Being Open

A next generation of OER.

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Blum

CREDIT History Channel via OpenEdThe premise of Open Educational Resources has always been that making content available to educators and students freely and universally would help accelerate educational progress and democratize educational opportunity.

To that end, a host of OER catalogs were started over the last decade. These include Curriki, OERCommons, and Connexions. All of these catalogs relied on a community of content creators building compelling resources and making them available for free through some open source license such as Creative Commons.

These catalogs are generally still rather small. Despite the growth of the flipped classroom their traffic is steady or shrinking. I believe that this is because, while the first generation OER catalogs benefitted from content creators opensourcing their own content, the first generation OER players haven’t practiced what they preached to content owners.

We believe that its important for an effective OER catalog to do what they want see from their constituent content creators: BE OPEN. What does that mean for a catalog? We think its several things: open source the catalog itself, provide an open API for searching and contributing resources, universal access to all partners, and openness to paid and free content.

Open Source

If you are truly mission-based to improve access to educational resources make your site software itself open source. OpenEd does this on GitHub.  The core extensions of XWiki to support Curriki are open source. But the entire site is not. Otherwise, none of the other OERs have exposed their source right from their site. Is it possible that someone else may take some of your code to do something on their own that is cooler or better than something you have done? Sure. We at OpenEd would enjoy seeing that usage, because our mission is better access to K-12 resources whether we mediate that access or not.

Open API

Along a similar vein, a catalog that wants to make it easy to access their resources should expose their content via an API.   In the 1990s a protocol called Open Access Initiative-Protocol for Metadata Harvesting was promoted. It didn’t get much traction with K-12 resources and repositories. More recently the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative  has proposed some standard metadata for educational resources. Some OERs have published mappings here

But in addition to metadata mappings it’s important to have a resource query and contribution API. A few repositories support OAI-PMH for queries. But OAI-PMH is sorely lacking in metadata detail. In general OERs have not promoted either their own APIs or acceptance of broad, rich standards for accessing their catalog. OpenEd has made our full catalog available to all comers without any restrictions (except that submitting resources requires an identity to be provided).

Furthermore the API definition itself should be released as Open Source under the Creative Commons License (or equivalent) and publicized on a site such as API Commons (OpenEd’s API is listed there).  I would challenge other OERs to make their APIs public on open API repositories as well.

Universal Access

If you are truly mission-based we believe its also important to make your API available to any partner who wants to search or contribute resources. As long as those other parties are using it reasonably (within rate limits and without submitting spammy resources) everyone should be encouraged to use the OER’s API, whether or not they believe that it is being used by another repository or not.

Fair Use

Don’t disintermediate, or appear to disintermediate the content owner. Give appropriate credit to the content owner and appropriately link and extend the content owners brand.  Don’t make it more than one click from the index of results to get to the site. For example, on most OERs it is more than one click to get from the initial list of results to the end content page. And before you get to the end content you are not seeing a reflection of the content owners brand.

Free AND Paid Content

Most OERs focus on free content. But this is too narrow a focus. Teachers want good and relevant resources for standards and topics they are teaching. It is always good to have some free resources.  It makes sense to provide paid resources as well.   The variety is good.  And fostering an ecosystem where content creators can make money and be compensated for their efforts is a good thing for teachers.

A Next Generation of OER

We would like to see all of the OERs try to adopt these principles. A world where teachers have access to wealth of resources on any topic is only accelerated by OERs becoming truly open in all senses of the word.

Adam Blum is the CEO of OpenEd. Contact him through their website and follow them onTwitter. OpenEd is the largest K-12 educational resource catalog, with over a million Common Core Videosgames and assessments. While it integrates with all popular Learning Management Systems it offers its own simple “flipped classroom” LMS oriented to using resources. It is focused on offering Common Core and other standard aligned resources, and has many more times Common Core Videosgames and assessments than any other catalog.

  • Hans De Four


    Very interesting article.
    I would like to introduce the OER-community to you. It is one of the most successful platforms in Europe. I started with KlasCement in 1998 as a teacher to give all teachers in Flanders (and abroad) the possibility to share resources. By now we have more than 70 000 unique members sharing already more than 32000 educational resources (documents, sites, multimedia, activities, exercises, …). Knowing that Flanders only has 150 000 teachers, we can talk about a success.
    It still is a very actively used website every day, with teachers sharing, commenting, discussing, saving to favorites, …
    Replying shortly on your article: I agree completely with your vision!
    1. Open source: our code is not yet open source, but that is mainly because we only have two developers who don’t have time at the moment to code all our plans and ideas. So making the code open source and supporting that is not a priority at the moment, although I would like to see it differently.
    2. API & OAI-PMH: We support both possibilities to exchange content. At this moment we’re developing the API to open our content to others. Later an API will be developed so that people can add content via partners.
    3. Free and paid content: That’s what we offer already since our start. We’re even thinking about an option to give users – who share a lot of content – the possibility to earn sth with their content. But only if they share at least (eg.) 80% for free. Main intention is to stimulate them to share more for free.

    So have a look at The interface is also in English (choose EN at right top corner). The content is mainly in Dutch but the metadata is translated via Google to English.

    Looking forward to your comment!

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: