors around the globe in a variety of languages and volunteers are translating Connexions materials into a range of different languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai.

Connexions is:

Select discussion forum responses to Connexions (IIEP, 2005)

The Connexions OER initiative, like OCW, adopted a Creative Commons license but used a different version of that license that allows commercial use. Participants sought to understand how the license works and why Connexions chose this particular license.

If I understand the particular Creative Commons license Connexions has adopted correctly, person A could put up a piece of materials in Connexions and person B could make modifications (or not) to it and sell it for profit? I would like you to elaborate a little more on the thought behind this and why you think this license would “;ensure that Connexions materials make the broadest possible impact on the world.” (North America)

Connexions emphasizes their license choice requires attribution so contributors are more interested in reputation that comes from making an impact and getting OER resources out there than in making money. In addition Connexions argues their license allows commercial entities to print out Connexions OER resources or burn them to CD enhancing the flow of resources into countries where Internet connectivity is poor. The whole issue of using Creative Commons licenses for OER generated lots of discussion from a variety of perspectives. OER licensing proved to be one of the most difficult and confusing issues.

Another question or comment that will resurface later in the session on copyright issues, pertains to the work of various contributors to whom no attribution is NOT made. I am referring to the very useful list of changes made to modules. It shows names of people that do not appear in the copyright claim. Why is that so? Should not Creative Commons approach be similar to open code software under in which all those who make changes are listed? Finally, should not attribution also be required of the original place of publication (i.e. Connexions)? This last point can be particularly important in your case of allowing commercial redistribution. (North America)

Connexions differs from OCW in that it goes beyond mere provision of OER resources. Discussion participants sought to understand more completely the elements of Connexions and how they work together.

You mentioned Connexions as a content, community, and software project. Could you elaborate a little on the issue of community building? What kind of community Connexions has, what kind of interactions have you seen and in what way? (North America)

As with OCW, questions around quality, usefulness, and format of Connexions OER resources came up repeatedly.

You mention quality assessment and you said you are “developing a system to enable distributed peer review of all Connexions materials”. If I understand it correctly, currently such a review system does not exist. Do you get people questioning you about the quality in those modules? As a grassroots approach, what is CNX’s stand in the issue of quality? (North America)
The idea of linking different ideas allows much flexibility; it meets recommendations to parcel out teaching as thinly as possible; it fits into today’s much shortened student attention span; and can be especially stimulating for creative learners. My problem with this, is that there is an enormous population out there that doesn’t get any higher education, that may not be that creative, that seek more guidance and organization, and for whom the teaching may need to be more traditional and especially structured. So, my questions to you are:

While probing questions were the norm participants offered praise too.

I’ve been watching Connexions since 1999 and must compliment you and your team on the foresight with this initiative. Its been rewarded by its exponential growth. Well done! (Australia)

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative (OLI)

OLI brings a third approach to OERs complementing the approach of MIT OCW and Connexions. OLI is a collection of Carnegie University faculty and staff developed, openly available and free, full online courses including elements of instruction and support as an online learning experience.

At the time of the UNESCO forum OLI courses were primarily being used in two different types of learning environments. The first is instructor–led classes at both the high school and college level where OLI courses complement and support instruction. In the second OLI courses are freely accessed by individual learners who are not affiliated with any formal learning cohort or institution.

Individual self learners are invited to access OLI materials directly over the Web and learn a subject at the introductory college level. You do not need to register to enter an open and free OLI course. The open and free version of an OLI course does not include access to the end–of–module graded exams or to the course instructor. There is no interaction with other students. No credit is awarded for completing an open and free version of the course.

Instructors around the world are invited to use OLI courses to create their own course specifically for their students. OLI courses are developed in a modular fashion to allow faculty at a variety of institutions to either deliver the courses as designed or to modify the content and sequence.

An OLI course includes a syllabus and course materials in a mix of videos, tutors, virtual lab activities and text to provide a varied online learning experience. Text versions of movies make the content enhance accessibility of the content. Navigation through content is done using Syllabus links and Course Material Next and Prev buttons. Virtual lab activities are conducted using fully interactive software.

No .pdf download versions of course materials are available. OLI materials are intended to be accessed and utilized from the Carnegie Mellon OLI Web site. The use of rich multimedia and virtual labs requires users to have specific operating system and browser requirements along with a number of plug–ins including Java, QuickTime and Flash.

OLI materials are developed using a team approach including Carnegie Mellon University faculty, cognitive scientists, experts in human computer interaction and educational technologists.

OLI OER use instructional design grounded in cognitive theory, formative evaluation for students and faculty, and iterative course improvement based on empirical evidence.

Pedagogically OLI materials are intended to promote relevance and coherence in a knowledge domain. Relevance is achieved by teaching students how the knowledge and skills transfer to real world situations outside the context of instruction. Coherence teaches students how the discreet skills they are learning fit together in a meaningful big picture.

OLI courses include a number of innovative online instructional components such as:

Cognitive theory and faculty expertise guide the initial development of each course. As the courses are delivered, OLI researchers conduct a variety of studies to examine effectiveness and usability. Research results are used to inform both the next iteration of the course and the underlying learning theory.

The OLI Chemistry course (Carnegie Mellon, 2006) was presented as an OLI OER exemplar. This stoichiometry course uses a scenario–based approach to teaching chemistry with a specific focus on helping students learn stoichiometry calculation skills. This OLI chemistry course situates stoichiometry in the real world problem of arsenic contamination in Bangladesh’s water supply. This scenario is used to establish relevance, coherence and motivation.

While OLI materials were initially copyrighted by Carnegie Mellon at the time of the UNESCO forum OLI was transitioning to the Creative Commons Attribution–Non–Commercial–ShareAlike license (Creative Commons, 2005) — the same Creative Commons license that OCW uses.

As of fall semester of 2005, there were seven subject areas with full courses or substantial course materials available:

  1. Causal and Statistical Reasoning;
  2. Statistics;
  3. Economics;
  4. Logic;
  5. Biology;
  6. Chemistry; and,
  7. Physics.

OLI has begun the process of adding courses in Calculus, French, Statics, and Research Methods.

OLI has just begun internationalization by partnering with faculty and institutions in Chile, Columbia and Qatar to localize, extend and develop the courses. Participants in these countries include not only faculty content experts and teachers but also learning scientists and instructional designers.

