Higher education can now tap into an explosion of educational resources that are free to view, download and modify. That's disruptive to commercial textbooks, media and assessments.
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What's massive, open and online in higher education?
It's not just the MOOCs, those massive open online courses causing such an uproar by enrolling 100,000 or more in a single class and trying to show how higher education can scale to the masses. MOOCs are a novel education opportunity for students who might never set foot inside a university classroom, but they are descended from another open online phenomenon with the potential to help students both online and off. These are the open educational resources. OERs are textbooks, video lectures, assessments and new forms of gamified multimedia education experiences made available, for free, in something like the mode of open source software.
Usually, OERs are distributed under one of the Creative Commons licenses, allowing students and their instructors broad freedom to download, distribute and remix content as long as proper attribution is given. Terms can vary, however, so institutions need to be careful to avoid overstepping boundaries such as terms barring "commercial use."
While this slideshow focuses on the impact for higher education, OERs are also growing into a practical resource for K-12 due to the efforts of organizations like the CK-12 Foundation.
The OER movement has arguably existed ever since the first instructor posted course materials to the Web along with a note encouraging sharing and reuse of the content. (Perhaps there are also examples that date back to the mimeograph machine or earlier, but for simplicity we'll focus on the Web era). However, just as anyone can blog about an opinion but not everyone has an informed opinion, not every professor who creates OER materials creates quality OER materials.
What's starting to change now is the organization of libraries of OERs, along with systems of peer review and quality ranking, that are giving these materials greater academic credibility. At the same time, both nonprofit and commercial entities are pumping money into creating more polished editorial products and sophisticated software.
The invention of the term Online Educational Resources is generally credited to UNESCO's 2002 Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Hewlett foundation, which originated with the family of a Hewlett-Packard co-founder, has also invested in developing OER materials, as has the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
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