Designer OERs: how fashionable can OER production be?

There is no doubt that OERs potentially present an alternative to current forms of higher education. No wonder they have gained, and continue to gain, the attention of educational policy makers around the world. Production models are still emerging across different institutions, communities and disciplines and an examination of these models shows that they are predominated by supply production frameworks.

At last year’s Open Learning conference at the University of Nottingham, representatives from OER Africa expressed their willingness to work with academic partners across the world who were eager and willing to respond to the specific educational needs of Africa. OER Africa was much averse to the one size fits all approach which currently dominates OER production. Their concerns raise questions regarding alternative methods of OER production as part of opening up education to the wider world. This calls for a shift away from “supply” to “demand” models of OER development or what I would like to term “designer OERs”, which are made to measure to the specific educational needs of members of the global community.

In this regard, there is a lot that OER practitioners can learn from the fashion design industry. Within this industry, the everyday needs of celebrities and individual customers are paramount and continue to drive the market. The principles of wearability, suitability, affordability, simplicity, sophistication, presentation, fit for purpose and planned obsolesce are key. Fabrics are carefully chosen, both the soft and the stiff, influenced by the time of the year, the season, the occasion, and cultural as well as social norms. Particular attention is paid to cutting and stitching to suit different shapes and sizes. Innovation within the industry is a constant feature, as are different fashion lines. Quality at different outlets remains the same but responds to different market types, from the Haute Couture to the mass market.

The implications of these principles, when applied to OER production and practices, can be far reaching. Like libraries of the past decades, much OER production continues to rely on “just in case” – supply – models to the neglect of “just in time” – demand – models. In the absence of a global educational curriculum it becomes difficult to assess the potential value and usefulness of an OER at the time of its production. A context sensitive, made to measure, made on order or tailored approach to OER production is much more likely to respond to specific “consumer” needs. The value of a “designer” approach to OER production is that it is much more likely to promote horizontal (re)usability across different regions of the world. Such an approach also minimizes the possibility of OER projects folding-up when their sources of funding dry-up. How fashionable can we get in the OER production and development industry?

Samuel Nikoi (16 March 2010).


Motives for OER production and development

OERs have grown in popularity over the last few decades. A review of the OER literature shows different motives why institutions have taken up OERs. The following summarizes the multiplicity of motives behind OER production and development.

TELL motives

Within this motive, OER production and development is driven by a desire to provide access to information freely and openly. Wikipedia and PubMed are classic examples of the TELL motive for OER production and development.

SELL motives

This motive derives from making OERs available in order to ‘sell’ an institution and make it more competitive, e.g. student recruitment. Within the SELL motive, OER production is designed to increase visibility and reputation. The best examples are perhaps the MIT OpenCourseWare and OpenLearn of the Open University, UK. Both institutions have reported increases in student numbers partly attributed to OERs. Obama’s OER initiative is also motivated by a need to make America more competitive.

WELL motives

WELL motives are base on altruism. The key driver to OER production is benefit to those who for various reasons do not have direct access to higher education. WELL motives arise out of a desire to be socially responsible and promote inclusive education. A good example is OER Africa, which is working with many partners across the globe to support educational institutions across Africa.

CELL motives

CELL is about creating a community of learners around OERs. OLnet is perhaps a good example. Connexions and MERLOT are also good examples of OER development motivated by the need to develop learning communities.

It needs emphasising that the above categories are not mutually exclusive and it is therefore common to find institutions that fall into more than one category of why they make teaching and learning materials freely and openly available.

How would you classify the motive(s) of your institution for joining the OER bandwagon?

Samuel Nikoi

1 March 2010

Missed LFF10? Coming soon: LFF10 OERs as a download for you…

It’s been just over two weeks since the end of our Learning Futures Festival 2010 and I’m still riding high on the experiences and achievements of the festival, and also still working hard on the follow up to LFF10. 

