Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: AEShareNet, BC Commons, BCcampus, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative, Connexions, creative commons, Edna, financing cycle of investment, Ford Foundation, foundation funded OER, funding models, Hewlett Foundation, JISC JORUM, JISC OER, Mellon Foundation, MIT OpenCourseWare, OER Framework, OER Use Cases, OERNZ, Open Education Conference, Open Licensing Continuum, Open Yale Courses, publicly funded OER, Sothern Regional Education Board SCORE, strategies, sustainability, technology adoption lifecycle curve, UKOU Open Learn, Wikiwijs
This post is an expanded version of a paper I’m formally giving at the Open Education Conference in Barcelona November 2-4, 2010. Since submitting the paper back in September there have been several new announcements related to Foundation support for OER that I’ve included here in the blog but are not in the original paper. The conference paper has a prescribed word count so the original abbreviated version of this paper will be published in the conference proceedings. This is a hybrid paper in that I’ve kept the APA style references of the original paper but also created links that allow for further exploration when read online. I plan to use this blog post to support the actual presentation at the Open Education Conference so I’ve added visuals for that purpose.
I’m publishing it early with the aim of getting some feedback and suggestions that I can incorporate into the actual conference presentation. If you are planning on attending the conference I hope this sneak preview stimulates your interest and makes you want to attend my session. Attendees at the session are invited to use their laptop to follow along and explore the many links provided while I’m presenting. If you aren’t attending the conference let me know your thoughts by posting comments and I’ll incorporate them into the presentation.
Most well known OER initiatives such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare or Rice University’s Connexions have been funded by foundations such as Hewlett, Mellon, and Gates. Foundation funding has been an essential component of establishing the OER field. However, foundation funding cannot be relied on for ongoing development and operations. Many OER initiatives are struggling to establish and transition to a future independent of foundation funding. A common and critical challenge is planning for and ensuring sustainability. (Baraniuk, 2008)
OER have now been in development and use since 2002. On the technology adoption lifecycle curve (Rogers, 1983) we’d say OER have come through the innovation phase, are striving for adoption, and aspire to cross into early majority.
To the extent that OER are a disruptive innovation we can also consider Geoffrey Moore’s variation of this model that depicts a chasm between the early adoption and early majority phase. Many disruptive technology innovations do not successfully cross the chasm and simply disappear (Moore, 1991).
Will this be the fate of OER?
OER need sustainable business models and most importantly sustaining funding. One way to think about OER funding is to map it to a traditional start-up financing cycle of investment.
The cycle of investment starts with seed funding provided by what the field refers to as friends, family and fools (FFF). Seed funding is usually a small amount required to kick start the effort. In the context of OER seed funding is the money put up by the institutions and organizations starting OER initiatives. As the development progresses a second round of funding is often sought in the form of angel investment. Angel investors typically invest their own capital to finance a ventures need. Angel investment is high risk. A large percentage of angel investments are lost completely when early stage ventures fail in the “valley of death”. Foundations have played the angel investment role for OER. Angel investment is high risk and short term. Angel capital fills the gap between friends and family and third stage funding where venture capital, banks, or initial public offering kick in.
Venture capital, bank, or IPO private investments are unlikely options for OER but the sustained funding need is real. A variety of funding models for OER have been proposed including:
- partnerships and exchanges
In a public post secondary institution context traditional sources of funding are:
- public grant funding from taxes
- individual donations
- organizational donations
- fees for products or services
One strategy for sustaining OER developments as they transition from early innovation to mainstream is for government and tax-payer public funding to take over from the early stage funding foundations have provided.
This paper examines some of the factors affecting the growth and sustainability of OER. It compares and contrasts foundation and government publicly funded OER initiatives in terms of global vs. local goals, licensing options, use cases, and outcomes. Emerging from this comparison are strategies and tactics that position OER for public funding, ongoing adoption, and a long-term sustainable future.
Foundation Funded OER
The OER movement has been dominated by foundation funding. The Hewlett Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and more recently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been priming the OER pump with grants.
These foundations each have distinct identities and philanthropic mandates that shape the programs and conditions by which OER funding is provided. Funding awards are not provided in a no-strings-attached fashion. Foundation grants are awarded to initiatives that support the goals of the foundation.
If OER are going to transition to public funding its worth looking at foundation mandates and goals and thinking about the extent to which they match up with public funder mandates and goals.
The Hewlett Foundation based in Menlo Park CA makes grants to solve social and environmental problems in the US and around the world. The Hewlett Foundation, along with the Mellon Foundation, was the first to support OER, has provided large grants on an ongoing basis, and continues to play an active role. Of all foundations Hewlett is by far the most influential and largest investor in the OER field.
