Paul Stacey

Up For The Challenge – Winning a Next Generation Learning Challenges Grant

Just finished writing up (with Tori’s help – thanks Tori) the official BCcampus blog post for this BC’s higher ed innovation attracts $750,000 Next Generation Learning Challenges grant and couldn’t resist posting it here too with added commentary (in italics). I’m pumped about heading up this initiative from the BCcampus end.

BCcampus is part of a consortium of Pacific Northwest higher education organizations on the receiving end of a $749,994 grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) – an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The winning proposal was based on online science courses and Remote Web-Based Science Lab, a BCcampus Online Program Development Fund initiative, which gained the attention of higher education organizations in the United States. With this grant, the B.C.-developed online science labs will be adapted for use at colleges and universities in the U.S.

Through the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund (OPDF), a consortia of BC post-secondary institutions developed online science courses for biology, chemistry and physics and a Remote Web-Based Science Lab for online delivery of the lab portion of those courses using remote scientific instrumentation controlled by students over the web. The resources coming out of this development are licensed for sharing and reuse as open educational resources through Creative Commons licenses.

This innovative work caught the attention of higher ed organizations in the United States, and BCcampus and B.C. post-secondary partners joined with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) to apply for money from the Next Generation Learning Challenges for consortia development of open, interactive core courseware.

The application for a grant to create a North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO) was selected as one of the 50 finalists (out of 600 applicants) to move on to a full proposal. Out of those 50 finalists, the NANSLO proposal has now been selected as one of 29 applicants receiving a grant. The grant award is shared between the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) as principal investigator and BCcampus and the Colorado Community College System as co-investigators.

BCcampus and partner institutions North Island College and College of the Rockies will play an integral role with WICHE and the 13 institutions in the Colorado State Community College System in enhancing the BC-developed online science courses and adapting them for use at colleges and universities in the US. BCcampus and its B.C. post secondary partners will also help replicate in Colorado the BC-based Remote Web Based Science Lab, currently operating at North Island College, as the second node of a planned North American network of science labs online.

Special kudos to Ron Evans, Albert Balbon and Mike Valmorbida at North Island College and Gina Bennett at College of the Rockies for the vision and implementation of this innovative work. I’m particularly pleased to see this happen as it helps prove out the value proposition of OER and shows the benefits of open licensing. As I said to WICHE –
“We are thrilled to enter into a consortia partnership to improve and scale BC developed OER online science courses and associated Remote Web-based Science Lab into the US. Working together collaboratively will enhance and sustain the development and delivery of deeply engaging online science courses while at the same time producing a best-of-breed OER that others can adopt and localize.”

NANSLO’s disruptive innovation is the consortial development of online science courses for biology, chemistry and physics as Open Educational Resources (OER), and the online delivery of the lab portion of those courses using remote scientific instrumentation controlled by students over the web. Consortial development of OER ensures widespread adoption, and a remote web-based science lab provides an authentic science lab experience.

Looking forward to working with WICHE and CCCS on this. The proposal writing process was very collaborative and established a great foundation for continued teamwork.

NGLC focuses on identifying and scaling technology-enabled approaches to dramatically improve college readiness and completion by addressing a continuum of interrelated issues spanning secondary and postsecondary education from grades 6 through college.  NGLC is led by EDUCAUSE in partnership with The League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helped design the Next Generation Learning Challenges, and fund the initiative.

In addition to funding, NGLC is gathering evidence about effective practices, and working to develop a community dedicated to these persistent challenges. The official Next Generation Learning Challenges Wave 1 Winners press release is at:

You can send the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative a message on twitter using @NextGenLC and follow along at hashtag #nglc. You can also follow Next Generation Learning Challenges on Facebook at

Evolution of an OER Initiative – An Eight Year Retrospective
February 28, 2011, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: , , , ,

I just recently completed the eighth round of the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund providing grants to BC public post secondary institution partnerships for development of credit-based open educational resources. A full listing of those awards can be found here on the BCcampus web site.

BCcampus started supporting the development of open educational resources back in 2003 with it’s inaugural Online Program Development Fund. The 2010 call for proposals was the eighth round and brings the total investment made so far to $9 million. Given the burgeoning interest in OER I thought it might be useful to describe this years outcome in the context of an eight year retrospective that summarizes our initiative overall and presents some data on how it has evolved.

Over the years I’ve been contacted by others looking to replicate our program in their jurisdiction. We helped eCampus Alberta establish their Online Course Development Fund and have recently been speaking to folks in Ontario who are interested in seeing something happen there too.


One aspect everyone is interested in is the funding component of our initiative so lets deal with that right up front. The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund is provided annually to BCcampus by the Ministry responsible for higher education. The amount of money allocated has varied each year as follows:

The annual fund has been “one-time” money each year so far which has created challenges around launching the call for proposals on a regularly scheduled basis that is at an opportune time for faculty and staff to devote time to proposal writing. It is my hope going forward that we can get this money established as part of our operating budget so this kind of planning can take place.

Categories, Criteria & Priorities

The amount of money available annually affects the categories and priorities the fund targets. This is an aspect of our initiative I’ve never written about before so let me take some time to describe it. The Online Program Development Fund is announced via a call for proposals that gets distributed to each of the 25 public post secondary institutions in BC. Each year when I write the call for proposals I define categories and priorities for the fund as well as the criteria that must be met. Here’s how it’s evolved over time.

2003 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs
2004 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs, open source education technologies, learner online community
2005 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs, best practice dissemination
2006 Categories: courses, reuse
2007 Categories: courses, co-created content, professional development resources
2008 Categories: learning objects, courses, professional learning resources
2009 Categories: learning objects, courses, open textbooks, professional learning resources
2010 Categories: courses, course components

Learning objects are small, stand-alone units of online instruction that can be tagged with descriptors and stored in repositories for reuse in various instructional contexts. They typically are small units of learning (2-15 min at topic level) that are self-contained in such a way that it can be taken independently or grouped into a larger context. The key idea is that they are reusable in multiple contexts for multiple purposes.

I’m sure everyone understands what courses are. In the context of our initiative we’ve expressly specified a preference for fully online credit-based courses. Giving preference to fully online over blended courses, that partially happen online and partially on campus, ensures we maximize accessibility to students all over BC.

For the three years when the fund was $1.5 million we included a category for complete online programs meaning that proposals could request funding to develop all the online courses needed to create a complete online program. Building out a complete credential requires a significant investment so this is only possible when you have a large fund.

In 2004 we introduced the categories of open source education technologies to support development of tools and apps for education and the creation of a online community providing support for online learners. We didn’t get many applications and the inclusion of a tools and technologies category complicated our open licensing approach as you cannot license software in the same way you license educational content. We discontinued these categories.

The best practice dissemination category in 2005 called for proposals that aggregate and disseminate best online learning practices for students and educators and BC public post secondary e-learning research findings. This was an important category acknowledging the growing importance of complementing online learning development and delivery with educator professional development resources on how to effectively do so. To the best of my knowledge the BCcampus OER initiative is the only one that has ever funded development of professional resources for faculty and staff as OER, a practice we continued in subsequent years and a category that is very popular. We called this category professional development one year but were advised to change this name to professional learning as “professional development” was seen to be something governed by collective bargaining agreements on campus. The 2010 OPDF for the first time in several years did not include this category and as a result we received fewer proposals.

The reuse category of 2006 sought proposals that enhance and leverage benefits associated with existing OER based on the right to modify and improve them. Essentially we were wanting to encourage more use of existing OER and thought a category targeting this explicitly might help. We did this again in 2010 but instead of specifying it as a category we made it an overall criteria for all categories by stating in the call for proposals; “Preference will be given to proposals that integrate new online learning resources with previously funded OPDF resources, or other OER from around the world, to construct credentials.” 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.

The co-created content category of 2007 sought proposals to design and develop credit based online learning resources using social learning applications where faculty and students create online learning content together. We really didn’t get any proposals in this category and dropped it as an idea that may yet gain traction but currently is not a method in use for development of courseware.

In 2009 we included a category for open textbooks which we saw as a new and critically important form of OER. In 2010 we lumped learning objects and open textbooks into the category course components, a simpler more plain English way of expressing what we are looking for.

Each year, the call for proposals includes some overall criteria as well as criteria specific to each category. The following overall criteria have been consistently used every single year:

  • Produce programs which are accessible to all BC students
  • Respond to demonstrated student demand and labour force need
  • Exhibit the characteristics of quality teaching and learning
  • Demonstrate sustainability and cost-effectiveness
  • Include contributions in dollars and/or in-kind from other sources, either internal or external (such as private partnerships)
  • Collaboration between two or more institutions
  • Include clear transfer and articulation mechanisms
  • Agree to license the resources to be freely shared and available for reuse as OER

Specific criteria to each category are also devised to further help those writing proposals be on target. An example from the 2004 call for proposals is “Preference will be given to proposals that build out existing online programs already started but requiring additional courses to be completed.” This “preference will be given” phrasing has been key throughout our initiative in that it keeps the call for proposals open but indicates areas of specific targeted interest.

