Curriculum, IPRs and OERs

I recently had a useful discussion with colleagues at Beyond Distance about how curriculum, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and Open Educational Resources (OERs) relate to each other. Let me try to summarise the main themes.

First, we discussed where various OERs that we knew about (such as the ones from the OTTER project) could be placed in a 2 by 2 chart something like Fig. 1.

Admittedly, we ran into some trouble in defining what we meant by the terms, but for ‘Altruistic’ we had in mind institutions that created OERs for the benefit of learners who might not otherwise be able to access such knowledge. ‘Commercial’ was plainly the label for institutions that wanted to profit financially, at least indirectly, by creating OERs. ‘Supply-driven’ stood for institutions that created OERs despite the lack of solid evidence that learners would use and benefit from them, while ‘Demand-driven’ described institutions that respond to known demand for OERs by creating them.

When we discussed OTTER, it seemed to us supply-driven: the University of Leicester accepted a contract from JISC to create the OERs. Altruistically, the university will make these freely available to those who want to use them. If there is a commercial motive at all, perhaps it lies in the university’s hope that the OERs will ultimately attract more registered (paying) students.

OpenLearn, at the Open University, is similar to OTTER, but demand for (downloading of) its OERs has been considerable, so is it more demand-driven? TESSA, the altruistic OER programme for teacher education in Africa, leans towards being demand-driven as the governments of the countries involved have all asked for the OERs to be available to their students, including serving teachers for upgrading.

Our discussion then moved towards whether and how the curriculum can be influenced by OERs and how these two relate to academics’ intellectual property rights (IPR). Figure 2, a rough sketch, reflects some of our thoughts.


It occurred to us that academics, in protecting their intellectual property rights (IPRs), probably restrict the curriculum; they also restrict the OERs that can become part of the curriculum in their university and beyond. Individual authors may have the power to include their books and articles in the curriculum, or to exclude them. Yet the creation of OERs is a process that can weaken or challenge the authors by asking them to sign a Creative Commons licence that allows learners to use the OER materials for nothing. The more we looked at the sketch, however, the more we thought that the OER could inform, enhance and amplify the curriculum – at least the policy if not the practice. Certainly that’s the intention behind the general OER movement.

This is a hurried note of quite a lengthy and detailed discussion aimed at clarifying what we hope to write up this month in a paper for a journal. My thanks to Ale and Sahm.

David Hawkridge

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