Lion waiting for lunch

We’re going on an OER hunt, an OER hunt, an OER hunt.

And I’m not scared…

On my way to writing this blogpost I tried to pin down some of the other existing guides to OER to save time – sadly my go to guides are now somewhat dated and don’t suit the context. Hmm so here’s the post. – Contrary to my normal cautious CC BY NC SA license this post is available under CC:BY on the off chance you want to take and remix it – resources referred to are of course available under whatever license they have chosen.

This is also the place where I’ll add any guides I am aware of or that get added to comments [any post like this is inevitably and instantly incomplete and outdated but I need a point of reference].

Lion waiting for lunch

Lion waiting for lunch By Peter Harrison CC:BY From

The tweet that kicked it off was from Tanya Joosten and UW-M has pulled together some resources already:

What sort of thing are you looking for?

As with any literature search, figuring out your scope (or initial scope) is a good starting point. Figure out what type of thing you’re looking for, what you want to do with it and who your audience is. Where are you in the process? are you looking for illustrations, inspiration, syllabi, a textbook, a someone else’s lecture to use in flipping your class, or a whole course on a topic that you can build on or use to supplement another course.

Remember that small pieces let you build stuff into your existing structure but big pieces may be able to be used in small pieces (if you can get at them in a file format that permits it).


Before you start consider what you’re doing to do with the stuff you’re looking for – is this going to be public? under what conditions are you using this or making it available?
There’s a whole lot of questions you have to think through but at it’s simplest – your choice of license (or lack thereof) on your work impacts what you can do with the content you find. Remember that you can cite or link to content with any license (so you can get your students to refer to all rights reserved materials) – the caveat here is that if you link to materials which require users to accept particular Terms of Service you (from an ethical point of view) should ensure that you’re not asking your students to break those Terms of Service…

Don’t forget that much US government content is released under a public domain license – for example imagery from USGS or NASA.

General overview

Finding stuff…


  • Flickr – advanced search has Creative Commons license filters which may let you find images to use in your educational materials; However, it can be hard to find specific curated collections of educational materials such as Core-Materials unless you find out about them through other means. [Update it also seems that Flickr may be making license related searching less obvious]
  • Wellcome Trust – Recently released much of their image collection (medical, history of medicine, illustrated MS) under an open license [tbh the interface is a bit grim, but worth it].
  • Getty – has a growing Open Content Image collection
  • Nasa – eg image gallery 
  • USGS – eg publications


Youtube and Vimeo both allow you to search by Creative Commons license. However, it also can be hard to find unknown specific curated collections of educational materials.

Presentations, lecture slides, and related materials

Slideshare can be a great resource but doesn’t appear to easily offer a way to restrict a search to a specific license. You’re much more likely to find useful stuff through known people and links from conferences. You can develop a network of sources and find stuff as people upload but you’re, perhaps, more likely to be sent here from a link.


Finding a whole course which is relevant to what you’re doing can be overwhelming but can also be a useful way to find relevant component materials, to see how someone else engages with teaching/ facilitating the same topic, to offer student alternate perspectives, or perhaps to try a distributed flip.

Some places to look

EdX, Futurelearn, other Moocs, and iTunesU – these sources are often not particularly open wrt to licensing the content is often freely available to use and might suit you purpose even if it’s not remix-able or republish-able. It is worth remembering though that some of these platforms are license neutral – you can put (and find) open content on iTunesU or in Futurelearn.


(usually in HE)
These can be nationally focused (e.g. Jorum) , subject focused (e.g. LORO or Humbox ), institutionally focused (typically contain research papers, may contain data set, some also include educational materials).


There a lot of great resources out there

There are also a number of sites offering low cost textbooks which might be of use.


In an ideal world this would be the start and end point for any discovery process but it’s not (even if we include Google) and to be honest there are challenges or things to be aware of with all of these tools.


There’s a lot to say but for example see the Infokit:
the quality of OER should be assessed like any other resource but particular attention may be needed with respect to the freshness and currency of health related OER.

Phone a friend

Your professional network is a great source of content or leads to find those priceless bucket of curated stuff.

line drawing of balance scales

The licensing balance: Dr Chuck and MIT OCW

line drawing of balance scales

Like many (well many in the educational technology world anyway) I saw Chuck Severance’s blog post yesterday about deciding to stop using Creative Commons licensing for high value stuff and to reissue his content with All Rights Reserved. I found the post sad but understandable.

