Whilst attending a conference last month exploring Open Education Resources (OER) in Edinburgh, UK, I was able to get a new perspective on the importance of making educational resources available to a wider audience. Whatever role you play within the wide world of global education, there are many different opinions about what and how to share resources, and it’s worth taking a look at some of the debates that are currently shaping OER.
Traditionally, open resources were primarily composed of text-based documentation and reports. However, now universities are producing vast amounts of audio, imagery, and video content, which also can be immensely valuable to share. At the same time, this brings with it many more challenging copyright issues. Setting aside for the moment the copyright problems inherent in using third party materials, protecting copyright of originating institutions has become one of the most pressing issues surrounding OER.
The benefits of open education are obvious, as is the reason for the demand. However, practically, it isn’t always easy to share and collaborate in a way which is open and sustainable. It’s not always possible to open up all resources such as lecture recordings, private web-based reports, and other documents. This intellectual property is one of the key differentiators between institutions. If someone can study content from Oxford anywhere, why would anyone go to Oxford itself? A sustainable strategy is one which combines protecting the need for privacy of some content with sharing enough content to benefit the wider general community. Do you opt for a free, completely open environment? Or a more secure login-based system which still has a vast amount of reachable and open resources, in a more secure environment? It is possible to have a mix. In practice, we’re already proving that larger and established institutions can have private content and advanced features but also make content available in a secure environments, for example. There are many options available.
Of course, regional and cultural differences are always important to consider. Each area, country, and institution has a unique culture which needs to be understood in order to successfully share and distribute resources. The culture of openness of collaboration, although present in all regions, may be defined differently and therefore a strategy of sharing resources should be developed to fit each individual institution.
The idea of sharing resources which are written, taken, or recorded at universities and learning institutions, I believe, is purely positive. Where the contention rises is the extent to which you share content, what content is shared, and the copyright, cultural, and moral issues of sharing the content. To overcome these issues, each institution should link its OER vision directly to its own strategy and particular stage of development. Ideally, we’ll see a development towards openness in general. While all institutions are different, and all are in different stages of sharing content, we hope to see all, at least start to move in this positive direction.
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