Who cares about the audience for OERs?

When you develop learning materials, it is generally considered good practice to ask yourself two key questions before starting: 1) What are the learning objectives? and 2) Who are the learners? However, the second part of this practice (considering the audience) can become oddly compromised when you try to transform existing learning materials into open educational resources (OERs) for public access on the Web. Taking a set of materials that has worked perfectly well within a given context, and for a known group of learners, and trying to make them ‘open’ and transferable, can lead authors to take out many of the elements that seem to tie the materials to that specific context and audience.

In a workshop on ‘Designing for Openness’ led by the OTTER project team today, one participant applied this approach to some materials she had developed for her students which she wanted to transform into an OER. She was disappointed with the outcome: she commented that she felt there was ‘something missing’ from her revised materials. The removal of all contextual elements resulted in the new materials feeling rather lacklustre and sanitised. However, the alternative approach – simply leaving the materials as they were and not making any adjustments for the potential new target audience on the Web – seemed somehow careless and inconsiderate.

A possible solution might be to produce a description of how the materials were designed to be used, and who the original target audience was, rather than trying to edit out every contextual reference in the materials themselves. In other words, to give users more information about the original context of use, rather than less. Users can then make informed decisions as to how to adapt the materials to suit their particular contexts and learners.

For more on the Designing for Openness workshop, see Gareth’s blog.

Gabi Witthaus, 4 September 2010

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  1. Gaz Johnson

     /  September 6, 2010

    Thanks for the link Gabi, although it’s the Library team blog not just mine 🙂 Very, very interesting day I thought!

  2. Hi Gabi,
    On a similar note i’ve been thinking about the influence of Reusable learning objects on OER –
    I think for many people the context neutral approach has a lot to do with earlier RLO initiatives and as you point out may not be the best approach for OERs. There is, however, a legitimate concern about creating OERs which assume particular local resources.

  3. Ali Ewing

     /  September 6, 2010

    Really interesting day looking at use of CORRE for transforming material into OER’s and especially helpful when I had a try. Thank you for your thoughts on how to retain some of the context they sound helpful. I also think the Carpe Diem model for creating learning material would be really helpful in creating more interesting and creative OER material.

    I can see that it will be easier to develop new material as OER than purpose existing work.

  4. Ale

     /  September 7, 2010

    Gabi wrote:
    [[simply leaving the materials as they were and not making any adjustments for the potential new target audience on the Web – seemed somehow careless and inconsiderate.]]

    Well – is it inconsiderate? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect the beneficiaries to do -at least- some of the work, for example, by adapting the free materials to their own needs and contexts? Or do beneficiaries of OERs want everything done for them, packaged for ease of use and even presented to them with a colourful ribbon?

  5. My experience at MIT and with other OpenCourseWares is that the context is actually the point of the the exercise of sharing openly–the information contained in OER is generally widely available. Not widely available are the teaching strategies that are effective in communicating the information to specific audiences. I’d suggest that it is actually harmful to the usefulness of the materials to remove the context, and if you would like to be more considerate, share more of the specifics of how, when and with whom the materials were effective.

  6. Ali Ewing

     /  September 8, 2010

    I think simply leaving materials as they were designed for a specific context would not necessarily be inconsiderate but certaily ill advised. Surely you want to make the materials attractive to other potential users and therefore it is important to think about how the work may be used in a different context but not unreasonable to expect beneficiaries of the material to have to do some work to reuse them.

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