Giving Knowledge for Free – Jan Hylen – Beyond Borders 2010

Jan is presenting by video conferencing.  We initially experiencing problems viewing the PowerPoint slides, but meanwhile we watch Jan on webcam.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is a global organisation.

Presentation begins: The emergence of Open Educational Resources.

Trends in HE.

  • Growing competitions – knowledge and learing resources are often considered as key intellectual property.
  • Still institution and individuals are sharing resources across the internet…but why?

New culture – Open Source Software, Open Access and the Open Educational Resources movement.

  • Freely available over the Internet, with as few restrictions (physical and technological) as possible.

Four main issues.

  • IPR issues
  • How to develop sustainable cost/benefit modules?
  • Incentives and barriers to produce, use and deliver materials?
  • How to improve access and usefulness?

Also Policy implications were investigated.

What is OER?

“OER are digestive materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research”. (UNESCO 2002)

Includes: open courseware, content, tools, materials, repositories of learning objects and free education courses.  Technical developments changing all the time so it is important not to make too narrow a definition.

What are the drivers?


  • Increased broadband availability.
  • Increased HDD capacity and better processing speed.
  • User-friendly software for creating, editing and remiving.


  • “Digital Natives” with substantial ICT skills.
  • Desire for interactivity, willingness to share and contribute.
  • Development of communities and collaborative projects.


  • Lower cost for broadband, tools and lower entry barriers.
  • Sites and services hosting content for free.
  • New economic modules for monetising user created content.


  • Licenses such as Creative Commons.

Mapping the OER Movement:

  • It is a global movement.
  • Growing number of initiatives and resources, but no accurate numbers.
  • The most frequent target group is post-secondary instructors, followed by students and general public.
  • A growing number of users.
  • In order to ensure easy access most providers have no registration – consequently: poor user data.

OER initiative models.

  • Publicly or institutionally back programmes – e.g. MIT OCW, OpenLearn, OpenSpires
  • Community approach – Open Course, Common Content, Free Curricula Center…
  • In between models: MERLOT, Connexions, ARIADNE.

Interesting to see Wikipedia included in the list of OER providers as an example of a big, community based model.

Mapping OER – Follow Up Study (2008)

  • Six Major OER initiatives. Increase of resources, many translated and between 50-150% increase in visitors.  This encourages global use.
  • Trends: Less text, more video and more use of podcasts.

Initially, (2005-6) not many institution based initiatives, but now most of them are institution based.

Use and users of OER:

  • According to MIT and Tufts, users of OCW are typically – well educated, self-learners and from North America (although 57% were non-US visits)
  • John Hopkins OCW also reports large numbers of professionals and self-learners.

The use of OER

  • Often a supplement used for its flexibility and quality.
  • Mostly smaller chunks of learning materials used.
  • Lack of time, skills and reward system are reasons for people not to use OER.

So, what are the motivations for producing and sharing OER?

  • Academic ethos: Part of being an academic is sharing your knowledge with others.
  • Leverage on taxpayers’ money by allowing free sharing and reuse between institutions.
  • What you give, you receive back improved.
  • Good PR and show-window attracting new students.
  • Growing competition – new cost recovery models are needed. Some Spanish Universities had low fees but charged for resources so a new model must be found if resources are available elsewhere for free.
  • Stimulates internal improvement, innovation and reuse which improves the quality of resources which may otherwise have been left ‘as they were’.  The catalyst for this is realising that any other person from across the world can view that resource.
  • Personal non-monetary gains include ego-boosting.

What are the main challenges for the OER movement?

  • Quality
  • IPR
  • Sustainability

There can be main different ways to maintain quality through process, for example, peer review, user comments, user-ratings, word of mouth or just an internal quality check.

IPR – non-commercial clause makes it more difficult to mix with commercially available resources.

Can OER replaces other costs?  Is there are requirement for a start up model?  A ‘value-added’ service can help (sales of paper copies, training, user support). Other models include conversion model (like a drug dealer – get someone hooked and then charge them for continued access).

There is a big risk of doing nothing, and just waiting to see what the developments are. Institutions need a strategy to cover open access as well as OER.  Training and support for development and use of OER is a must, particularly to raise awareness of copyright issues.  Incentives are often required to encourage staff to start producing OERs.

Question in the room:  Are there any courses that are better for OERs than others?  Chemistry perhaps does not lend itself so much to this movement.  Personally, I disagree, as it is possible to create and share instructional videos and demonstrations.  This is perhaps more of a benefit for institutions who do not have access to high quality labs or other equipment necessary.

One ‘course’ that is particularly popular on OpenLearn is about judges and the Law. The popularity may well be due to the quality of the course as well as publicity of the resource by word of mouth rather than the course lending itself more to OER than other courses.

Leave a Reply