Issues Facing Open Educational Resources

This blog post is an activity for H817 Openness and Innovation in eLearning where we are asked to consider three key issues we feel face OER (Open Education Resources) and how they are being addressed.

For a quick recap on what OER are I recommend the nice and clear Defining OER on WikiEducator.

OER are learning resources which are available in the public domain and can be freely accessed, utilised and re-purposed by others under open licensing. Many define OER as must be openly accessible and allow the 4Rs – reuse, revise, remix and redistribute.

I like to remember that OER or learning objects should not be considered only as standalone objects, pockets of fact or thought that will be transmitted into the brain of anyone stumbling across them but rather they are part of a larger learning process and practice. How we create OER and how we then create and facilitate learning processes is an intertwined field. With that mind of thinking, I really like the following diagram from fro Beetham et al (2012)

Beetham et al (2012) Venn diagram of the crossover of open practice and open content

There are many issues facing OER but the three I have decided to consider include:

Bias: whilst I could go a level above and state authenticity, reliability, and creator expertise as an issue I’d like us to consider bias, whether explicit or implicit.

Bias is being addressed in what I see as a, necessary, two-pronged approach. Firstly, creators of OER are being challenged to debate and address bias in their own creations and that of others. At OpenEd17: The 14th Annual Open Education Conference in 2017, a panel session was held on “Equity, Bias and their relationship to OER”

The session introduction noted:

“The open education movement is heavily rooted in the belief that teachers and faculty have the freedom to develop content that meets the needs of their students. This raises a few questions. Can the implementation of OER exacerbate bias? To what degree is OER content culturally relevant? Does the majority of OER content have a white American male slant? Are we remixing content that unintentionally alienates a particular group of students?”

This discussion within the OER community must continue unabated to address issues of bias in OER and to help both creators and users recognise it.

As I said there is a two pronged approach to recognizing and challenging bias in OER and that second prong is ensuring users must be aware of the possibility of bias and have the critical thinking skills to question and research any bias in OER they are intending to use. I particularly liked finding this rubric from Federation University, Australia which helps users evaluate OERs and including in the rubic they call out creator bias and obvious bias. I would argue we need to take the debate and warning of bias to the user even more overtly, given that a user may be more likely to not consider or recognize bias that those who have a lot of OER experience and life under their belt but also because today’s OERs users are the ones who will redistribute, grow and create future OERs.

Accreditation: this issue is because it is one close to heart. I’m over 40 but am still hurt when the dentist doesn’t give me a sticker for being a good patient. I am a recognition junkie. I want a badge, a medal, a certificate. I want something I can point at. Now, we can argue this is a major flaw in me but let’s not get personal! I know I am not alone. We live in a world where we are always trying to prove ourselves, to our friend, family, employers, potential employers. Even if we don’t get certificate based on assessment and ‘proof’ we know something, we like something tangible to show we are ‘doing something’.

The OER Evidence Report 2013-2014 does acknowledge this in their findings:

“the possibility of accreditation seems to be motivating to OER users, as
suggested by survey respondents when asked about ‘other’ factors that influenced their choice of OER:
“Transferable credits and job/ work experience
or accreditation”
“College credit”
“Certificate of accomplishment or completion”
“Accreditation so that I can use to apply toward a degree or
for professional designation requirements (i.e. CPA)””

OER Evidence Report 2013-2014 (p.33)

Whether it be a badge for participation, or a certificate based on some level of assessment, their is a great deal of motivation for the user in such a goal and we see several OER offering them. It is interesting to see OpenLearn describes this as ‘earn while you learn’ and describes their badge and statement offerings as “Earn a free digital badge or Statement of Participation as evidence of your learning to share with employers, friends and family.”

Accessibility: my third issue I’d like us to consider is accessibility to OER, for those with disabilities. The OER Evidence Report 2013-2014 refers to the importance of Open Education for those with disabilities in terms of access to education over all stating:

Analysis of users of The Open University’s OpenLearn OER platform suggest that OER can increase access to education for informal learners with disabilities with 16% of respondents reporting a disability, compared with the UK-wide figure of 8% disabled students in higher education. For all learners this figure came down to 11.1%

OER Evidence Report 2013-2014 (p.17)

However, the report does not go into details about disabled users satisfaction or issues with technically accessing OER material such as can the material be used with a screen reader, are video and audio materials accompanied by closed captions or transcripts?

I’d direct people who may not have considered this aspect before to Open Education Handbook/OER & Accessibility

“If the outputs are not meeting appropriate accessibility requirements then they have failed to be ‘open’ before they have even left the building, and a sustainability decline has already commenced”

Accessibility as part of the content design needs to be implemented and addressed at the beginning. have a dedicated portal addressing accessibility issues, solutions and a community of institutions and educators actively researching accessibility issues and how to implement solutions. There portal can be found here.

Please share any of your thoughts, ideas or comments – I’d love to hear them, it’s almost as good as getting a badge 😉

Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L. and Littlejohn, A. Open practices: briefing paper. JISC, 2012

de los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., Perryman, L.-A., Pitt, R. & Weller, M. (2014). OER Evidence Report 2013-2014.
OER Research Hub. Available from

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