What is an educational resource

From the open movement to a free educational resource

Which student has not already had this experience: Nico is looking for materials for his seminar paper on the Internet. But the search ends at a publisher's portal. There, a single price of 25 euros is due for downloading a full text. In addition, Nico is supposed to pay by credit card in this process and then unfortunately only knows afterwards whether the essay was worth the price asked. So Nico only has to go to the "good old" library? At first the student is so annoyed that he has to vent his frustration. Knowledge is a public good and the World Wide Web should give everyone the opportunity to share knowledge share and use. During a chat he meets like-minded people. Among other things, the term "Open Educational Resources" (OER) is discussed wildly. Nico has not heard of this yet. But he becomes curious. The basic idea of ​​the OER movement is that access to knowledge should be made possible for all in the same way (OECD, 2007). He understood that much after a short time. But what exactly is OER? So can Nico download the desired text for free after all? And where should he even look for the desired materials?

In the following, Nico starts looking for what is behind the term, how the whole thing has developed, which hopes are associated with OER, which projects can be used as examples and which challenges must be overcome.

1. Definition of OER

Although Nico took part in the discussion for a while, he still does not really understand what can now be understood by the term. This is no wonder, because the definition of OER is discussed a lot without really reaching a common denominator. In this way, a wide range of objects and online materials can be brought together under the common umbrella of the OER. The aim is - so much is certain - that OER should ensure broad and, above all, socially equal access to education (UNESCO, 2002a).

1.1 The basic idea of ​​OER

In general, OER is understood to mean digitized teaching or learning material that is made freely available on the Internet for all interested parties. It can be used for research, further education and teaching. This includes materials or techniques that support access to knowledge content (UNESCO, 2002b; Hylén, 2006).

Once Nico has understood the basic idea, he also knows that OERs are conceivable for people of all ages and all areas of interest (OECD, 2007). However, open education is not satisfied with the provision of knowledge. Learners and teachers can use existing resources, but at the same time they are asked to generate new resources and to distribute them freely again. OER therefore live from the involvement of users, who further develop the applications in a participatory manner based on their ideas and wishes (Sporer & Jenert, 2008).

1.2 "Open Content" and "Open Access"

The term "open content" plays an important role in the context of the OER movement. It includes materials and resources for education and training that are openly accessible and can be applied and used by users (Wiley, 2006) The "Open Access" movement promotes the free availability of scientific information on the Internet (e-teaching.org 2008). Open Access stands for unrestricted and free access to scientific information (SFEM, 2007).

1.3 The term "open"

But what exactly is meant by "open"? Nico is at a loss. Most people have positive associations with the term (OECD, 2007). But does "open" really mean that the whole thing costs nothing and access to the materials are not restricted?

Nico decides to take a closer look at the term: He finds out that the two most important aspects of the "open" term concern, on the one hand, the free availability of content on the Internet and, on the other hand, that there are as few restrictions as possible It is technical, legal or financial (OECD, 2007). Open means that the concept normally does not entail any costs for the user of the materials - but this does not mean that materials are not also subject to OER for which a remuneration is paid becomes due (Koohang & Harman, 2007). Walker (2005, after Downes, 2007, p. 31) defines "open" as "convenient, effective, affordable, and sustainable and available to every learner worldwide" (ibid.) means that OER must be practical, efficient, affordable, sustainable and available in order to do justice to a free educational resource.

Technical restrictions, such as a lack of compatibility, can limit this "openness". The information source should therefore be published in a format that anyone can open without having to buy expensive software beforehand. So that everyone is able to make changes to the source This should be made accessible in a format that allows redesign (Downes, 2007; Hylén, 2006). The label "open" does not only refer to freely accessible knowledge content, but describes a comprehensive idea, the development, Includes production and distribution services of free resources (Koohang & Harman, 2007; Hylén, 2006). The accessibility or reachability of OER also depends on individual skills. It may be that there are good sources for Nico for his seminar paper, which are freely available to him on the Internet. But what if this information is only available in Japanese, for example? Then they are of little use to him. Although the term "open" means that there are no costs associated with the resource for the user, this does not mean that "open" also means "without conditions" (Downes, 2007).