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative is developing pedagogically informed, openly available online courses and course materials. OLI incorporates both content and delivery of online courses as well as research on how to make online courses effective in facilitating learning.

These OER types provide users with the right to freely adapt and modify these original works creating a derivative OER type.

Select discussion forum responses to OLI (IIEP, 2005)

OLI’s rich media approach to OER brought both praise and concern, especially in a global context where reuse by others in developing countries may be limited due to bandwidth.

It is impressive to note the striking features of OLI courses as highly interactive online laboratories, the individual–user and multi–user simulations, the multi–media environments etc. But how far can these features which require high bandwidth be utilised especially in rural areas? The internet presence — in whatever limited form — in rural areas of a country like India — suffers from poor connectivity and inadequate infrastructure. How can we ensure that the remote rural areas — which accommodate more than 70 percent of the population in India — are also enabled with adequate opportunities to access OLI and such Open Content? (Asia)

Rich media also creates issues of accessibility as one participant pointed out.

Another issue we haven’t really touched on in this forum is that of accessibility for learners with disabilities. Your course pages use frames, javascript menus, and of course multimedia (videos, interactive images, etc.), which by design do not usually comply with accessibility guidelines. Have you considered accessibility and to what extent? (North America)

Others wondered about the role of rich media in learning.

Does integration of multimedia in online instruction really enhance learning? (Asia)

While OCW OER are essentially course notes, and Connexions OER are small granular learning units, OLI strives to provide complete courses. A discussion topic that arose repeatedly around all OER, including OLI, involved the extent to which OER allow interactions between students and instructors.

You mention your goal of providing self–sufficient (complete cake) courses. As you might agree, one of the most critical (from a pedagogical point of view) features of in–class, as well as online courses is the student–teacher interaction (synchronous or asynchronous). Do any of your courses allow students to ask questions/request clarification from the course instructor (by email or a discussion forum)? (North America)

As with OCW and Connexions, discussion participants asked lots of questions around format and usefulness of OLI resources. The rich and interactive of OLI’s OER approach generated praise on the one side and considerable discussion on the other around costs and sustainability.

Thank you for introducing your Open Learning Initiative with such thorough comments, full of information, honesty and gusto. Clearly you have in these OLI modules very powerful teaching tools.
The following questions come up:

Discussion participants were very interested in understanding how OER are accessed and the metrics initiatives are using to track usage.

Do you track how visitors find particular content? More specifically, I wonder if most people enter via the “front door” and then navigate through the given categories or if they directly access deep links coming through search engines like Google? (Europe)

Provider summary

One of the participants in the UNESCO forum (IIEP, 2005) listed the following as required elements for an OER to be considered complete:

Compared to this benchmark none of the OER types profiled in the UNESCO forum are complete. A paradoxical aspect of most OER initiatives to date is that while OER content is published and distributed to the Web most OER content is from and for campus–based classroom use. While Web–based, most OER initiatives are not pedagogically designed for online learning. OER is locked into software hosted by the OER originator making it impossible to reuse by incorporating it into a course management system such as WebCT, Blackboard, or Moodle.


The OER examples are not only freely available but open to modification and adaptation. In response to the free availability of OER materials a number of international initiatives are repurposing existing OER materials for use in other countries. A range of initiatives were profiled in the UNESCO forum.

The African Virtual University (Bateman, 2005) partnered with MIT in a project to set up OCW mirror sites at two institutions in Kenya and Ethiopia and as a means of promoting awareness conducted workshops for faculty and students on use. Universia, a consortium of universities in ten countries – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico and Venezuela – has a formal agreement with MIT to translate OCW courses into Spanish and Portuguese (Aranzadi, 2005). The China Open Resources for Education (CORE) initiative has a similar agreement to translate MIT OCW courses into Chinese and make them available to universities across China (Tate, 2005). The University of Egypt is selecting and adapting OCW courses for their local needs including translation into French, adding modules to complete the course, and creating graphics and/or animations to illustrate concepts (Sabry, 2005). All of these international initiatives create a type of derivative OER.

Discussion forum participants had a lot to say about OER in a global context.

Select discussion forum comments on OER in a global context (IIEP, 2005)

The digital nature of OER creates challenges for those countries without basic information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and raises questions around a digital divide.

OER and all we are discussing here will not work for so many developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. the reason is simple. the near absence of basic infrastructure such as electricity. hence, if anything, it will widen the inequality gap. Agreed the concept is novel, good in intent but not workable. (Africa)
Owing to the digital divide and huge development deficits confronting low income countries, the advantages derivable from open content have not been garnered. (Europe)
While the demand for higher education may be a universal phenomenon, the accessibility is a deciding factor which puts the rural areas at a disadvantage. The Internet presence – in whatever limited form – in rural areas of a country like India – suffers from poor connectivity and inadequate infrastructure. How can we ensure that the remote rural areas - which accommodate more than 70 percent of the population in India – are also provided with adequate opportunities to access Open Educational Resources and Open Content? (Asia)

The degree to which OER satisfy the learning needs of those in rural culture is a particularly challenging question.

A commonly accepted perspective is that faculty somehow expect to get rich from their educational resources and resist open sharing. Participants wondered about willingness to make exceptions for developing countries.

We have to accept that a lot of faculties won’t accept complete openness but they might be persuaded to accept limited openness for the benefit of the poorest countries. The profit–maximizing rich have little or nothing to lose and much to gain from helping poor countries develop their capacity. The latter need to get what they can from the former and can be helped in this by the public–spirited minority and by collective action from governments who care about the digital divide. (Europe)

Even in countries with ICT, bandwidth can still be an issue. There was considerable discussion around whether OER should be designed from the start to be optimally accessible and useable under conditions of low bandwidth.

It seems that when conceiving open education, which, in order to be truly open, must be accessible to the widest possible audience, consideration may need to be given to placing alternative pages that do not have loading problems, or making animations and other multimedia optional. (North America)
In all of the projects discussed so far, there seems to be a tension between the desire to provide rich digital learning materials — which usually demand more complex technologies — and the desire to make learning materials as widely available as possible — which often demands much simpler technologies. (North America)

Some saw OER as having as much a cultural as an educational function. The extent to which developed countries are seen to be providing developing countries with OER was challenged as a form of cultural imperialism.