Given the OPDF funding comes from the Ministry the call for proposals also includes Ministry priorities. In the 2009 call for proposals the Ministry expressed the following areas 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. In 2010 there was a single priority – science.


Evaluation, selection and award of OER grants through are done by independent professional peer review against the criteria and priorities expressed in the call for proposals. Each year I form an eight person evaluation committee made up of seven people with education technology and online learning development experience from across BC’s public post secondary system and one external evaluator. In forming an evaluation committee I try to ensure an equal number of males and females. I try to ensure regional representation of the north, the interior, Vancouver Island and the high density urban area around Vancouver known as the lower mainland. I try to ensure representation of research based universities, teaching universities, colleges and institutes. Its no small task getting the balance right! I ask evaluators to participate for a two year term and stagger their participation so that typically each year half the evaluation committee has experience with the process coming back for their second year and half the committee is new doing it for the first time.

We use an evaluation process I call “progressive consensus”. The first step of this process involves independent evaluation. Each evaluator independently scores a subset of all the proposals. We avoid conflict of interest by ensuring no evaluator scores a proposal they or their institution are involved with. Representatives from the Ministry also review proposals and provide comments which are circulated to the evaluation committee to include in their independent evaluation.

A couple of weeks later we bring all the evaluators together for a two day selection process. On the morning of the first day we pair the evaluators up into two person teams and ask them to reach consensus on the scores they gave for their proposals and rank order the proposals into their top 10. Once they’ve reached consensus each team of two lists their top 10 on a whiteboard for all to see.

We then assemble the entire evaluation team and have each pair present their number one pick and make a recommendation. The rest of the evaluators ask questions leading to discussion and deliberation until the entire evaluation committee reaches a consensus on the decision regarding award. We then move on to the next high ranking proposal and repeat the process as a group. This process moving from independent, to paired, to entire committee evaluation is what I mean by progressive consensus.



A unique aspect of our OER initiative is the emphasis on formation of partnerships. Our OER initiative is focused on funding collaborative development of curricula that benefits all the partners. Institutions form partnerships with each other based on academic program synergy and mutual academic need. Partnering involves pooling expertise and developing an online resource that all partner institutions subsequently use.

While occasionally a grant is awarded to an institution working solo, 83% of the 144 grants we’ve made involve partnerships. Partnerships occur between BC post-secondary institutions and with external partners. The wider the involvement of partners in development and subsequent use, the better.

External partners in our OER development initiatives have included:
– national and international universities
– professional associations
– K-12 school districts and school boards
– e-learning companies
– foundations
– First Nations tribal councils
– health authority’s
– literacy groups,
– and others.

In the 2010 OPDF awards the following are external partners with BC public post secondary institutions; WSÁNEĆ School Board, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Hawaii, School District 91, BC Learning Network, Cool School, The Critical Thinking Consortium, The South Island School District Partnership (SD 61, SD 62, SD 63, SD 64, SD 79), Coast Salish Employment Training Society, Dr. Peter Aids Foundation Centre in Vancouver, Ministry of Health Services, BC Health Authorities, Community Care Facilities Licensing Officers of BC Association, BC Forestry Innovation Investment, Nanjing Forestry University, and Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University

I like to show financial distribution of grants to the BC public post secondary institutions in a way that emphasizes benefits of partnerships. One of the benefits is that all participating institutions in an OER project benefit from all the resources collectively produced. The net value of the project more accurately reflects the benefit they accrue than their individual share of funding. The following chart depicts total net value of grant awards each BC public post secondary institution has participated in over the past eight years (2003-2010). In calculating these totals I take the full amount of each annual OPDF grant and award it to the lead and to each of the partner institutions. So the total reflects net value of grant awards not the individual portion each institution gets. (you can click on this chart and the others in this post to make them bigger)

Here is another chart showing what portion of the total is based on the institution having a lead role and what portion is based on them having a partner role.

Whats fascinating about this chart is the way it reveals the benefits of partnership. In almost every case the funding an institution has participated in as a partner exceeds the funding they have participated in as lead. College of the Rockies (CoTR), one of the smallest institutions in the province, made it into the top 5 beneficiaries of funding almost entirely through partnerships!

Another way I depict partnerships is by tracking which institutions are partnering with each other. Some institutions have few partners. Others partner widely. Some OER projects are undertaken by a consortia group. For example LinkBC received a grant to develop OER related to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. LinkBC is a consortia of 18 of BC’s 25 post secondary institutions working collaboratively on tourism and hospitality programs. I think of the number of partners an institution has as a measure of its collaborativeness. Here’s a chart depicting collaborativeness of each BC public post secondary institution based on the number of institutional partners they’ve had over the eight years of our OER initiative.

As can be seen there is a lot of collaboration. Some of our OER projects involve as many as 10-15 institutions working together on development of online programs that are offered at all participating institutions. Some of the projects even involve development of what we call collaborative academic programs where the institutions share courses, teaching responsibilities, and collectively pool students.

Collaboration and partnerships are one of the biggest outcomes of our 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
  • Certificate
  • Citation
  • Diploma
  • Doctoral Degree
  • Grad Cert/Diploma
  • No Credential Granted
  • University Transfer

* Note: This credential categorization is taken from

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.

Over the eight years the BCcampus OER initiative has contributed to the development of 47 credentials including:

Associate Degree
– Associate of Arts Degree & Associate of Arts Degree in Geography
– Associate of Arts Degree in First Nations Studies
– Web-based Associate of Science

Bachelor’s Degree
– BA Psychology
– Bachelor of Business Administration
– 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

– Behaviour Intervention Citation

– Administration Assistant Certificate
– Certificate in First Nations Housing Managers Training
– Certificate in Gerontology
– Certificate in Tourism Event Management
– Community Development Certificate program
– Community Care Licensing Officer Certificate
– Common Technology Access Certificate
– 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
– Aboriginal Early Childhood Education Diploma
– Access to Dental Hygiene 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
– Diploma of Technology in Mining and Mineral Exploration Technology
– Early Childhood Care and Education Diploma
– First Nations Public Administration Diploma

Graduate Certificate/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)

Master’s Degree
– 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 that can be used across multiple courses and credentials.

I’ve also done some analysis to see the distribution of OER grants across academic 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 and Management
  • Communications
  • Computer and Information Services
  • Construction and Precision Production
  • Education and Library Studies
  • Engineering and Electronics
  • Health Related
  • Legal and Social Services
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanical and Related
  • Recreation, Tourism, Hospitality and Service
  • Sciences
  • Transportation (Air, Land, Marine)
  • Upgrading Programs
  • Visual, Performing and Fine Arts

Here is a chart that shows what percentage of the number of OPDF grants have been made to each of these fields of study over the past eight years (click on it to make it larger):

The top three areas of development, health (20%), sciences (17%), and liberal arts and humanities (15%) account for more than 50% of all awards.

Sharing and Reuse

As an OER initiative all grants made through the BCcampus OPDF are for development of online courses and course components that are openly shared and available for reuse by others.

When we first initiated this program eight years ago we decided to change the way IP and copyright were being handled when Ministry funds were provided to post secondary institutions for development of courses. Rather than the Ministry holding Intellectual Property (IP) and copyrights to the resources as was the traditional practice we changed it such that the developer (institution or faculty member) held IP and copyrights. However, we added the requirement that they agree to share.

We initially started out wanting to adopt and use Creative Commons as our license for sharing OER as others like MIT’s OCW and Connexions had done back in 2003. However we met with considerable resistance from our developers who feared loss of control and competition. In the end we held on to the requirement to share but created a BC Commons license as an alternative option to Creative Commons. So starting in 2003 and continuing on to today 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. I like to think of these as global sharing vs. local sharing options. Full description of our approach and the Creative Commons and BC Commons licenses we use can be found at

The BCcampus OER initiative is one of the few that gives developers a choice in how they license their resources for sharing. A question I’m frequently asked is when given a choice how many people choose Creative Commons and how many choose BC Commons? Here’s a chart showing license choices from 2003-2009. (Developers associated with the 2010 awards haven’t yet made their license choice).

As can be seen from this chart the majority of developers in our OER initiative have chosen the BC Commons license vs the Creative Commons license. Overall 66% have chosen BC Commons and 34% have chosen Creative Commons.