1.4 What does "educational" mean?

Next, Nico takes on the term "educational". Does "educational" mean that OER really only covers materials that are actually used in formal educational institutions? So materials that are used for informal learning purposes - for example newspaper articles - would be excluded ?! No, OER can also be used for informal learning purposes outside of educational institutions. It would therefore make sense to replace the term "educational" with "learning", but this could lead to confusion. The OER movement is still in its infancy, so it would be unwise to suddenly change the definition (OECD, 2007).

1.5 What are "resources"?

"Resources" include all materials that help to organize and support the learning process. This can be entire courses, individual course modules, collections and magazines, but also tools such as "Content and Learning Management Systems" or "Content Development Tools" "(UNESCO, 2002b). Hylén (2006, p. 2) includes under OER freely accessible course documents and content as well as software that enables the development, use, recycling and technical dissemination of learning materials (see also Downes, 2007) .

While searching for material for the seminar paper, Nico came across a page that provides the user with simulations and demonstrations of experiments for download. The site comes from a university that offers students the opportunity to download entire lectures that have been recorded on video. Can such offers also be included in OER? Yes, because simulations, video or audio recordings, lecture materials, experiments, demonstrations, curricula and manuals can also be part of OER, provided they meet the above criteria (Koohang & Harman, 2007).

2. The development of the OER movement

During his research, Nico found out that the term OER did not exist for too long. But what is the whole idea based on? Is there something completely new behind it?

2.1 The beginnings lie in the "open source" movement

The OER movement was inspired and spurred on from the beginning by the successes of the "Open Software" projects and has developed inexorably due to the rapid spread of Web 2.0 in recent years. Open software enables users to assume their passive role as consumers leave and participate in the design of open content. Wiley (1998) coined the expression of open content and thus spread the idea that the principles of "open software" can also be transferred to content (OECD, 2007; Sporer & Jenert , 2008).

2.2 The "OpenCourseWare" initiative as a starting point

When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) founded the "OpenCourseWare" initiative in 2001 and announced that it would provide its digital lecture materials free of charge and freely available to all Internet users within the next ten years, a worldwide wave of OER initiatives followed ( ocw.mit.edu, 2008). MIT became a pioneer of the OER movement. The term OER was first discussed at a UNESCO forum in 2002. The aim of this forum was to improve access to education for developing countries (e- teaching.org, 2008).

2.3 OER in the literature

In 2002 Johnstone and Poulin (OECD, 2007) gave an initial overview of what OERs are using the example of MIT. Materu (2004) concludes that freely accessible course content is seen by institutions as a promising opportunity for developing countries. In 2004, MIT published an annual evaluation of its website for the first time. This is the only study that provides regular information about the users of OER.

2.4 The OpenCourseWare Consortium

In 2005 the OpenCourseWare Consortium was founded, in which 120 leading universities are now participating. The aim of this consortium is to promote the use and reuse of free educational resources worldwide and to ensure the sustainability of these projects (OpenCourseWare Consortium, 2008)
In 2006 UNESCO started a wiki in which useful and exemplary OER materials are presented and the interested reader can obtain information about OER (OECD, 2007).

3. Studies on OER and known projects

Nico heard about OER for the first time today. Now he asks himself how many Internet users are actually actively involved, how many courses are available, what the whole thing costs and which initiatives are particularly well-known and widespread.

3.1 The problem of missing statistics

Although there are no clear statistics, a rapid expansion in the number of OER projects can be observed, especially in the USA. In January 2007, the OECD determined that there are now over 3,000 public courses offered by over 300 universities around the world. The majority of the producers of these resources come from an English-speaking country. So it's no wonder that most of the materials are in English. The number of free educational resources that are not offered in the form of university courses is also increasing rapidly. At the moment it seems impossible to determine the exact number of ongoing OER initiatives. In addition, little is known about producers and users (OECD, 2007; Wiley, 2006).

Institutions that participate on a large scale in the OER movement seem (as far as one can say so far) to be relatively well known and respected. Most users are believed to be educated and have a university degree (OECD, 2007, Hylén, 2006). The contents of the OER initiatives usually cover a wide spectrum. This means that courses and materials on topics from the natural sciences, the humanities and the social sciences are made available. A specialization in certain disciplines can be observed less often. The forms of presentation are also very different. Complete courses with additional course materials predominate. These forms can also be found in the offer of the distance universities. It is often difficult to draw a line here (Lutz & Johanning, 2007). The costs for the individual projects vary considerably. Some initiatives receive financial support from companies, others are supported by a community and volunteer workers (Wiley, 2006).