As one of the Learning Technologists I was involved in the day to day running of the conference primarily keeping our conference environment up and running: and I owe a huge amount of thanks to the team who supplied us with this environment for all their help.  It was my first experience of creating an online conference and I tried to make things easy to use but balance this with providing the necessary information.  The responses from the survey have provided areas for me to look at for LFF11 and to try and improve the navigation and layout of this environment, but for a first attempt I think it worked well and ran a lot more smoothly than I anticipated! If you would still like to provide feedback about the Festival and the Festival environment please fill out our survey:

As mentioned during the Festival we’re planning on turning as many live sessions as possible into OERs as part of our OTTER project:  I’m currently transforming the sessions into video and audio files. How the sessions will be split e.g. presentation and questions into separate video will be decided on a session-by-session basis. As each session will be transformed into a reusable and repurposeable OER, you will be able to download and then, if you wish, edit the OER for your own preferred personal viewing and listening. This will provide delegates and anyone else who wishes to download the OERs with a chance to catch up with missed sessions and hopefully maximise the impact of LFF10 while still keeping costs and CO2 emissions to a minimum.

We’re still tweeting about the festival and our other upcoming events with the following hashtags:

  • #lff10
  • #uolbdra
  • #otteroer
  • #uolinsl
  • #uolmz

You might have noticed a recent tweet about one of our newest animals to the zoo, PANTHER. This might just be a fleeting visit, so make the most of it while you can!  PANTHER (Podcasting in Assessment: New Technology in Higher Education Research) is holding a workshop on the 3rd March 2010.  This will be both a physical and online event which you can register for here:

Keep an eye out for my tweets ( about the LFF10 OERs due for release in the next month and I look forwarding to seeing you all at LFF11.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

DAY 6 at LFF2010

… with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and Marcus Bentley

T’was the day after Monday, and all over town –
Many noses were frozen, and much snow fluttered down…

Good thing this is an online conference, because getting in to Leicester for 9 am on this Tuesday would have been a nightmare…

The day began  with Gilly’s daily address which through pre-recorded, went rather well. I found the idea – suggested by Gilly, that each educational institution was an enterprise that needs to evolve – to be quite interesting. Considering the different parts of the world that participants have been joining sessions from, the discussions, questions and comments related to experiences and observations from a range of varying contexts. An energetic debate focussed on an emerging trend of a more pronounced consumer mentality of educational ‘shoppers’ (students and parents) and that this might force forces HEIs to adopt adversarial business models because they have to compete more and more with each other.

Following this was Tessa Welch’s keynote address which suggested that the main value of OERs (open educational resources) in Africa’s context is that they provide momentum for the surfacing of good quality existing resources as OERs, which would otherwise remain undiscovered or remain locked within institutions or publishers. She drew extensively on SAIDE’s experience in a pilot OER project resulting in the adaptation and use of a module in the teaching and learning of mathematics in six South African institutions, and also on the lessons of experience in taking this to scale for a teacher education space on the OER Africa platform. The discussion sessions for this keynote followed later in the day.

At 1100 GMT, five bravehearts joined Simon, Terese and Paul (aka Johnson, Aallyah and PD Alchemi) in Second Life for the Oil rig evacuation, and though this was only the second time that this session was run in SL. Attendees found it to be most enjoyable. Some of them admitted to be scared by the ‘fire’ that led to the evacuation scenario.

The OTTER team led 22 attendees through the Open Wide workshop at 12 noon, which focussed on reward and recognition for academic staff for making teaching materials freely available as OERs. The presenters suggested that despite the recent, dramatic increase in the number of OER repositories in the UK HE sector and some altruistically motivated academics making their teaching materials freely available for re-use, concerns remain regarding appropriate reward and recognition for staff contributions of OERs.

The afternoon sessions began with Emma Kimberley’s presentation on the University of Leicester’s Graduate School Media Zoo initiative that supports postgraduate researchers. This paper took an overview of the challenges of supporting and connecting postgraduate researchers at UoL through the development of a physical and virtual ‘research forum’ based within the University  Library. An interesting discussion ensued, with reflections from several participants on their own experiences of support that they had as postgraduate students.

At 1500 GMT, David Wolfson’s (an independent education consultant) paper titled ‘Eight Years Old and Already Collaborating Online’ focussed on what the future holds for HE (considering that today’s 8-year olds will be entering HE in about a decade), describing a stepped approach to successful online teacher- and student-led learning in schools. Practical evidence  – from senior leaders and learners at over 100 schools of all types and sizes as they set out to use learning platforms – was brought to bear on the proceedings.