With an Open license you give up some/ most control over how your content is used- this is a choice and for most a balance between positive and negative effects. The choice can be determined, by political, moral, ethical, or contractual obligations or inclinations. Once something is out under an open license you have given up some control and it may be used in ways that you can’t imagine. These might be fantastic or they might be unfortunate. For Dr Severance the balance tipped and and the spammed misuse of his content prompted a change in stance on CC licenses.

Today I saw a news article from MIT about an MITx student, Amol Bhave, who took an MITx course. He wanted to take the next course but MITx wasn’t yet offering the subsequent course, so Amol created the next course from the corresponding CC-licensed MIT OCW material and ran his own follow up MOOC. An action the original professor, MIT OCW, and possibly MIT all seem to be happy enough about.

It would be possible to discuss the issue Dr Chuck is not rejecting open licenses per se but just CC licenses; but (as far as I know) for content and content discovery tools anything other than CC is a waking nightmare to deal with and kills the type of web-based advanced search that lets you find open content (my understanding of this may be rusty but, last time I checked, for content aggregators CC or PD is pretty much the only game in town).

Now, it would be easy to compare these stories and say look at the good open licenses can do, but for me these examples create part of a balanced picture. To opt into open licensing, you have to weigh things up and keep weighing them up. At the risk of preempting and paraphrasing an unfinished article (ok I’ve been sitting on it for two years now, so I’m not going to let that stop me), there are at least two steps in using open licensing:

  • Step one is to appreciate the arguments for open
  • Step two is to weigh the balance and choose

Step one may well be a transformational shift in your understanding but step two is an ongoing process. To pretend otherwise changes the discussion of the appropriateness of an ‘Open license’ from a reasoned choice to an ideology. Even if Open is a valid ideological choice, and for many people it is, turning discussions about licensing into religious wars doesn’t help anyone, in particular those trying to find,  use, and share content. Licenses are a necessary means, making them an end in themselves is a problem.*

Spammers have made the balance change for Dr Severance so that the CC license doesn’t seem like a good fit any more – it hasn’t changed his desire to share and provide access to his stuff.

*Yes one can ignore or reject the whole system of IPR, but legal peril aside, it’s the system most of us work under, even if it is increasingly crazy. As a related aside, I think there are significant differences between an organization’s use of an open license and an individual’s – especially if public monies are involved (but that’s veering towards a different discussion).

[updated for clarity]

Graphic showing origins of a number of communities involved in open education as a braid

OpenEd 2012 (2/2)

Following on from my general blog post about OpenEd12, there’s lot’s of the conference that I’m not going to comment on – too much time has passed. However, for me at least, there were two presentations that highlighted pivotal issues and which have shaped how I’m thinking back on the year. One from Rory McGreal and Terry Anderson presented on disaggregating the university (audio link, not sure where the slides are) which they followed up with Anderson, T., & McGreal, R. (2012). Disruptive Pedagogies and Technologies in Universities. Educational Technology & Society, 15 (4), 380–389. Though sadly at first glance the paper doesn’t put the question as starkly as “~where is the RyanAir of higher education? or why does education think it can avoid such competition in some areas?). They’re certainly not the only ones talking about this question but it’s heartening to continue to have a more nuanced articulation of models of doing tertiary education differently be considered by two people with their level of experience both in the academy and in the open movement; as gulp-inducing as the presentation and implicit realities for those working in the sector might be. George Siemens also made this point about the lecture in one of the  NGLC Summer Learning Series webinars discussing MOOCs – whether we like it or not some aspects of HE are open to disruption. Whether lectures or support services, the currently bundling that is higher education is likely to diversify and outside of a few institutions appears highly susceptible to change (and frankly many of those who might chose to be immune to change are highly involved in it) .

The other presentation was David Kernohan, Amber Thomas (not present), & Sheila MacNeill’s presentation on the prehistory of OER (somewhat focused on UKOER). I’m familiar with most of what David and Sheila talked about and was involved with them in a fair chunk of it. The details are in their presentation but I was really struck by their three strands of the open education movement slide which captures something important about where the ‘Open Education’ movement (in the UK at least, but I suspect more widely) came from and why. The convergence of efforts from a number of different domains helped create a peculiar opportunity for, interest in, focus on, and shared identity around OER.