Doing a retrospective like this helps unearth anomalies. When you look at the above chart 2008 jumps out as being unusual. That year 16 developers chose Creative Commons and 4 chose BC Commons. I wondered why that year was different? It’s hard to say exactly but I went back to the 2008 call for proposals and see that I explicitly listed benefits associated with OER that year right in the call for proposals. I said:

The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund emphasizes open sharing of resources. This approach is congruent with other similar initiatives around the world including OpenCourseWare, Connexions, WikiEducator and others. The Online Program Development Fund has two license options one for BC Commons, which creates shareable resources among BC’s public post secondary institutions, and one for Creative Commons, which provides a mechanism for participating in global Open Educational Resource initiatives. In 2008 Capilano College joined the global Open Educational Resource movement as the first Canadian institution to become a partner in the OpenCourseWare consortium.

Benefits associated with Open Educational Resources are:

1. Social benefits
Higher education sharing knowledge for the benefit of all is an altruistic public service. Sharing boosts human capital through better education and skills by providing access to resources that encourage participation in higher education. Open resources accessible to all bridge the gap between informal and formal learning, and promote lifelong learning. Open resources widen access and provide supply where there is shortage.

2. Economical benefits
By sharing and reusing, the costs for content development can be cut, thereby making better use of available resources. Leverage taxpayers’ money by allowing free sharing and reuse of resources developed by publicly funded institutions. Eliminates the weeks and months of time it can take to seek permission to use existing digital materials. Educators can use the asset immediately without having to go through a permission seeking process. Leverages a unique aspect of digital assets – the marginal cost and effort in making copies and distributing online learning resources over a network.

3. Quality improvements
Quality improves over time, compared to a situation in which everyone always has to start anew. Creates a web-based, viewable, useable record of quality educational materials. Allowing others to reuse and modify original work provides a means for continuous improvement of online learning resources by a collective of professional peers. Shifts emphasis from content to teaching and learning process and services involved with using content.

4. Collaboration and Partnerships
Creates opportunity for faculty to see, collaborate on, and reuse each others work. Provides a reputation boost to faculty whose materials are widely used.

5. Academic Planning
Helps students make academic plans, be better prepared, and pursue learning of personal interest.

6. Public Relations and Advertising
Good for public relations and functions as a showcase to attract new students. Acts as advertisement for the institution, and as a way of lowering the threshold for new students, who may be more likely to enroll – and therefore pay for tutoring and accreditation – when they have had a taste of the learning on offer through open content. Increased contact with alumni.

These benefits are maximized through global Open Educational Resource initiatives that produce resources open to educators, students and the public.

It looks like explicitly spelling out benefits like this encourages developers to choose Creative Commons. I’ll have to list these benefits again in future calls for proposals. BCcampus believes that the Creative Commons license choice brings with it the greatest benefits. We encourage developers who initially chose BC Commons to migrate to Creative Commons at any time.

Let me illustrate some of the benefits of going Creative Commons with a couple of examples. For several years now the BCcampus OER initiative has been funding the development of a Web-based Associate of Science degree which has licensed all its development work using Creative Commons. Through three separate grants this initiative has been building out year one science courses for biology, physics, chemistry, and geology. They’ve met the major challenge of supporting the labs for these courses by building a remote web-based science lab that allows students to conduct real experiments over the Internet through remote control of instrumentation. Because this work is licensed through Creative Commons it has led to the formation of a partnership with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and the Colorado Community College System producing a Bill and Melinda Gates Next Generation Learning proposal for replicating and scaling up this work in the US and collaborating on the creation of a North American Network of Science Labs Online. The proposal was selected as one of 50 finalists out of 600 applications received. The Creative Commons license makes it possible to partner and grow the initiative beyond the borders of BC.

Here’s a picture of what a student might see during use of the remote web-based lab:

If you’d like to learn more visit their web site at

Another example involves the development of three inter-related virtual soil online resources – Virtual Soil Forming Processes, Virtual Soil Identification & Classification, and Soil Parent Material and Landscape Development, all of which were licensed with Creative Commons. In July 2010 the developers sent us a summary list of Canadian and non-Canadian universities that use these resources showing use at 16 different universities and colleges across Canada, United States and Europe and use with at least 1500 students. The developers of these resources just recently launched the Canadian Soil Web Collaborative.

As part of the application process we now ask those submitting proposals to list the OER from previous rounds of the OPDF or from other OER initiatives that their development will be making use of. To give you an example of the kind of reuse of OER we are starting to see the 2010 Collaborative Mining and Mineral Exploration Technology Program proposal listed the following as OER they intend to reuse:

  • Geology 105 – Introduction to Geology (Lab and Theory) – BCcampus OER
  • Geology 106 – Introduction to Physical and Historical Geology (Lab) – BCcampus OER
  • Aglo 1: Introduction to applied geophysics – seeing the earth’s subsurface – BCcampus OER
  • Aglo 2a: Seven steps to applying geophysics – BCcampus OER
  • Structure of Earth Materials – MIT OER

I’m really heartened by this.
The BCcampus OER are all available from our Shareable Online Learning Resources repository.

Thanks for joining me on this eight year retrospective of BCcampus’ OER initiative. It has been a fascinating journey and I have a feeling its only just begun. I’d like to thank all the developers who have been involved in our projects over the years. Your work is an inspiration. I’m thrilled to see BC developed OER attracting international interest and generating networks of partners collaborating on OER curricula across BC and beyond.

Open Educational Resource University (OERU)

Today the Open Educational Resource Foundation (OERF) is hosting a face-to-face meeting in New Zealand to explore the creation of an Open Educational Resource University (OERU). For instructions around virtual participation see:

As outlined in the meeting information pack the purpose of this inaugural meeting is to collaboratively:

  • Consider inputs and leading questions from meeting participants, anchor partners, the pre-meeting SCoPE seminar and international agencies
  • Develop a shared understanding of a logic model for the OER university concept
  • Review and refine the OER university logic model
  • Identify the key questions for each component of the logic model
  • Gauge interest and identify volunteers for leading and coordinating the constituent components of the logic model
  • Commence identification of the key activities required for each component of the logic model, including inputs, outputs and
  • Specify the next steps for the way forward.

This is a bold move looking at what it might take to create free and open learning for tertiary education credentials using OER.

The information package distributed in support of this meeting describes the OER University concept and presents a logic model as follows:

OER University Concept

The OER university concept. Adapted from Taylor 2007.

The OER university is a sustainable international system which will provide free learning to all learners with pathways to gain academic credit from formal education institutions around the world. It is rooted in the community service and outreach mission of tertiary education providers to evolve parallel delivery systems (now possible with the open web and free content licensing of learning materials) that will augment existing educational provision. The OER University is an open network and public-private partnership (PPP) including post-secondary institutions, the private sector, non-profits, government and international agencies.

The OER university concept is based on the strategic enablers where it is more effective to collaborate on selected components of the OER university concept, for example shared course design and development. However, collaborating institutions retain their core operational services associated with assessment and credentialisation. This OER ecosystem aims to serve both formal and informal learners by creating more flexible pathways for diverse student needs.

Logic model for the OER university

High-level logic model providing a systemic perspective of main initiatives for building a participatory OER ecosystem that aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide with pathways for credible academic qualifications

The design, development and implementation of a sustainable and scalable OER university concept is an ambitious international collaboration project. The logic model provides a framework for structuring and organising the range of activities, processes and constituent components necessary to achieve the desired results.

The Problem

Individuals are free to learn from OER hosted on the open web. The problem is that learners who access digital OERs on the web and acquire knowledge and skills either formally or informally, alone or in groups, cannot readily have their learning assessed and subsequently receive appropriate academic recognition for their efforts.

The Solution

The core mission of any modern university is to contribute to society as a community of scholars through the pursuit of education, learning and research. Many post-secondary institutions also incorporate the mission of community service, as publicly funded institutions, to serve the wider interests of the communities in which they operate by sharing expertise and scholarship for the benefit of society. By combining OER with the community service mission, it is possible to create what Taylor[6] has called a “parallel universe” of higher education delivery to complement and augment existing provision, especially for those who lack the means to follow traditional learning paths. Moreover, the OER university concept is a means whereby education at all levels can be more accessible, more affordable and more efficient by reinvesting savings of shared course development back into the formal teaching operations.


As part of my work at BCcampus I’ve been facilitating an OERU online seminar in our SCoPE online community in advance of today’s OERU meeting in New Zealand. This SCoPE seminar has been planned to stimulate discussion in advance of todays meeting and to provide a forum for follow-on discussion after today’s meeting. I promised meeting organizers I’d provide a short summary of our discussions and drop-in think tank web conference as an input into today’s face to face meeting.

Here’s what I submitted:

OER University – A Summary of SCoPE Seminar Inputs

The following notes are summarized from SCoPE OERu online discussions and an OERu drop-in think tank web conference session held over the period 4-21-Feb-2011. The summary has been distilled from contributions made by participants from Israel, United States, New Zealand, India, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Portugal, and Brazil.