All cultures have something to share and teach others, so we should encourage multilingual platforms which will support sharing knowledge between different parts of the world, not only one way from one language to the rest, or one side to all. (Asia)
I think the emphasis on “cultural,” rather than for example educational exchange, is an interesting distinction. OER is characterized by a specific language, teaching and learning methods, institutional philosophy, and course literature usually originating from the host culture. Even though I have read arguments that OER in science or engineering can be directly transferred, I question to what extent we can or should “directly transfer” course content from one culture to another. I fear another Western monopoly as a result. (North America)
OER projects must take into account the learning modes of different cultures, and what are the most efficient ways to disseminate knowledge. I do not mean just the “geography of learning modes”, but also the “culture of learning”. (Asia)
In today’s world, migration, travel and adhocracy, are all increasingly becoming the prevailing order and in my view our orientation should be geared more towards an openness to learn about other languages, culture and the people. (Asia)
We should encourage creative activity by all nations, as you correctly said. But these activities should not be considered as “local”. Other cultures, including English, should benefice from these creative activities, i.e. they should become “international” as well. Cultural diversity is not a right we have to consider for poor countries, it is basically a wealth for humanity. All this brings me back to “collaborative development”, which will also solve the important issues of faculty commitment in both sides (commonly called north–south). “Providers” will not feel they are giving up things for “charity”, but on the contrary, they benefice from efforts, ideas and feedback of others. “Users” will not feel this is “imported” material, as they may participate in elaborating it, if they wish to do so. Tools and systems to let this easily take place exist (see Wikipedia as a good example). The will to do it is what I hope will be one of the outcomes of this forum. (Africa)

The OER types I profile in this paper are all in English which typifies global OER. While many English OER initiatives have translation partners, as more than one discussant participant put it, the language of an OER affects its usefulness.

I would not debate the importance and relevance of OER. However, an important issue is how to make the content locally relevant keeping in mind the language differences? (Asia)
When learners learn anything through their mother tongue, they can learn more effectively. Moreover, when medium of instruction is the mother tongue, their motivation in learning will automatically increase. (Asia)

Many participants noted that reuse of OER involves not only translation but localization.

Content Translations may be crucial to bridge the knowledge gap and to reach 10’s of millions of learners who speak different languages. However more emphasis must be given to LOCALIZATION. Translation would always need to be linked to localization which makes content relevant and useful to the learner. So, when we use the word “OPEN” and “Resources” in OER, we must take into consideration the fact that the majority of world learning population do not speak English while most of the available content of the current initiatives of OER is in English. (Africa)
The scale in the world of OER is currently weighted down to the side of materials produced in the English speaking countries (translated or not). I hope current OER projects in the non–Anglophone world focus as much of the resources toward locally produced material as they invest in translating MIT’s OCW. (North America)
A significant pedagogical barrier regarding “reusable” content is the question of recontextualisation (plus the freedom to do this <smile>). There is an inverse relationship between reusability and the “amount” of pedagogy embedded in the content resource. (Australia)

Initiatives involved in translating English OER found that their local stakeholders often sought to not simply import, translate, and reuse these existing OER but to create their own local OER.

You will have noted from my description of this in the Session 3 Forum note that there were a number of issues with the technology that we needed to overcome. Perhaps more important though was the need to address the ‘sensitization’ issues inherent in the use of the OCW materials once they could be accessed locally. While most were clearly appreciative of being able to access such a wealth of resources so easily now, some African academics expressed a resentment of these “imported’ materials asking “Why can’t we produce these materials here?”. For the AVU this question has lead to us beginning to explore further the ideas behind the OER movement and its potential in African universities. (Africa)
I think the discussion on global balance of open educational resource is very important. I am also happy to see that there are already many projects producing their own local resources in different languages and not only translating existing resource. (Europe)

The adaptation and localization issues inherent in the local use of imported OER materials led to an interest in do–it–yourself approaches for creation, organization, dissemination and utilization of OER locally as well as in collaboration with OER initiatives elsewhere in the world.


Business models

OER initiatives are inherently risky. Why would institutions and faculty give away content for free? How can this be rationalized in the increasingly business like context of higher education? Do OER represent a changing educational world and a new business model? Are OER initiatives like open source software and, if so, can open source software business models work for OER? What is the educational case and value proposition for OER? While these and many more business model related questions were discussed in the UNESCO forum sustainable OER business models have yet to take shape.

The UNESCO forum encouraged all participants to think about what a world–wide education community sharing academic content can accomplish. Out of that discussion a range of business and educational goals for OER emerged. What follows is my summary of OER business and educational goals from the forum supported by discussion forum participant statements in italics. (IIEP, 2005)

Overcoming scarcity and increasing access

OER can help overcome the problem of scarcity of educational resources giving people globally access to quality content.

We face the problem of scarcity of the educational material, lack of resources as well as escalating cost of books, magazines and journals. (Asia)
There is no doubt that OER is having and hopefully will be increasingly having a tremendous impact in giving people globally access to quality content. (Asia)
Why is OER important? I think it’s fairly obvious why it might be important to individual learners globally and educators who gain access to a wider range of resources. (Europe)
What OER represents is in my opinion a turning point enabling wide and significant access to knowledge for all, as well as constituting a paradigm shift in the perception of education as a creative activity belonging to human heritage. (Africa)
The production and dissemination of educational resources for open learning create new opportunities for accelerating progress toward education for all, narrowing the knowledge divide around the world, and combating inequality and poverty. Developing countries, it is hoped, will be able to take advantage of these resources to catch up to the scientific and technological advances recorded in developed countries. (Africa)

Social benefit

OER serve an altruistic, public good by providing students and teachers in developed and less developed countries access to quality education materials. OER allow for universal access democratizing education and serving deprived sections of society.

For the least developed countries (LDCs), open content is essential, if they are to break out of past vicious cycles and build their capacity to tackle poverty and achieve other Millennium Development Goals. (Europe)
It is a socially beneficial thing to do — there is sometimes a schism between the public and universities, and open content is a means of bridging that. (Europe)
Today, universal higher education is as important as universal secondary education was a century ago. And OER gives us a chance to have at least a shot at it. (North America)
Countries with demographic and economic conditions could be able to realize their dreams of universalization and democratization education. OERs may protect the educational interest of the deprived sections of the society viz. women, rural population, tribal, etc. due to their free access and relative cost effectiveness. (Asia)
It is socially and morally right to provide content they can adapt and disseminate under free open licenses. (Europe)

Cost savings

The digital nature of OER allows for an economical means of making copies and distributing online learning resources over a network. The cost of development is lowered by providing core resources around which educational courses and experiences can be built. OER eliminate the weeks and months of time it can take to seek permission and clear rights to use existing digital resources.

