(Very) Brief History of OER

The Open Education Resource Movement

Open Source is a new way to say Free? What is the definition of Open Source, if there is one? Then how do we define Free? I have had this conversation multiple times with colleagues, mentors, and students. After watching the first lecture recording, this was the first thing I thought of when I read the assignment to post a brief summary of the history of the open education resource movement (OER). Nothing is as black and white as what would be convenient.

Wikipedia 2001 & MIT OpenCourseWare 2002

The introduction of Wikipedia in 2001 followed by the MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) project in 2002, seem to be two key points on the open source and open education timeline. Making information available to anyone with an Internet connection, Wikipedia does not charge for access to its pages and additionally encourages users to contribute additional information to its content base. The OCW project also allows free access to information, specifically information related to academic coursework, in a wide array of disciplines. This is an example I bring out whenever I am in a meeting with a faculty member who is cautious about sharing his/her course materials for a course development project that may lead to the course being taught by other instructors. (Tangential note: the instructor is an important and necessary part of a course, whether it is online or not – it’s not just about the content.)

Wikipedia and OCW are still going strong today some seven years later, which is quite a while in Internet years. In the years since OCW debuted, numerous other options are out there for educators looking for course content examples. Additional tools and databases help to further the movement.

Fair Use, U.S. Copyright Office, 2006

The question of copyright and what it means to share information in this way is also part of this history. The U.S. Copyright Office published guidance on Fair Use in 2006. This material provides guidance for how one might legitimately use or treat copyrighted material without having to go through the process of gaining consent from the publisher. Educational use of materials adds a layer to the issue. Often publishers treat educational use differently that other uses of their materials. Fair Use is another gray area and even more so related to non-U.S. materials.

The OER Life Cycle, ~2008

The OER Life Cycle is presented at the link above as a list of specific steps any one of us could take as educators to keep the movement moving forward. Keeping in mind the various existing and emerging possibilities for copyleft licensing(i.e. CC-SA, CC0, CCPlus) what is available as “open educational resource” has the potential to grow in both quantity and quality as the movement continues.

2 thoughts on “(Very) Brief History of OER

  1. Betsy

    Melissa, your summaries were helpful for me because you read different things than I did. Could you clarify one thing for me?

    This is an example I bring out whenever I am in a meeting with a faculty member…

    What example do you mean here? Just wondering how exactly you get the SMEs to share. :)


  2. mvenable Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Betsy! Let me try to clarify…. often when I first meet with a faculty SME to discuss development of an online version of his/her course, there is some initial hesitation on the SME’s part to share existing content. It is a hesitation I completely understand. If I had spent years developing a course, creating all of the assignments, crafting the interaction, selecting the materials, I would wonder why it benefits me to release all of this to someone developing another version of the course. So, I like to be able to show the MIT OCW site and walk them through a specific example of an instructor posting course materials online (i.e. syllabus, assignment instructions, reading list, discussion questions) in the spirit of OER. Now, I am not asking my SMEs to add their materials to an OER database, but am often introducing the concept in a way that eases the hesitation a bit so that sharing with me and my design team may not seem as threatening or risky. In this introduction to MIT OCW and OER I can also emphasize the importance of the instructor’s role in delivering the course, no matter the format or the specific content…. Sorry for the long winded clarification.



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