Discussion panel

Panel is:

  • Peter McDonald (PM)
  • Marianne Talbot (MT)
  • David Robertson (DR)
  • Andy Lane (AL)
  • Fred Mednick (FM)

Q: Did you have hopes/thoughts about reuse when you did a podcast?

MT: No! But since been approached by a US company interested in doing some lectures for them – so definitely a way of self promotion

DR: Hoped to see use on iTunesU to compare with high quality content from US sites

PM: Public good – I’m publicly funded, and feel it is right to do it

Q: Business models related to Open Content? (e.g. micropayments)

AL: No different to other industries – e.g. Music industry – ‘freely available’ content (whether legal or not) but still need to generate income. May be option for micropayments for ‘value added’ – e.g. provided printed, bound, version of content. At the moment the OU is looking at how much they can afford to spend on the content and how it is classified – is it ‘outreach’, ‘marketing’, ‘recruitment’, ‘teaching’ etc? OER may provide cost savings – not just about income. If OER is an ‘add-on’ or ‘nice to have’ it will fail – has to be a central part of institution.

PM: Personal perspective.  Could be part of institutional model to get funding for research etc. – make an OER output a requirement on funding

DR: Would like this type of activity embedded more. e.g. it was discovered that certain ‘reading lists’ were available outside the university Intranet – some academics horrified – DR says he sees his lectures as the property of ‘the world’ (without wanting to be pretentious) – not just for those in Oxford

MT: Perhaps add a request for donations at the end of each podcasts [this makes me think if This American Life and Public radio in the US]

AL: No reason shouldn’t charge for some things – but understanding what people will pay for and who your audience is

Comment from Sarah from Strategic Content Alliance: Have to understand both your audience and your costs – need to get this clear before you think about a revenue model

Q: What is the single greatest challenge for OER?

FM: The plethora of organisations – would be nice if we had interoperable organisations!

AL: Will have succeeded when we stop talking about Open Educational Resources and start talking about Education – OERs are just a means to an end.

PM: How to change thinking. We end up ‘translating’ between the old way and new way of doing things – rather than changing the way we think to deal with the new way of doing things.

MT: Not about challenges – but a worry – will opportunities for new lecturers be curtailed as institutions reuse captured content instead – why have a new lecture when you can re-run an old one?

Q: Publishers don’t know if you use diagrams in lectures – but if you do it on camera you have to clear copyright. Can we get agreement from publishers for non-profit reuse?

AL: Very good point. Early days for publishers as much as it is for HEIs. Some work done – e.g. MIT have agreement with Elsevier that they can include up to 3 diagrams from Elsevier content in a piece of OCW (think I got this right).

Comment from Marion Manton (MM) MOSAIC project (Oxford reuse one, not Library data one): Teachers continually find stuff on the web which they use in their teaching – until OERs are part of this landscape we won’t have success. If you can’t find it via Google, most academics won’t find it – no good locked away in repositories. Are OERs really very different to using books, articles, etc.? Just because it’s a podcast, why should we think about this any differently?

DR: Quality and provenance problems with things on the open web

MM: Yes – but skills to assess quality and provenance of material doesn’t change – and these are skills we need to be fostering anyway

AL: This [OERs, reuse, Open Education] is going to take 10-20 years to shakeout – it isn’t going to happen quickly

FM: Nice story – rewarding attending ‘Learning Ambassador’  course in Nigeria by agreement with driving licensing organisation to issue (for small fee) a personalised licence plate – which made crossing borders etc. easier – there are ways of making this stuff sustainable.

OER and ICT for development

Tim Unwin asks – why are OERs not more widely used by people in Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa), when intuitively they would deliver huge value?

I’m afraid I missed documenting much of this talk. Tim challenged the OER model – it isn’t working (in this geographic area) – why not? Is OER essentially ‘imperialist’? Those involved are generally white, male, and older. Many OERs are not high quality – even flagship efforts like MIT OCW often very basic material available – e.g. just course outlines or basic powerpoint slides.