Hewlett has funded most of the major, well-known OER initiatives including:
- MIT OpenCourseware
- Rice University Connexions
- UK Open University’s OpenLearn
- Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative
- Commonwealth of Learning
- Teachers Without Borders
- Yale University Open Yale Courses
- Monterey Institute for Technology and Education
- Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education
- and many others
The Mellon Foundation’s mandate and goals are largely around supporting higher education and the humanities including research libraries, centres for advanced study, art museums and art conservation, and the performing arts. (Mellon, 2004 pp. 9)
The Mellon Foundation’s role in open education has primarily been through awarding grants for initiatives that benefit teaching and learning through the collaborative development of open-source software. In the larger educational context that includes software such as uPortal, Kuali and Sakai. From an OER perspective Mellon’s focus has been on mass digitization of content in libraries and building archives and sharing content across institutions rather than supporting initiatives to develop open course content. But Mellon has partnered with other foundations to co-invest in large OER initiatives such as MIT’s OCW.
The Ford Foundation’s goals are to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. (Ford, 2010) The Ford Foundation has supported OER as part of the Partnership of Higher Education in Africa and IKSME’s OER ArtsCollab which is engaging teachers, learners, and practitioners in the collaborative development and use of OER in the arts and social justice.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation makes grants in global development, global health and the United States. The Gates Foundation is supporting OER as a disruptive innovation. The Foundation’s Technology in Post Secondary Success background paper states; “We will make investments to test whether community-developed and openly distributed course materials, platforms and technologies can effectively disrupt traditional teaching methods and increase student engagement.” (Gates, 2010a)
In Oct. 2009 Gates made a $5.3 million investment in the Washington State Student Completion Initiative. (Gates, 2010b) Of that total $1.8 million is going to the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges for an Open Course Library initiative developing 81 high enrolment courses as OER.
In Oct. 2010 the Gates Foundation announced plans to spend up to $20 million on the first phase of a Next Generation Learning program that could become as much as $80 million over the next four years. Open courseware is one of four areas being targeted for the first wave of grants. Open courseware for high-enrollment introductory classes like math, science, and English, which often have low rates of student success is of particular interest.
In the OER context foundations like Hewlett, Mellon, Ford and Gates are angel investors supporting OER initiatives at a scale and with a volume of financing significantly beyond the start-up seed funding of OER initiators. Most foundations have global and humanitarian mandates and goals.
Foundation Funded OER Initiative Goals
We’ve looked at the goals of foundations lets now look at specific foundation funded OER initiatives and see to what extent their goals match those of their funding foundation.
MIT OCW Goals
Advance education around the world by publishing MIT courses as a public good for the benefit of all. (Hockfield, 2010)
Connexions has two primary goals:
- to convey the interconnected nature of knowledge across disciplines, courses, and curricula
- to move away from solitary authoring, publishing, and learning process to one based on connecting people into global learning communities that share knowledge.
(Baraniuk, 2008, pp. 233)
To make some of The Open University’s distance learning materials freely accessible in an international web-based open content environment and, in so doing, to advance open content delivery method technologies by:
- deploying leading-edge learning management tools for learner support
- encouraging the creation of non-formal collaborative learning communities
- enhance international research-based knowledge about modern pedagogies for higher education
(Lane, 2008, pp. 156)
The OLI initiative is a research-based approach to OER. The fundamental goal of OLI is to develop Web-based learning environments that are the complete enactment of instruction. This includes developing better resources and practices, cycles of evaluation and improvement, and advancing fundamental understanding of learning. (Thille, 2008, pp. 167)
A second major goal of the OLI is to provide access to high quality postsecondary courses (similar to those taught at Carnegie Mellon) to learners who cannot attend such institutions. (Thille, 2008 pp. 175) To support this OLI’s website provides free online courses and course materials that enact instruction for an entire course.
Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to recorded lectures of a selection of introductory courses taught by faculty at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn. Registration is not required and no course credit is available.
Goals like “advance education around the world”, “publish courses as a public good” “connect people into global learning communities” and “expand access for all who wish to learn” align well with Foundation goals. But do they align well with government publicly funded education goals?
Publicly Funded OER
Government public funding of OER has not been as widely featured in the OER field as foundation funded OER initiatives. The authors own BCcampus initiative in Canada is one example, but a quick scan of the most highly cited OER initiatives shows just how dominating foundation OER have been. During the drafting of this paper the author contacted several leaders in the OER field and asked them to identify OER initiatives that are funded by public taxpayer dollars at the state, province or national level. The initiatives that emerged in response are:
- BCcampus OER (Canada)
- Southern Regional Education Board SCORE (US)
- AEShareNet & Education Network Australia (edna) (Australia)
- OERNZ (New Zealand)
- JISC JORUM & JISC OER (UK)
- Wikiwijs (Netherlands)
- OPAL (European Union)
- Open High School of Utah (US)
- Utah State Wide OCW (US)
For apples to apples comparative purposes the author has chosen initiatives focused on higher education open content as opposed to open educational practices, open source software, or other aspects of the field.
Lets look at the goals of publicly funded OER initiatives.
Funded through an annual Online Program Development Fund provided by the Ministry of Advanced Education the BCcampus OER goals are to increase credential opportunities available to students throughout the province by funding multi-institutional partnerships for the development of shared credit-based post-secondary online courses, programs, and resources.