In summary, most statistics have a euphemistic effect: Universities with a large budget can afford OER, while “Otto normal universities” have so far been excluded from the movement. There is also a strong gap between the USA and Europe monitor the development and diffusion of OER.

3.2 Outstanding and well-known projects

The best-known example of the collection and provision of digital teaching and learning materials at the university level is the OpenCourseWare initiative of MIT (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, 2008). Another large-scale database is "LearnSpace", the database of the Open University in Great Britain. In Europe there is currently the "Multilingual Open Resource for Independent Learning" (MORIL) initiative. It is intended to serve as a Europe-wide hub for various OER projects (Dorp & Ubachs, 2007). The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation participates in over 40 OER initiatives and supports various types of open educational content. It helped develop two search portals to support and simplify the search for OER. There is a collaboration with UNESCO, in order to further spread OER.

To get a little insight into the dimensions of the OER movement, Nico takes a closer look at the MIT OpenCourseware Initiative project: MIT employs 29 people (OECD, 2007). This includes eight executives, five PR managers, four production members, two employees who take care of research and ten liaison members who handle legal matters and the like. The annual budget is around four million US dollars. The lion's share is made up of salaries (about $ 2 million) and technology (about $ 1 million). An average of 540 courses are provided each year. According to its own estimates, the MIT registered 8.5 million visits between October 2004 and September 2005 (OECD, 2007). Now Nico also realizes why there is no OER at his university. The whole thing is simply too expensive and very time-consuming to organize. Apart from the sponsors, such projects live from "volunteering", as Wiley (2006) puts it.

A good example of an OER initiative that developed independently of an educational institution is Wikipedia. There is no organizational connection behind the project. In May 2006, over a million English-language and around 700,000 German-language articles were accessible online (Wikipedia, 2008). As you can see with all projects, every OER movement needs a community. However, it must be assumed that only ten percent actively participate. Many projects start from the bottom up, for example within the framework of a faculty and not on the basis of a specification from the university management (e-teaching.org, 2008).

3.3 How is it in Germany?

The OER movement is still relatively weak in Germany. This may be due to the fact that many scientists reject the model because they can allegedly only achieve their reputation by publishing in paid journals. It is also a generational problem. Younger scientists are much more open to OER. There are not yet any noteworthy projects that have produced useful results in Germany. Most of the OER databases in the US are run with the help of foundations. There is still no such tradition in Germany, but the first universities have already started to transform themselves into foundation universities. In a few years, attitudes will certainly change in this country (Lutterbeck & Gehring 2007). Although Germany is not yet on the same level as the USA in terms of development, there are some initiatives that correspond to the goals of the OER movement, even if they do not explicitly refer to them. Web offers such as the "Virtual University of Bavaria" or "EducaNext" also open up groups of people outside the university (Lutz & Johanning, 2007).

4. The Bavarian Virtual University (vhb) - the German MIT?

After Nico found out that there are also some German OER offers, he has now become curious and would like to know more. Since he is studying in Bavaria and has heard of the "Virtual University of Bavaria" (vhb) at some point, he now decides to do more detailed research. He enters the abbreviation "vhb" in a search engine and comes up with the first hit the right homepage. There he reads that the vhb is not an independent university, but a "joint institution of the Bavarian universities". In other words, a joint institution of the nine state universities, 17 state universities of applied sciences and several other universities (vhb, 2008a).


Fig. 1: Member universities of the vhb (source: vhb, 2008b)

Nico now also knows that his university is also a supporting university of the vhb. But can he just take classes now? In principle, yes: All students who study at a supporting university of the vhb can use the courses for free, they just have to register. Regardless of his course of study, Nico can basically take all courses. However, some courses have prerequisites for participation. For example, in the case of "Web design for advanced users" it is expected that you already have a basic knowledge of HTML. All this is described in detail in the course program (vhb, 2008b).

Nico is now interested in exactly what courses are being offered and he takes a look at the course program for the current winter semester 2008/2009. In total, Nico counts 169 courses from the subject groups: computer science, engineering, teaching, medicine, law, social work, languages, economics and key qualifications (vhb, 2008c).