The opportunities that OERs will provide for students and teachers in less developed countries to access critical content on learning and education at reduced costs remains one key reason for OERs. (Africa)
Cost: developed and underdeveloped countries will have different rationales, but it is cheaper to use OERs than to buy coursebooks. (Europe)
OER reduce the cost and amount of effort required to introduce core information and new concepts to teachers (and others) that need additional content training. (North America)

Higher quality learning resources via diversified expertise & perspectives

OER provide multiple materials and perspectives on the same subject. By allowing OER to be modified, adapted, and connected in new ways interpretations are pooled from a variety of perspectives. Such OER diversify learning by taking it beyond institutional and local boundaries. By enriching OERs with perspectives from other cultural and contextual backgrounds OER unleash knowledge capital. With OER what you give, you receive back improved. Opening educational resources up to a community allows for improvements and continuous updating to the benefit of all. OER create a community of co–developers.

Although we put a lot of time and effort in to our materials, by opening them up to a community we can take back improvements and use them in our courses, thus freeing us up from much of the updating process. (Europe)
It is important to create awareness of OER as publicly accessible course materials, open to the scrutiny from users from around the world. I think this creates a sort of an internal quality control, as someone here mentioned. An instructor will put more thought into their course materials and selection of readings when they know there is a large audience out there that is watching. (North America)
Regarding the incentives for institutions to engage themselves in the open content movement: to openly publish the courseware or content of your institution will spur internal co–operation and quality control within your institution. (Europe)
Another bonus in allowing educational resources to be open is that material from other experts in related fields can be accessible. (Asia)
The importance of OER’s is that they provide multiple materials and perspectives on the same subject. (North America)
It seems to me that real learning begins when learners start to compare, evaluate, and select from among perspectives and interpretations. OERs provide that opportunity to any serious student who has access to a computer and the Internet. OERs hold the potential to greatly improve the quality of an individual's education because they can take the person intellectually beyond institutional and local boundaries. (North America)

Teaching and learning cultural exchange

OER showcase not only domain knowledge but teaching and learning practices. The teaching and learning methods, tools, and techniques in OER give others a very practical exposure to the way courses are done specific to the source culture. Localizing of OER and sharing back can result in an exchange of culturally diverse teaching and learning methods.

OER is a window of opportunity to ensure diversity or rather inclusion — by getting knowledge through OER, people are inclined to share back from their own perspective, thus enriching the dialogue/debate with perspectives from other cultural and contextual backgrounds (OER as a catalyst of un–leashing knowledge capital). (Europe)
I see the primary value of OER as free products for cultural exchange that contribute to the cultural dialogue. (North America)
I view the primary role of OER as a cultural exchange. By culture I mean the teaching and learning values espoused by a course instructor: course organization, evaluation, topics, and readings. Even though a cross–cultural perspective can be gained from professional literature, research, associations, or conferences, these are still not venues open to all. Open course content is a quick–and–easy demonstration of teaching and learning methods, tools, and techniques, specific to the source culture, giving faculty a very practical exposure to the way courses are done “over there”. (North America)
For me the key–issue is how open resource education can be used in developing countries with sufficient room for actual and factual contributions from these countries themselves; if not we might face problems of (unconscious) export and promotion of western values and information which might be of limited use in the societies we talk about. (Europe)

Facilitation of self and lifelong learning

OERs are important for individuals seeking to educate themselves. OER provide a coherent structure and widened choice for accessing educational resources in pursuit of lifelong self-learning goals. OER are free from admission criteria, prerequisites, tuition fees and prescribed learning paths. OER contribute to independent self-regulated and self reliant learning.

I’d like to emphasize one special and sometimes neglected angle about open resources — their importance for individuals who are seeking to educate themselves. Those individuals may be beginning or advanced students, instructors trying to revise a course, members of a learning community or solo learners. (North America)
While much information is free and open (like Wikipedia), I would suggest that it is still critical for learners to be able to get help in mastering a body of knowledge. It is the hope that OER course–related content can put some coherence into self–selected information. (North America)
OERs encourage self-learning on the part of the learners.  Besides independent in choosing and learning the subjects, they develop the habit of self-regulated learning. (Asia)
I am very sure that OERs encourage Life–long Learning. (Asia)
Access to OERs being free from restrictions in terms of admission criteria, compulsion in subject combination, didactic communication mode, etc. which are the unique features of formal education, ensure higher degree of openness by means of employing multimedia approach, self–pacing and individualized in learning and inbuilt motivation in behavioral modification. Devoid of time constraints, geographical distances, social and cultural barriers, etc. and ensuring widened learning choice over the content, OERs promote autonomy and self–reliance among the learning community. (Asia)

The priority of these educational and business goals varies based on context. OER initiatives address one or more of these goals in an educational and business like way.

That higher education functions in some ways like a business was bluntly presented by one UNESCO forum participant who described a European higher education context in the following terms (IIEP, 2005):

The institutional critique context expressed in this post may not be the same every where around the world, but for many, at least one of those points rang true. Do OER refute this view of education by providing open and public educational resources? Do OER counter measure the forces of commercialization and cost recovery? Do OER fit in such a market place? Well apparently they do with the UK Open University’s March 2006 announcement of a US$9.9 million project to make learning material free on the Internet through open educational resources (UKOU, 2006). While hinted at during the 2005 UNESCO online forum it was interesting news to see the follow–through.

From a business model perspective each OER initiative can be thought of as seeking to fulfill one or more OER goals through a set of products and services. Businesses distinguish themselves from one another by their products and services and OER types can be differentiated in the same way. OER differentiators include:

In a business context products and services are based on unique intellectual property (IP). Each OER initiative involves taking a position on IP and copyright of online educational resources. With more and more faculty and staff engaged in creating online educational resources higher education institutions are establishing policy and terms of employment agreements that accord IP of those resources along a continuum ranging from institutional ownership to faculty ownership. The position of MIT, Rice University and Carnegie Mellon with regard to the IP ownership (institutional vs. faculty or author owned) of the OER was not a focus of discussion in the UNESCO forum.