BCcampus OER goals translate into three metrics:
- sharing & reuse
Funded by the Southern Regional Education Board the goals of SCORE are to improve teaching and learning and achieve cost savings through a multistate K-12 and higher education initiative to share digital learning course content among colleges, universities and schools in SREB states. SCORE:
- establishes school and college relationships to create, license and provide high-quality content
- provides cost-effective learning resources for K-20 by sharing development costs among states and commercial companies
- reduces duplication of effort
- increases faculty and student productivity
- adheres to e-learning standards
AEShareNet & edna
AEShareNet is a collaborative system in Australia established by the Australian Ministers of Education and Training to streamline the licensing of intellectual property so that Australian learning materials are developed, shared, and adapted efficiently. It plays an intermediary role between developers and users and in particular facilitates the transfer of educational resources between educational institutions. Its goal is to provide a process and online system that is streamlined, avoids duplication and increases efficiency. (OECD CERI, 2006 pp. 3-4) AEShareNet and other licensed educational resources are distributed through edna’s repository.
Funded by the Tertiary Education Commission, the objective of the New Zealand Open Educational Resources project is to develop courseware that will be freely available to all tertiary education institutions in New Zealand. Reduction in the duplication of investment is a primary goal, but without risking the pluralism of ideas and innovation that underpin a vibrant education sector. (New Zealand OER, 2010)
The UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded the JORUM initiative which put in place a repository for content UK higher education institutions wished to share. More recently JISC launched an OER content initiative to support the open release of existing learning resources for free use and repurposing worldwide. JISC OER will use JORUM as one of the vehicles for sharing.
The goals of JORUM are to enable the sharing, reuse and repurposing of learning and teaching resources through an online, repository service that supports policy, practice and productivity in learning and teaching in the UK and beyond. (JORUM, 2010)
The goals of JISC’s OER program are to explore the sustainability of long-term open resources release via the adoption of appropriate business models. Supporting actions may include modifications to institutional policies and processes, with the aim of making open resources release an expected part of the educational resources creation cycle. JISC’s OER program is expected to build the capacity of the sector for sustainable OER release, generate better understanding of OER reuse, and make OER easier to find and use. (JISC OER, 2010)
The Netherlands wikiwijs OER initiative goals include:
- stimulating development and use of OER
- creating options for specialized and customized education
- increasing quality of education through more flexible and up-to-date materials
- improving access to both open and ‘closed’ digital learning materials
- reducing time to find and find resources that are quality and fit curriculum
- increasing teacher involvement in development and use of OER
Goals like “increasing credential opportunities available to students throughout the province“, “establish school and college relationships” “develop courseware freely available to tertiary institutions in New Zealand” and “expand access to both open and closed digital learning resources” align well with government public funding goals.
Government publicly funded OER have local goals that serve citizen education access and credential needs.
One way OER goals are being achieved is through use of licenses. The diagram below shows an OER licensing continuum. At the far left of the continuum is full copyright all rights reserved. At the far right end of the continuum is public domain no rights reserved. Licensing options are increasingly open as you move from left to right along the continuum.
Foundation funded OER do not involve license options. Instead a single Creative Commons license is used with the majority of initiatives going with Attribution or Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike.
In contrast publicly funded OER often involve license options along an open continuum. The authors own BCcampus OER initiative gives developers of OER a choice between local sharing within the province of BC through a BC Commons license or global sharing using Creative Commons. JISC’s JORUM initiative has followed a similar path and Australia’s AEShareNet uses an even more refined approach.
Recent publicly funded OER initiatives such as JISC’s OER and Netherlands Wikiwijs are being more explicit about dictating use of Creative Commons. But they still reference and acknowledge a need to support more closed resources. Lack of knowledge and fears around intellectual property, copyright infringement, quality and competitive advantage are still barriers to mainstream adoption and use of Creative Commons only.
It’s interesting to note that no OER initiatives are fully open. None are placing resources directly into the public domain.
OER Use Cases & Outcomes
Foundation OER initiatives mentioned in this paper primarily see OER as an act of publishing content and a form of public philanthropy. Use cases include:
- marketing promotion of the institutions formal for-credit offerings (Wiley, 2010)
- informal non-credit autonomous self-paced study (Lerman, 2008 p. 216)
- academic planning for students enrolled at institution (Lerman, 2008 p. 222)
- international distribution and translation, especially in developing countries (Lerman, 2008 pp 215 & 224)
- assembly of OER into print-on-demand textbooks (Baraniuk, 2009, p. 2)
Foundation funded OER are typically housed on a destination web site or use custom built software resulting in controlled access and use. Most resources are not optimized for online delivery independent of the OER site. Despite the OER license used by many of these initiatives downloads are often not editable or modifiable given their fixed file formats such as .pdf.
Foundation funded OER initiatives are often more oriented to informal non-credit learning for students than to teachers. MIT is explicit in stating OCW, is not an MIT education, does not grant degrees or certificates, and does not provide access to MIT faculty. Initiatives like Carnegie Mellon’s OLI require instructors to ask permission for an account and even then use of the OLI OER must be done through Carnegie Mellon’s OLI technology rather than the instructor’s own institutions applications. As part of its sustainability strategy Carnegie Mellon’s OLI use by instructors even has fees.