But what does someone do who does not study in Bavaria like Nico? Is it possible to study elsewhere or perhaps not study at all and still take courses at the vhb? Yes, the courses at the vhb can be attended by students outside Bavaria as well as by professionals who, for example, want to continue their education (vhb, 2008d). However, unlike Nico, they have to pay 35 euros per hour per week in the semester (vhb, 2008e). In the case of "Web design for beginners" that would be a total of 70 euros. Educational institutions and companies also have the option of using courses at the vhb. For this purpose, license agreements are made between these institutions or companies and the vhb (vhb, 2008f).

5. Face the challenges

"It's all well and good," thinks Nico and at the same time wonders why there are so few OER projects and initiatives so far? This is because OER projects, if they are successful - in the sense of sustainable - want to be, have to face some challenges.

5.1 Financing issues

First of all, the budget and financing play an important role. How can OER projects be supported if, for example, start-up funding is no longer available? As already mentioned, OER as a kind of flagship offer great potential for university and science marketing. In the competition for funding in particular, innovative ideas and creative concepts that clearly stand out from others are in demand. This is the only way an OER project can survive in the long run.

During his exploration tour, Nico discovered different examples of OER. OER projects can therefore pursue very different goals. It is therefore important to define in advance what exactly the project is to achieve. Along with this, the target group should also be defined. Is the offer aimed only at learners or also at teachers? What are the characteristics and interests of the target group? How should the target group be able to participate in the offer? For example, is only the use of the OER permitted or may it be reused and reused, possibly even adapted or edited together?

5.2. Unhindered mutual exchange or regulation?

This is followed by the problem of usage rights, which are actually fundamental to the success of OER projects. However, the mutual exchange often reaches its limits. For example, at the beginning of its OCW project, MIT used the majority of its funds to buy back license rights. However, not every university / institution can afford this. Ultimately, an OER project can only be successful if it can be adapted to a certain extent (linguistically, culturally, gender-specific) and is easy to use. The navigation and user guidance should also be self-explanatory (Zauchner & Baumgartner, 2007).

How quality assurance works in practice, Nico could already see from the example of the vhb. This ensures its quality in several ways, for example by carrying out student evaluations and external expert reports. (vhb, 2008g) Ultimately, however, every initiative has to find out the most suitable type of evaluation and quality assurance - be it through internal quality regulation processes, a peer review or user evaluation. A mixture of different evaluation methods, similar to the vhb, is also possible (cf. ibid.). Nico can add another point to this list from his own experience: Perhaps the most banal but most fundamental requirement for OER to function in the long term is the willingness to share knowledge.

6. The question of WHY

Nico has already read and learned a lot about OER: He has dealt with the definition of the term, understood how the OER movement came about, researched a few data and facts in order to get an idea of ​​its extent and its spread. Eventually he came across a practical example, the vhb, and learned about the challenges and difficulties of OER. Now the question still arises for Nico about WHY. Why do institutions invest so much time and money in OER? What do you expect from it?

"What you give, you receive back improved"

Hylén (2006) argues that OER enables a wider and faster dissemination of knowledge, which is why more people are involved in the problem-solving processes. This in turn leads to an improvement in quality. True to the motto "what you give, you receive back improved", the quality of these resources is increased through the sharing and further use of educational resources. This is why it is often stated from a university or individual economic perspective that OER saves time because, for example, double developments can be avoided by further and faster dissemination of knowledge (e-teaching.org, 2008). For some, OERs are also a kind of poster child that serves public relations To make it attractive for new students, because they get an insight into what is being taught there. In the context of lifelong learning, universities also have the opportunity to retain students as alumni through the free provision of learning materials OER gives teachers or the publisher the opportunity to to achieve a greater degree of publicity, awareness and exchange among like-minded people. (cf. ibid.) Zauchner and Baumgartner (2007, p. 5) go even further: “While some universities still ask for the ´Why? ´, others assume that OER offers in the future for the external appearance of an institution / university The question of whether a website should be created or not will also be out of discussion. "OER is still a relatively young phenomenon that is mainly supported and offered by large and financially strong universities. Whether OER is suitable for everyday use A practicable and above all financially viable model for smaller universities will become apparent in the coming years.


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