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H817 Week 9 (or 3) Activity 11 Big and Little OERs

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Big OER and Little OER


Weller (2011) The Digital Scholar - How technology is transforming scholarly practice


(Chapters 7 & 9)


Big OERs are based on major projects, often HEIs, with explicit aims to achieve specific educational outcomes.  They are of high quality and are delivered in planned, consistent ways, for example through a portal which is designed for this purpose.


Little OERs originate from the activities of individuals or groups who are creating and distributing materials which may not have specific educational aims. There is no consistency in their production and quality may be low.


(page 105)


There may be an 80:20 relationship between these types of OER and their usage bases - traffic to many big OERs is "impressive" (page 109) and they represent a small proportion of OERs in terms of units but provide a very large volume of content to a large number of learners and reusers.  Little OERs will account for a high proportion of units but may serve a smaller part of the market (though it must be hard to tell as there is no definitive record by the nature of what little OERs are).


Some ways in which they differ in terms of value/offer:


Sustainability - Big OERs face major issues over their longevity, with all their attendant issues with the costs of development and distribution.  Little OERs are generated through passion, spare time and the need or desire to do something else (like air ideas or research) and will continue to emerge over time because they just can


Quality - where an OER is being delivered by a well known branded institution, its reputation acts as an incentive to ensure the educational quality and integrity of the product and the resources behind the project enable higher production values to be applied.  Little OERs may be of very high quality; some user-generators have access to very sophisticated equipment and software, have excellent production skills and are committed to the educational quality of their output - but this is never guaranteed. My personal view of low quality web material is that I want to use it less than material with higher production values regardless of the content because the medium, is something I don't want to notice - with good production I see the message and ignore the medium, with poor production I am distracted by things such as sound quality, poor images, bad use of language etc.


Reuse - if reuse is built into the design of an OER in terms of what the licence and the format allow, reuse is more likely to happen.  Weller states that Big OERs aim more for adaptation - large amounts of content are localised in some way, whereas little OERs tend to be aggregated for reuse - disparate items are pulled together and included in some bigger educational package (page 107).


Meeting needs - users may be more inclined to go directly to a Big OER that was designed for the purpose which they are seeking to achieve; little OERs may be more likely to be stumbled across although the searchability of the web might negate this assumption somewhat.  A fundamental difference is in the intent - Big OERs have clear and declared aims behind them which are coherent and which guide the creation of resources to meet these aims and therefore the needs of the users they were designed for.  Little OERs might also be designed for particular purposes but there is no coherence across the broad and diverse base of resources.


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Ian Luxford

H817 Week 8 (or 2) Activity 7 OER issues

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OERs are major undertakings; they require a considerable amount of development and careful planning in order to get them established.  Once they are established they need continual participation and resourcing to keep going.

I think the biggest overall challenge for OERs therefore is whether they have a future and if they do, what this looks like.  A number of other students identified sustainability as one of the priorities for institutions looking at OERs; I would argue that it is the number one challenge and that there are a number of specific issues to consider when making sense of OER futures.

I looked at some articles which considered sustainability of OERs and found (unsurprisingly) that there are many common issues highlighted.

Downes (2007) considers methods of funding, models for distributing, using and reusing content, and ways of resourcing with staff as factors which impact the sustainability of OERs.

Albright (2005) lists a number of issues that will impact the future success of OERs including economic models, scalability, appropriateness of technologies and educational suitability

Caswell et al (2008) see the future of OERs as being based on a return to the original notion of community – they will need to acquire a life of their own and be driven by continual collaboration, contribution and use. They highlight funding and copyright/ownership issues as challenges faced by institutions running OERs.

My three big issues are economics, learner support and suitability of resources, all of which underpin many of the other issues.

Without the right economic model, OERs cannot exist.  Atkins et al (2007) state that a course from MIT’s OpenCourseware initiative costs £25,000 p.a. to run, all inclusive and that the future has to be in institutions being able to treat OERs as a small component of their business as usual activities.

I was at a seminar at Learning Technologies this year where it was suggested that commercial learning providers might get into OERs as a way of displaying their wares (some do things a bit like this already) and given the credibility benefits that OERs offer institutions (for example Caswell et al 2008 describe how new students are often aware of an institution’s OER and it can affect their choice of institution), it could be that they treat them as a marketing channel.  However they approach it, the economic question needs answering.

Assuming economic viability, the OER is still only sustainable if people make use of it and contribute to it.  It needs to be decided what the learner experience will be and this could range from merely being able to access, read and reuse educational resources (where minimal learner support is needed) to a fully moderated and supported course event (like the OpenLearn Open Education MOOC).  This model will determine how fit for purpose the OER is for the community at which it is aimed; if it is intended to allow people to derive educational benefit from it, it could be argued that provision of some level of tutor interaction is essential.

The educational suitability of its resources is the second element which will determine how fit for purpose the OER is and therefore how sustainable. This impacts the design of the resources in the first place (MIT OCW contains some materials which appear to be no more than the sharing of notes and slides designed for a face to face course – these may be interesting for someone trying to design their own course but may have reduced utility for an independent learner).  It also impacts the way they are kept up to date, incorporate learner feedback, new research etc. Again, the purpose for which it needs to be fit must be what drives the model for ensuring suitability.  And both of these are dependent on the OER being econmically viable.  


Albright, P. (2005) UNESCO (IIEP): Final forum report. 2008-09-01 http://learn.creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/oerforumfinalreport.pdf

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

Caswell, T., Henson, S., Jenson, M., & Wiley, D. (2008). ‘Open Educational Resources: Enabling Universal Education’. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9/1http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/469/1001


Downes, S. (2007), 'Models for sustainable open educational resources', Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, vol. 3. Available from: http://ijklo.org/Volume3/IJKLOv3p029-044Downes.pdf

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