The primary use case of publicly funded OER is for formal credit-based academic offerings rather than informal study by students. Publicly funded OER are often a form of curriculum development providing faculty with resources to use in their courses or in development of new for-credit offerings.
Publicly funded OER are typically housed in a repository which provides an access and distribution role but not usually a creation or course delivery role. OER are uploaded, searched for, and previewed on the repository but usually downloaded for use independent of the repository through an institutions own learning management system or other educational technology.
Comparing and contrasting foundation with government publicly funded OER initiatives reveals commonalities, differences, and a diversity of approaches.
OER goals/mandates, licenses, and use cases can be strategically situated within an overarching OER framework (Stacey 2006)
This framework can be used to define and refine strategy and tactics associated with any OER initiative. It can also be used as a basis for comparing and contrasting OER initiatives. As an example the following table highlights differences between the BCcampus OER initiative and MIT’s OCW initiative.
As shown in this table the publicly funded BCcampus OER initiative has focused on developing new online learning resources through system partnerships and collaboration. The content produced is primarily intended for faculty use in formal for-credit education offerings delivered via their institutions learning management system. The primary mandate for open sharing within the jurisdiction of the public funder is enabled through a BC Commons open license and global participation supported as a choice of the developer through a Creative Commons license.
In contrast the foundation funded MIT OCW OER initiative has focused on publishing a single prestigious institution’s existing lectures, course notes, and learning activities associated with campus-based classroom activity. These resources are freely provided as a public good for use primarily in informal non-credit learning. The foundation funded OER meets global philanthropic goals by mandating a single Creative Commons license but requires users to access the OER through MIT’s technologies.
Emerging from the comparisons made in this paper the following strategies and tactics position OER for public funding, ongoing adoption, and a long-term sustainable future:
- ensure OER initiative goals fulfil public funder education access and credential needs first before serving global needs
- establish OER development initiatives as multi-institutional partnerships with each institution using the developed resource in for-credit offerings right from the start
- use OER development as a means of generating collaborations between institutions
- incentivize use of OER from initiatives around the world in OER development and for-credit offerings of institutions
- offer a range of OER licensing options along the open continuum
- provide cost efficiencies and reduction of duplication by aggregating and distributing quality OER as a service
- ensure OER have a form factor that is modifiable
- support download and autonomous use of OER by institutions using their own technology especially learning management systems
- look for ways to make OER creation and use part of regular operational academic practice
Baraniuk, Richard G. (2008). Challenges and Opportunities for the Open Education Movement: A Connexions Case Study. In T. Iiyoshi and M. S. V. Kumar (Eds.)
Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, pp. 232. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Baraniuk, R. G. (2009). How Open is Open Education? In Domus, March 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2009 from
BCcampus OER (2010). Online Program Development Fund. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
Downes, S. (2007). Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects. Volume 3, pp. 29-44.
Ford (2010). Ford Foundation Mission. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
Gates (2010a). Technology in Postsecondary Success Background Paper. Retrieved August 18, 2010 from
Gates (2010b). Washington State Community and Technical Colleges Launch the Washington State Student Completion Initiative Press Release. Retrieved August 18, 2010 from
Hewlett (2010). Hewlett Foundation Education Program Goals. Retrieved August 6, 2010 from
Hockfield, S. (2010). OCW President’s Message. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
JORUM (2010). Jorum Purpose. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
JISC OER (2010). Open Educational Resources Programme. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
Lane, A. (2008). Reflections on sustaining Open Educational Resources: an institutional case study. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
Lane, Andrew (2008). Widening participation in education through open educational resources. In T. Iiyoshi and M. S. V. Kumar (Eds.)
Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge pp. 149–164. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lerman S., S. Miyagawa, A. H. Marguiles. (2008). Open Courseware: Building a Culture of Sharing. In T. Iiyoshi and M. S. V. Kumar (Eds.)
Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, pp. 213-227. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Mellon (2004). The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 2004 Annual Report. Retrieved August 13, 2010 from
Moore, Geoffrey A. (1991). Crossing the Chasm. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
New Zealand OER (2010). New Zealand Open Educational Resources Project. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
OECD CERI (2006). AESharenet, Australia. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
Rogers, Everett M. (1983). Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.
Schuwer, R. (2010). Wikiwijs A Nation Wide Initiative in The Netherlands. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
SREB (2010). Digital Content SCORE Goals. Retrieved August 10, 2010 from
Stacey, P., R. Rominger (2006). A Dialogue on Open Educational Resources and Social Authoring Models. In Open Education 2006 Conference Proceedings pp. 107-115, Utah State University.
Wiley, D. (2010). Research on OER Sustainability and Impact. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
Yale (2010). Open Yale Courses Aim. Retrieved August 31, 2010 from
Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: BC Commons, BCcampus, credentials, funding, open educational resources, partnerships, reuse, Shareable Online Learning Resources (SOL*R) repository
Yesterday I announced the 8th annual round of the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund Open Educational Resource (OER) initiative through a call for proposals to BC’s public post secondary institutions.
