New Issues for OERs

This is based on my contribution to the new Creative Commons 'Education Platform' discussion of issues related to open educational resources (OERs). This is the next step following the development of a set of principles for the Platform.

(I’m not sure of the origin of the set of suggestions above (in the original document, and here discussed below), but I am adding an extra set below based on issues created by next-generation technology ( - because it seems to be the above issues are looking at the old problems (where OER is a kind of publishing) - Stephen)
  • Models and practices for the development and distribution of data-driven resources - issues here include open data, data API standards, OERs from technology such as Jupyter Notebooks - how do OERs, data and software interoperate? 
  • OERs and cloud technology (eg. is a resource in AWS or Google Cloud ‘open’, especially if it depends on cloud functionality), cloud-based open education systems (eg CodePen) - is the ‘hosting’ of an OER also required to be open? 
  • OER-graph methodology, eg., systems and methods for linking resources, version control, etc. Is a resource in GitHub an OER? GitLab? Does ‘attribution’ require hashed reference to the original? Is the provenance of a resource part of the resource? 
  • The relation between OERs and personal data - eg. is it a violation of the presumptions of OER for a provider to create a profile or identity graph of people using OERs? There are also questions (some raised above) about the role of OER in creating identity and therefore OER-colonialism 
  • Post-HTTP resource distribution, eg., the use of content-addressable networks such as Interplanetary File System (IPFS) - is licensing relevant when certain forms of publication are permanently open? 
  • The role of OER in recognition systems (for production, use, etc) and the relation between OER and credentials (especially closed or proprietary credentials), and similarly, the relation between OERs and competencies (esp. Closed proprietary content standards) 
  • The nature of truth in OERs - how is truth created and/or established in OERs (peer review? Consensus mechanisms?) and how does the community respond to the equivalent of fake news in OERs produced by advertisers and bad actors? How is agreement in the OER community reach (including but not limited to agreement about this set of issues?) 
  • The difference between previous iterations of learning technology, which are authority-based and centralized, and that which we are experiencing with modern web technologies where learning is based on creative activities that are distributed and democratized. 
  • The relation between OER and wider social-economic-political issues - not just inclusivity and access (mentioned above) but the role of OERs in promoting individual security, identity, voice, opportunity - is it an educational resource if it doesn’t advance the learner?

Unattributed suggestions from the 'email thread', organized into categories by me (with my commentary  following):

       Funding, Support, Development - Faculty

  • Funding faculty development efforts around OER, including adoption/adaptation/creation/OEP (funds for course releases, peer reviewing, etc.)
  • Encouraging faculty use and creation of OER by changing promotion/tenure policies so that faculty “get credit” for OER
  • Better support for faculty interested in practicing open pedagogy (e.g., expanding resources like Open Pedagogy Notebook)  
  • Scholarly Activity: the “coin of the realm” for faculty in many disciplines is book/textbook publishing, which is a refereed process. Open publishing is not respected for promotion and tenure. We need more refereed open presses that are endorsed by disciplinary associations.
       I have a hard time supporting funding for the richest people in the education ecosystem. I think that support for OER will have to come from the community and especially from learners, and that those faculty who are supportive will be helpful, and those who are not will not likely be enticed by lobbying or even payment. I would note, in fact, that in the realm of open access publication generally it has been necessary to create open access mandates rather than support or incentives. The issue here is: should we encourage OER mandates for educational materials, and if so, how? Meanwhile, if there are cases where funding would help, we should be asking how funding can support those who would most benefit from it, not how it can be added to the wealth of those who are already well-funded.

       Funding, Support, Development - Other
  • Creation of OER by non-faculty scholars: where are these folks? How to reward them?
  • Better way to coordinate creation of new OER on a national/international scale, so different groups aren’t unknowingly working on similar projects. How can we as a community keep track of needed OER and prioritize what should be created next?
  • What models in other open communities (wikipedia as one example) can be used/recreated/modified to support individual contributions to continuously improved central resources?
    Making use of growing public-domain material (literature, especially) 
       I  think the OER movement in general needs to become more aware of the large body of learning resources that exist outside traditional OER circles, and thing about creating and defending ways using these, including such things as fair use/fair dealing. I don't think it's necessary to fund these people so much as it is necessary to give them space and encouragement. The issue is: how can we (the academic community) support others in the development of OER?


  • An easier way to edit and customize OER with a free tool.
  • Open platforms, analytics, algorithms and adaptive tools to support open learning content.
  • Improving discoverability of OER Standardizing OER metadata (e.g, adding a field to MARC records to indicate whether something is OER?) 
  • Uniform rating system for OER
  • Better versioning control
  • Is a central repository for higher-ed OER a realistic option? (Faculty say they want one.) Who would manage such a thing? Where would ongoing funding come from?
  • Continuous Improvement” = “continuous change” which many faculty may not be comfortable with. “This section was in Chapter 4 last week. Why is it now in Chapter 5?? I can’t teach like this!” Perhaps on-the-fly online corrections of small errata (e.g. typos), with periodic “editions” that address bigger-picture feedback?
        I think that these are good suggestions in general. But I think the way we are stating the issue should be flipped around - instead of asking "how can we get other people to give us tools" we should be asking "how can we provide tools for other people (and especially those who are disadvantaged, from unrepresented cultures, or those who could not afford tools otherwise)

