Gerry and Others: Sorry for jumping into this forum so late in the discussion, but I thought I would contribute some of the experiences of universities in developing nations. I am currently working as the Head of Special Projects for the University of the West Indies. One of my duties is to lead the OER effort. UWI is engaged in a European Union ACP applied research project to investigate the use of OERs in third world universities who rely heavily on DE. The participating universities include UWI, U of South Pacific, U of Mauritius, OUUK and the University of the Hebrides.
The developing universities throughout Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean are in need of high quality course content that they can use to educate their population. In most cases the developing universities do not have the manpower, expertise or money to build online courseware from scratch. Yet higher education is a key building block for economic development, social development and good governance throughout the developing world. If used properly OERs can contribute to the growth of these developing nations.
The lead researcher for the project is Dr. Robin Mason at OUUK. The research project is in its first year and will last for three years. The aim is to examine the impact of OERs on the ability of third world universities to create and deliver high quality learning experiences to its learners. Some of the questions being examined include:
1. How much time and effort does it take to create a course using OERs? Is it more or less than creating a course from scratch?
2. What is the quality of the OER supported course?
3. What is the impact on and reaction of the faculty and other staff involved in the design and delivery of OER supported courseware?
4. What resources exist to support large scale OER development and sharing?
5. What is the impact on the pedagogy of a course and on the learners when a institution creates a course using multiple OERs from different sources?
6. What is the impact of the Creative Commons licence and other copyright laws on the use of OERs in the developing world?
UWI is responsible for creating and supporting an OER Research Forum that will engage researchers and academics from a variety of different universities and agencies. It is hoped this site will be up and running by April of this year. What we have learned so far is:
1. There is no common definition of an OER? It is anything from a single file to a whole course module/unit.
2. Does an external link to another web page constitute an OER or must the OER be embedded in the re-purposed course? This is a debate that is being debated by the project researchers.
3. The quality of OERs varies widely.
4. No agreed upon standards exist for OER development or publication.
5. Not many full online courses are available in the OER repositories. Most are face to face course outlines or individual resources/files such as a video clip, audio clip or flash file.
6. Not all OERs conform to the Creative Commons licence. Many institutions have very restrictive copyright rules that limit the use of the OER.
7. Time spent in searching for OERs is often extensive, especially in domains where not many have been published.
8. Using multiple OERs in a single course requires considerable effort to ensure the language and course flow is consistent throughout the courseware.
9. The OER movement is strangely similar to the Learning Objects movement.
Hopefully this gives the members of this forum some ideas and questions to consider as you hopefully engage in the OER movement. I will share with this community the link to the OER Research Forum once UWI has set it up.
My closing plea is that we should encourage our Canadian institutions to embrace the OER movement and share their content for the betterment of the world as a whole. If each unversity published at least five courses into a common OER repository, we would have an instant library of courses larger then the OUUK LearningSpace repository.
"The OER movement is strangely similar to the Learning Objects movement" - that made me laugh. Partly because it resonates, but partly because it only resonates when people are trying to force new models to fit old patterns. That to me is when OER start to resembles LO - for instance when you start from a posture of 'closed' and then figure out incrementally how to open select parts of it. Then all sorts of really dumb interoperability issues and questions of 'granularity' etc arise.
I say 'dumb' because as many many many many people are trying to show (I should say, "Have showed already"), if instead of starting from the position of everything being closed and then meting out access, bit by bit, we instead acknowledge the benefits of openness right from the get-go and provide network learning opportunities, many of these issues quickly fade away (as indeed they seem to do on the wider net, where remix and reuse just, well, happen.)
I wish you luck on the research project; feedback from intended reusers of OERs has got to be a positive thing, I would think. But I guess my comments above would be to urge you NOT to simply accept the terms of the problem as set out by the existing 'OER Publishers' but to challenge them to rethink these from the perspectives of what really would make this work, BOTH for your institutions and for themselves, as well as challenge them to think outside of the frame of straight 'publishing.' I know there are lots of folks who would be receptive to these ideas, and indeed it's my take at least that the way to "do OER" is not at ALL a 'done deal' but one that's still emerging.