Saturday, May 7, 2016

Is OER Free ?

Is OER free? Well, let's look at some sources:

Wikipedia: (retrieved today.)
  • "The idea of open educational resources (OER) has numerous working definitions.[3] The term was firstly coined at UNESCO's 2002 Forum on Open Courseware and designates "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work".
Wikipedia then includes the he William and Flora Hewlett Foundation term which defines OER as:
  • "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge".
Looking at the Wikipedia entry cited above will lead to some of the many issues that are not yet resolved regarding OER; there are many, but I don't think there should be any confusion about the idea that OER are NO-COST and available or FREE USE. That's how I read the above, anyway.

But there are some who offer different ideas. The company, PanOpen, says: 
  • "“Open” does not necessarily mean “free.” Not all OER materials are free and likewise, not all free materials are considered OER. Usage rights - not cost - primarily define OER. That said, when there is a cost, OER are typically significantly cheaper than textbooks - a factor students especially appreciate. 
  • panOpen has a growing library of high-quality peer reviewed and vetted open content."
Apparently, panOpen thinks that people don't understand the definition of OER as presented by the Hewlett Foundation, OER Commons, and the OECD.  PanOpen has a library and they want to get paid for letting you use it, which is not the idea of OER. Requiring payment for accessing free content makes it NOT free, therefore, not really OER.

The panOpen example is one of clear and deliberate confusion making. Another example of confusion in the OER universe is presented by The Learning Registry. The problem with the Learning Registry is that it's "an aggregator of metadata—data about the learning resources available online—including the publisher, location, content area, standards alignment, ratings, reviews, and more" except the 'more' doesn't seem to include whether or not the resources are OER or not. I would think that if they can sort the resources by all of those other ways, sorting the resources by OER or not wouldn't be that hard to do. And, it would be a really useful sort for those of us who only want to use OER and not content that requires payment to somebody.

There are plenty more examples of a line needing to be drawn between OER and non-OER, as was suggested by Nicole Allen @llen in a Twitter exchange that I've been involved in for a couple of days. How that line gets drawn and who and what is located on either side of the line will no doubt be a continuing conversation. Stay tuned.

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