18 April 2011

#H800 Open Educational Resources

A first dip into the "hot" topic of Open Educational Resources (OER). Due to a blocking of all blogs on Blogspot by Metfone, a Vietnamese-owned cellphone operator, I can post this story only a few days later.

As an introduction we had a look at 4 "famous" OER providers and tried to evaluate if their materials were really open and if they could be of any value to practitioners and learners.

MIT OCW, iTunesU, OLU and OpenLearn
I found the MIT Open Courseware (OCW) site the least interesting of the four sites.  There are many courses available, but for many of them only scanned lecture notes are available, making them difficult to use for self-study or for repurposing.  Some of the lecture notes I checked even have several slides missing due to copyright issues.  Moreover, quite a few of the courses seem pretty old, which may not matter a lot for some courses, but for others like climate change or energy related courses, it does.  

Then, I liked the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) (Carnegie-Mellon University) site better.  The number of courses on offer is more limited to mostly science courses, but courses are complete, including course texts, exercises and solutions.   I'll really keep an eye on those courses for when I need a refresher, e.g. on statistics.  Course materials can be remixed with an instructor account, and a small fee for some of the courses.  I didn't check whether you need a university affiliated e-mail account to get such an account.

I used the iTunesU a few times in the past, for a beginner course Spanish and for refresher courses on introductory physics and astronomy (both from Berkeley U.).  It's convenient when you have an ipod since you can upload the lectures (audio and/ or video) to it.  Usually there are no accompanying course texts or exercises available and some of the courses are not complete.  I like iTunesU  for "stand-alone" lectures, such as a lectures series on "Darwin's Legacy" last year from Stanford U. or regular lectures from LSE on international politics.  

As an OU student, I tried to be extra critical for the OpenLearn website, but I have to admit that I liked it a lot.  Here's why:
        • Attractive homepage with context-specific content (like 50 year anniversary of Gagarin's spaceflight)
        • Information available as combination of text, audio and video
        • There are discussion forums
        • Course materials include learning outcomes, quizzes, activities, links etc. Just like a real OU course.

The course I sampled  (Introducing International Development Management (TU870) was a “taster” unit, so not the whole course was available.  Nevertheless, I found the site very addictive and I think it gives an excellent view of the course for prospective students.  

Repurposing Learning materials
OpenLearn encourages the sharing and re-using of educational resources. LabSpace is a community-led environment which fosters the concept of sharing and reusing educational resources. You can edit the course materials in the browser and upload your changes.  Materials are available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution - Non-Commercial - ShareAlike).

The emergence of OER has implications for learning design.  The past weeks we studied how practitioners make pedagogical and technological choices when designing activities based on (selected) learner characteristics, course objectives and content.  OER render course content even more to a commodity, but there still remains an important role for educators to transform these OER into meaningful learning activities.  Therefore I think that OER only have an added value when they can be repurposed (remixed and changed), allowed both by the copyright license and by the format in which resources are published.
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