All three of the OER examples in this report use Creative Commons’ licenses (Creative Commons, 2006) as a means to distribute copyright and rights to use in clear and unambiguous language. Creative Commons’ licenses aim to make the spread of OER easier by reducing friction created by the default copyright permission seeking regime. Creative Commons asserts the copyright of the original author but licenses the educational resources for others to use. By using a human readable deed, lawyer readable license and digital code Creative Commons’ terms of use are explicit and easily understood by others. Larry Lessig, founder and chair of Creative Commons described in the forum (IIEP, 2005) three basic questions authors must answer when using the Creative Commons licensing engine: (1) Do you want to permit commercial use? (2) Do you want to allow modifications? (3) If you allow modifications, do you want the modifications to be released in a similarly free way? Your answers to these questions generate one of six possible licenses.

OCW and OLI use the Creative Commons Attribution–Non–Commercial–ShareAlike license and Connexions uses the Creative Commons Attribution license. A key differentiator is whether the license restricts use to non–commercial as in the case of OCW and OLI or whether commercial use is OK too as is the case with Connexions.

A Creative Commons aspect all three OER initiatives agree on is allowing modifications as long as there is attribution to the original author. This indicates congruence on a key value proposition for both the institution and faculty as being attribution, assuring sharing knowledge via an OER generates recognition and reputation. Attribution provides recognition to creators whose work is used by hundreds or thousands of other people. Enhanced reputation yields compensation and responsibility benefits for individuals and prestige for institutions.

While academics value openness and sharing for scholarship and research the same values have not typically been applied to instructional materials. One of the benefits associated with Creative Commons use for OER is the dialogue and understanding it generates with faculty and the potential for it to enhance the scholarship of teaching and instructional resources.

The U.K. Open University’s plan to also use Creative Commons for its OER initiative (UKOU, 2006) lends further support for the use of Creative Commons’ licenses as an integral part of the OER business model.

While awareness of copyright issues and use of Creative Commons licenses seem part of OER initiatives for most, not all UNESCO forum participants are convinced. One participant expressed the following alternative view:

For the sake of debate, as a faculty creator of OER, I argue the focus on copyright (like CC) is a diversion that may inhibit rather than encourage faculty to become more open. Why? After a decade operating openly on the Web, let me offer the following observations with respect to copyright:
  1. The law is irrelevant. If someone infringes on my work, I have no practical legal recourse because (a) I cannot afford it, and (b) even if I could, it would be difficult to show damages since, after all, the material is made freely available to users.
  2. What I depend on is good behavior rooted in the values shared by scholars to respect authorship and abide by norms like attribution. … In my mind, it is more effective to enforce good behavior with scholarly norms than it is with law.
  3. Copyright infringement is exceedingly rare (in my experience) and, when it does occur, a simple appeal to respect the norms of scholarship is highly effective. … It would appear that being free and open on the Web is actually the best defense against infringement, not because of copyright laws, but rather because of the norms of appropriate behavior deeply rooted in scholarly communities over many decades. (North America)

Business models highlight the organization, management and team involved in creating and providing products and services. OER initiatives can be differentiated by the contributing organization and the quality of expertise used for creation. MIT and Carnegie Mellon draw on their world class stature and faculty as a quality differentiator for their initiatives. Connexions OER is more universally inviting – anyone can be an author. MIT OCW OER are largely the work of a single faculty member. Carnegie Mellon OLI use a team based approach for OER creation involving faculty, cognitive scientists, experts in human computer interaction and educational technologists.

Still to be determined are whether OER will evolve to be more community derived. Allowing others to reuse and modify original work provides a means for continuous improvement of online learning resources by a collective of professional peers. When professional peers can see and contribute to a work there is increased pressure to develop quality work in the first place and the means to quickly improve it if needed. The extent to which OER track, support and value community contributions that enhance and extend the original resource will affect business models and success.

A key business model component in every OER initiative is the degree of access and interaction provided to the OER author. When MIT began discussions with faculty around creation of OER from their class materials some of the biggest concerns were the amount of time it would take for them to pull together their materials in a form suitable for open distribution and a concern that they would be deluged with e–mail from people around the world who came to the MIT OCW Web site (IIEP, 2005) Time plays a significant factor in the business model for OER initiatives – time for both OER creation and its subsequent evolution.

All OER initiatives provide OER informational content for free but require a fee for instructor or tutor access and interaction. Open and free OER initiatives equate to no access or interaction with faculty or staff. OER provide the content of, but are not a substitute for, enrollment in a higher education program at an institution. The most fundamental cornerstone of the learning process at an institution is the interaction between faculty and students and among students themselves. That interaction is not part of OER business models though all three OER types described in this paper are using community software to support voluntary interaction between users. In this context OER are basic resources necessary for education but are not a credit granting teaching and learning experience in and of themselves. Accreditation is an essential component of higher education business models. It remains to be seen how accreditation affects the way OER are authored, distributed, and used.

Production and cost per unit of production are common business model components. While few specifics around cost were provided in the UNESCO discussion forum some factors were presented and discussed.

At MIT, faculty meet with OCW staff to plan the publication of their courseware. Faculty provide the course syllabus and materials. OCW staff do the publishing. By keeping the requirements and time commitments for participation low MIT has engaged over 70 percent of the faculty in publishing their courses to OCW so far with only eight percent indicating they are not interested (IIEP, 2005).

Carnegie Mellon’s team based approach produces more comprehensive, media rich, and pedagogically engaging OER but at a significant cost that limits scalability. As of fall 2005, OLI had seven course OER while MIT had over a thousand (IIEP, 2005).

The Connexions OER production approach provides authoring tools but takes a do–it–yourself approach to content creation and an assemble it yourself approach to course creation. This production model has generated over 2,800 modules of OER (IIEP, 2005).

Some measures of success for OER initiatives were reported out as a set of usage statistics.

OCW summarized their usage stats in the forum (IIEP, 2005). At a high level, about 60 percent of OCW traffic comes from outside the U.S., about 15 percent of the visitors are educators, 30 percent are students, and 50 percent are self–learners unaffiliated with an educational institution. Visits average about 10 minutes, and include about 10 HTML page views. PDFs and other files, which hold most of the content, are not counted, so the total content viewed is probably significantly higher than the HTML page views would indicate.

Visitors use the site for a wide range of activities, including developing curriculum and courses, developing teaching materials, making decisions about a course of study (or advising someone on a course of study), supplementing materials from a course they are taking at another institution, and independent self–study. Ninety–one percent of visitors report success at achieving their goals in using the site. Site visitors strongly agree that the site has helped them be more productive (81 percent), helped them learn (88 percent), and increased their motivation to learn (80 percent).

