H817open: Issues with OERs

This post is a response to Activity 7 which was to discuss the three key issues of OERs and what is being done to address them.

At the core of the OER movement is the impetus to give content away for free to be used as is or to be re-purposed, with the overall aim to share educational materials worldwide. An important strand of the OER movement was that this would particularly benefit developing countries (Atkins et al, 2007), yet the use of open content in the developing world is low (Hatakka, 2009). This post will consider three issues around the low take-up of OERs, particularly in the developing world.

Transferability of OERs

Within institutions and among instructors, the desirability and appropriateness of using OERs from one context to another is a concern and this is amplified in a developing country context where the power relationship appears to be one-way. Even where an OER might be considered appropriate, some customization to a local context is desirable (Wilson and McAndrew, 2009); many instructors find it easier to start from scratch due to time and effort needed to re-translate, amend the reading level or find appropriate local examples (Hatakka, 2009).

The growth of significant local repositories and OER movements to create and share OERs are addressing some of these concerns. In South Africa, Numeric in conjunction with the University of Cape Town is translating Khan Academy video tutorials to some local languages and mapping the US-focussed curriculum to the South African curriculum. The increasing sophistication of translation tools may also assist in improving access to translated versions.

Intellectual property concerns.

Even where the content of an OER itself may not be an issue, intellectual property concerns mean that instructors and institutions may be reluctant to re-use and release OERs (Santos and McAndrew, 2010).

While Creative Commons licences have been beneficial for allowing the legal sharing of resources where the author is attributed, these licences are not without detractors. Furthermore interpreting and assigning licences is a technical and complex matter for some institutions.

Some of these issues are being addressed with tools and technologies that make licensing easier through plug-ins and ‘Licence Chooser’ tools (Thomas et al., 2012), while Web 2.0 practices are encouraging sharing and contribution as a scholarly activity, with sites such as Slideshare and YouTube making sharing of open content more acceptable. Moves to enable recognition of such activity may further encourage OER use and sharing especially in institutions that have a closed approach to curriculum development centred around their VLE (Wilson and MacAndrew, 2009) and developing teaching materials so that where an institution re-uses OER made available to it under an open licence, it is obliged to release it under that same licence (Santos and McAndrew, 2010) thus also influencing institutional practices.

Finding and marketing OERs

‘Problems with open content are not mainly the lack of available resources’ (Hatakka, 2009); resources exist but are not being found. Many students and instructors just use Google to search for open content, but this has the effect of generating large numbers of results, leading to problems of too much information. Despite a number of OER initiatives to use metadata, the lack of a common metadata protocols, and finding meaningful ways of describing content for educational purposes is challenging.

Problems of dissemination and knowing how to find OERs may be assisted with both better training in search capabilities of students and instructors and simpler tagging approaches and ways of describing educational resources that makes sense to humans and machines. OERs deposited in open web tools such as YouTube may be more easily found. Other approaches include tracking and describing an OER’s digital footprint once it has been released – this concept of ‘paradata’ would enable some sort of ranking of how useful the resource is which may also help findability, while SEO practices might also help in making OERs more visible (Thomas et al, 2012).


Atkins, D.E., Brown-Seely, J. & Hammond, A.L., (2007). A review of the open educational resources (OER) movement: Achievements, challenges, and new opportunities. Report to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Available at http://www.hewlett.org/uploads/files/Hewlett_OER_report.pdf

Hatakka, M. (2009), ‘Build it and they will come? – Inhibiting factors for reuse of open content in developing countries’, in EJISDC – The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, Vol. 37, n. 5, pp. 1-16 http://www.ejisdc.org/ojs2/index.php/ejisdc/article/view/545/279

Santos, A and McAndrew, P. (2010)  ‘Do I have the right to reuse? The institutional acculturation process of open practices into producing, sharing and repurposing OER’. In: E-learning Africa 2010,
25-28 May 2010, Lusaka, Zambia. Available at http://oro.open.ac.uk/27008/

Thomas, A., Campbell, L., Barker, P. and Hawksey, M.  (eds) (2012) Into the Wild – Technology for Open Educational Resources [online], Bolton, University of Bolton. Available at http://publications.cetis.ac.uk/2012/601

Wilson, T. and McAndrew, P. (2009) Evaluating how five higher education instituions worldwide plan to use and adapt open educational resources’ Proceedings of INTED2009 Conference. 9-11 March 2009, Valencia, Spain. ISBN:978-84-612-7578-6. Available at http://oro.open.ac.uk/17011/


5 thoughts on “H817open: Issues with OERs

  1. It is locating OER which I think will continue to be an issue. Putting them on Youtube is one answer – which will impact on how to prepare the courses and present them as video will be required. Not sure how I would take to this – but I might have a go at a presentation during the next year.

  2. Thank you for this helpful overview! It’s important to point out the difficulties with reusing and repurposing OERs that were made in one context, into another (cultural, social, language, etc.) context. I can see how such difficulties might lead people to avoid trying to reuse OER and just create something new themselves.

    I am curious about your point regarding CC licenses: I can see that determining which licenses to apply can be a complex process, but you also note that these license are not without their detractors. I’m curious what the concerns are–can you explain briefly?


    — Christina, also an #h817open participant

    • Hi Christina, thanks for your comments. With detractors I was thinking of traditional publishing houses, textbook suppliers and the whole industry that relies on copyright for its continued existence. This also applies for when content is free at the point of use. For example, it’s not possible to take an article in say The Guardian and republish it as a translated article in another language (as far as I understand). To do this, one would have to go through their rights department and possibly pay a fee. This is the traditional model and presumably even in an era of open licensing, it is a business decision to not apply CC or other open licenses. Presumably the concerns are commercial tied into established norms about rights and intellectual property. It’s a complex area so I am really getting my head around it!

      • Ah, right–okay. I was thinking perhaps there were people within the “open movement” (insofar as one can say there is such a thing) that think CC licenses are problematic somehow. Maybe they don’t do the right kind of work for OERs somehow, e.g. That’s what I thought you might mean. But I certainly see the point about those who want to keep to a traditional copyright model.

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