Launching the fund each year is a major undertaking and one of the highlights of my year each time it occurs. I’m particularly excited about a couple of things that are receiving special emphasis in this years call. Here are my top two highlights:
- This years fund is very focused on supporting development of OER through multi-institutional partnerships that produce for-credit OER leading to a credential. We’ve mapped the OER coming out of our earlier rounds of funding to the credential, field of study and subject area classification scheme used for BC’s public post secondary system. Proposals this year are being asked to map against the same schema and provide information on expected enrolments.
- This years fund is giving preference to proposals that incorporate the use of existing OER, either from previous rounds of our fund or from other OER initiatives around the world, into their proposal. In other words we’re looking to see development of new resources be integrated with existing OER to create course and credential offerings. We are intentionally incentivizing reuse. I’m hoping this will be precedent setting in terms of what we see come forward in proposals and as a model and approach Foundations and other OER initiatives around the world adopt. To the best of my knowledge no other OER initiative has tried to do this.
In parallel with the announcement we launched some new and improved sites:
- The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund OER workspace wiki was launched to provide a comprehensive source of information about the current call for proposals as well as providing historical information about the previous seven rounds.
- OPDF OER reports by year, by institution, and by field of study are now available to support searching the awards made in the first seven rounds 2003-2009. See the 2003-2009 OPDF History page of the workspace wiki to try them out.
- A new BC Commons web site was launched to provide a place where developers can learn about and access the licenses we are using for our OER.
- A revamped BCcampus Shareable Online Learning Resources (SOL*R) repository has been launched to support the review, revision, remix and redistribution of our OER. A huge thanks go out to Scott Leslie and Victor Chen for their work on this new version of the site. I’m especially keen about all the additional academic context the repository is now providing for the resources and the availability of a single record for each project that provides access to all the resources that project developed.
At the end of the day on Tuesday I gave a webinar titled “OERder out of Chaos – creating credentials with OER” as part of the Open Education Resource Foundation Open Access Week series of webinars. Recordings of this webinar and the other excellent ones happening during this week are all available from their web site.
Phew, thats enough for now. Lots of activity.
I’m especially hopeful that OER are reaching a tipping point in terms of acceptance, that we’ll see lots of partnerships form around OER development, and that we’ll have an incredibly impressive set of proposals submitted in response to this years call.
Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: BC Commons, creative commons, credentials, metrics, outcomes, partnerships, reuse, sharing, sustainability
I’ve been immersed in analysing data from the last seven years of the BCcampus OER initiative.
I’m particularly interested in conveying the value for money or outcomes associated with our initiative.
So how does BCcampus measure its OER outcomes?
One way of expressing the outcome is to simply quantify the BCcampus OER deliverables.
This is the metric I’m most often asked by the Ministry. The answer goes like this:
Through the BCcampus OER initiative 131 projects have received grants leading to development of 317 courses, 10 workshops, 18 web sites/tools and 338 course components (learning objects, labs, textbooks, manuals, videos).
That’s one way of expressing outcomes.
However, in my view this basic quantification of deliverables does not get to the deeper value for money outcomes.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been working with a data specialist to construct a complete picture of the OER initiative and to analyse the results more deeply. Here then are some of what I think of as the deeper and more meaningful BCcampus OER outcomes:
The public post secondary system in British Columbia is made up of largely autonomous institutions. Part of the mandate of BCcampus is to foster collaborations and partnerships between institutions and others.
BCcampus OER Partnership Outcome:
105 of the 131 BCcampus OER initiatives, or 80%, involve collaborations and partnerships between multiple BC post-secondary institutions. In addition there have been 45 external partners involved in the 131 development projects.
External partners include:
- national and international universities
- professional associations
- K-12 school districts and school boards
- e-learning companies
- First Nations tribal councils
- health authority’s
- literacy groups
I’ve been told over the years that the multi-institutional partnership requirement of the BCcampus OER initiative is one of the more challenging aspects for institutions to fulfill. Institutions form partnerships with each other based on academic program synergy and a mutual academic need. Partnering involves pooling expertise and developing an online resource that both institutions subsequently use. Each institution has what might be thought of as its own “trading partners” with whom they repeatedly form partnerships. Trading partners often share a similar stature in the system such as partnerships among remote rural colleges or partnerships among large research based universities. I’ve been told that once partnerships form the partnership often extends out into other activities beyond the BCcampus OER initiative.
A goal of the BCcampus OER initiative is to increase credential opportunities available to students throughout the province by funding development of post-secondary online courses, programs, and resources. Credentials in BC’s post-secondary are categorized as follows:
- Apprentice-Entry Level
- Associate Degree
- Bachelor’s Degree
- Doctoral Degree
- Grad Cert/Diploma
- No Credential Granted
- University Transfer
* Note: This credential categorization is taken from EducationPlanner.ca
Credentials are developed through the BCcampus OER initiative in four ways:
1. A single round of funding allows for development of all the courses required for a complete credential.
2. A complete credential is built out gradually through multiple rounds of funding.
3. The OER initiative provides funding needed for development of the last few courses required to make the complete credential online.
4. The OER initiative creates a number of online courses that can be used across multiple credentials or serve as the building blocks for creating credentials.
