Exploring Open Educational Resources

The Master of Arts : Open & Distance Education module ‘H817: Openness in Elearning’ has run each year for some ten years and is on its last outing this February. I completed the MAODE and this module in the early summer 2013. I would go on to take a further two modules to complete all those that made up the MAODE and if I wished as tentative steps towards an M Ed or PhD. This activity on ‘exploring OER issues’ was given five hours of study time.

The activity centred on reading three articles from a suggested Open Educational Resources (OERs) reading list (this original list is no longer available, presumably and understandably because it needs to be kept up to date and much has happened since 2013). We were then required to write a blog post identifying three key issues and to tag it with #h817open. On first appearances on Twitter it looks as if the last post was in March 2013 until you see that the chair of this module, Martin Weller, pinned his post to the top in 2013 and hasn’t changed it since. Actually the last post was in June 2020 which suggests that each year between March and June students on H817 did complete the activity (eventually) and if you follow the links to blogs, the tutor followed the conversation in comments. 

The three papers I picked in 2013 were: 

1) John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health OpenCourseWare (2009) Kanchanaraksa, Gooding, Klass and Yager.

2) Open education resources: education for the world? (2012) Richter and McPherson

3) Disruptive Pedagogies and Technologies in Universities (2012)  Anderson and McGreal

My notes on each article follow:


John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health OpenCourseWare (2009) Kanchanaraksa, Gooding, Klass and Yager.

Problem: need for public health knowledge, disparity in need and cost of learning with or in the institutions.

Answer: make it free

Funding: Hewlett Foundation


  • 60 graduate courses online, 40,000 visitors a month
  • Object level access to illustrations
  • Lessons: essential to have internal support and external assistance


  • Administrative buy-in
  • Faculty participation
  • Adaptable technology infrastructure
  • Hewlett Foundation funding
  • Shared wisdom of MIT


Establish University

Offers classroom-based face-to-face


Part-time web-based distance education

Aims: the discovery and application of new knowledge and to the improvement of health and prevention of disease and disability around the world.

40 Schools of public health in the US

75 in Europe

Problem: only a small portion of the individuals seeking public health knowledge and training can attend these schools each year so there are ‘disparities of opportunity’.

Overcoming challenges to those who want to study at graduate level due to distance, lack of funds, scheduling and a host of other personal and professional hindrances. (Kanchanaraksa et al 2009:40)


  • Sharing collective experience and know-how with others.
  • Freely accessible
  • Explicitly licensed for adaptation and reuse
  • A simple system and process (CoursePlus) from 2006 that provide easy to use building blocks – such as syllabi, calendars, lecture notes, assignments/exercises, reading lists etc: (Kanchanaraksa et al 2009:41)
  • Translation into a variety of languages
  • Promotion (use the content before enrolling)
  • New commons-licensed graphic objects commissioned.
  • Process streamlined overtime and can be done without funding.
  • A useful resource and planning tool for faculty and students.
  • In future, incorporating student generated content.

More than 60 graduate-level courses from 10 departments have been published to date.

JV NOTE > Coming to this at the end of 2020 a number of ideas stand out:

The idea of ‘building blocks’ is key, that educators feel confident that they can select elements and build the class ‘in their own image’. They are, after all, the ones who have to deliver it. Teachers need to have this ownership in order to be able to run a live class. Teaching is not learnt lines delivered by out of work actors or pre recordings. 

Promotion of resources has become significantly more important as just about everyone will have a smartphone in their pocket and this might be their primary device. That or they use a laptop. Learning at a desk with a ‘desktop’ computer has become less common while tablets are a luxury: not all of us have all these devices and move readily between one of the other. 

The production process has become inexpensive and easy. This creates opportunities and problems. The opportunity is that creating content, on the surface, does not require to be funded and produced, neither commissioned nor funding sort. Yet such funding, and being answerable to others, puts emphasis on careful research, commissioning, briefing, planning, scripting and production that can be lost where OERs can in theory be created simply by pointing a phone at an activity and uploading it for scrutiny. On the other hand, the production process is so straightforward and costs next to nothing (or nothing) that students can create and share their own content – indeed working with Props and SFX students in our Creative Industries Faculty I have been helping both tutors and students video demonstrations that they they trim edit and post to Google Drive, YouTube or Planet eStream. 


  • Incompatibility of CoursePlus with platforms such as EdCommons and the Sakai project.
  • Time and cost of copyright clearance.
  • Removal of good content to be on the safe side of ‘fair-use’.
  • Lecturer/instructor worries over IP and expertise developed over time, out of context, diminishing enrolment, additional workload i.e change.
  • Use of student and faculty content in relation to permission, privacy, copyright and quality. (Kanchanaraksa et al 2009:44)

Not mentioned here, simply taking traditional, as they (Kanchanaraksa et al 2009:44) call it ‘didactic courses’ content in format and pedagogy and digitizing it.

