As defined by the Hewlett Foundation, Open Educational Resources or OERs are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property licence that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been offering OERs for over a decade (see below), and their research shows that educators use the resources to improve personal knowledge (31%), learn new teaching methods (23%), incorporate the materials into a course (12%), and find reference materials for students (15%). For students, the most common applications are to enhance personal knowledge (46%), complement a current course (34%), and plan a course of study. In terms of results, 96% students who used materials to complement their courses say their understanding was improved.
Faculty and instructional designers can integrate OER materials into their courses and accelerate course development by focusing more on instructional design than content production. Alternatively, they can use the available complete courses and provide opportunities for assessment and credit. Educause research involving over 100,000 undergraduate students showed that 7 in 10 students have used OERs in the past year, although few of them on a regular basis. Students suggested that the OERs could be beneficially used in their courses as learning aids, as supplemental information sources and additional examples, providers of alternative opinions, and for review, repetition, and mastery of complex and key points outside of class time.
Multiple sources of high quality OERs offer a vast range of resources and courses, all of which offer detailed search capacities and often teaching support materials.
- MIT OpenCourseWare makes the materials used in the teaching of 2,150 MIT courses available – with course outlines, readings, assessments, lecture notes, audio and visual aids, and a variety of other materials available depending on the course. The site averages a million visitors a month, plus another 500,000 who visit the translated options. The great majority of users are students in credit courses and independent learners.
- The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a worldwide community of 250 higher education institutions and associations offering free and open digital content to colleges and universities – with over 13,000 courses available in 20 languages.
- iTunes U makes more than 500,000 free lectures, videos, books, complete courses, and other resources available to those with an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. The OERs come from hundreds of colleges, universities, and other institutions, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and the New York Public Library. Instructors are also offered support in developing and submitting their courses, access to which can be restricted to their own students.
- OpenLearn offers free access to materials from UK Open University courses and OU/BBC collaborations. The thousands of resources are classified as introductory, intermediate, advanced, and masters levels and vary from five-minute explanations to 600 hours of course materials.
- MERLOT provides an extensive collection of peer-reviewed higher education online learning materials, including quizzes, online journals, tutorials, complete courses, e-portfolios, assessment tools, case studies, graphics, animations, and simulations.
- The Algonquin College website offers information on OERs and their use in education as well as examples of the licensing options and links to some additional key sources.
- In 2011, the Commonwealth of Learning published A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources, which summarizes the key issues concerning OERs, as well as providing a more detailed analysis of research, licensing, and websites offering access.
- The Contact North | Contact Nord Pockets of Innovation series features a number of examples of OERs from colleges and universities in Ontario:
- Materials to support student research, writing, and other skills from University of Ontario Institute of Technology and from York University;
- OERs for apprentices from Durham College;
- OERs related to transportation from Fanshawe College;
- Resources for medical studies at Queen’s University; and
- Anatomy specimens from Western University.