The BCcampus OER initiative has contributed to the development of 41 credentials:
- Associate of Arts Degree & Associate of Arts Degree in Geography
- Associate of Arts Degree in First Nations Studies
- Web-based Associate of Science
- BA Psychology
- Bachelor of General Studies (Police Studies)
- Bachelor of Tourism Management
- Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
- Bachelor’s Degree with a Marketing Minor
- Classroom and Community Support Program
- Minor in Gerontology
- Northern Collaborative Baccalaureate Nursing Programme
- Administration Assistant Certificate
- Certificate in First Nations Housing Managers Training
- Certificate in Gerontology
- Certificate in Tourism Event Management
- Community Development Certificate program
- Computer Technology Certificate
- Finance for First Nations Housing Managers
- First Nation Shellfish Aquaculture General Management Certificate
- Medical Office Assistant Certificate
- Practical Nursing Online Certificate
- Provincial Legal Administrative Assistant Online Certificate
- Renewable Energy Certificate Program
- Aboriginal Business Administration Diploma
- Aboriginal Community Economic Development Diploma
- Access to Dental Hygeine Diploma
- Advanced Diploma in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
- Advanced Diploma in Human Resources
- Animal Health Technology Diploma
- Business Administration General Management Diploma
- Continuing Health Care Administration Diploma
- Diploma in Local Government Management
- Diploma in Public Sector Management
- Early Childhood Care and Education Diploma
- First Nations Public Administration Diploma
- Graduate Diploma in Public Health
- Graduate Certificate in Child and Youth Mental Health
- Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Gerontology
- Post Bacclaureate Diploma in Marketing
- Post Graduate Technical Diploma in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- Masters of Applied Arts
In addition to explicit development of the above credentials some BCcampus OER initiatives develop multi-purpose undergraduate online courses or smaller course components for unspecified credentials. These initiatives typically express their intent as developing core foundation level resources that can be used across multiple courses and credentials.
To deepen the analysis I’ve been drilling down from the credential level to fields of study. The BC Council on Admissions and Transfer’s Education Planner site categorizes BC’s higher education academic offerings into the following fields of study:
- Agriculture Natural Resources and Science
- Business Management
- Computer and Information Services
- Construction and Precision Production
- Development Programs (e.g. ABE, ESL)
- Education and Library Studies
- Engineering/ Electrical and Electronics
- Health Related
- Legal and Social Services
- Liberal Arts and Humanities
- Mechanical and Related
- Recreation, Tourism, Hospitality Service
- Social Sciences
- Transportation (Air, Land, Marine)
- Visual, Performing and Fine Arts
I’ve analysed the BCcampus OER initiative data to determine what percent are in each of these fields of study.
It breaks out like this:
Agriculture Natural Resources and Science = 4.83%
Business Management = 10.07%
Communications = .13%
Computer and Information Services = 1.21%
Construction and Precision Production = 0%
Development Programs (e.g. ABE, ESL) = 6.17%
Education and Library Studies = 3.36%
Engineering/ Electrical and Electronics = 1.20%
Health Related = 12.35%
Legal and Social Services = 3.36%
Liberal Arts and Humanities = 5.23%
Mechanical and Related = 2.55%
Recreation. Tourism, Hospitality Service = 7.52%
Sciences = 16.38%
Social Sciences = 10.34%
Transportation (Air, Land, Marine) = 0%
Visual, Performing and Fine Arts = 4.16%
As you can see the field of study area that has received the most development is in science with 16.38%, the second highest is health with 12.35%, then social sciences with 10.34%, and business management with 10.07%. The remaining percentage of development has gone toward development of professional learning resources and a small amount to apprenticeship.
Going deeper still, each field of study breaks down into subject areas. Visit Education Planner’s Program Search to see list of over 200 subject areas available. I thought it would be interesting to consider the extent to which the BCcampus OER initiative has resulted in development of resources across the full spectrum of subject areas. The BCcampus OER initiative has developed resources in 63 of the 200 subject areas.
BCcampus OER initiative credential, field of study, and subject area outcomes are shaped each year by the call for proposals. Typically the call targets development in areas of high student demand and labour market need. In some years the Ministry makes explicit priorities. For example in the 2009 call for proposals the Ministry expressed the following as priorities – Early Childhood Education; Health-related Programs; Programs aimed at Aboriginal Learners as well as learners with disabilities, mature learners and recent immigrants; Technician and Technologist Programs; Tourism and Hospitality. However, post-secondary institutions can submit proposals for any area and to some extent the credential, field of study and subject area coverage represents priorities of the entire BC public post-secondary system.
3. Sharing and Reuse
Like other OER initiatives the “open” goal of the BCcampus OER initiative is to create a source of digital materials that are openly shared and available for reuse by others.
The BCcampus OER initiative gives developers the choice of Creative Commons and BC Commons licenses. Developers wanting to participate in the global OER movement can go with Creative Commons. Alternatively they can choose the BC Commons license which provides for open sharing locally at the provincial level among all 25 public post secondary institutions.