Later, Stuart Johnson, David Morgan and Matthew Mobbs from the University of Leicester shared their experiences of using social media (especially  Facebook and Twitter) to engage with students about issues deemed important for Student Development and the Students’ Union at the university of Leicester’s Student Support Service and Students’ Union. A lively discussion followed with a range of practitioners contributing their experiences from different aspects of providing and receiving pastoral and learning support for students.

Following the Second Life Campfire, the last paper of the day was from Dr Richard Mobbs, which challenged listeners to put the ‘PLE in to the VLE’. VLEs being more often than not designed to meet the needs of the institution, rather than the learner, the time – Richard claimed – had come to integrate new developments like online social networks, mobile technologies, widely-used social software applications and others to provide ‘more PLE’ within the context of the main VLE provision.

This is a screen-grab from Twitter on what people were saying about LFF2010 on Tuesday evening. One keynote from a previous day has proven inspirational and the attendees of the SL Oil Rig Evacuation from earlier in the day sound happy!!

That Was The Day 6 That Was … now Day 7 awaits. Enjoy!

– Jai Mukherjee / 13 January 2010

Saying goodbye to our new Finnish friends

Ale wrote several days ago about our ten visitors from Finland. At that stage, we were mid way through  their four-day schedule, which finished officially yesterday afternoon, but unofficially yesterday evening after a pleasant meal in a local pub.

As this was the first time I’d taken part in such a visit  – which included a  two-day Carpe Diem –  in my new role as Keeper of the Media Zoo, I thought it useful to reflect on the experience.

Overall, I believe it was a success for both sides. Our Finnish colleagues assured us that they took away with them a clear idea of what Beyond Distance does, and they certainly seemed to be fizzing with the way they could incorporate what they learned about podcasts, OERs and learning design.

There were also highly appreciative of and complimentary about the project presentations made on Day 1 and Day 4, espcially those by our institutional partners in Psychology and Education.

And as Ale said, we certainly were impressed with both their understanding of pedagogy and what works in teaching, and their comfort with technology. (Within five minutes of opening their laptops on Monday, all ten were happily eating up our wireless network bandwidth with no help from myself or Terese.) It also appears that Finnish HE students are similar to ours in one important respect: they don’t read any of the printed handouts either!

Our new physical Media Zoo stood up well to the task. At one point, it held 18 people very comfortably, with all interaction at a conversational level. The new murals – inspired by the graphics in the Second Life Media Zoo Island – drew warm praise.

But we will be rethinking our proposed layout and the positioning of the technical equipment. In a sense, we were very fortunate to have such a rigorous test of the room prior to any major purchasing decisions being made.

And of course, we made some great new friends. So cheerio for now to Eva, Kristina, Matti, Ritva, Taina, Tuula, Elina, Tiina, TK and of course Irma, who organised the trip so effeciently.

Simon Kear
Keeper of the Media Zoo
13 November 09


Creative Commons (CC) licenses have been hailed by the Open Educational Resource (OER) community as an answer to the challenges posed by copyright. As an alternative to the “permission culture” of traditional “all rights reserved” law, CC licences have turned copyRIGHT into “CopyLITE” by providing creators of works the opportunity to relinquish some rights of their work for use and reuse by the wider society. In spite of the advantages CC licences bring to the Open Education movement, the multiplicity of licences available (six in total), and the conditions associated with them (four in total), means that the CC licence is not as straightforward as users would like it to be.

At a recent JISC institutional strand meeting on OER, it emerged that existing CC licences are not adequate for application to clinical materials, due to the high proportion of complex images from various sources that need clearance, and calls were made for more sophisticated CC licences to respond to the perceived gap. If such calls are heeded, CC licences will become more complex, and the list of licences will continue to grow in future. However, this complexity is likely to increase the existing confusion around licences and rights. Is there a need for a complete shift in thinking away from the “some rights reserved” philosophy which underpins CC licences?

Some have suggested opting out of the Berne Convention, arguing that CC licences are only watered-down versions of traditional copyright laws. I suggest an alternative solution: instead of copyright laws being automatically in force upon the creation of a work – a new global convention, CopyFREE – where the default position is that there is no need for any form of licence. Under copyFREE, the onus would be on creators of works to make a case for their work to be protected from copying. The copyFREE argument would be similar to the “presumed consent” position put forward by the British Medical Association for organ donation, where persons are deemed to have given their consent to organ donation unless they have registered to opt out.