OER University Model and Ideas

The OERu:

  • is a a consortium of partner universities – a university of universities. Participating colleges/universities are given an OERu logo to post on their web-sites designating them as participants.
  • un-bundles the package of services traditional universities provide: recommending (and selling) learning materials, forming learning groups, arranging learning experiences, supplying teachers, certifying
  • provides a search service for OER materials and maintains a repository of credit based OER approved by the consortium
  • brings together currently separate OER initiatives to generate collaboration between them for development and assemblage of OER into mutually credentialed outcomes.
  • creates a framework within which existing OER can be assembled and new OER development positioned.
  • establishes a world OER credit bank and trans-national qualifications framework. Institutions developing OER can register their OER with the credit bank specifying what credit they are willing to accord those who successfully complete the learning outcomes associated with it. OERu assembles or creates the transfer/articulation aspects of assembling OER into a credential. Each OERu university partner can link existing OER courses of other partner universities to its OER degree programmes
  • facilitates creation of an OER learning path, learning plan, and/or PLAR documentation template for students ideally through consultation with advisor or mentor
  • helps learners systematically pursue learning plan and create a portfolio that can be assessed
  • provides student support resources to help students navigate their learning paths and compile portfolios. Partners with institutions who provide options for student support possibly on a fee for service basis. A 24×7 call center for assisting students.
  • creates a social learning context for OER reinserting or applying pedagogy to OER. Utilizes mass collaboration approaches combined with social networking to establish peer-to-peer and tutor-student support potentially with senior students receiving credit for tutoring juniour students. Provides a brokering/marketplace where those who want to facilitate learning can meet those who want to learn. Emphasizes peer-to-peer social learning over teacher/student traditional learning. Students as teachers solidifies learning.
  • prioritizes low-cost / low-bandwidth solutions for learner support and uses mobile technologies for these interactive components
  • provides continuous entry points throughout the year with entry by exams rather than prerequisite courses or degrees. A 365 days online registration and evaluation process.
  • supports individual pace of learning, multiple exit points, including instant certification by testing
  • removes affiliation requirements, residency or citizenship requirements, age restrictions (make OERu undergraduate and graduate programs open to children)
  • provides certification or links to colleges and universities who do a PLAR like assessment of the portfolio
  • awards the degree with logos of universities who participated in the validation process displayed on the certificate or alternatively the universities themselves confer the credentials
  • maintains a registry of graduates

OERu Users and Use Cases

  • a student using OER could literally study anywhere in the world for free and transfer his/her learning to a “receiving institution” for conversion to transfer credit
  • personally designed pick and choose model where students formulate their own learning pathway (likely favoured by working professionals)
  • structured degree model where templates of predefined OER are assembled into a curriculum leading to a credential (younger students looking for qualifications to move into professional area in labour market)
  • OER-U could also work in K-12 sector to establish elementary and secondary programs leading to post-secondary so someone could presumably begin at the primary/elementary level and progress seemlessly to undergraduate or even graduate degrees

OERu Questions & Challenges

How to develop the course materials for learners globally?

Providing not only free education but free authentic, valid and reliable certification too. Leaners may need to pay for credential services unless national governments provide grants to cover these costs through the state education system.

Finding a free online platform or specifying that learning materials for the OER university be developed (or converted) into open file formats that are equally accessible by a variety of Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

OER have to be available or at least readily convertible to low tech, pencil and paper, or print-based materials.

Institutions will not move toward an OERu strategy unless they see a clear benefit for themselves. Does OERu need to be a parallel higher education universe?

Develop low-overhead quality and accreditation systems building an entirely new model rather than adapting the old one.

The concept of an OER-university is an innovation and a major one for the education globally. Individual and organisational adoption will depend on the current concerns and benefits of this innovation for them.

Be more creative. Start without thinking about existing systems and courses. Rethink units of learning.

OERu needs to be younger and bolder. We need to get our heads into being 15 to 25 again.

We already have a critical mass to at least get one degree operational.


This summary is available for the New Zealand participants and anyone else as a .pdf download in the OERU Meeting Agenda.

Its always a challenge to distill and coalesce rich online discussions but I think this summary is a great start to defining an OERU. I’ll be briefing the New Zealand participants on our activities and this summary via phone later today.

Hope many of you will contribute to the concept of an OERu and look forward to seeing what emerges.

Access Copyright’s Royalty Demands Spark Interest in OER

Here in Canada a Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency called Access Copyright has been operating since 1988. Access Copyright establishes licensing agreements that provide users with the ability to copy from millions of copyright protected materials while ensuring over nine thousand creators and publishers are fairly compensated. Access Copyright license agreements have traditionally been for the rights to photocopy books, magazines, newspapers and other publications. Access Copyright licenses this content through a combination of agreements with other rights licensing agencies and the Canadian divisions of global publishing companies.

These rights have been essential to education institutions where instructors photocopy either parts of publications or entire articles and provide them to students as course materials. Access Copyright estimates that 250 million pages of textbooks and other materials are being copied every year in Canada’s primary, secondary and post-secondary sector.

Access Copyright has been charging Canadian provincial governments, school boards, colleges and universities an annual tariff amounting to over $30 million a year. As per Copyright Board of Canada the tariff is charged on a per student basis and works out to about $5.16 per student.

All of this is subject to major change in the context of the digital age where reprography via photocopying is becoming increasingly obsolete. Copyright is a hot topic and organizations like Access Copyright, who have not traditionally been securing digital rights from creators and publishers, are faced with some significant challenges.

In the digital age there is a growing belief that rights are better handled directly by creators without using third party intermediaries like Access Copyright. In addition, in the US and Canada, there are allowable exceptions to copyright called fair use in the US and fair dealing in Canada. Access Copyright cannot charge licensing fees to content that educational institutions have a right to access for free.

All this hit the fan when in June 2010 Access Copyright submitted to the Copyright Board a Statement of Proposed Royalties to be collected by Access Copyright from post-secondary institutions for the years 2011-2013 for the reprographic reproduction in Canada of works in its repertoire. This statement covered digital copies and proposed a tariff of $45 per student for universities or $35 per student for all other educational institutions. The statement specifies conditions regarding digital copies and details extensive reporting requirements.

The statement caused an uproar on many fronts.

The Canadian Federation of Students together with the Canadian Association of University Teachers objected.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations objected.
The Association of Canadian Community Colleges objected.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada objected.
The BC Association of Universities and Institutes objected.
The Government of Alberta objected.
And on and on.

In all over 101 objections were submitted. Interestingly Access Copyright response to the objections was to ask the Copyright Board of Canada to dismiss all of the objectors except AUCC and ACCC.

For some a key objection was the dramatic increase in per student charges.

Dave Molenhuis, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students said in a press release. “The proposal treats students as cash cows and ignores the fair dealing rights granted through the Copyright Act and affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Amazingly, from my point of view, in asking for the increase in tariff from $5.16 to $45/$35 per student Access Copyright hasn’t submitted any financial justification or business case rationale for the increase. Nor have I seen anything that says they have acquired the digital rights to works or that the creators and publishers they represent want them to act as digital work intermediaries on their behalf.

If this is a cash grab its worth following the money. How does Access Copyright collect and distribute royalties?

Access Copyright publishes a schedule of distribution payments. Of the $30 million it collects Access Copyright holds back 20% (~$6 million) to cover its own administration and a further 1.5% (~$450,000) which goes to Access Copyright’s cultural fund which goes to promote and support Canadian culture through the provision of grants intended to encourage the development and dissemination of published Canadian works.

Howard Knopf notes that Access Copyright budgeted $3.1 million for lawyer and other professional fees in 2010 and that with 1.5 million students registered in universities and colleges in Canada if the new tariff goes through Access Copyright’s revenues from universities and colleges alone jumps to about $60 million.

Access Copyright’s distribution of royalites specifies that two thirds of Access Copyright royalties go to the rightsholder based on Access Copyright having actual knowledge that their copyright protected work was copied under an Access Copyright license. Licensees (eg. colleges and universities) are required to provide full reporting including complete bibliographic information on all the works they copy, including the number of pages they copy and the number of times they copy these pages. Royalty payments are made to rightsholders of the works appearing in these reports.

One third of Access Copyright royalties are collected for copying impossible or impractical to collect information. This portion of the tariff is calculated based on the number of full time employees or an operating budget scale. Access Copyright distributes these royalties 50/50 to publishers and creators.

I don’t think anyone objects to publishers and creators getting fair compensation for their work. However, colleges and universities are currently operating in highly constrained financial circumstances. Furthermore tuitions and student debt has been rapidly escalating. Going digital ought to reduce costs not increase them but Access Copyrights tariff seems intent on going in the other direction forcing institutions and students to bear the burden of costs for which its made no justification.