One outcome I’ve been interested in tracking is, when given an option between these two licenses what license choice do developers make. I think of this as a measure of “openness”. In the first two years of the BCcampus OER initiative over 90% of developers chose the BC Commons license. In the next two years 78% chose the BC Commons license. In the last three years 47% chose the BC Commons license. In 2003 when we started the BCcampus OER initiative developers let us know in no uncertain terms that they were uncomfortable with wide open sharing. This comes through loud and clear in their license choices. However, as OER become a more widely known global phenomenon and the risks many initially feared from sharing diminish developers are becoming increasingly willing, and in some cases advocates for, being globally open.
I often think of OER as existing on a continuum of openness. At the most closed end of the continuum is fully copyright protected. At the most open end of the contiuum is public domain. BC Commons licensed OER are more open than copyright protected resources but not as open as Creative Commons.
Another obvious outcome to measure is reuse. On the surface this measure seems obvious. How many of the resources developed are reused by others? However, the answer is less easy to arrive at. Part of the challenge is defining reuse.
What are the use cases for OER? For global OER the most common use case is translation and use in a developing country. For some OER, such as Connexions the use case is student self study or assembly of OER components into a print-on-demand textbook. For MIT’s OpenCourseWare a significant use case is marketing whereby the OER are seen as a calling card for attracting students to enroll and pursue a degree at MIT. Once enrolled another use case is when MIT students view the OpenCourseWare not for self study but as an academic planning aid helping them pick which courses they’ll sign up for next term.
For those of us who have been involved in e-learning for many years the reuse of digital learning resources has a long history. Prior to OER, learning objects, small 2 to 15 minute units of learning, were seen as a key form factor for reuse. The key affordance of learning objects is that instructors can custom assemble them into larger modules of learning that fit their understanding of a domain or way of teaching. Interestingly reuse of learning objects did not take off and reuse of OER in this fashion similarly remains low.
The most common instructor use case for OER that I’ve heard of (and been told by many faculty) is different than what might be expected. For faculty development of a course is a creative exercise that represents their unique expertise and understanding of a field of study. There is a prevailing notion that no one else’s course could possibly be as good as the one they develop themselves. If faculty look at an OER they initially do so not with an eye to determining which parts of it they might use themselves but rather with an eye to seeing how a professional peer represents their own knowledge of a domain and the pedagogy they use to deliver it. This is the most common use of an OER by an instructor – the OER serves as a comparative framework for their own course with a view to how it is sequenced, how comprehensive it is, and the type of learning activities the instructor uses to engage students. This is in itself a form of reuse and a significant OER value proposition.
Of course the value proposition can be further enhanced if an instructor downloads the OER and reuses it in whole or in part. The licenses used for all OER support customization of the existing resource so instructors are not obliged to use an OER as is. They are free to use just a piece or to modify it to fit their needs.
BCcampus makes the OER produced through it’s initiative available in a repository that supports search, preview, and download. One way we can track reuse is to monitor whats being searched, viewed and downloaded. The software application used for the repository has limited reporting capabilities though – downloads for example are not easily tracked. But let me report out on views. From January 2008 through November 2009 634 resources in the repository were viewed. The total number of views was 1,853. So clearly the OER are at least meeting the first use case I depicted above where it is at least viewed. We can also see which resources have been viewed the most, giving an indication of popularity or high value.
Large scale reuse of OER across the full gamut of use cases remains elusive for virtually all OER initiatives. I believe much more work is required to show how OER fit within the instructional design process and we need to ensure that the level of effort required to reuse OER is less than the level of effort required to simply develop a new resource yourself. Most of all the credential and academic integrity of the resource needs to be preserved so that reuse involves more than simply repurposed content.
This exploration around measuring OER outcomes is my own take on showing value for money.
I’d love to hear from other OER initiatives on the metrics they are using and reporting on to show outcomes.
There has been a lot of talk about the sustainability of the OER movement.
Based on the analysis above I’d say OER must generate a return on investment right away.
OER generated through the BCcampus initiative have an immediate academic practical use with real students leading to credentials.
This outcome is itself worth the investment.
With that outcome in hand additional value comes through partnerships and reuse.
Relying on reuse outcomes alone to justify value for money is, at this time, folly.
Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: BC Commons, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Capetown Open Education Declaration, creative commons, Hewlett Foundation, MIT OpenCourseWare, Open Learning, OpenLearn, Shareable Online Learning Resources (SOL*R)
Since 2003 I’ve been leading an Open Educational Resource (OER) initiative at BCcampus. This BCcampus Open Educational Resource initiative involves all 25 public post secondary institutions in the province of British Columbia, Canada.
Over the last seven years OER initiatives have proliferated. As the number of initiatives increase I’ve been following them with great interest and with an eye to compare and contrast them with each other and with ours at BCcampus.
I’ve noticed the BCcampus initiative is unique in a number of ways and thought I’d use this post to explore my thoughts about that uniqueness and raise some questions OER.
The BCcampus OER initiative differs from most others in that it is sectoral rather than institutional. In the BCcampus initiative OER are produced by all 25 public post secondary institutions in the province. As a sectoral initiative OER are primarily being developed via multi-institutional partnerships involving faculty and staff from more than one institution. Partner institutions each invest in the development of the OER and each use the developed resource. In addition many of the projects have formed partnerships with BC e-learning companies, not-for-profits, and professional associations to support the development effort. This maximizes the use of the resource and works toward the creation of an OER ecosystem within the province.