One of the most interesting aspects of OCW site usage is the range of ways people use it. While educators and students use of OCW resources for teaching and learning is a significant portion of use MIT has been surprised at OCW’s usefulness as a curriculum planning and advising aid, and as a resource for furthering research (IIEP, 2005).

In October of 2005 MIT’s OCW received 535,000 visits with just under half generated by search engines (IIEP, 2005).

Connexions usage statistics were presented in the UNESCO forum (IIEP, 2005). Connexions is being used in traditional college, community college, and school settings, in distance learning, and by lifelong learners around the globe. In October 2005 Connexions servers handled over 15.7 million hits representing 1.1 million page views from 480,000 users from 157 countries.

Detailed usage statistics were not provided by OLI.

The most vulnerable part of OER business models is funding and the financial requirements for sustainability. MIT’s OCW received Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (2006) funding of US$11 million in grants for the startup and pilot phase. Connexions received two Hewlett Foundation grants totaling over US$2.25 million. And OLI has also received grant money from Hewlett and other foundations for its initiative.

The UNESCO forum background note in which each OER initiative introduces itself highlights these financial concerns. As MIT’s OCW transitions to a steady–state operation in 2008, they expect ongoing funding to become very challenging (Margulies, 2005). Connexions identifies sustainability as a challenge and wonders how it will develop revenue models to sustain Connexions’ free content and open–source tools into the future (Baraniuk, 2005). OLI sees as one of its main challenges the creation of an economic model for the combination of open access and sustainability (Thilles, 2005). Financial sustainability is an area of common concern.

The MIT OCW initiative shared an interesting perspective on sustainability in the UNESCO forum where it noted that for OCW to retain the financial support and more importantly the commitment of the MIT community, the project ultimately must be seen as beneficial to the MIT community. In Oct 2005, the OCW site received 20,000 visits from within MIT, a high number for a school with 10,000 students. Traffic patterns and surveys strongly indicate that MIT students use the site to choose courses and prepare for exams. Of incoming freshmen in 2004 who knew about the site, 16 percent say it influenced their decision to come to MIT. Faculty members include the site as a mode of dissemination in research grant applications, and the site has been the platform on which a number of other projects have been developed. It is recognized that value to the MIT community will not address all financial issues, but without the support of the MIT community, the project will definitely not be sustainable.

A number of open initiatives including open source software, open access to research and scholarship, and open science are converging (Willinsky, 2005) and open educational resources seem to share much in common these other open initiatives. Several OER initiatives including Connexions are involved in not only producing OER but supporting the creation and use of OER through open source software. UNESCO participants expressed great interest in exploring how the models of open source software can be applied to OER. Of particular interest was the development process itself and the degree to which OER use a bazaar or cathedral–like approach (Raymond, 1999) to authoring. A few expressed interest in how Red Hat’s software–for–free–support–for–a–fee business model might translate into an OER business model. Another area of interest is in the potential for open applications like wikis to be used as a means of generating OER. We’ve already seen how Creative Commons licenses are playing a role in OER. They also are being used to create open access to research and scholarship and UNESCO forum participants noted that open access initiatives that assure society funded research be freely available to that society have similar goals to OER (IIEP, 2005). The potential for convergence and constructive creation of business models between and among these open initiatives is a recommended area of further investigation.


Recommendations, calls to action, and the future

The number of OER initiatives is small but judging from the number of participants and volume of discussion in the UNESCO forum the interest and potential is large. UNESCO online discussion participants made many recommendations in support of OER proliferation. A number of recommendations and calls to action were made in the forum in relation to implementation strategies and identified challenges. Together these suggest future directions and actions required to realize the full potential of OER.

A major OER challenge is how daunting and time consuming it is to find OER. This led to a recommendation for the compilation of a central listing of OER initiatives. Special kudos go to forum participant Zaid Ali Alsagoff, who toward the end of the forum, put together an Open Educational Resources Index (Alsagoff, 2005). A further recommendation was made for UNESCO to manage and maintain this list. As a follow–up, UNESCO categorized this list into portals and gateways, repositories, OER publishing initiatives, tools, and writings on OER and made it publicly available from their virtual university Web site (IIEP, 2006). The listing is expected to grow over time so an editable version has been created on an IIEP OER community wiki.

Forum participants made many recommendations for aiding the finding and use of OER including:

Domain categorization

I believe that categorization and tagging of OER will play a large role in their usefulness worldwide (North America)

Appropriate use of metadata tagging

Meta–data systems allow for the creation of a true matrix of knowledge, cross–referencing curriculum and resource data with information about people, organization, educational courses and programmes, projects, and even broadcasting schedules. Thus, if deployed rigorously, we believe that this tagging approach provides a comprehensive solution to storing data about educational processes and making this intellectual capital easy to find when it is needed. (Africa)

Peer tagging methods

We will soon be faced by an incredible amount of OERs of different quality, designed for different purposes, and for different people. One way to navigate this wealth of information would be through peer–tagging mechanisms such as that I mentioned before. In case you are not familiar with the application, it is basically a publicly shared bookmark repository in which people describe Web sites using any combination of words they choose. Some keywords become more widely used than others and then usually replace their less popular synonyms, and you can look at all the links that users described with a particular term. My feeling is that such an open and unstructured system will be better able to chart the resources of the World Wide Web than a planned, centralised approach.(Europe)

Complementing OER with contextual and structural information

What would be still missing, after tagging by the “knowledge type”, are among others: The “knowledge structure”, i.e. what should I know before reading this piece of OER? The “knowledge history”, i.e. how this piece of OER came to existence? (authors, versions, references, etc). (Africa)

A single search engine that searches all OER

Come up with an intelligent search for starters (before eventually integration) enabling knowledge seekers to search all the content metadata in the existing global repositories. This would enable easier access (one search, instead of going through a maze of repositories) to more educational resources, providing more options, also facilitating more awareness, and hopefully less duplication and better quality. (Asia)

Better support for customization

Members expressed their needs in terms of, not only of the kinds of course content needed, but that content needed to be “more complete” (i.e. outlines and individual, small objects are not always helpful enough) and customisable. For example, a PDF that is downloaded is not customisable. A graphic that cannot be edited by the institution that downloads it, is not yet customisable. (North America)

Standards for OER.