Looking back on seven years some of the above fears under ‘obstacles’ have been unfounded or unnecessary. Platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo can be used freely, and the ubiquity of space on Google with content and Drives ‘in the cloud’ takes down any such barrier while dedicated college platforms such as Planet eStream will convert any formatted content so that it is available to view by anyone (or no one), anywhere and at any time. 

Lecturer IP issues are always a topic of conversation. There are educators who want anything they do to be readily available and free to use, others who see themselves as authors and potential broadcasters even ‘influencers’ – then of course institutions themselves may want their content to promote the brand. Indeed, in its first iteration content on the likes of Coursera and FutureLearn may be thought of as tasters made available for free for promotional reasons.

With ease of posting content is the ease by which anything can be recorded, as audio, or video, with screenshots and then shared online whether the original authors and copyright holders want this or not. However, the impression is that a swirl of interest does bring more students to a course and will sell books. While both Coursera and FutureLearn have moved towards payment models that are more suited to completed ‘distance learning’ modules with degree or at least diploma certification. 


Open education resources: education for the world? (2012) Richter and McPherson

  • Education to address problems.
  • Creation of a worldwide knowledge society
  • Can open educational resources (OER) realistically overcome the educational gap and foster educational justice. (Richter & Thomas 2012: 201)

This article implies that ‘Open Educational Resources’ can cure the world’s problems and that alongside poverty and hunger comes a poor education. Looking across this field seven years on and especially coming through a year of lockdowns, remote working and online classes, ‘digital poverty’ has become a major issue. OERs do not solve the problem. Providing laptops (chrome books) and getting people broadband access is a step, but won’t help anyone where studying at home is a problem for lack of a quiet, uninterrupted study space or where for other reasons someone hoping to study is going to feel there are antagonisms. 


Missing inputs like textbooks and other school materials. (Easterly, 2005, p.8)

Only if it fits the learners’ own context, are reusable and fully adaptable. (Richter & Thomas 2012: 202)

Overcoming the educational gap.

Win win in the West, may not be the result in a fundamentally different context.

(Richter & Thomas 2012: 202)

Does the OER content available so far match the context of learners?

Uncertainty about OER’s appropriateness, for example, in a school-level survey in Germany.

Language – everywhere English is used and understood.

Attitude to and respect for an educator’s authority.

Cultural differences. Richter (2010)

Animosity to the West.

Need to use languages other than English (or colonial languages).

Need for basic education – reading, writing and numeracy skills.

ANSWER: Educational materials online (D’Antoni, 2008, p. 8)

From provider-user model to one that employs collaborative development (Albright, 2005, p. 15).

GOAL: to turn contextually limited usable information into tangible and adaptable educational resources, designed in a way that is easy to implement, which in turn could raise the value of OER enormously. (Richter & Thomas 2012: 202)

Not a solution to extreme poverty, or where deficient infrastructure or political systems would prevent OER, but rather addressing producers, providers and users of OER.

OPPORTUNITY: Schools of low socio-economic status (Rosen and Wolf, 2011), slums and rural india (Mirta et al., (2005).

Easterly, W. (2005). Can foreign aid save Africa? (Clemens Lecture Series 2005, No. 17).

Collegeville, MN: St John’s University. Retrieved from http://www.csbsju.edu/Documents/Clemens%20Lecture/Clemens2005.pdf

Mitra, S., Dangwal, R., Chatterjee, S., Jha, S., Bisht, R. S., & Kapur, P. (2005). Acquisition

of computing literacy on shared public computers: Children and the “hole in the wall.”

Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21, 407–426. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet.html

D’Antoni, S. (2008). Open educational resources: The way forward (Deliberations of an

International Community of Interest). Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO. Retrieved from http://learn.creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/


Richter, T, & McPherson, M (2012), ‘Open educational resources: education for the world?’, Distance Education, 33, 2, pp. 201-219, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 26 March 2013.

Richter, T. (2010). Open Educational Resources im kulturellen Kontext von e-Learning.

Zeitschrift für E-Learning (ZeL), Freie elektronische Bildungsressourcen [Journal for e-Learning, Open Educational Resources (Special Issue)], 3, 30–42. Retrieved fromhttp://www.e-learning-zeitschrift.org/

Rosen, Y., & Wolf, I. (2011). Bridging the social gap through educational technology: Using the Time To Know digital teaching platform. Educational Technology, 51(5), 39–43. Retrieved from http://asianvu.com/bookstoread/etp/


Disruptive Pedagogies and Technologies in Universities (2012)  Anderson and McGreal 


  • The High cost of HE
  • Inaccessibility for millions
  • Where and what are the costs in campus and online education systems
  • Disaggregation
  • Discount service models


  • Traditional rights
  • Responsibilities of tenure, promotion, commercialization and mobility of faculty members.


