12 Open Educational Resources: From Khan to MIT

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.

David F Carr, Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

March 11, 2013

15 Slides

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.

Just as open source software has created companies aimed at profiting from ancillary products or services, so too OER has attracted startups like Boundless, which is currently fighting a lawsuit by commercial textbook publishers who accuse it of cloning their work.

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.

At this writing, a celebration of OERs is under way through Open Education Week, with a School of Open program to follow the week of March 17, 2013.

About the Author(s)

David F Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and was the social business track chair for UBM's E2 conference in 2012 and 2013. He is a frequent speaker and panel moderator at industry events. David is a former Technology Editor of Baseline Magazine and Internet World magazine and has freelanced for publications including CIO Magazine, CIO Insight, and Defense Systems. He has also worked as a web consultant and is the author of several WordPress plugins, including Facebook Tab Manager and RSVPMaker. David works from a home office in Coral Springs, Florida. Contact him at [email protected]and follow him at @davidfcarr.

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