Open Education

Educational materials are an important output of the research process, and SPARC believes that Open Educational Resources (OER) maximize the power of the Internet to improve teaching and learning, and increase access to education. SPARC supports the creation and sharing of open materials used in teaching, as well as new approaches to learning where people create and shape knowledge openly together, and promotes practices and policies that advance this vision.

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What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER can be full courses, course materials, lesson plans, open textbooks, learning objects, videos, games, tests, software, or any other tool, material, or technique that supports access to knowledge. 

Open Educational Resources are broadly considered to meet the “5Rs Framework,” meaning that users are free to:

  • Retain: Users have the right to make, archive, and "own" copies of the content;
  • Reuse:  Content can be reused in its unaltered form;
  • Revise: Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified or altered;
  • Remix: The original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new;
  • Redistribute: Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised or remixed form.

Why Open Educational Resources?

The Internet enables us to teach, learn and develop knowledge faster and on a wider scale than ever before. Learners can find information instantly on virtually any topic, and connect with peers across the globe.  Teachers can share their knowledge with students on another continent almost as easily as in their own classroom. And educational resources such as books can be disseminated to a worldwide audience at virtually no marginal cost.

Our systems for communicating knowledge are still adapting to this digital environment, and educational resources often have legal or technical barriers that curtail many of their potential benefits. Many digital materials, especially textbooks, employ Digital Rights Management (DRM) controls that actively prevent sharing and contribute to high prices. Even if a resource is available online, it isn’t necessarily fully usable because the default terms of Copyright require users to obtain permission from the author.

Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a new model for disseminating knowledge that is designed to take full advantage of the digital environment. OER are distributed freely online under an open license that grants blanket permission for full reuse rights to the public. Users are free to share, copy, paste, edit, adapt and interact with the content — in short, everything the Internet enables. Students can access OER online for zero cost, download and keep a copy, and print as many pages as they wish. Teachers can collect and tailor OER to perfectly suit their curriculum, and share their innovations with other educators.  Entrepreneurs can build businesses around OER by offering products that add value, such as assessments, software or enhanced formats. Authors can disseminate their work to a worldwide audience while still receiving attribution. OER can maximize the full benefit of the Internet to improve teaching, learning and access to education.

How Do Open Educational Resources Work?

The OER movement is comprised of four main categories:

OpenCouseWare (OCW): OpenCourseWare is the digital publication of high quality educational materials that are freely and openly licensed, and are available online to anyone, anytime. They frequently include course planning and evaluation tools along with thematic content. OpenCourseWare initiatives range in scope from mirroring traditional classroom sized endeavors, to the emerging MOOC (massive open online courses) model, which enables large-scale participation by anyone with Internet access. 

OER Publishers: The rapid rise in the cost of textbooks, combined with the high demand for affordable alternatives, has led to the emergence of new open publishing efforts for textbooks and other OER. This category also includes initiatives geared toward developing specific collections of OER, such as Khan Academy and the Saylor Foundation.

OER Repositories:  Digital repositories have evolved into a convenient place to find, share and remix OER from a variety of sources.  They range in scope from portals and gateways that provide access to information on OER and aggregated content resources to institutional repositories with source content and tools to develop OER. 

Publicly-Funded Initiatives: Increasingly, policymakers on the local, state and national levels are developing policies that encourage the creation and adoption of OER. Approaches vary from directly funding the creation of OER to conditioning federal or state research dollars to require that any Education Resources produced as a result of that funding be made openly accessible.

How Do We Enable Open Educational Resources?

There are three main strategies that can be used to promote Open Educational Resources:

Supporting OER adoption. OER are available in a wide variety of subjects and course levels, yet many educators are not aware of these resources or do not know where to find them. Students, professors, librarians, and administrators can help spread the word to other educators and advocate adoption of OER whenever appropriate.  

Supporting OER development. Frameworks for creating, vetting and evaluating the efficacy of OER are evolving.  Institutions, foundations and governments can support this process by offering funding and resources that can pay authors, reviewers and researchers. Educators, authors and other experts can consider writing or reviewing OER materials, either through an existing initiative or starting one of their own.

Advocating effective policies.  At the state and national level, policy makers should ensure that all educational resources created with public funds are openly licensed as OER, and that they are released in technical formats that enable use, editing, and compatibility with multiple technical platforms. At the local level, policymakers should incorporate OER into professional development programs, reward OER creation and adoption, and remove policy barriers and provisions in vendor contracts that interfere with OER use. 

SPARC has endorsed the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which provides a strategic framework for supporting policies and practices that promote the creation and adoption of OER.

Why Should You Care About Open Educational Resources?

During the past several years, Open Educational Resources have begun to be developed across a wide range of subjects, in an increasingly diverse set of educational settings. Researchers, scholars, students, educators and librarians are being called upon to participate in an environment that is evolving quickly, and that poses new challenges and opportunities for the creation, sharing, review, and use of educational resources.

Enabling the efficient creation and widespread adoption of Open Educational Resources will play a key role in ensuring that the scholarly communication system evolves in a way that supports the needs of scholars and the academic enterprise as a whole.

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