OER 11: naturally occurring is best

Last week I had the privilege of attending OER 2011, a conference dedicated to the study, development, and promotion of open educational resources. It was hosted by SCORE, through which I am studying iTunes U as an OER channel, which is the topic of my SPIDER study. In fact, I got the chance to do my presentation twice – “Is iTunes U a successful model of Open Educational Resource distribution?”

It was great to learn from those who have been working through the issues of open educational resource production, promotion and evaluation for years – for example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Open University. It was exciting to learn about unusual endeavours such as The Cosmonaut, a Creative Commons film produced through collaboration and ‘crowdfunding’ –anyone can donate a minimum of 2 euro to help, and all donors’ names will be listed as producers, with over 3000 producers and counting.

The take-home message for me, however, was the simple one that innovations of any kind are best implemented ‘naturally.’ For example, I have been looking at the iTunes U implementation of University of Oxford. Most of the offerings are podcasts of live lectures — audio recordings of events naturally occurring in Oxford’s academic life. They appeal because they display what is really going on at Oxford, and are produced at a reasonably low cost due to the naturally occurring factor.

Another successful model of naturally-occurring OER sharing is Humbox, a site where those who teach humanities can publish and share their teaching resources. A prolific Humbox contributor, Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, commented that Humbox made sense to him because his academic contract does not include research. And yet, he is an academic and so he must publish – but where? Humbox was the answer. It became natural for him to post his materials there as he created them, and others value and make use of them.

Here at Beyond Distance, our flagship OER project OTTER allowed us to establish an OER repository. Now what is needed is ongoing contribution of OER, which can happen best when instructors begin to naturally prepare their materials with open principles in mind – using Creative Commons images, and making sure about permissions from the beginning. We hope, through our current OER projects OSTRICH, TIGER, and SPIDER, to encourage good practice in OER creation, and for such good practice to become a natural part of what academics do.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, SCORE Fellow, and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

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