Unreasonable royalty fees were not the only objections. For me the best summary of objections have come from the Canadian Library Association (CLA). CLA’s objections include:

  • Failure to recognize existing user rights and exceptions
  • Overly inclusive and inapplicable definitions
  • Unreasonable royalty fees
  • Unwarranted anti-circumvention provision
  • Unreasonable conditions placed on the use of repertoire works
  • Unreasonable reporting requirements
  • Unreasonable requirements of access for Survey purposes

CLA’s letter of objection concludes:

“Access Copyright‟s tariff seeks to require payment of an unreasonable amount of royalties for the use of works well beyond its previous licenses, beyond the scope of their legitimate remit under the current law and without regard to the rights of education institutions under the Copyright Act and applicable case law. In addition, it imposes onerous and often unenforceable new conditions on educational institutions and requires actions from them which may well be in contravention of existing legislation and contracts. CLA urges the Copyright Board not to approve any tariff without substantial changes in accordance with these objections and without a significant reduction in the royalty rates.”

I’m not going to go into every one of these objections but let me highlight just a couple more. In addition to unreasonable royalties another area of contention is around the breadth of Access Copyright’s definition of a copy. The three most contentious definitions of a copy Access Copyright included in their statement are:

  • projecting an image using a computer or other device
  • displaying a Digital Copy on a computer or other device, and
  • posting a link or hyperlink to a Digital Copy

Claiming that a hyperlink is a digital copy is a good example of how excessive Access Copyrights claims are. Linking and displaying are not part of Canada’s copyright act and as such are not subject to copyright tariff. Teachers, students, institutions and taxpayers should not have to unnecessarily pay millions of dollars per year to exercise rights that they already have. It appears that Access Copyright is overstepping its mandate as it tries to move in to the digital sphere.

In an era where everyone is used to acquiring digital works through services like iTunes it seems ludicrous, at least to me, that the process Access Copyright proposes to use for tracking and collecting tariffs is essentially manual, labour intensive and place the onus entirely on the licensee to fully disclose every copy it makes. For example if an instructor emails students a digital copy of a document the educational institution is required to compile a record and report back every such e-mail.

One can only hope that the Copyright Board of Canada will bring some reason to all this and balance Access Copyright’s efforts to generate dollars for the creators and publishers they represent with the rights of the Canadian public for fair access. However, in December 2010 they approved Access Copyrights request for an interim tariff and amazingly conclude this announcement by saying: “This decision is being issued without reasons because the Board considers this matter to be urgent.” Yikes that doesn’t come across as a good example of public accountability.

In light of all this some institutions are deciding to no longer be Access Copyright licensees and instead to go their own way. Athabasca University has announced it will not renew the Access Copyright license and in doing so says they plan to “make more extensive use of open educational resources (OERs), material such as lectures, texts, lessons and podcasts produced by other universities and made freely available for use. Where the use of OERs isn’t possible, the university will approach copyright holders directly for permission to make use of their work.”

Here in British Columbia the University of British Columbia’s position regarding Access Copyrights new tariff can be found here. As part of its response and its desire to take a lead on promoting responsible use of copyrighted material UBC is developing a License Information Database which answers many questions students and instructors have about using the Library’s resources.

The University of Northern BC, like Athabasca, has decided they will not renew the Access Copyright license. UNBC has invited me to give presentations there in early February helping faculty and staff explore the alternatives. I’ve agreed and submitted the following as what I propose to do.

Presentation #1
Title: The Opportunity Side of Open
This presentation will explore the opportunities associated with converging forces of open source software, open access research publishing, open government/data, open educational resources, and open pedagogies. The combined impact of these “open” initiatives is of growing strategic importance in higher education as institutions look for alternative and creative ways of enhancing their education offerings through digital technologies. (For more on this see my University of Open blog post.)

Within this larger strategic context of open particular emphasis will be placed on the potential of open educational resources as a creative alternative to traditional Access Copyright sourced course materials. Intellectual property, copyright and licensing aspects of open educational resources will be described and demystified. Open educational resource examples from within BC and from around the world will be used to illustrate the rich and diverse range of resources already available for free and immediate use.

Tips on sourcing open educational resources and using them in whole or in part will be provided including urls, web sites and search engines. This presentation will conclude with opportunities for Q&A and dialog with the presenter about the opportunity side of open. An applied/hands on session will follow providing more in depth opportunities for participants to explore, discover, and dissect open educational resources pertinent to their academic domain of interest.

Presentation #2
Title: Finding and Using Open Educational Resources
This session takes concepts and ideas from the first presentation and moves them into a practical and applied context. It is structured as a guided exploration of how to find and use open educational resources. Using web-based open educational resource aggregators and repositories participants will be invited to find and select resources pertinent to their academic field of study and instruction. Searching, previewing and downloading resources will all be demonstrated. The potential to use open education resources for everything from a course supplement, to a course component, to a complete course, to curricula for an entire credential will be explored. Benefits associated with open education resource use from student, instructor and institution perspectives will be discussed. Open education resource license obligations such as attribution, and share-alike will be described. Open educational resource technical format, instructional design, and quality aspects will be considered. This session will conclude with an overview of current trends and directions associated with open education resource development and use around the world.

Its important to acknowledge that going your own way is not an effort to avoid paying appropriate rights fees. It simply means that the model being proposed by Access Copyright is not appropriate, especially for digital works.

So what are the alternatives? Here are the ones I see:

  • Not all copying is a contravention of the copyright act. The Fair Dealing copyright exception allows copying portions of works for the purpose of study.
  • Use site database licences that librarians already have in place
  • Use open access licences to scholarly research
  • Negotiate licenses directly with creators or publishers
  • Use open educational resources and public domain materials

I’ve written widely about open educational resources elsewhere in this blog and think that openly licensed materials hold great potential as a significant alternative.

What do you think about Access Copyrights statement of proposed royalties?

Are there additional alternatives to the ones I’ve listed above?

The University of Open

I enjoyed the University of Utopia as a provocation. However, as the authors acknowledge, at this point the University of Utopia is largely a critique rather than an alternative utopian vision. That got me thinking about how easy it is to critique something and how hard it is to actually put forward an alternative.

Over the past two years I’ve been noticing a lot of commentary, articles, and conversation lamenting how out of step traditional institutions are with contemporary students and forecasting the demise of the university. Here are a few examples:

End the University as We Know It

The Impending Demise of the University

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

Why Free Online Lectures will Destroy Universities Unless They Get Their Act Together Fast

I read all of these with great interest and have considerable empathy for much of the disenchantment I hear expressed. However, my interest isn’t around the doomsday portent but in unearthing substantive descriptions of alternatives.

I’ve been playing around with some alternatives in my own mind and thought I’d work one of them out here in public. The alternative I’m imagining recasts the traditional “open university” in contemporary terms. It synthesizes multiple related “open” initiatives into a common core operating principle that defines the university and the education it provides.

I’ve started imagining a University of Open.

The University of Open:

  • uses open source software for its administration and for teaching and learning
  • involves students and faculty in research which is published in open access journals for all to see and use
  • operates in an open government/open data way whereby the learning analytics and data about the institution are open and available
  • offers credential education through programs built using open educational resources developed in-house and reused from elsewhere
  • involves all students and faculty as active contributors in one or more of the open communities that open source software, open access, open government/data, and open educational resources rely on
  • expands on the traditional no-entry requirements open-door policy of an “open university” to intentionally and strategically utilize new and emerging open pedagogies

Let me contextualize these bullet points with particulars.

Open Source Software (OSS)

Open source software is computer software whose source code is open to others to study, change, and improve. The fact that the code is open means it can be easily and quickly adapted. Customization and enhancements do not necessarily require large investments nor are they dependent on a proprietary vendors implementation decision or timeline.

There are lots of open source software applications in use in higher education. Applications such as Moodle, MediaWiki, WordPress, Sakai, and Drupal are all open source software applications serving the learning and collaboration side of higher education. Each of these open source software applications have developer communities (Moodle Development Community, MediaWiki Developers, WordPress Developer Documentation, Sakai Community, Drupal Contributors) that are open to anyone to participate in. Source code bugs, improvements and feature requests are all openly shared and managed within these communities creating a transparency around development that is remarkable.

Open source software also lends itself well to higher education institutions joining forces to form community based developer networks collaborating on development of key applications particularly for administrative systems. The open source software application Kuali is being developed by a consortium of universities and companies to handle administrative and operational tasks like general accounting, purchasing, salary and benefits, budgeting, asset management and grants. The system is designed around modules that enable it to be tweaked to work with other existing applications. As part of the consortium there are services for installation, integration and support.

openSIS is another open source software application built to manages student demographics, scheduling, attendance, grades, transcripts, and health records, and its parent company makes add-on modules to support additional features like disciplinary tracking, billing, food service, and bulk email/SMS messaging for emergency contact. In December 2010 the openSIS developers were being inundated with emails and phone calls from users seeking openSIS + Moodle integration to help them run their virtual schools or hybrid schools more efficiently.