A key element in the possible global acceptance of OERs is the ability to access, disaggregate, and customize OERs — to "rip, mix, and burn" as with music files — in order to make OERs more suitable for the various local conditions, culture, and student needs. My point on this issue is as follows: In order to enable OERs to be “ripped, mixed, and burned” easily, we need to develop and adopt standards for the OERs. If OERs from various regions were compliant with these standards, then they could in principle be disaggregated and customized (mixed and burned) for use in a different region or situation. (North America)

Forum participants observed (IIEP, 2005) that we now have collaborative development environments for authoring open content and wondered how the fixed content of current OER fits with use of more dynamic knowledge activities like online discussion forum, student to student interactions, wikis, weblogs and other social software and Web–supported educational methods and tools. How does the social interactive part of education, a most crucial part, fit with OER?

Others wondered what might happen if the online learning resources, currently locked up behind password protected firewalls of internationally deployed institutional implementations of WebCT, Blackboard, and other course management systems, were released as OER.

Imagine if these institutions decided to unlock their WebCT courses and let the public in. Not only that you would instantly unveil materials from thousands of courses (including most valuable course discussions), but you would create a small revolution in how seriously instructors approach designing course materials for WebCT and the impact their OER have on their courses and beyond. Obviously, an equivalent revolution is required to convince institutions to do this, get faculty approval, and sort through existing materials to ensure privacy and resolve copyright issues. (North America)
Could the huge amount of course content available electronically and on the Web, but which quality content are usually password protected restricting access to those who cannot pay whatever is the going fees of membership of the institutions or libraries who own the copyright to the content, be replaced with a global fund for world wide access? Could the community of OER with the open support of UNESCO champion this as a worthwhile cause? (Europe)

Implementation strategies for OER initiatives to date author OER that give credit for student use when used for teaching at the originating institution but have no accreditation when reused by others. When students without institutional affiliation engaged in self–learning via OER do so out of personal interest, no credit is given. Institutions and faculty reusing OER for their own purposes decide for themselves what credit is provided under what conditions when OER are being used.

A distinguishing feature of credit based OER use so far is the addition of human interaction – with instructors, tutors, support staff, and other students. This is true for both classroom and online learning use of OER. Without interaction OER are incomplete. To what extent will others reusing OER add their own human interaction for credit? Will there be a point where even with no interaction OER is an accredited unit of study?

Associated with credit are ideas around OER quality. Form discussions included who determines OER quality and how? When looking for OER how will you know what is good stuff and what isn’t? (IIEP, 2005) OER initiatives presented their quality tactics and implementation strategies including using reputation (by institution or author), peer review systems (MERLOT, 2006), and popularity as with Connexions most popular last week or most popular of all time links (Connexions, 2006).

Connexions also outlined in the forum how it is developing a system that allows organizations to designate, using their own definition, those Connexions materials they deem to be high quality. Users who access Connexions through that organizations lens will see only those materials (IIEP, 2005).

Via Creative Commons licenses OER are reusable by others, including allowing modifications, as long as attribution to originator is made. This OER approach models open source principles (Rosen, 2005), licenses, and development methods (Young and Rohm, 1999). Open source development is community–based (Weber, 2004). As with open source software OER can bring together those who have a common need. Pooling available expertise and resources will lead to better OER. Many UNESCO participants, including those already involved in OER initiatives, expressed interest in community–produced OER. This represents a break or evolution from current individual faculty or institution produced OER. Discussion participants suggested future OER developments include:

A provider/user paradigm of OER, as used to structure the UNESCO forum, did not fit the development paradigm and proved unsettling for some. In collaborative development providers are not giving OER for charity, they benefit from efforts, ideas, and feedback from others.

I must admit I was behind the constraining and misleading distribution of roles in the first OER usability improvement project into “providers”, “users”, “organizers” and “sponsors”. Although I made room for one organization to play more than one role, I believe now that collaborative development goes way beyond this notion. (Africa)

Users don’t resist imported material as they can participate in enhancing and extending it if they wish to do so. Some UNESCO participants recommended a co–creator or co–producer approach more aligned with open source software. Users are empowered to improve OER and by so doing become providers themselves. There was a strong recommendation to move away from the provider/user paradigm towards a collaborative model for OER creation, organization, dissemination and utilization. Collaborations between countries were seen as a means of supporting cultural exchange, diversity and internationalization.

Complementing this interest in community produced OER was an interest in supporting others in their own implementation of OER, even at a small scale. Participants sought simple tools and practical help on how to structure, author and partner OER initiatives. There is excitement and praise over the ability to reuse and adapt American university OER content but there is an equally great interest in enabling local or consortia OER content development and sharing. After translating 100 MIT OCW courses Universia is slowing translation efforts and shifting focus to helping its consortia of institutions develop their own open courseware approach and OER initiative.

UNESCO participants discussed a range of scenarios including:

  1. Translate and localize available OER (largely produced by sources out of North America and Western Europe);
  2. Develop “local” OER products using “imported” OER through adaptation, customization and additions;
  3. Create OER in “local” setting with “local” materials; and,
  4. Collaborate internationally in the creation of OER (IIEP, 2005).

One and two have been the areas of initial OER development efforts. Three and four represent recommendations for future consideration.

Significant challenges remain around the introduction of OER and their development and use — particularly with faculty. As one participant noted an “open” paradox exists in higher education community. On the one hand there is widespread recognition and acceptance of the value of building new knowledge through the collaboration and sharing of ideas. Faculty happily cite the origins of ideas in building new knowledge in the name of academic freedom. But when it comes to instructional materials many are still skeptical of the potential benefits of an open content approach. Will faculty reject OER they did not create out of a not–invented–here kind of syndrome?

Forum participants noted that when faculty are encouraged to share instructional materials as OER they have many questions. What if someone modifies my materials distorting them or negatively impacting their integrity? What if I’m deluged by requests for help from students and instructors around the world? A variety of implementation strategies from Creative Commons licenses to OER support staff have been deployed to allay these concerns. For some already engaged in OER initiatives the more worrying issue is not misuse but no use (IIEP, 2005).

Reciprocity and reputation are two OER value propositions for faculty. Many forum participants recommended universities around the world encourage faculty to create OER by valuing the creation of such materials in tenure and promotion processes in much the same way authoring a textbook is valued (IIEP, 2005).

At various times UNESCO forum participants expressed an interest in forming focused communities. A faculty Open Education Association was proposed and formed with the aim of promoting OER among the university and college professors and linking faculty already engaged in OER development. A more broadly based Community of Practice was proposed. Others suggested a group form to create a global research agenda for OER (IIEP, 2005). All of these serve as potential follow on activities that will extend and improve OER initiatives.