Other OER initiatives such as the MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, the UK Open University’s OpenLearn, and others are institutionally based with educational resources being produced from within the institution without partnerships across multiple institutions.
Another unique aspect of the BCcampus initiative is that it is funded using public tax payer money provided through the Ministry of Advanced Education. Investment is made annually via a competitive Request For Proposal (RFP) process. As of April 2010 BCcampus has done seven annual rounds of funding representing a total investment of $8.25 million dollars (CDN). Most other OER initiatives are funded through foundation grants including the Hewlett Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others.
With funding coming from the Ministry of Advanced Education the primary goal of the BCcampus OER initiative is to increase the credential opportunities available to students throughout the province by funding development of post-secondary online courses, programs, and resources. The BCcampus OER initiative targets development at credit based, fully online learning courses in areas of high student demand and labour market need. Grants are intended to support curriculum development building out complete online programs leading to a credential.
The BCcampus OER initiative is focused on solving a provincial higher education need around credential opportunities and academic completion. I’ve noticed that many foundation supported OER initiatives are not actually seeking to solve academic or credential needs at the institutional or regional level. They are simply creating a pool of educational resources without an applied academic purpose or credential context.
Like other OER initiatives the “open” goal of the BCcampus OER initiative is to create a source of digital materials that are available for immediate free use eliminating the weeks and months of time it can take to seek permission to use existing digital materials. Reuse of openly shared online learning resources leverages an initial investment, in this case of public taxpayers dollars, many times over. It also stimulates and supports a culture inherent to education – sharing knowledge and building new knowledge off the work of those who came before you.
However, the breadth of the BCcampus OER goals differ from foundation funded OER initiatives. Most foundation funded OER initiatives have a global orientation not a regional one. A goal of the Hewlett Foundation OER grant program is to “Equalize access to knowledge for teachers and students around the globe through Open Educational Resources.” For some there is a moral and ethical imperative around the open sharing of educational resources globally based on a recognition of the world wide shortage of education. Globally open OER increases access to education by supplying content to those in need especially developing countries. This global rallying spirit is captured nicely in the Capetown Open Education Declaration. Another way of conceptualizing this is as a form of education philanthropy.
With the BCcampus OER being funded by a provincial government the focus is more on serving the needs of students in BC. The global philanthropy aspect of OER has not been mandated. However, limiting the focus to the province rather than the globe may also limit the extent to which the open nature of these resources has an impact. An underlying principle of OER is that others are free to change and improve the resource but must share it back when they do so for the benefit of all including the original developer.
A critical question for all OER initiatives is, “To what extent are OER being improved and modified by others and shared back to the benefit of the original developer and everyone else.?” The startling answer at this point in time is little to not at all.
The BCcampus OER initiative is unique in the licensing approach used. Foundation supported and globally oriented OER initiatives all mandate use of Creative Commons licenses. The provincial BCcampus OER initiative differs in that it offers developers license options. To make the OER open and shareable BCcampus OER developers are given licensing options of Creative Commons or BC Commons. Developers wanting to participate in the global OER movement and contribute to education philanthropy can go with Creative Commons. Alternatively they can choose the BC Commons license which provides for open sharing at the provincial level among all 25 public post secondary institutions rather than globally with everyone as provided through Creative Commons.
An important principle in the BCcampus OER initiative is choice. Developers must openly share but they can choose to share regionally or globally. Participation in the global OER movement is recommended but not mandated. The BCcampus OER is one of the few who give developers license options and allow them to decide for themselves where they want to participate on the “open” continuum.
To manage both global and local sharing BCcampus has deployed a Shareable Online Learning Resources (SOL*R) repository which provides a means for searching, previewing, and downloading OER. The resources that get developed through the BCcampus OER initiative are online learning resources primarily developed for deployment through learning management systems (LMS) such as Moodle, Desire2Learn, and Blackboard/WebCT. The multi-platform online learning form factor of our OER is another unique aspect of the BCcampus OER initiative. It has also complicated our OER effort enormously as the production of interoperable online learning resources is fraught with technical challenges exacerbated by LMS vendors who want to lock clients in to using their platform.
One other unique aspect of the BCcampus OER initiative is that a portion of each round of funding goes toward developing professional learning OER resources for faculty and staff. This acknowledges the growing importance of complementing online learning development and delivery with educator professional development resources on how to effectively do so.
As you can tell from the above I’ve been thinking a lot about what we are doing here at BCcampus and how it compares to what others are doing. I know from the many presentations I’ve given on the BCcampus OER initiative that some see our OER initiative as reprehensible for not mandating global sharing of the OER. I certainly believe in sharing of OER but I also believe in choice and the right for education developers to choose how openly they want to participate.
In thinking about the future of OER I call for:
- more diversity of OER approaches
- more partnerships between OER initiatives
- greater emphasis on the academic utilization of OER
- a shift to use of OER for credentials