Biggest challenges:

  • Changes in personnel
  • Funding mechanism diversity
  • Time committments
  • Failure to understand ‘meanings’ – ICT4D (ICT for development) more than just computers in labs

Practical Realities

  • Structure and financing of African Universities – and now agendas around new private universities
  • Traditional didactic model of teaching – counter to particpatroy models
  • Role and ‘income’ of unversity teachers
  • Intellectual elitism – are African universities really serving their peoples’ development needs?
  • Dependant mentalities – ‘where is the next grant coming from?’
  • Limited human capacity – but some outstanding individuals
  • Dominance of individualism – idea that HE is about individual benefits and gain, not about community

Implications/Questions for ‘us’ (i.e Europe/US)

  • Fundamentl challenge of education as a public or private good
  • How much do we really use OERs in our own work?
  • Can we afford the time to help African academics achieve their ambitions?


The OpenSpires project (http://openspires.oucs.ox.ac.uk) at Oxford is about making recordings of talks and lectures available for free in a sustainable way.

Now 280 recordings – approximately 160 hours – with over 130 academics contributing lectures and items. OpenSpires built on the success of using iTunesU (http://itunes.ox.ac.uk) to make podcasts available – over 1630 items, with >3 million downloads – licensed for personal use only – so not OERs in terms of institutional perspective.

Nice quote from a contributor noting with amazement that their lecture on philosophy being downloaded 18,000 times per week – my paraphrasing: “so I knew being ‘number one’ meant more than 20 downloads a week, but I’d no idea beyond that”

They’ve supported a ‘devolved’ model for contributions – departments can provide audio/video recordings to the central service – who can deal with legal stuff etc. Then the central service can ‘gap fill’.

Creative Commons gave a way of licensing material.

Benefits to the institution:

  • Accessibility
  • Outreach
  • Use of technology that reflects what is unique about Oxford
  • High calibre material of global importance
  • Fits with institutional strategic mission

Tried to make sure that the amount of extra time needed from academic/lecturer is minimal – shouldn’t be more effort than giving the talk in the first place.

Syndication using RSS – makes it very easy to distribute and enables reuse. (potential) types of reuse:

  • Website widge
  • Institutional portal
  • National portal
  • Subject centres

Communities add value – e.g. translating content into different languages.

Now getting academics to share experience – interesting to note the experience is about individuals appreciating it – fanmail etc. – not other institutions/academics using it? Does this matter?

One academic suggested a change to iTunesU contract – and got it accepted – the part in brackets below:

2.1 The Content. University hereby grants to Apple a nonexclusive, royalty-free right and license to use, reproduce, modify the format and display of Content (not the substance of any Content) …

He says – read contracts before you sign them, and make amendments if necessary! (parallels to the need for academics to look at the rights they sign away to publishers of research)

Q & A and comments from floor:

Q: What about institutional reuse as opposed to individual consumption – and also use of non-commercial for licensing

A: Early days – proved interest, excited to see how others may join together content into ‘courses’. Despite licensing people don’t really seem to have yet realised that the licenses really really mean that you can use this stuff!

Comment: Sustainability will only come as we change our attitudes towards teaching and value it as it should be.

Comment: In medicine a lot of content can’t be published as patients involved and they are happy for material to be used in medical education but not more generally.

Comment: Making available as a podcast allows students to ‘timeshift’ lectures – some worry that this will lead to students not coming to lectures (although commenter not convinced this is a problem)

Giving Knowledge for Free

Jan Hylen (previously at the OECD) presenting via video link for this session.

Despite a trend of growing competition where learning resources are often considered as key intellectual property, there is still much sharing of content between academics and institutions. There seems to be a new culture of openness in HE – Open Source Software, Open Access, Open Educational Resources – content made available over the internet for free and licensed for reuse.

OECD/CERI study setup to look at 4 main issues:

  • IPR issures
  • How to develop sustainable business models
  • Incentives and barriers to produce, use and delivery of open resources
  • How to improve access to and usefulness of resources

Firstly a definition – what is an OER?

OER are digitized material offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research (UNESCO 2002)

Four areas of development driving OER:

  • Technological (improved access, better software)
  • Social (increased IT skills, expectations of ‘free’)
  • Economical (lower costs, new business models)
  • Legal (new licensing – rethinking IP)

Mapping OER movement is challenging – it’s a global movement with a growing number of initiatives and resources. Also remove barriers to access, OER initiatives tend not to require registration – and so poor usage statistics.