There are lots of other examples including the JaSig community developing uPortal, and CAS (Central Authentication Services) and Internet2 – a consortium led by universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies including products such as Shibboleth and Grouper

One key aspect of open source software development is that a large number of the participants in the developer communities are also users of the software. This removes the frequently wide gap between what users want and proprietary vendors are willing to provide.

In the University of Open students, faculty and administrators don’t just use these open source software applications they contribute to their development by participating in the developer communities. Students, faculty, and administrators at the University of Open are active investors in open. Faculty and administrators are expected to devote a certain percentage of their time to open developer communities but students receive “credit” for active contributions.

Open Access

Open access publishing is free, immediate, permanent online access to full scholarly research articles for anyone to access, read, and use. Since the 1990’s, with the advent of the Internet, open access has become a bit of a social movement in academia. The basic underlying principle is that publicly funded research should be freely shared with the public for the common good.

The impetus to move in this direction has been driven by two additional forces. First the cost to produce traditional print-based scholarly journals has been rising rapidly. Publishers recoup those costs by charging libraries a licensing fee to access the journal. However, librarian budgets have not been dramatically increasing and many libraries cannot afford to pay. The result has been decreasing access to research publications. The second force is the potential enabled by the world wide web. Digital publication means that it is now possible to publish a scholarly article and make it instantly accessible anywhere in the world over the Internet. The marginal cost of this distribution is $0.

Some academics and researchers open access publish through what is called self-archiving where authors place their article online in a place where it can be freely accessed by all. Some publishers are now doing open access journal publishing where they provide open access to their articles online, recouping their expenses by charging the author a fee for refereeing and publishing the article instead of the library for accessing the article.

At the University of Open all students and faculty are engaged in research and openly publish their research results through open access methods.

Open Government/Open Data

Open government/open data is a policy and legal framework to open up access to publicly held information, promote transparency, and enable wider economic and social gain. Open government aims to stimulate creative and innovative activities around the use of publicly held information to deliver social and economic benefits. Open government makes government more transparent and open in its activities, ensuring that the public are better informed about the work of the government and the public sector. And perhaps most importantly open government seeks to create more civic and democratic engagement often through social networking tools and voluntary and community activities.

The UK government is one of the leading practitioners of open government. Their web site provides some great examples of the kind of economic and social gain possible. They have even launched competitions such as Show Us A Better Way in the hopes that new uses for public information in areas of criminal justice, health and education can be found. See the winning idea here. Similar initiatives are happening elsewhere such as Apps for Democracy.

Closer to home the cities of Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto have recently joined forces to collaborate on an “Open Data Framework“. The Open GovWestBC conference just took place in Victoria on November 10, 2010. The provincial government is increasingly making use of social media and is revamping public service with the first defining principle of the “Citizens @ the Centre: BC Government 2.0” paper being “We will empower citizens to create value from open government data.”

Open government/open data practices have yet to emerge in the context of educational institutions but in my alternative vision the University of Open operates in an open government/open data manner. The University of Open opens up access to public data it gathers and seeks to engage its members and the public in the creative and innovative use of that data to further the education it provides. One emerging area where this has tremendous potential is around learning analytics – the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning.

Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning materials that are freely available under a license that allows them to be:

  • reused – you can reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form
  • revised – you can adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself
  • remixed – you can combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new
  • redistributed – you can make and share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others

Implementation of an open educational resource approach involves licenses, software applications (store, search distribute, …), processes (design, development, …) and resulting content (full courses and course components such as learning objects, labs, textbooks, manuals, animations, simulations, and videos).

An emerging development in OER is open textbooks. An open textbook is an openly-licensed textbook offered online by its author(s). The open license sets open textbooks apart from traditional textbooks by allowing users to read online, download, or print the book at no additional cost. Open textbooks help solve the problems of the high cost of textbooks, book shortages, and access to textbooks as well as providing the capacity to improve local teaching and learning. Open textbook initiatives are making significant headlines these days as the education sector grapples with tight financial times. Here’s a sampling of the headlines:

Gov. Schwarzenegger Launches First-in-Nation Initiative to Develop Free Digital Textbooks for High School Students

Washington’s 2-year colleges out to beat high cost of textbooks.

Texas seeks open textbooks.

The University of Open develops new, and makes use of existing, open educational resources to create complete academic programs. University of Open credentials are based entirely on open educational resources. The University of Open educational resources are open to all including prospective students, existing students, and alumni students. Students, faculty and administrators at the University of Open all engage in developing open educational resources as part of their day-to-day activities. The University of Open provides credit to students for knowledge creation as the ChemWiki initiative does by giving students actual credit for contributions students make to the ChemWiki. Alumni are encouraged to continue their involvement with the University of Open by contributing new and improving existing open educational resources.

Open Pedagogies

I’ve deliberately called my alternative vision the University of Open to avoid confusion with what is now a long standing tradition of “open universities”. Historically, open universities have an open-door academic policy that entails no or minimal entry requirements. Open universities often base their teaching method on correspondence study or distance education where students autonomously pursue their learning in a self-paced way from home submitting assignments when ready to be marked by tutors.

In addition to minimal program admission requirements some open universities, such as BC’s own Thompson Rivers University Open Learning offer continuous enrolment, prior learning assessment and recognition credits for learning from life and work experience, and credit transfer to and from other universities. Many open universities were created to offer education opportunities to under-represented groups in higher education – school leavers who missed out on education while young, people in remote communities without the means or inclination to move to an urban setting to access a university campus, people with disabilities or mental health issues, retired people wanting to explore new interests, people wanting to change their career entirely, …

The University of Open embraces this tradition and extends it further. The University of Open is open to enrollment for students from anywhere around the world. The University of Open is open 24/7, has no place-based physical campus, and no residency requirements. Most significantly the University of Open moves the traditional correspondence model of education forward by adopting open pedagogies that leverage educational technologies, online instructional design, and emerging innovative ideas around open practices of teaching and learning.

Of all the “open” aspects of the University of Open, open pedagogies is the least developed. There is no “community” of open pedagogues for students and educators to participate in – yet. But here are some of the current explorations I see happening in the open pedagogies area.

Openly Public Teaching and Learning
I’m starting to see examples here in BC, and elsewhere, of educators teaching using blogs and wikis that can be seen by the public. The course syllabus, modules, activities, assignments and discussion are publicly visible. Students are officially enrolled as per any course but their learning is in the open, publicly viewable and in some cases the public is invited to interact, comment on, and contribute to student work. This moves education from a private matter to a public one. A good example is:
ETEC 522 Ventures in Learning Technologies

Massively Open Online Courses
Massively open online courses allow anyone to participate freely or you can register and enrol for formal recognition. Instructors only formally mark the course assignments submitted by for-credit students. Those freely participating can be as passive or active as they want and are encouraged to do all the readings and assignments, participate in discussions, and post papers for other students to view and comment on. George Siemens and Stephen Downes have been early innovators in this area. Examples of massively open onliine courses include:
Connectivism & Connective Knowledge
Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge 2010 and
Jim Groom’s Digital Storytelling which starts Jan 10, 2011 looks amazing.

Open Study Groups
Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) an online open education initiative that provides free and open courses outside of the traditional university model. P2PU courses are offered by volunteers who work with experts and community members to develop a comprehensive course using open materials and an accompanying social structure. They describe themselves as “an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses” or “online book clubs for open educational resources”.

The University of Open

I expect you, like me, have been aware of many of these “open” initiatives. But, as yet, no one has really put them together as an inter-related whole. Its a bit like the elephant parable where a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it is like, but with each only feeling a part their resulting understanding is fragmentary and incomplete. All I’ve done is assemble each of these different open components into a cohesive whole – the University of Open.

Open source software, open access publishing, open government/data, open educational resources, and open pedagogies all share a common underlying philosophy. I think there is potential for untapped synergy by combining them together and pursuing them collectively. If the traditional university is doomed is the University of Open a possible alternative?

What I didn’t see at the Open Education Conference – using negative space to outline the future of OER

My participation in the recent Open Education Conference in Barcelona and follow on readings of posts like that of Scott Leslie and Brian Lamb and the numerous papers from presenters now available at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya’s institutional repository have led me to engage in a lot of deeper thinking about the whole field of Open Education Resources (OER). It wasn’t so much that the conference was a stellar event full of stimulating innovative sessions. To be frank it wasn’t. But sometimes it’s the things that aren’t there that make you see whats missing and think more deeply.

I have an interest in art and when I was learning to draw we were encouraged to see negative space. When you draw negative space you focus on capturing the spaces around and between a subject rather than the subject itself. Amazingly when you set out to draw the negative space the end result is that you also capture something that looks very much like the subject you wished to draw. So this post will largely be about the negative space around open educational resources.