We need to acknowledge that traditional copyright laws emerged at a time in our collective development history when there were no mash-ups, digital natives or generation Y. We need a 21st century copyright treaty which is more responsive to the needs of a society where openness is a defining feature. Will CopyFREE lead to more creativity, innovation and knowledge sharing for public good as opposed to private profit? Let the debate start.

Samuel Nikoi (26 October 2009)

Net neutrality – keeping the internet free and open

Last week the USA’s communications control body, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), took a significant step towards promoting net neutrality in that country. Julius Genachowski, FCC boss, said:

I believe we must choose to safeguard the openness that has made the Internet a stunning success. That is why today, I delivered a speech announcing that the FCC will be the smart cop on the beat when it comes to preserving a free and open Internet.

The crux of his speech was in the following points:

In particular, I proposed that the FCC adopt two new rules to help achieve this.

The first says broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications. The second says broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices. These principles would apply to the Internet however it is accessed, though how they apply may differ depending on the access platform or technology used…

I also proposed that the FCC formally enshrine the four pre-existing agency policies that say network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

Wired explains that the first proposed regulation is necessary to “to prevent cable ISPs from slowing down online video services and 3G providers from messing with internet calling services like Skype.” (See the Skype blog for more on this.) The second proposed regulation will require transparency of network management policies by carriers.

Up until now the “four pre-existing agency policies” referred to by Genachowski have not been enforced, and have only been seen to be relevant to ISPs offering wired broadband services: now their application to wireless and mobile devices is also under consideration. These regulations, plus the two proposed new ones, are to be discussed by the FCC as part of an official rule-making process in November. The large American carriers (AOL, Comcast, AT&T) are protesting, as are the Republicans, arguing that such government “interference” will “stifle innovation”.

Meanwhile in Europe, a number of organisations are campaigning for recognition of the principles of net neutrality and a petition is up for signature, campaigning for net neutrality to be enshrined in European law.

For those of us involved in online education, especially in the provision of open educational resources, net neutrality is a cornerstone of the openness that allows for the free flow of knowledge, regardless of platform, application or device used to access the knowledge.

Gabi Witthaus

28 Sept 2009

The journey from course materials to OERs


We’re only a few weeks into the OTTER project but we’ve already learned a lot. The journey from existing ‘teaching material’ or ‘handout’ to reusable, repurposable OER is exciting and full of challenges, as many others have found. We’re making modest but steady progress in our seach for viable models to generate, clear, validate, release and track OERs in 9 disciplines at Leicester.

One of the approaches we’ve taken to conceptualise this journey is to move from ‘educational material’ (i.e. what we receive from tutors) to ‘resources usable in the public domain’ to ‘open educational resources’ (resulting in ‘OERs’, of course!). Below this layer, we have identified 7 key stages and have initially found criteria associated with each of them. The diagram below shows those criteria. As we move from left to right in the diagram, the ‘OER-candidates’ need to meet different criteria at each stage. The layer at the very bottom (not shown in the diagram) will contain the evidence based on which it will be possible to establish whether each criterion has been met.

This is of course an initial attempt at understanding the journey and comments are most welcome. We will test and adapt the framework as the first OERs ‘travel’ through it and will present it in a more usable format in the coming months.

Alejandro Armellini
3 July 2009


Dziękuję, Gdańsk!

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance team had a significant presence at the recent EDEN Conference in Gdansk, Poland. And what a trip it was.

I have reported elsewhere on one of the interesting workshops I attanded – in this case on OERs, which is very relevant to our OTTER project. But we also had a great ‘team time’ at, in and around the conference, as well as in the streets of Gdansk, a fascinating city. In addition to the usual benefits of an international conference in terms of networking and exposure to high-quality scholarly work, we were fortunate to have a few away days during which we not only worked together, but learned much more about each other.

A lesson learned – never underestimate the value of events like this beyond the obvious. The EDEN conference this year became an invaluable team-building opportunity for us, and we all maximised its benefit.

Dziękuję, Gdańsk, and Dziękuję, colleagues, for this.

Alejandro Armellini
20 June 2009

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