The mainstreaming of OER by educational stakeholders worldwide entails key factors related to the recognition of the benefits of OER, the mobilization of educational stakeholders as well as issues related to financing and clarity on the issue of ‘open’ as it refers to OER.
OER provide more equal access to knowledge and educational opportunities by making quality and affordable educational resources widely available at a time when education systems worldwide are facing growing challenges. Rapid growth in education enrolment, limited financial resources available for education, and the ongoing rollout of enabling ICT infrastructure have made it increasingly important for educational systems to support – in a planned and deliberate manner – the development and improvement of quality teaching and learning materials, curricula, programmes and course design, the planning of effective contact with students, the design of effective assessment, and meeting the needs of a greater diversity of learners. These activities aim to improve the teaching and learning environment while limiting cost through increased use of resource-based learning. OER help to manage this investment and the resulting copyright issues.
Governments have an interest in ensuring that public investments in education make a meaningful, cost-effective contribution to socio-economic development. The Paris OER Declaration calls for Governments to openly licensed resources funded by public funding. Sharing educational materials produced using public funding has significant potential to improve the quality and accessibility of educational delivery across national education systems by making OER more readily available for use by all education providers, not just the recipients of public funds (UNESCO and Commonwelath of Learning, 2011). Governments oare ideally positioned to encourage or mandate institutions to release materials as OER and to license materials developed with public funding under an open license. Government can also use open licensing regimes to increase the leverage of public investments, by facilitating widespread re-use of those investments with minimal additional spending.
The most costeffective investment in materials design and development is to incorporate effective adaptation and use of OER, as they avoid unnecessary duplication of effort by building on what already exists elsewhere, taking advantage of pooled alternative resources , removing costs of copyright negotiation and clearance, and engaging open communities in quality improvement, quality assurance, and translation.
One of the key benefits of open content is that it is ‘free’ for end users (i.e. it does not cost anything to download, leaving aside costs of bandwidth). However, OER incur costs related to developing, adapting and/or remixing material. Whilst donors’ funding has been an essential component of initiating OER practices, in order for them to become sustainable and effectively used governments and educational institutions need to systematically invest in programme, course, and materials development and acquisition. Costs include time spent in developing curricula and materials, adapting existing OER, dealing with copyright licensing (where materials are not openly licensed), etc. They also include associated expenses such as ICT infrastructure (for authoring and content-sharing purposes), bandwidth, costs of running workshops and meetings for content development teams.
‘Open’ is a term which is loosely applied, and, having gained currency is now being appropriated in many different sectors, such as open government, open architecture, open society, open access to education materials, and open source software (Weller, 2011). In many cases, current discussions on educational reform, particularly in higher education, have moved from OER to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Both are related to general policies of open education and reform, but there are differences. In particular, most MOOCs allow users only fair-use rights or rights stated in specific licenses. Most cannot be legally copied, and users cannot update them or use them to create their own courses. They are therefore not OER.
OER, as stated above, must be available on an open license which allows users to legally use/reuse and modify them.