Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why aren't open educational resources being used?

Day #93 OER by edtechie99, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  edtechie99

I've been involved in spreading the word about open educational resources for several years now and although I meet many teachers who are enthusiastic about sharing resources very few actually do so. In Sweden there is still a great deal of suspicion about using other teachers' or other university's resources but even in countries where OER have become more accepted this reluctance remains.

This is evident in an invitation to discussion in the Guardian, Talk point: Why don't more academics use open educational resources? It is a reflection after a seminar on OER which demonstrated the richness of resources available today and then raised the issue why they are not being sufficiently exploited.

"So in this talk point, I'd like to explore these claims: why are many so reluctant to share teaching resources? Is it for fear of not being properly credited? Are academics (and management) worried about the time constraints or that, with no mechanism to measure how much your resources are downloaded, amended and used, OER have little benefit in performance review?"

The irony is that whereas most academics are now quite prepared to openly publish articles according to Open Access principles the idea of openly publishing teaching materials is still not fully accepted. It's a complex problem but for me the main reasons behind the reluctance to use OER are the following:
  • Tradition. My course, my class, my classroom, my way. Teachers are proudly independent and proud of their courses and teaching methods. Using another teacher's material may feel rather second rate. In the past the teacher's knowledge was central and so course material was exclusive. Today knowledge is everywhere as is good course material. Using OER means a redefinition of the teacher's role and very little will happen unless institutions tackle this question. More incentives for pedagogic innovation rather than focusing on lecture hours would help a lot.
  • Concern about openness. Many are worried about digital rights and have been brought up to believe that you must protect your own work from theft. The idea of putting your work on the open web is worrying for many, especially with frequent media scares about identity theft, scams and net harassment. More information about copyright issues, Creative Commons, security and general digital literacy is essential to provide a more secure foundation for a culture of sharing.
  • Lack of official approval. Even if many teachers are highly self-sufficient there is still a great respect for authorities. If OER are officially sanctioned from the top with high quality repositories, clear guidelines for use and clear incentives for teachers to share and use the resources then acceptance will take off. This is what open educational practices is all about. Open Access would not have become accepted without an EU directive. Grass roots enthusiasm must be met by approval from above.
  • Trust. Linked to all the above but many teachers are uneasy about the trustworthiness of material found on the net. There's a perception that anything that's free on the net can't be very valuable and that printed material with a price tag is automatically more credible. We need quality assurance and some kind of faculty peer review to build trust.


  1. I would add to this list:

    Comfort: Textbooks are designed a certain way to offer a bundle of curriculum bliss, topped with slides and quizzes. OER need to be found, sequenced, and often require to fill in the gaps. That's scary work for some faculty.

  2. Agreed Mattieu. OER involves more work quite simply and for most teachers it's simply too complicated.

  3. I fully agree with your experience Alastair why OER is not used more by teachers (especially in Sweden. The most important one (as both of you point out) is the difficulty & time it takes to find good OER when you need them (for both teachers and students). We therefore need to find a way to create a "one-stop-shop" for OER - a task which isn't so easy. In order to do this we need to:
    1. Help each other to find what we believe is good OER in "our" subject areas.
    2. Create a system and agree on how to (meta)tag OER we found in a similar way (with subject area, level, learning outcomes, language,type of media etc.) and make everyone use this.
    3. Make it possible for users (teachers & students) to evaluate(rate)and review OER in a similar way that we today rate books,hotels ( like at Amazone.com, Hotels.com etc).
    4. Create a way to show all this in one place on Internet

    Is this possible or utopia? Crowd-sourcing is powerful and could be used - but how to make it happen? Any ideas?

  4. Didn't recognize your tag at first :-)
    There are schemes like this already but as ever everyone wants to invent the wheel. Human nature means we will never get a common solution for all but there are very good examples out there like the Dutch Wikiwijs and Norwegian NDLA.

  5. I see the future in OER grids: on local level for schools and apprenticeship, regional level for universities and national level for specific VET topics. Such a grid would not only connect resources, but also people who can support each other according to the needs of localisation, culture etc.

    The grids will share resources which will be much more sophisticated than OERs, e.g. Open Virtual Laboratories etc. Also, they will develop common course practices which are blending traditional courseware (schoolbooks) and OER.

    Also the publishing companies could play a role there in professionalizing mature content (graphics, animations, GBL) and re-feeding into the system. But they definitely have to question their business model and strongly focus on service-orientation rather than on licensing issues.