On 6 March 2006 UNESCO launched a new discussion forum bringing the international group of discussants together again to elaborate a global research agenda for OER. I continue to participate and you can do so too through the IIEP forum Web site at




My aim in analyzing this UNESCO OER online discussion forum has been to reveal a range of OER types, the degree of alignment OER initiatives have with one another, and suggest actions required to realize the full potential of OER.

As has been shown OER types can vary considerably in their form and function from face–to–face classroom notes, to online learning modules, to fully interactive and rich multimedia online courses. Most OER, though digital, is not in a form factor, nor pedagogically designed, for online learning. The usefulness of an OER is directly related to its digital state.

OER initiatives have all dealt with copyright and licensing of OER resources for reuse by others. Most OER initiatives are using Creative Commons licenses that require reuse to provide attribution to the original developer. OER Creative Commons licenses differ around permission for commercial vs. non-commercial use.

OER profiled in this forum originated in the U.S. in English. International reuse has involved translation, localization and a rethinking of the role of OER to include cultural perspectives. In addition to translation and localization, international use of OER has led to an interest in do–it–yourself local OER initiatives and social authoring of OER between multiple stakeholders.

OER are recognized as disruptive changes to traditional educational practice. Socio–cultural factors around faculty and institutional support and involvement in developing and using OER significantly influence the potential of OER. A clear demarcation exists between digital OER resources available for free and access to an instructor. Personal interaction with a teacher is seen to be part of the for–credit offering and learning experience which typically has a fee associated with it. To date OER support lifelong learners, but only in a non–interactive, non–credit fashion.

OER initiatives are all searching for sustainable business models. Content for free, support and interaction for a fee are clearly building blocks. The degree to which OER can adopt and use open source business models is an area of development to watch for.

I hope this analysis increases awareness of OER, contributes to fostering OER development in an international context, and informs OER decision–making, participation, and use. End of article


About the author

Paul Stacey is Director of Development for BCcampus (
E–mail: pstacey [at] bccampus [dot] ca



To all the participants in the forum a special thanks for including me in the dialogue and openly sharing your insights. I’d especially like to thank UNESCO’s Susan D’Antoni for inviting me to participate and supporting my interest in doing this deeper follow on investigation and John Willinsky for supervising my work, challenging me every step of the way and suggesting a structure for analysis.



Z. Alsagoff, 2005. “Open Educational Resources (OER) Index,” at, accessed 13 April 2006.

P. Aranzadi, 2005. “Translation of OER Universia,” In: “IIEP Open Educational Resources Session 3 – Background note, Perspectives of the users and issues related to use, 14–25 November 2005,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

R. Baraniuk, 2005. “Connexions Rice University,” In: “IIEP Open Educational Resources Session 2 – Background note, Perspectives of the providers and issues related to provision, 31 October to 11 November 2005,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

P. Bateman, 2005. “Open Distance and eLearning Initiative,” In: “IIEP Open Educational Resources Session 3 – Background note, Perspectives of the users and issues related to use, 14–25 November 2005,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

R. Caballero, 2004. “14.02 Principles of Macroeconomics, Fall 2004,” at, accessed 9 April 2006.

Carnegie Mellon, 2006. “Stoichiometry Chemistry,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

Connexions, 2006. “Rice University Connexions,” at, accessed 9 April 2006.

Creative Commons, 2006. “Creative Commons — a nonprofit organization that offers flexible copyright licenses for creative works,” at, accessed 11 April 2006.

Creative Commons, 2005. “Creative Commons Licenses,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

S. Hall, C. Coleman, M. Drela, K. Lundquist, M. Spearing, I. Waitz, and P. Young, 2004. “16.01–04 Unified Engineering I, II, III, & IV, Fall 2003 - Spring 2004,” at, accessed 9 April 2006.

Hewlett Foundation, 2006. “The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Open Content Initiative,” at, accessed 8 April 2006.

IIEP, 2005. “UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) Forum on Open Educational Resources/Open Content,” at, accessed 8 April 2006. Online discussion forum at The online discussion forum requires UNESCO approval and password for access.

T. Littleton and W. Quinn, 2005. “9.09J / 7.29J Cellular Neurobiology, Spring 2005,” at, accessed 9 April 2006.

A. Margulies, 2005. “OpenCourseWare Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” In: “IIEP Open Educational Resources Session 2 – Background note, Perspectives of the providers and issues related to provision, 31 October to 11 November 2005,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

MERLOT, 2006. “MERLOT Peer Review,” at, accessed 14 April 2006.

OCW, 2006. “MIT OpenCourseWare,” at, accessed 8 April 2006.

E.S. Raymond, 1999. The cathedral and the bazaar: Musings on Linux and open source by an accidental revolutionary. Sebastopol, Calif.: O’Reilly.

L.E. Rosen, 2005. Open source licensing: Software freedom and intellectual property law.Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall PTR.

M. Sabry, 2005. “Adaptation of OER for Egypt,” In: “IIEP Open Educational Resources Session 3 – Background note, Perspectives of the users and issues related to use, 14–25 November 2005,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

C. Schmidt–Jones, 2006. “The Circle of Fifths,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

C. Schmidt–Jones, 2005. “Introduction to Music Theory,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

D. Tate, 2005. “Translation of OER China Open Resources for Education,” In: IIEP Open Educational Resources Session 3 – Background note, Perspectives of the users and issues related to use, 14-25 November 2005, at, accessed April 10, 2006.

Thille, C. 2005. “Open Learning Initiative Carnegie Mellon University” in “IIEP Open Educational Resources Session 2 – Background note, Perspectives of the providers and issues related to provision, 31 October to 11 November 2005,” at, accessed 10 April 2006.

UKOU, 2006. “OU announces £5.6m project to make learning material free on the Internet,” at, accessed 11 April 2006.

S. Weber, 2004. The success of open source. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

R. Young and W. Rohm, 1999. Under the radar: How Red Hat changed the software business — and took Microsoft by surprise. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Coriolis.

J. Willinsky, 2005. “The unacknowledged convergence of open source, open access, and open science,” First Monday, volume 10, number 8 (August), at



Editorial history

Paper received 26 June 2006; accepted 20 February 2007.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, Paul Stacey.

Open educational resources in a global context by Paul Stacey
First Monday, volume 12, number 4 (April 2007),