Graphic showing origins of a number of communities involved in open education as a braid

Braid of Open Education Origins by (Kernohan, MacNeill, Thomas )

I think that the diagram is particularly important at this stage of the ‘Open Education’ movement because it helps us remember that we all got into this for similar but slightly different reasons and as we begin to see other options emerge we have different responses to them and are perhaps surprised at each other’s responses. It may also help us remember that together these strands achieved something that they might not have otherwise been able to do.

Perhaps the obvious example of this identity tension is that many new MOOCs are ‘free’ but not exactly ‘open’, they offer (in lowest common denominator terms) access to educational stuff and various forms of structure around it. Is this:

  • a good thing,
  • an inevitable thing,
  • a hijacking of good intentions,
  • an abomination,
  • a beginning of a new model?

I’ll not claim that there is an answer but, as much as I value open, I’m beginning to feel that free (as long as it lasts) is also a good thing (not the best, likely to mutate, but nevertheless good). [One of the perils of writing something and not finishing it is that life happens – FWK is now both an example of models mutating and of the benefits of open over free for the community in the long term].

I also wonder if this mixed heritage is one reason that newcomers to the community may not quite get some of the things that frustrate some of us and perhaps help understand why some funders, though also committed to open, are backing MOOCs.

There’s more that could be said about this but for now I’m left grappling with the double-edged priority of access to education – I want licence/license to be secondary to reach and impact but I know that is somewhat shortsighted. It’s easy for me to say not using an open license will cause problems in the long run but I’m left with the fact that I still like CC: BY NC SA for my work (rather than work funded to be open) and there are plenty of colleagues who see that as a dead end.

Wordle of OpenEd12 Tweets

Open Education: OpenEd2012 (1/2)

Wordle of OpenEd12 Tweets

Wordle of OpenEd12 Tweets

I had the privilege to attend the Open Education conference again this year. It was, as ever, a whirlwind of enthusiasm, activity, and challenge. Scott Leslie and many others did an amazing job of conference organization.

Many others have already offered their feedback or commentary (and in a more timely fashion), for example:

If you’ve written up the conference and I’ve missed you please feel free to comment with a link to your post. The recording of all the conference sessions are available at:

I tweeted much of the conference (though my volume of tweets definitely trailed off as the event progressed), and to be honest as a result large sections of the event are being held in that offsite memory. In one attempt to consider what the conference as a whole talked about I wordled by tweets (filtering a few things like opened12 and twitter handles there because I was RT’ing or dialoguing with them). One version is above and another fuller version is on Wordle: Wordle: opened12tweets

I’m struck by how much Gardner Campbell fills centre stage in this – I think as the first keynote he was always likely to set some of the tone for the event, but I also think that, with no disrespect, to the other keynotes he captured something of the mood, aspirations, and hopes of the open education community over the past years and how different members have reacted to different directions that have emerged. I think it’s worth watching again or taking the time to watch if you weren’t there. I’m torn about how accessible the aspects of the keynote are for those who’ve not been in this community to some extent, but I think reflections on the patterns of innovation, development, and change are much more universal and worth engaging with. Prufrock ‘s refrain of “That is not it, that is not what I meant at all” rings true in many situations .

Perhaps because of the sessions I was in MOOCs where often on the fringes  of the conversation rather than centre stage. #MOOCtober aside I think the absence is in part that the conference attendees were engaged in their own existing work and in part that the xMOOCs are a different crowd [cMOOCs were around in places and I wasn’t in the MIT OCW presentation so I can’t comment on how much EdX featured, but they are different beasts (and generally hold a much stronger interest in, if not commitment to, Open)]. I will note that there was quite a lot of discussion about #ds106 and #phonar

There was also a lot about Open Textbooks. Although I had appreciated some of the differences in the role and cost of textbooks before I started work in the US, the difference in the importance of textbooks and just how much money (and power/dependency) is invested in the textbook thing still surprises me (and reading some of my European colleagues’ blog posts I’m not alone).  Discussing Open Textbooks is a post on its own but in terms of the conference – they cropped up a lot and that irrespective of your take on open textbooks in general, Siyavula‘s efforts are amazing and are making a fantastic difference to a lot of students. There are two other presentations that I’ll talk about in a subsequent post, as they point to the bigger picture of how in how the community and OER landscape is changing.

