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Provisioning strong and weak OER: Requirements of open informational ecosystems
Heinen, Richard · Kerres, Michael · Schindler, Christoph · Rittberger, Marc

PublishedDecember 2015
Type of workOER repositories, OER, peer-to-peer
PublisherOpen Education Global 2015
CountryGermany, Europe

It can be considered as one of the main added values of the digital world that the production and distribution of learning materials is much easier. The OER movement benefits from these possibilities. Whereas, publishing OER is one thing; others are to maintain the material, to make it accessible and to establish methods for quality assurance aligned to whole educational systems and its various practices.

Repositories of OER (ROER) can help to fulfil these tasks, if they follow some given criteria (Atenas & Havemann, 2014) and consider the entanglement of heterogeneous practices (Star, Ruhleder 1996). Yet unsolved and underestimated is the question how to enhance transparency between different ROERs (Conole & Alevizou, 2010). Or: ROERs are regarded as appropriate tools to foster (McGreal et. al., 2013) the awareness for OER (UNESCO, 2012). However, this reflects only the perspective of publishers and not of (inter)national educational systems. If resources are open the different metadata created by authors, editors and users, or even aggregated automatically should be open as well and accessible from different places. Furthermore, collecting descriptions, peer-reviews, ratings and other metadata independent from the resource increase the quality assurance, transparency, and informational capacities of the user.

So far an open ecosystem has been characterized (Kerres & Heinen, 2014a) and the benefits of metadata created jointly by different (types of) users have been demonstrated (Heinen, Blees, Kerres, & Rittberger, 2014). In an open ecosystem various stakeholders come together. Content providers offer content on their platforms. Schools, teachers and students are using this content on their LMS or school server. On an intermediate level a reference platform (also called “referatory”) can help teachers and learners to find and choose the material that seems to be appropriate for their tasks. Thereby, references platforms can add substantially to the quality assurance, diversity, and transparency. The information provided here can be gathered in different ways. Editorial staff can select material under different aspects, users can generate metadata by rating, tagging and describing material they find useful, content providers themselves may have access to a reference system and can bring in information about their products. Last but not least information can by collected automatically from the web or from resources already brought in by others. For end users like students and teachers it is easier to access a few (or even one) reference systems to search the material of various content providers.

Of course the described procedure from content platform via reference platform to learning platform can be realized in one closed ecosystem provided by one publisher or company, whereas open informational ecosystems allow for any provider of contents to “plug into” the ecosystem by providing metadata for the reference platform. Building federated or decentralized systems of interconnected services seems to be a difficult task as there are not only questions of exchange formats and APIs to be answered, but also complex practices – often invisible for users and / or authors – need to be aligned to attract different players to take part. Although the intermediation of the reference infrastructures is challenging, it offers a great chance at the same time; each player benefits from each other by enriching the choices of users and the diversity of OERs.

A differentiation in “weak” and “strong” OERs (Kerres & Heinen, 2014b) characterizes further the federated open ecosystem. Two dimensions are worth to be mentioned. The first dimension comprises the fluidity of OER. As Tuomi (2013) has pointed out, there are various understandings of “open” educational resources. Basically they agree that OER are materials that can be used by learners free of (additional) cost. In these cases OER is seen as a fixed entity whereby the actions of teachers are restricted to looking for material that can be used for free and accessed without any barriers. This can be called a “weak” definition of OER which is limited to materials and licenses and focuses on availability and accessibility: OER are considered as fixed materials which are free to use for a learner – but the practice of using and its possible rearrangement of OER for teaching is out of scope.

A “strong” definition has been discussed in respect of sharing OER including the right to edit, remix, and reshare materials with a license “allowing open practices”. David Wiley (2010) has framed the 4Rs (reuse, revise, remix and redistribute) that can be drawn on for a “narrow” definition of OER. Activists of an “OER movement”, like Stephan Downes, stress the point that OER should grant these more extensive rights. In this line of reasoning OER is often seen as an agent for educational visions where teachers actively participate in a mutual exchange of artefacts, ideas, and discourse. But changes in the value creation chain in the production of digital assets for learning have to be kept in mind (Richter & Veith, 2014).

The second dimension comprises the granularity of an educational resource and its relation to educational practices. From a complex level to single objects OER can be distinguished between textbooks, units, materials, and assets. Currently, the discussion about OER is primarily related to the level of learning materials. Teachers produce these materials for homework and exercises in their classes. These materials include assets found in the web or in other sources. The production of “strong” educational resources with a higher granularity (i.e. textbooks) typically relates to a certain curriculum. It brings OER more into educational practices and its affordances for teaching and learning. But so far, only few examples exist, where such materials have been made successfully available under an OER license. A federated open ecosystem should also support the aggregation of OERs of a higher level of granularity from different services. By these strong OER emerge even from end users activities and must be mapped into the ecosystem to be searchable and to include them into a quality assurance process that seems to be needed even for OER (Hug, 2014).

The presentation describes a federated open ecosystem for OER using the German educational system as a use case. While the German federal educational system by its configuration hindered so far the establishment of a centralised OER system it offers the chance to establish a decentralized OER reference infrastructure that entails an open ecosystem and aligns the heterogeneous curricula for “strong” OER. Additionally, a variety of ROERs (Muuß-Merholz & Schaumburg, 2014) and reference platforms (Kühnlenz et. al., 2012) has been established over the past years in Germany (Heinen et al., 2014). The alignment of the presentation addresses policy makers, content publishers as well as educators to discuss and to reflect on the concepts of open informational ecosystem, strong and weak OER and its implications for the production and distribution of OER.

Published atBanff, Alberta
Other informationOEC Global in Banff
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