Different types of initiatives:

  • Publicly or institutionally backed programmes – e.g. OpenLearn, OpenSpires, Open Courseward (MIT)
  • Community approach – Open Course, Common Content, Free Curricula Center
  • Mixed models – MERLOT, Connexions, ARIADNE

A followup study in 2008 found that the number of resources in 6 major OER initiatives had increased between 30% and 300%; still a large amount in English, but more in other languages; a move from text content to audio-visual and multimedia content (podcasts, video etc.)

A move from the community approach to institutionally supported approach – most initiatives now have institutional support.

According to MIT and Tufts users of OpenCourseWare typically well educated – already holding a degree. Mostly North American based (although this may have changed since) and self-learners (i.e. not use in other institutions)

Teachers asked said they tended to use OERs are a supplement to other materials – generally as smaller chunks. Barriers to using OERs were lack of time, skills and reward systems.

Motivations for producing and sharing OERs:


  • Expaned access to learning
  • Bridge gap between informal and formal learning
  • Promote lifelong learning


  • Altruism
  • Leverage on taxpayers money
  • “What you give you recieve back improved”
  • Good PR and shop window
  • Growing competition – new cost recovery models needed
  • Stimulat internal improvement, innovation and reuse


  • Altruistic or community supportive reasons
  • Personal non-monetary gain – ego-boost
  • Commercial reasons
  • It is not worth the effort to keep the resource closed

OECD report “Giving Knowledge for Free

During Q & A Andy Lane makes the point that you get waves of interest in specific areas – e.g. Darwin bicentenary – but this interest drops off quickly.

Content, Collaboration and Innovation

Today I’m at the Beyond Borders event in Oxford, in the very nicely equipped Said Business School. After a welcome from Melissa Highton, first up is Andy Lane talking about ‘OpenLearn‘ at the Open University.

Andy first asks ‘why make educational resources open’? There was a growing momentum behind OER worldwide (led by MIT) and the emergence of creative commons licenses made it possible to clearly state how materials could be used/reused. The idea of Open Educational Resources fitted well with the OU’s committment to social justice and widening participation – as well as the opportunity to build markets and reputation.

It was hoped that OERs might bridge the divide between formal and informal learning. It costs a lot to create good content – so any opportunity to reuse content and allow more time to be spent in areas where more value could be added – e.g. personal support.

Openlearn is in the process of moving to more ‘short form’ content – bringing in content previously hosted on open2.net. This short form content might be delivered via a number of routes – YouTube, iTunes, etc. At the same time there will be long form content for both learners (in the ‘Learning Space‘) and for educators (‘LabSpace‘). This will be complimented by OLNet – focused on Researchers.

LearningSpace (long form content) is delivered using the Moodle VLE. Not just a way of delivering open resources, but also somewhere that some experimentation can take place in terms of content format, content creation tools, delivery methods etc – some of which will feedback into the OU’s core VLE product.

OU believes this approach helps bridge informal and formal learning – the learner comes first, content is the hook, and delivers flexibility with a mix and match approach and self pacing. Only about 126,000 people registered – many fewer than the number of people who are browsing the site.

It is a huge challenge to understand how people are using the material. Example of Daniel Conn from the Times. On Open Learn seeing both ‘volunteer students’ and ‘social learners’.

Andy now talking about LabSpace – examples of teachers collaborating on aspects of creating educational resources – e.g.:

  • Preparation
  • Curriculum extension
  • Professional development
  • Share materials

Example of pushing learning content into a WordPress Blog (example of course on Hume – more information on how this was done at http://jimgroom.umwblogs.org/2008/02/17/proud-spammer-of-open-university-courses/, and thoughts from Tony Hirst at http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/blogarchive/013251.html)

Q & A:

Q: What kind of pressure is there to show link between publishing OERs and showing it brings in students to the Open University. What evidence is there?

A: Yes – those questions have been asked. It was an institutional action research project with buy-in from the top and external funding. Benefits not just in terms of how many students come in through this process – but many other aspects – use in Widening participation strategy – a way of dealing with hard to reach groups and bringing them in; being used by marketing department; being used as part of student registration process; used to work with regional funding bodies (in Scotland and Wales). Andy stresses all aspects need to be considered when looking at benefits