The conference dinner was remarkable, not for the food (which was fine), not for the boat trip (which was lovely), but for the band – which for a while at least is available for your viewing pleasure on Cogdog’s playlist, ‘the band on the boat‘. I can’t imagine many other conferences which have the community, identity and sheer glorious gallus [for the non-Scots let’s say “confident audacity”] to have a semi-spontaneous pick up band featuring a large number of the conference keynotes and organizers. Nor for that matter can I imagine many conferences were a reasonable number of people danced (well and not awkwardly). More than anything else it showcased the conference as a community.

Beyond MOOCpocalyse, towards a spectrum of approaches

I’m at OpenEd12 this week and tweeting away when wifi permits. I’ll talk more about the conference later (and Gardner Campbell’s keynote), but a quick note about two presentations earlier that didn’t get tweeted. I hope to develop my thoughts about this more later but if you’re interested in shifts in Higher Ed, the presentations by Saylor and ISKME earlier today are important.

In talking about their current work Saylor noted a shift in the types of question they’re able to ask ~from  ‘we know what OER can be, we are now working more on what can OER do’. They presented responses from students  noting the range of responses about the different ways in which students are interacting with their content, looking at: supplementing courses, extending access, allowing flexible access, creating innovative and cross curricular programs of study. They are looking into three approaches to convert courses they offer to currency in the traditional systems, and outline:

  1. Exam Preparation (for existing structures; they’re aligning with CLEP exams) to create transfer credit.
  2. Credit by Exam – partnership with accredited partners (such as Excelsior college and Straighter Line, others coming ).
  3. Offer credit themselves. Working to align with NCCRS and using a proctoring service to develop a path for college credit.

I’ll note that their aim (at this point) is not to replace college but to reduce the cost of college – in the same way that many students take some years at community college and transfer into a program at a university – they hope to allow transfer in at a similar stage with credit earning in relation to Saylor content.

ISKME have an ongoing research project about the *spectrum* of access, openness and credentials. Their project is exploring useful questions beyond the hype of disruption/ transformation and are offering the beginnings of a more nuanced point of view. Although their model is still under development there’s an interesting matrix teasing out of ownership of learning (program vs self-directed) against reward/ certification approach and against use of OER.

I think that there may be bigger questions about the sustainability of some existing models if some of the newer approaches stabilise but we shall see.

New OER for Information Literacy report and mailing list

As a complement to the work Gema has been doing on the role of Libraries and Librarians in OER Initiatives, Nancy Graham & Jane Secker have recently released a report on Information Literacy OER and established a mailing list to support the further development of the network. From their announcement:

“Following a survey earlier this year and a recent event held at the University of Birmingham looking at how librarians share information literacy (IL) open educational resources (OERs) as a community of practice, we are pleased to announce the release of our report ‘Librarians, Information Literacy and Open Educational Resources: report of a survey’. The report is available here: The event and work on the report has been kindly supported by the CILIP Information Literacy Group.”
“One outcome from the Birmingham event is a JISC mailing list for those interested in IL OERs: We will be posting to this list any events, research or discussions relevant to IL OERs. If you have anything to share or report on, please do use this list, we would like it to be a virtual meeting point for the community. To subscribe to this list please follow this link:

We have also set up a wiki at The outcomes of discussions at the Birmingham event are posted here along with details of many existing IL OER initiatives, projects, websites etc.”

The Role of Libraries and Information Professionals in OER initiatives

Yesterday JISC CETIS and CAPLE published a research report by Gema Bueno-de-la-Fuente, Stuart Boon, and myself investigating the role of Libraries and Information Professionals in Open Educational Resource Initiatives. The report is the output of Gema’s sabbatical research stay at the University of Strathclyde.

Links to Gema’s blog post about the report and the report.

The report highlights the generally positive impact of LIS professionals involvement in OER initiatives but notes that that involvement and awareness of the relevance of LIS skillsets to OER is not widespread in LIS organisations.