Activity 7. OER: Sharing YES. Using, reusing, adapting?

oerbadgeWas awareded the OER Understanding badge this morning for this Activity 7 blogpost. Great!

3 key issues in OER and how these are being addressed:

From a focus in the early years of the OER movement on sharing, open access, and open standards (Downes, 2001), there is now a growing concern with regards to sustainability and the use, reuse and adaptation of the OER available. Already in 2003, Friesen objected to what he labelled “systems thinking […] uniformity and standardization” and called for an increased focus on educational practice (Friesen, 2003). This is where my blog post takes its starting point.

1. Use of OER in formal education

When the OER movement began, there was a “build it and they will come approach” (Harley et al., 2006:1-1). Many universities started up projects to build OER platforms and make learning objects available online. However, it proved more difficult than anticipated to engage teachers in the use, reuse and adaptation of OER. Wilson and McAndrew state that “the reuse of OER by academics within their teaching remains a challenge (Wilson and McAndrew, 2009:004810). One of the ways in which this challenge has been addressed is through research and surveys, the goals of which have been “to investigate the gap that is apparent between the OER available and the repurposing of such resources” (Wilson and McAndrew, 2009:004811) and to understand the use and users of OER in particular contexts such as e.g. undergraduate education in the humanities and social sciences (Harley et al., 2006). Lack of time has been identified as an obstacle to the use of OER. Other obstacles concern how to locate and manage relevant OER and how to use these in new contexts.

Ideas for overcoming the challenges include faculty support, institutional strategy to use OER and adding community software to OER platforms to facilitate the creation of self-educating communities in which teachers can share ideas on how to use, reuse and adapt OER (Attwell & Pumilia, 2007: Burbules, 2006; Harley et al., 2006). Such self-educating communities could help innovate teaching methods and open up curriculum development. I believe that this is very much needed in order to drive the use, reuse and adaptation of OER forward.

2. The reusability paradox

What does the perfect OER look like? According to Wiley, “[t]he more context a learning object has, the more (and the more easily) a learner can learn from it” (Wiley, 2004). However, the presence of context in a learning object also makes it more difficult to reuse it in a different setting. So we see a paradox between usability and context. I find it quite useful to address this paradox by taking a broader look at OER to both include resources on the formal education portals and resources produced and shared by individuals on sites outside the formal portals. We can then distinguish between ‘big’ and ‘little’ OER (Weller, 2012). Big OER can be found on the formal education portals; they are high on quality, adhere to a certain standard and contain learning objectives. They are thus more ‘context-intensive’. Little OER are created and shared by individuals. They are low cost and may not have any explicit learning objectives. Little OER are shared through e.g. open social networking sites. Weller reports that big OER with their “high quality content encourages a somewhat passive acceptance, and maybe discourages creativity in the adopters of that content”, whereas little OER invites the consumer to become producer (Weller, 2012:8). Weller suggests that learners make use of both types of OER to “feel the reassurance of the quality brand material for core content” and to get “a mixture of the more social, participatory media that encourages them to contribute as well” (Weller, 2012:8). So there is no single recipe to creating a perfect OER. It is seen as increasingly important to accommodate heterogeneity both with respects to granularity but also format (Atkins et al., 2007).

3. Learner support – supporting the learning processStones path with flowers for zen spa background, vertical. selec

When asked, teachers often suggest that OER be used as supplementary material (Wilson and McAndrew, 2009). However, my experience is that learners don’t always get to the supplementary material, so how can OER be more fully integrated into courses to support the learning process of students? One way to address this issue is by looking at the challenges that teachers face today in the classroom and then explore how OER can help overcome these challenges. In Denmark, there is an increasing pressure on young people to enrol in higher education. This means that some students are somewhat below level and have difficulties performing on coursework and exams. A teacher at the University of Southern Denmark, where I work as an e-learning consultant, decided to use the open resources at Khan Academy ( to bring students up to speed and up to level with the course. The teacher singled out the relevant OER at Khan Academy and followed the progress of his students. He could thus monitor their level but did not have to spend extra time teaching the skills that were a prerequisite for taking the course. Instead, he could focus on the actual course content and learning objectives and keep teaching and learning activities on the required academic level. Students on their part got a chance to practice the skills needed and catch up with their fellow students.

In this way, OER can act as additional stepping stones that will get learners across the river and achieve their learning goals. Instead of being supplementary material, the OER of Khan Academy was presented as personal learning paths to students.


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.

Attwell, G. & Pumilia, P.M. (2007) The New Pedagogy of Open Content: Bringing Together Production, Knowledge, Development, and Learning. Data Science Journal, 6, 211- 219.The New Pedagogy of Open Content: Bringing Together Production, Knowledge, Development, and Learning. Data Science Journal, 6, 211- 219.

Burbules, N. C. (2006) “Self-Educating Communities: Collaboration and Learning Throughout the Internet,” in Learning in Places: The Informal Education Reader, Zvi Bekerman, Nicholas C. Burbules, and Diana Silberman-Keller, eds. (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), pp. 273–284.

Downes, S. (2001) ‘Learning objects: resources for distance education worldwide’, IRRODL, vol. 2, no. 1 [online], index.php/ irrodl/ article/ view/ 32/ 378  (accessed 20 March 2013).

Friesen, N. (2003) ‘Three objections to learning objects and e-learning standards’ in McGreal, R. (ed.) (2004) Online Education Using Learning Objects, London, Routledge, pp. 59–70. Draft available online at papers/ objections.html (accessed 25 March 2013).

Harley, D., Henke, J., Lawrence, S., Miller, I., Perciali, I. and Nasatir, D. (2006) Use and Users of Digital Resources: A Focus on Undergraduate Education in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Berkeley, CA, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley, Available at: _text.pdf

Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [online]. Available at jime/ article/ view/ 2012-02 (accessed 20 March 2013).

Wiley, D. (2004) The Reusability Paradox, Connexions [online], content/ m11898/ 1.18/ (accessed 25 March 2013).

Wilson, Tina and McAndrew, Patrick (2009). Evaluating how five Higher Education Institutions world- wide plan to use and adapt Open Educational Resources. In: International Technology, Education and Development Conference (INTED 2009), 9-11 March 2009, Valencia, Spain.