OER are still largely invisible in the academy. Despite having been around for almost 10 years OER are still not as widely known by faculty and students as those of us immersed in the field might like to think.

Using data from Joseph Hardin’s presentation on Faculty and Students Attitudes Toward Open Access and Open Courseware 50% of faculty have never even heard of open courseware and a further third have heard of it but never been to an open courseware site. Yikes. OER are still not on the radar of most faculty.

The most widely known OER initiative is MIT’s OpenCourseWare. While MIT’s OCW initiative is laudatory as an early example of OER advocacy, in my view it falls way short of being a stellar example of OER for teaching and learning use. How unfortunate then that when faculty or students do become aware of OER and go to MIT’s site for a look they simply see lecture recordings and course notes online. I expect they must be a bit disappointed and ask themselves “Is this what everyone’s been making a fuss about?”

According to Brandon Muramatsu who presented on MIT’s Project Greenfield MIT has only recently formed three committees – one for distance learning, one for 3+2 programs (3 years undergrad+2 years grad), and a third to consider e-learning for MIT students to enhance student learning experience. Holy rummoli! The leading example of OER is only now starting to consider e-learning!

Lets be perfectly clear – for MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a form of digital publishing. As you can see in Brandon’s presentation OCW is not an MIT education, OCW does not grant degrees or certificates, and OCW does not provide access to MIT faculty. This outline of all the things MIT’s OCW is not is an example of what I mean about negative space. Imagine if all the things that it is not were actually reversed into things that it is. OER is used for education, OER are used in a way that grants degrees and certificates, and OER provide access to faculty. Are these missing elements the very ingredients needed to establish OER’s impact and sustainability?

Barcelona is part of Catalunya which has a long history of open thinking and activism including extensive explorations of anarchism, socialism, democracy, and communism. When the dictator Franco came to power after the Spanish civil war Catalan political and cultural autonomy was suppressed. Publication of books and discussion in open meetings on the ism’s mentioned above were forbidden and use of the Catalan language banned. How apropos then that there was an ideological undercurrent around OER at this conference.

Mike Neary and Joss Winn subjected OER to a Marxist critique through their talk Opening Education Beyond the Property Relation: From Commons to Communism the University of Utopia. As they see it “while Open Education claims to liberate intellectual work from the constrains of intellectual property law, it does nothing about liberating the intellectual worker from the constraints of the academic labour process.”

Richard Hall and Joss Winn explored the extent to which open education might enable learners to engage with uncertainty through social action. This was one of several sessions that suggested higher education in its current form needs to change and called for a form of higher education that is more resilient to economic, environmental and energy-related disruption. It raised ideological issues around the current model of education being based on consumption, commodification, and growth – a model which is unsustainable. As Hall and Winn pointed out OER sharing doesn’t require funding it requires a shift in values, a shift some described as commonism where sharing as a revolutionary act becomes a recognition of what is common.

Is education, as Neary and Winn critique it, simply a market where indebted students enter into a contract around learning content and accreditation? Is OER simply feeding an educational regime where the value of the content is, both in its form and substance, standardised so all customers receive the same quality of product and delivered with efficiency so as to reproduce it at low cost? Are OER a new form of content production that can be absorbed into business as usual practices of education? Are OER the start of users and communities reclaiming education in their specific social context as a means of engaging in an uncertain world? While questions like these tug at ideological tensions underlying OER they have yet to fully surface and be answered.

I had to smile when, later that night while walking through the streets of Barcelona and thinking about these things, I came across a store window with an alternative view of Marxism.

I met quite a few OER skeptics at this conference who were there looking to be convinced that if they make their distance learning open it won’t eat into enrollments/tuition. Many of them expressed ideological beliefs which hold that as an educator using someone else’s stuff reduces your professional status. For the skeptics OER are risky and cause fear. These concerns were voiced in the hall but for the most part absent and unaddressed in the proceedings.

For every skeptic there were numerous advocates who see OER as a transformative agent with the potential to have a huge impact on education and forever change the way that teaching and learning are done. Those advocating OER as transformative agent see OER as an educational embodiment of the culture of sharing and openness that has permeated the web in popular culture but also as exemplified by open source software, open access research publishing, government open data initiatives, and open tools like wikis and blogs. Brian Lamb, Scott Leslie and Novak Rogic showed this expanded view of “open” in action with their presentation “Never Mind the Edupunks: Open Platforms, Open Content, Open Collaboration”.

And here’s a few quick sketch outlines of negative space elements from the Open Education Conference that hint at OER’s future but have yet to fully emerge:

  • OER are for some an individual act that embodies a larger belief in the value of open sharing. How does this play out in education environments where not everyone feels the same way? How does choice fit into the picture and how does the value of open sharing scale?
  • There is a huge need for institutional and government education ministry representatives to step forward and show how OER are an important educational strategy that they are endorsing through policy and action plans. At this stage there is widespread support for the notion that public funding should create public resources
  • OER need to move from an individual or institutional initiative, as they exist in their current form, to system wide initiatives involving all institutions, faculty and students
  • While there were suggestions that education in its current form needs to dramatically change there weren’t a lot of examples of what a new form of OER based education might look like. (With the exception of DeLaina Tonks’ fantastic presentation on the Utah Open High School)
  • OER have long been based on the four tenets of review, revise, remix and redistribute. However, actual examples of how OER have been revised and remixed are few and far between. Where are the examples of OER that have been significantly improved to such an extent that the original author is now using the improved one in their own work?
  • One of David Wiley’s sessions asked people to identify concrete pedagogical benefits from OER. What strategies are available to a teacher/learner with an OER that are not available otherwise? Surprisingly the audience was unable to articulate many. Where are the innovative pedagogical models with OER generating deeper learning?
  • The SmartHistory presenters were surprised at the absence of librarians and museum staff at Open Ed. Where are the OER collections around disciplines? Why haven’t communities of mluti-institutional professional peers, all collectively working on OER, emerged in the same way they have in the open source software field?
  • The cost benefits of OER are first being realized in the open textbook arena. Where are the stellar examples of OER open textbooks being brought together with open OER courses?
  • We know that the primary users of existing OER are students and those engaged in self study. However, the voice and perspective of students is currently absent from the discussion. What do students think about OER? Will students end up being the primary improvers of OER through revision and remix?

My own presentation comparing Foundation funded OER initiatives with publicly funded OER initiatives led to some fruitful discussions especially with those responsible for foundation OER initiatives. Thanks to Hewlett Foundation’s Barbara Chow and Kathy Nicholson for using BCcampus as an examplar of a publicly funded OER in their Dec. 1st, 2010 presentation at the Taking Open Educational Resources (OER) beyond the OER Community, Policy and Capacity UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning OER forum in Paris.

Special thanks to Gaudi and Salvador Dali for their oddly beautiful and frequently bizarre architectural and artistic creations which inspired me to think differently and which I’ve featured throughout this post and to Carlos Ruiz Zafón whose amazing book The Shadow of the Wind imbued Barcelona with a sense of eerie mystery in advance of my visit.

Foundation Funded OER vs. Tax Payer Funded OER – A Tale of Two Mandates

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:

  • endowment
  • membership
  • donations
  • conversion
  • contributor-pay
  • sponsorship
  • institutional
  • governmental
  • partnerships and exchanges
    (Downes, 2007)

In a public post secondary institution context traditional sources of funding are:

  • public grant funding from taxes
  • individual donations
  • organizational donations
  • advertising
  • fees for products or services
    (Lane, 2008)

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.

Hewlett Foundation

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:

The Hewlett Foundation’s OER goal is to:
“Equalize access to knowledge for teachers and students around the globe through Open Educational Resources.”
(Hewlett, 2010).

Mellon Foundation

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.

Ford Foundation

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.


Advance education around the world by publishing MIT courses as a public good for the benefit of all. (Hockfield, 2010)

Rice University Connexions

Connexions has two primary goals:

  1. to convey the interconnected nature of knowledge across disciplines, courses, and curricula
  2. 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)

UK Open University’s OpenLearn

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)

Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative

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

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.
(Yale, 2010)

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:

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.

BCcampus OER

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:

  • partnerships
  • credentials
  • sharing & reuse

(BCcampus, 2010)

Southern Regional Education Board SCORE

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

(SREB, 2010)

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

(Schuwer, 2010)

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.

OER Licensing

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

The 8th Annual BCcampus Online Program Development Fund – building OER through partnerships

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.

