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any guides I am aware of or that get added to comments [any post like this is inevitably and instantly incomplete and outdated but I need a point of reference].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.

Cartoon Superhero of Matt Jukes

Quick note on Webmaker and #teachtheweb

Exploring the Mozilla mooc #teachtheweb and plotting revenge

I had a lot of fun exploring thimble and popcorn for week 1 and creating a quick thimble page and popcorn video + overlay.


Now I’m getting around to noticing the #teachtheweb week 2 when Jukesie (Matt Jukes) offers up his remix of my page . Quite epic, though perhaps missing some flashing box adverts  ;-P .

So, maybe I’ve been enculturated but the only possible response to that is ‘it’s on’…

With that in mind, ladies and gents, I offer you the following by response – it’s not as polished as I’d like but hey worth a go…

Cartoon Superhero of Matt Jukes

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]

Licensing the blog

One of the things I didn’t get round to when I moved this blog over to wordpress was settling on a license. For a while I’ve tended to use CC: BY with other licences used for particular items of work or because they built on other materials with SA licences. I used BY in large part because I was effectively publicly funded and as such I considered what I produced in relation to my job to be not entirely mine.

Although I remain convinced of the benefits of licensing being as open as possible to promote the use and usability of content, I’ve reverted to BY NC SA while my work on this is unfunded.

Managing OERs: the problem of version control?

Proposal: those releasing OERs should not invest undue effort in attempting to maintain version control over copies of their material other than those they directly manage.

This post looks at one possible administrative or management concern or challenges emerging from the technical side of working with Open Educational Resources. My response to this concern is (more than usual) opinion rather than advice and hopes to provoke some debate.

There are plenty of reasons why version control of files is critical. These range from managing which version of a document you can safely delete to making sure you’re reading the right document or installing the most up to date patch. Good version control is a key part of content production, file management, and dissemination. Any repository, content management system or other tool – need to clearly distinguish between current and older versions. Older versions may or may not be maintained (whether publicly or privately). In itself this creates a question of what those releasing resources should link to. At its simplest version information about research papers is important to distinguish between pre-print and post-print. However, when papers are published that usually represents a final version of that paper (and not many repositories are [currently] likely to make public multiple versions of an article.

Educational resources on the other hand are usually considered less finished in that even once they are used for teaching year by year [in theory] they regularly evolve to reflect feedback, changes in course content, and developments in teaching style. These iterative versions may often blur into each over as in the lecturer’s mind they are the notes for topic ‘x’ rather than discrete intellectual works. Unless a course or class is completely restructured these assets are likely considered to be one entity [There is a case to be made that these materials are perhaps in need of more rigorous versioning]. For academics who’ve engaged with the idea of Open Education or simply appreciate the visibility it offers this may create a desire to update the materials they’ve released and replace them with new versions. Indeed, if they discover an error in their materials, or their thinking shifts they may be insistent on trying to manage the available copies of their work.

Local repositories or services managing OERs will doubtless develop their own policies and practices to support or address this concern and it makes sense to keep the available learning resources updated. The policies and practices will likely diverge over whether older versions of materials are kept and/or made available to the public. This process gets more interesting though when we consider what interaction projects have with other services which have copies of (rather than just link to) their resources – to what extent do you try to version secondary copies of your resources?

I think there are several factors that shape how OER producers should respond to this question:

  1. strictly speaking you have no legal right to request the removal or update of such resources. Once released under an open license the content is out of your control as long as the license is conformed to. [Note: I am not a lawyer but part of the entire point of most open licenses is that they are non-transactional and irrevocable].
  2. most services or individuals that have taken copies of your resources are likely to be very happy to take updated copies as well.
  3. although most notification or harvesting technologies or standards can support (in some form) the deletion, creation or updating of records [and this would potentially support pointing to a new version]; they deal with metadata rather than allowing remote file management [AFAIK] and even if they did support remote file management few people are going to enable such a feature.
  4. manually distributing updated copies is a possibility but is time intensive and also relies on the policy, procedure, and practice of the third party service.

Considering these factors, I don’t think under normal circumstances OER distributors should be concerned about how their materials are versioned once they leave their local service. This does imply that there may always be some degree of confusion but I’d suggest that on the web there is (even when concerted efforts are made to reduce it) and that responding to the confusion requires consumers of OERs to exercise the same information literacy skills that they need when interacting with any online resource.

This said I think there are steps OER producers can take to promote the visibility of their current resources: one such would be to include a purl or other appropriate uri which points to for the latest version in the resource and metadata where this is possible, whether as a cover page, a subtitle at the start of a video, or other such mechanism, there is a compelling case that resources should include information about where they’ve come from – not only to promote the latest versions but also to note the resource provider. I’ve talked previously about this idea of that resources should be self-descriptive. There may be limit cases in which there is a compelling case to try to remove every trace of a resource but these are unlikely to be common.

Journals and the right choice of words

Erik Duval has just blogged about the first issue of IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies.
His blog post is available at

I’m glad to see the launch of a new journal in the field of learning technology and very glad to see that the content is going to be Open Access after a 12 month embargo during which it’s only available to subscribers. They’ve got a featured article that looks interesting “Capture, Management, and Utilization of Lifecycle Information for Learning Resources, Lasse Lehmann, Tomas Hildebrandt, Christoph Rensing, Ralf Steinmetz”

<rant> I may just be grumpy because the train strike is making my life difficult but there are two things about this journal (or -to be fair- IEEE’s journal system) that have already managed to frustrate me.

The first is that there is no publicly (non-subscriber) viewable table of contents  – this may be a mix up because its the first issue – but apart from the featured article – I have no idea what’s in this issue.

The second is that the journal has access to PrePrints and Rapidposts.

‘PrePrints are papers accepted for publication in a future issue, but have not been fully edited. Their content may change prior to final publication. RapidPosts are articles that have been accepted for inclusion in a future issue. Content is final as presented, with the exception of pagination.’

This making available of content that is ‘in press’ is great and adds value for subscribers – but please – find a different word!  ‘PrePrint’ – as confusing as it may be as a term – has very strong connections and a lot of established use in Open Access repositories. When I see that word I expect to find something I can access not a subscribers’ login screen.

IEEE login screen

I know this choice of words has nothing to do with the editors but frustrating potential readers isn’t going to incline me to return to the page. </rant>