I have been researching the area of OER for six years, for JISC, EU programmes and agencies and the European Parliament. Most of my research outputs over many years are available as open access, including two of the largest professionally created OER wikis in the world, the most recent with all outputs from searches available as open data. I continue to put in substantial effort as a volunteer to document the growth and changes in OER projects as part of my wider interests in open education, with 40 years of experience of distance education for adult learners.

However, we have to be aware of the situation most of us here are in now – in Europe, today, with many challenges, including university budget cuts now or recently in many of our countries.

So in this debate I Propose that “We (here today mostly from universities) should focus in the short term more on MOOCs than on OER”.  My main reasons are as follows:

  1. MOOCs are courses; OER are just resources, at best (and often not even that) another textbook
  2. Most learners become auto-didacts out of need not desire – the success of MOOCs show they love courses when given the choice
  3. MOOCs are reputation-enhancing for universities and staff involved; OER are just consumed with little reputation accruing to the authors of resources or collections
  4. MOOCs have clearly been a disruptive technology; OER just supports the status quo, at best trimming a few percent from overall study costs
  5. MOOCs are a safe space; learning from OER is lonely, students tending to get “lost in cyberspace)
  6. MOOCs show European strengths of institutions and languages; OER demonstrates our weakness
  7. The MOOC community are more transparent about costs than OER is (or indeed the rest of higher education)
  8. MOOCs have evolved beyond the sterile “x or c” debates; OER still can be obsessive about NC and CC release levels
  9. MOOCs increasingly have business models for those institutions, consortia and governments that need them; OER has struggled to evolve sustainable consortia without continued government and foundation funding

Paul Bacsich

We Should Focus in the Short Term More on OER

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research contents in any medium that can be composed of courses, materials, lesson plans, syllabi, instructional modules, textbooks, videos, simulations, tests, software, and any other tools used to support access to knowledge.

They reside in the public domain or are released under an open license that permits no-cost access, and states how the material may be used, reused, adapted, and shared or redistributed by others with no or limited restrictions. They should accommodate a diversity of technical platforms, and, whenever possible, be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet.[i]

OER defined, bridge important gaps as a great catalyst for the shift from Distance and Online Education to Open Education, meaning openness and access, literally to all, and consequently the development of a more equalitarian world. No other means may provide such a revolution for education, dissemination of content and collective knowledge building benefiting the individual and the community development. Thus, the argument above, per se, justifies the adoption of OER as a strategy in the short-term, for any organization or institution, potentially connecting hubs of common interests in leaning and education, competing in a knowledge based economy. It is the solution for “learning refugees” who will flee from the poorness of their present educational environment to a world of opportunities to foster or continue their education or skill building, thus improving employability and quality of life. Otherwise, they will serve well those who simply wish to expand their educational horizons or, simply, enjoy content associated to personal or specific interests.

The greater impact though might be in the survival of the traditional and formal educational institutions. The impacts range from exposure to quality assurance and a sum of other arguments in between to go for OER in the short-term. The future was three weeks ago; go for OER!

[i] Adapted by the Author from definitions of OER by UNESCO, OECD, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, OER Commons, The Cape Town Open Education Declaration and The Wikieducator OER Handbook.

Stavros Panagiotis Xanthopoylos