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Overcoming Not-Invented-Here Syndrome – An OER Call to Action

The Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO are doing a joint initiative on “Taking OER beyond the OER Community: Policy and Capacity”. As part of that they are hosting three online discussion forums over the next few months to address a range of issues such as (1) Why do HEIs have to invest in OERs?; (2) What works and what does not, and under what conditions?; and (3) copyright and the development and re-use of OERs. You can subscribe by going to

Susan D’Antoni who launched an international OER community while at UNESCO has migrated that community to Athabasca University. At the beginning of October this community started up again with a focus on discussions related to key OER conferences. You can subscribe to this one at

Discussion in this forum is currently around OpenCourseWare Consortium’s 2010 conference on Educational Policy and OpenCourseWare. The three subthemes, Building OCW, Using OCW as a Platform, and Sustaining OCW, provided opportunities to learn about and discuss the impacts and challenges of opening educational resources.

Its clear from everyone’s remarks in these discussion forums that there are still a lot of questions related to OER sustainability, financial investment, and academic use cases.

As part of my participation in these discussion forums I’ve made one simple recommendation which I believe will result in OER sustainability, financial return, and tremendous academic benefits. For OER to make the transition to mainstream we must see institutions like MIT, UKOU, Athabasca, and ideally all others who develop academic curricula, use OER that have been developed outside their institution as part of the for-credit credential opportunities they are offering. If this one thing was to occur OER would make the transition to becoming an integral part of education practice.

If you look at the OER field overall, and the highly cited initiatives in particular, one thing becomes clear. There is a great willingness to author OER but there is a huge reluctance to reuse anyone elses OER. Don’t get me wrong I admire MIT’s OCW, Carnegie Mellon’s OLI, UKOU’s Open Learn and all the others but I don’t think they’ve fully embraced the OER field. They are encumbered by a “not-invented here” syndrome where OER developed anywhere else except at that institution cannnot possibly be as good as what has been developed in house. OER is as much about reusing resources others have created as much as it is publishing your own.

For me the early leadership I saw exemplified by institutions like MIT is being lost by their failure to embrace the reuse aspect of what OER have to offer. Let me also be explicit about what I’m calling for here. I’m calling for higher education institutions to reuse OER others have created in their “for-credit” offerings that lead to a credential. If we start to see institutions using each others OER in for-credit offerings we’ll really start to see things start to make a lot of economic, societal and academic sense.

Here’s my call to action:

  • focus on OER use in for-credit courses that lead to credentials. This has a much higher value proposition (to institutions, Ministries, funders, and students) than OER use for informal learning.
  • establish OER development and use initiatives as multi-instititutional partnerships with each institution agreeing to contribute OER and use OER contributed by others.

This model provides for diversity, scaleability, and localization in a way that OER developed by single prestigious institutions does not. It also immediately lends itself to transfer & articulation agreements and the possibility of joint degrees. It encourages institutions not just pump out OER in isolation in the hopes that someone else will use it but instead plan for reuse up front and team up with each other in a complementary way where each contributes OER based on their strengths and the combined outcome is a credential both offer that is bigger and better than they could achieve on their own independently.

If this path of action were to be pursued it might mean that:

  • there is no longer any funding to simply develop more new OER. Additional funding is predicated on combining new with reuse of existing OER in credentials.
  • or maybe MIT takes its OCW and teams up with Carnegie Mellons’ OLI to offer joint online degrees made up of OER each contributes. How cool would that be?

A key need this kind of approach provides is a model that smaller institutions and locales can adopt and follow.

Collaboration & The Collaborative Laptop

My work at BCcampus focuses extensively on generating collaborations and partnerships among largely autonomous public post secondary institutions. As a result of this focus I think a lot about collaboration.

My son Noah sent me a time lapse video of a big collaborative painting he did as part of an art show at the Fall Gallery here in Vancouver.

I love how Noah and his friends have taken the act of painting, traditionally a solitary venture, and made it into a collaborative real-time group event done publicly.

I often have this image in mind when I’m thinking about collaborations between groups of faculty on the creation of Open Educational Resources (OER). Authoring OER, or for that matter any course content for higher education courses, has historically been, and is largely still, a solo effort. One of my big hopes is that OER will shift the authoring process to a collaborative one. I’d love to host an OER authoring event that brings faculty together into groups based on shared academic field of study or subject area and supports them in collaboratively authoring OER.

BCcampus has been carefully setup and positioned to not be an institution itself. We don’t teach or credential and as a result we don’t compete with BC’s public post-secondary institutions for students or faculty. Instead we act as a facilitator of partnerships and collaborations among the institutions. This is a bit of a tricky proposition when working with autonomous institutions who want to maintain their self-sufficiency and not dilute their brand. Its further complicated by the competitive nature of higher education. Although the 25 colleges and universities we serve are publicly funded they actually operate as competitive business units. Each institution receives funding based on the number of student enrollments they acquire. This competition based funding formula is a major disincentive to collaboration.

In a sense at BCcampus we focus on enabling that which no one institution can do on its own. We get involved when multiple institutions want to work together toward a common goal. That goal may be development of a collaborative academic program, pooling requirements for educational technology and deploying a shared service that meets those requirements, or implementation of an online admissions service that allows students to apply to multiple institutions at the same time.

A major challenge for BCcampus is the voluntary opt-in nature of our work. We don’t force collaboration. Sometimes our role is simply creating opportunities for institutions to get together and hear about what each institution is doing. Through these events a shared understanding of challenges and successes can emerge and networks of like-minded people who share a common interest across institutions form.

Recently BCcampus joined the Open Educational Resource Foundation (OERF) as a founding member. Wayne Mackintosh who heads up the OERF asked us this interview question as part of the BCcampus case study writeup on their site;

“Traditionally, fostering collaboration among traditional research-led universities, community colleges and vocational education institutions can be hard given the cultural and operational uniqueness of these teaching institutions. Clearly, BCcampus is getting this right. Based on your experiences, what advice can you offer policy makers grappling with educational efficiencies in a digital world?”

Its a great question and in reply I said:

“Its true that fostering collaboration can be hard work and here in BC we are following an opt-in approach rather than anything mandatory, so this approach makes our work especially challenging. Over the years we’ve found the following kinds of approaches work:

  • Focus on achieving outcomes that no one institution can do on its own
  • Help institutions connect with each other and form partnerships by organizing and hosting events and virtual spaces that allow them to speak to each other and solve common issues or challenges
  • Provide financial incentives (either new money or savings) for partnering and collaboration
  • New licensing scenarios for technology can be structured such that licensing costs are based on the cumulative student enrollments represented by participating institutions. In this scenario the more institutions that collaborate the lower the cost for all
  • Partnerships and collaborations need not involve the entire public post-secondary system for them to be successful
  • Maturation and sustainability of value often follows a path from exploratory proof-of-concept work, to a pilot project with a few partnering institutions, to something that scales up to support as many institutions that want to participate.
  • As services mature, support for them also needs to scale with different types of people required for ongoing operation
  • Focus on providing value by generating real-time data on systemic activity that can be shared with everyone
  • Generate and publish measures of partnership and collaboration that quantify the benefit received by each institution

You can find the full interview at

Laptops are typically for solitary, solo use. Some years ago when I worked at the Technical University of British Columbia I had this idea for a collaborative laptop. I’m still amazed that nothing like this has been developed so let me try and map out the basic idea.

When two people sit down together for a conversation they typically sit opposite each other. The conversation is livened by eye contact, gestures, and interpretation of facial cues.

Increasingly conversation is supplemented by inclusion of a laptop for sharing of digital work being done, media, and quick searches. However when a laptop is inserted into the mix it breaks the conversation connection by diverting the attention from the interplay between two people. There is a loss of eye contact as the attention of one member in the conversation shifts to to the interaction with the computer. Further exacerbating the issue is that the second person can’t see anything that the person using the computer is doing. This is frustrating for them and the conversation can break down. At its worse it leads to people feeling devalued and less important than whatever is on that damn computer.

The idea for a collaborative laptop come from observing this pattern of behaviour in the workplace and increasingly in social settings. The idea is pretty simple. What if the laptop lid facing the person not operating the computer had a second screen that could be revealed by sliding the metal covering open like a window. That way both participants in the conversation can see what is on the screen as a shared media element rather than an exclusive element only seen by the computer operator. When not being used in a collaborative context the laptop owner can slide the lid covering closed. That, in a nutshell is the collaborative laptop in it’s most basic configuration. Here are some basic illustrations.

Of course the collaborative laptop could be further extended by having a second keyboard be available that pops out at the push of a button if the second person wants to actively operate the computer too. With a collaborative laptop two people are sharing a single laptop while sitting in the classic conversation configuration. A common shared screen and optional second keyboard create a scenario where the laptop is an aid to collaboration and conversation rather than a hindrance.

A collaborative laptop transitions the computer from a solo device for solitary interaction to a collaborative device for use in social contexts.

Apple make me one please! Oh and ummm as the inventor of the collaborative laptop can I have a slice of the revenue from sales? 🙂

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