Is OER repurposing overrated?

In the UK there has already been a wave of funding to encourage the launch of repositories of open educational resources (OER). Our own OTTER project was funded during that initial wave. Now, attention has turned to ‘cascading,’ sharing practice, and evaluating impact of OER. Our current OSTRICH and TIGER projects are working in these areas. For the project I am working on, SPIDER (Sharing Practice with iTunes U Digital Educational Resources),  I am gathering evidence of individual use of iTunes U-distributed material.  So far, I have discovered quite a bit of such evidence. I find occasional evidence of someone using this material in teaching, and so far no evidence of anyone adapting or repurposing. From a technological viewpoint, iTunes U material does not lend itself easily at all to repurposing, and some universities do not even release iTunes U material under Creative Commons license anyway.

But even amongst true OER repositories, where much effort may have been put into making files editable and easy-to-repurpose, it is not clear that these qualities are being exploited. In my own recent discussions with educators interested in and working with OER, this point has come up again and again.

Photo courtesy of eldan on Flickr

On 10 December 2010, Amber Thomas wrote in her blog post ‘Rethinking the O in OER’: “There’s a spectrum of use, reuse and repurposing, as it applies to academics and other sorts of users. We shouldn’t overweight the use case of academic repurposing.  Maybe use is good enough for the majority of people.”  In other words, perhaps ‘the repurposing and reuse of OER by those using it in teaching ‘ is somewhat overrated.

I could agree with Amber except in one respect. At a seminar at the Open University this past December (read my blog post about it here), I heard from a group of educators from Ghana that it is often very important to adjust OER to fit a new cultural context. Pedagogically-sound material can be rendered nearly useless by differences in cultural context. The projects mentioned above, along with those being done at the Open University, MIT, and many other institutions, have much yet to discover in the area of reuse and repurposing of OER.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist, Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo, and SPIDER PI

Leave a comment


  1. bdra

     /  March 2, 2011

    Hi Terese

    The message from Ghana reinforces what colleagues said in Afghanistan last week ( Many OERs will need some reworking if they are to be effectively used in other contexts – even if only translation into other languages.


  2. Terese Bird

     /  March 7, 2011

    Thanks for that, Gabi, and yes, I can see how language would be a major repurposing hurdle. I am having trouble even visualising a model for changing the language of OER in any kind of cost-effective way. I recall when I worked for a university in Wales, and instructional screencast videos were being produced, the only way to translate them into Welsh was to start almost from scratch. The content of what was being demonstrated was already decided, but we gave up trying to dub Welsh speech into the English video clip and just recorded a totally new clip.

  1. Parlez-vous OER? Open Educational Resources in multilingual contexts | C-SAP Open Cascade project
  2. Making the most of open content: why we need to understand use : Information Environment Team

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