       Nature and/or Type of OER
  • Supporting the development of diverse, inclusive OER and determining methods for increasing the inclusivity of existing OER
    How can OER use and adoption be used to drive broader improvement of open materials and ongoing advances in understanding of how humans learn? What are necessary infrastructure components to realize OER potential in iterative improvement and learning science advances?
  • How can open models be brought to bear to advance and improve advanced technologies in ways that make these approaches more broadly accessible, affordable and that identify (and remove) bias? I’m especially thinking here of learning analytics.
  • Keeping accessibility for persons with disabilities in the forefront when creating/adapting/tagging materials.  
  • Creating a robust and rigorous set of open assessments to use with K-12 OER instructional materials
  • Expanding availability of free or low-cost ancillary materials (e.g., PowerPoint slides for instructors, test banks, courseware) to compete with commercial publishers’ “course in a box.”
        These items in general state requirements for OER - some specify the type of material (assignments, presentations, etc) and others desirable qualities in the material (diversity, inclusion, accessibility). In reality, though, when people are creating free resources, you can't come along and tell them what to create (and your statements about what ought to be created will be taken as pedantic and preachy. Diversity and inclusiveness are good, but the only way to ensure diverse content is to ensure diversity of origin, which means opening up the development of OERs beyond teachers and publishers.

       Research / Lobbying / Marketing
  • Expanded (systematic, mixed-methods) research into barriers/facilitators to the adoption and sustaining of open educational resources/approaches.
  • continued awareness raising re: the benefits of open education (and availability of OER as a viable option) directing public education funding to procure or create OER
  • Building faculty confidence in the quality of OER (e.g., more pre-publication formal peer review, listing other institutions that use a particular open textbook)  
        The question is, what are we lobbying for? Is it simply to convince government and institutions to shift their resources spending from commercial publishers to us? Based on what - low cost? Higher quality? Even if these bases are supported, it really feels like a shift from one sort of commercial production to another. We're no different from any other lobbying industry. Worse, I think direct funding to content creators is probably not the most sustainable solution for OERs, as they must be in constant production. Open access to education could be empowering and revolutionary, but not if it's presented as just another way to produce content.

        Defense against enclosure and commercialization
  • putting open content in proprietary platforms that restrict access and/or violate student data privacy
  • Dealing with competition from commercial publishers (e.g., inclusive access). These publishers have large sales forces that far outnumber OER advocates on a campus. A BIG challenge is weaning faculty away from publishers' turnkey solutions. Publishers have large dedicated development staff to create ancillary materials such as Powerpoints, test banks, and online interactive practice tools that feed student scores back to the LMS. Publishers (e.g. Pearson) may be shooting themselves in the foot by ceasing printing textbooks - many students still want a physical copy.
  • “Fauxpen” content and “openwashing” -- confusion among faculty over what’s free vs. what’s truly open 
  • Technologies for finding and using OER often are not compatible with the technology used by those with sensory or physical challenges.
        These issues again pose a marketing or promotion challenge for OER, as if it were just another type of content production enterprise, instead of a mechanism for making fundamental changes in the nature of education itself (changing it from being something only a few people can access, to something everybody can access). The true issue here is: how can we design OERs so they can't be enclosed in this way? Can we depend on market forces, legal forces and political forces? Doubtful.

       Legal and Ethical

  • As faculty using OER grows, knowledge base around copyright issues (it is a legal area and not too many non-law faculty are well-acquainted with issues)
  • Community standards around acceptable learning data: in-course use, collection, sharing, retention, research use.
  • More clarity around open licensing… there is still a great deal of confusion around how this works, particularly when materials are being developed by faculty as part of their teaching loads. Work for hire? Also, what happens “down stream?” What do I do when someone takes my text and revises it to incorporate bias and/or incorrect facts? These are questions we get a lot from faculty
  • Academic Integrity: Students need help understanding how to interact with open materials in terms of attribution/citation, etc., and faculty need help teaching this. “If it’s ‘open,’ can’t I just copy and paste?” We’re seeing increasing academic integrity issues on our campuses and folks are pointing to OERs as one of the culprits.
  • As government investment continues to increase in OER and expectation of lawmakers on adoption grows, how to maintain institutional autonomy and faculty academic freedom.
  • Insuring OER adoption does not become an economic divide. For example, California legislators suggested in 2016 and reflected in the new budget that prisoner education should use OER so the state would not have to spend as much on prisoner education.
        We need to think of ways of getting the legal and ethical issues out of the system entirely, rather than thinking of trying to entangle people in more legal and ethical issues. Wanting to teach and learn should be simple and basic things that anybody can do, not enterprises fraught with legal and moral risk. We should be asking questions like: how can we make OERs work without worrying about licensing? How can we make it so people can use and reuse without worrying about the morality of it all? Are there ways we can insulate OERs and education generally from budget considerations?


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