Friday, 29 March 2013

Key Issues of Open Educational Resources (Week 2)

1) Sustainability of OERs

In "Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources" Stephen Downes talks about sustainability in terms of starting up OERs. He looks at funding, staffing levels etc. However, one of the issues with OERs that also come under the umbrella of sustainability is maintainance after the OER is created. My experience is that many OER projects are generously funded at start up but then have difficulties finding the resources for maintainance, improvement or expansion. This is an issue as technologies move on (i.e. from Flash to HTML5) or the learning needs of users have changed and the OER may in danger of becoming redundant.

One example of this is 'Culture Online' which was funded by the British government between 2002 and 2007. Twenty OERs were created which varied from an exploration of Asian plant culture in Britain through to descriptions of children's playground games. In 2007 all funding for the project stopped, the portal is no longer active but has been archived by the National Archives.

If OERs are to remain relevant to the needs of learners and can keep up with societal and technological change then some small-scale funding should be put into place.

2) Pedagogic and Cultural Neutrality?

In "Three Objections to Learning Objects and E-Learning Standards" Norm Friesen questions the idea that OERs are pedagogically neutral. I would like to take the issue of OER neutrality one step further and argue that OERs are not culturally neutral either. OERs are created in a context and can be seen as the product of the culture that creates them. The open-ended, informal and individualistic learning styles that many OERs are designed for could be seen as most appropriate to the cultural norms in the Western world in general and the United States in particular. 

This issue should begin to right itself as the developing world (and the BRIC nations) start to create OERs that more closely fit in with the cultural and educational norms and expectations of their societies.

3) Metadata and Tagging

In another piece by Stephen Downes "Learning Objects: Resources for Distance Education Worldwide" discusses the issues of metadata and tagging within OERs. Downes argues that we do not need thousands of online courses on the sine wave function. This may or may not be true but many of those courses will use different sets of metadata and tags. The lack of common tags across OERs can be a problem, especially when institutions are working together to create OERs.

I was involved in a now-defunct portal project called NOAH (Norfolk Online Access to Heritage). It aimed to allow users to search through the digital records of local museum, library and archive services simultaneously. The main problem was that similar objects were catalogued (or tagged) in different ways. For instance, libraries might catalogue the 1914-18 conflict as "First World War". No such description is used in museum or archival cataloguing and might be described as the "Early Twentieth Century" or even more vaguely, "Post-Medieval". That would mean that anybody using NOAH might get incomplete results from a search.

There are on-going attempts at an international level to formulate a common set of tags for cultural digital projects but will take some time to come up with agreed standards.

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