  • No Frills


Productivity in research and scholarship does not seem  to detract from being an effective teacher and vice versa” (p. 529)


The  classical medieval Universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Cambridge, were initially funded and controlled by  students, who hired professors whom they believed had and were capable of sharing knowledge through their  teaching. Later universities were established to train professionals – notably Harvard – for training ministers of  religion and Edinburgh for training medical doctors with little emphasis on faculty research. In later times, research  was carried out mostly by gentlemen and amateur ‘natural philosophers’ who created a research system referred to by McNeely & Wolverton (2008) as the ‘Republic of Letters’. It was not until the 19th century that Wilhelm von  Humboldt established German universities with an explicit aim of generating new knowledge and thus the laboratory became a fixture of university infrastructure.  (Anderson & McGreal 2012 p.381)

Very difficult for the University to induce, monitor and reward excellence in teaching and too often important personnel decisions are left to measurement of research productivity alone.

The MIT Open CourseWare site alone has more than one million unique visitors a month. According to their statistics, 45% are  self-learners and nearly 42% are students at other universities (MIT, 2011).

In 2003, one of the authors published a paper (Anderson, 2003), describing an interaction equivalency theory. By  this we meant that interaction – long the most important, but costly component of any teaching system, from a  student perspective, is generally of three types: student-teacher, student-content and student-student (Moore, 1989).  (Anderson & McGreal 2012 p.384)

In traditional print based forms of distance education, the reduced or absent student-teacher and student-student  interaction is compensated by very rich student-content interaction with sophisticated learning materials. Similarly  intense one-to-one tutorials with a teacher, may be sufficient for high quality learning without much peer or content  interaction.

A clear way to reduce costs, without necessarily reducing quality then, is to reduce one or more of these three forms of interaction.

A second way to reduce the costs of student-teacher interaction is to substitute most or all student faculty interaction by increasing the quality and frequency of student-student interaction

Two of the biggest challenges of this substitution relate to student attitudes toward and learning competence with student-student interaction.

Without assessment and demonstration of learning, no credible institute of higher education will offer credentials or otherwise certify the learners’ qualification to hold the degree or  diploma awarded. Distance educators have for a long time been challenged with the difficulty of assessing students,  whom they rarely or never meet face-to-face.  (Anderson & McGreal 2012 p.385)

Open universities have long struggled against this elitist restriction on higher learning, but the proliferation of credentials and massification of  higher education and supposed ‘credential creep’ still inhibits many institutions from expanding their credentialing capacity.

Interaction associated with credit awarded exclusively by successful challenge of final examinations. Secondly, students will put pressure on institutions to accept transfer credits and even lifelong learning accomplishments for credit, that may not be allowed under current university regulations.  (Anderson & McGreal 2012 p.386)

In the Fall of 2011, professors at Stanford University offered courses for free to large numbers of learners, providing a letter to successful learners, independent of the university through a private company called Udacity, which hopes to monetize the students’ skills (Lolowich, 2012; Whittaker, 2012)

As Christenson (1997) noted, disruptive technologies are often offered at very much lower cost to traditional customers, thus opening the door to new (often low-end) markets. However, disruptive  technologies, though initially providing services that are of low functionality or quality to traditional offerings, over time, often improve in many dimensions, while maintaining low cost or other competitive advantages. Thus, initial customers are not often attracted to the disruptive technology but over time they realize that an equal or better product is available at lower cost through use of the disruptive technology. We have seen this in the move to electronic watches, tablet computers, cameras, movie and sound recording products, low cost airlines, brokerages, online retailers and other services to mention just a few.

As a concrete example of this two faculty members from Stanford University sponsored a full, open online course in 2011. They were both surprised and nearly overwhelmed when over 160,000 students enrolled in the course – more  than the entire student body at Stanford. Although most of these students did not complete the course 248 received perfect scores on all assignments and tests- an achievement not equaled by any of the traditional students on campus.  (Anderson & McGreal 2012 p.386)

As evidence of the potential disruption of this innovation the on-campus course dwindled from ‘200 students to 30 students because the online course was more intimate and better at teaching than the real-world course on which it was based.’ (Salmon, 2012)


Anderson, T, & McGreal, R (2012), ‘Disruptive Pedagogies and Technologies in Universities’, Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 15, 4, pp. 380-389, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 26 March 2013.

Christensen, C. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma – When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Cambridge: Harvard  University Press

Lolowich, S. (2012, January 24). Massive courses, sans Stanford. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/opinion/the-justice-of-occupation.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

McNeely, I. F., & Wolverton, L. (2008). Reinventing knowledge: from Alexandria to the Internet. New York: WW Norton & Company

Monbiot, G. (2011). The Lairds of Learning. Guardian, Aug. 29 2011. 


Salmon, F. (2012). Udacity and the future of online universities, Opinion, Reuters. Retrieved from http://blogs.reuters.com/felixsalmon/2012/01/23/udacity-and-the-future-of-online-universities/

Whittaker, M. (2012, March 4). Instruction for masses knocks down campus walls. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/education/moocs-large-courses-open-to-all-topple-campus-walls.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all


The role of CSCL pedagogical patterns as mediating artefacts for repurposing Open Educational Resources (2010) Conole, McAndrew & Dimitriadis

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