Archive for the ‘Open Education Resource (OER)’ Category

Finding Even More OERs with MERLOT

December 1, 2016

In one of my previous blogs I wrote about people who complain about not being able to find OERs.  If you read that, you’ll know that I haven’t a lot of patience for that kind of laziness.

When MERLOT (www.merlot.org) was first launched in 1997, we were the only show in town where you could find online learning materials. In fact, the acronym “OER” hadn’t even been invented when we started.  That was to happen 5 years later.  But over the years, many different kinds of OER repositories have come (and gone) and now it’s possible to find lots of online ‘stuff’ that you can use for teaching and learning, and depending on the licenses associated with the stuff, some it might even be classifiable as a real OERs.

The MERLOT repository itself has grown over the years, and today contains about 75,000 materials, almost all of them suitable for online teaching and learning.  We often say that MERLOT should be the first site you visit to find OERs. But we know that 75,000 is a tiny fraction of all the potentially useful learning materials you can find if you do a Google search, and then spend limitless hours going through the hundreds of thousands of hits to find the right stuff.

But guess what?  MERLOT is soon going to help you with those Google searches.  In a few months we are going to release new MERLOT functionality that will intelligently search the entire Web for your keywords, and then filter out most of the noise, focusing mostly on the kinds of hits that you, a MERLOT searcher would care about.

Our next MERLOT release will let you continue to search our own repository as you’ve always done, and will also allow you to use our new “Extended Web Search”  to search the WWW.  This extended search will generate a few hundred hits from the hundreds of thousands you would get from a traditional Google search, and those hits will likely be of teaching and learning value.  You’ll then be able to filter those hits even more, to focus on materials even more relevant to your discipline.  This search has been developed based on a “secret sauce” we’ve invented that emulates (we think and at this point we hope), the profile of a typical MERLOT Web-searcher/user.

At first we don’t expect the search to be 100% perfect, but based on our testing so far, it’s been pretty accurate.  Most of what it returns is quite relevant to online teaching and learning in higher ed.  And as we gain more experience with this extended web search, we’ll be fine tuning it even more, to return even better results.

It won’t be long, so stay tuned for the Newer MERLOT!

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Get Off Your Duff and Use The Google

September 21, 2016

I am tired of reading reports of surveys of instructors who are asked if they know what OERs are and whether or not they use them.  I’m also tired of reading that people who know what they are don’t use them because they don’t know where to find them, they don’t know if what they find is any good, or a million other silly excuses.

First of all, if your colleagues don’t know what OERs are (and I’m assuming if you’re reading this, that you do), then they are either retired on the job, or they should be.  I can’t understand how anyone these days doesn’t know what OERs are.  They are reported on everywhere – including the popular media – except maybe on media like Entertainment Tonight, who only talk about the Kardashians – whatever they are.

About a year ago I set up a Google Alert to send me emails when Google picks up a press comment about OERs.   I get at least one email daily showing me press reports that somehow refer to OERs – in the US, almost exclusively talking about the adoption of free e-texts.

After all these years since OER has been around, and after all the education that most of our colleagues  have, it’s a mystery to me that some of them don’t know what OERs are, where to find them, or how to know if they’re any good or not.   Haven’t they ever heard of “the Google?”

This business about where do you find OERs, is ridiculous.  All you have to do is type “OER collections into the Google search bar.  Guess how many hits you get?  I just got 379,000 hits while I’m writing this blog.

Now there’s the question of how good or how bad OERs might be.  Even that’s an easy one to discover.  If an OER collection is legitimate, like MERLOT that has been around for almost 20 years, where there are lots of reviews and user ratings, it’s easy to say what’s good and what’s not good.

I think the only reason that people don’t use OER is that they are just simply too lazy to change how they’ve been teaching for however long they’ve been teaching.  If instructors are really interested in doing the best job for their students, they have an obligation to learn more and to use OERs.

 

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All Those OERs, and eTexts Too

April 29, 2016

Open Education Resources (OER) is all about free online textbooks, right?  If you subscribe to Google Alerts and use the keyword “OER,” that’s the impression you get from the alerts Google sends.  Every day I get G-alerts about “OER” from clippings that appear in online news.  Mostly, it seems, from US news.  And almost every one of those alerts, supposedly about OERs, is about eTextbooks and how a school board or college is promoting the use of OERs (i.e., free eTextbooks) to make education more affordable.  But it seems from the wording of those press releases that most don’t understand that there are many kinds of other OERs that they also could be supporting, which would also help make education more affordable.

For those of us who practically live and breathe OERs – sad as it is to admit – it’s very disappointing to read these announcements and feel that these institutions are missing the opportunity to promote more widespread use of OERs, beyond just eTextbooks.  This is particularly true when you compare these American promotions of OERs with the Europeans who for years have seemed to really understand the breadth of OERs and the opportunities they can offer – see, for example, http://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/initiative.   And then there’s Taiwan and Africa and even the UN which also appear to be able to organize government-level policies and programs geared towards a broader definition of OERs than just eTextbooks.

But don’t get me wrong.  Policies related eTextbooks as one kind of OER are definitely worthwhile and can pay off in very measurable ways.  But it’s kind of disconcerting to read the results of surveys of US instructors who don’t use OERs because they can’t find them, don’t trust their quality, don’t know how to use them, or simply don’t know what OER is.

We in MERLOT don’t really like to encourage Google searches for learning materials, mainly because we think that our collection is superior, being curated by subject matter experts who ensure the quality of the learning objects there.  But it’s hard to believe that instructors who don’t know about MERLOT can’t just do a Google search on the term “OER.”   Try it and guess how many hits you get.  One million? Five million? Ten million?  You’re not even close.  How about 23,000,000!!   Or if you need your hit list to have an element of entertainment, try YouTube where you’ll get more than 400,000 hits.  Or if you need your hit list to have an element of quality for teaching and learning, just visit www.merlot.org or our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/MERLOTPlace.

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2016 – The Year of OERs?  Don’t Kid Yourself.

January 13, 2016

If you think 2016 is the year of OERs, you are probably deluding yourself.  Every January for the last 14 years, OER evangelists have thought, “This is it – the year of OERs!  Finally.” And why not?  Why shouldn’t it be?  After all, all we’re trying to do is give instructors and students free and high quality learning and teaching materials that will help them to teach and to learn better.  Why wouldn’t anyone want this?

Well, the reality seems to be that 1) people simply don’t believe that OERs are really free, or 2) they think that what they find in repositories just isn’t as good as what publishers produce, or 3) they delusionally believe that they can make better stuff themselves.  Those of us who have been working in the OER “industry” for a long time understand that none of this is true.  OER’s really are free; they may or may not be as good as what publishers produce; and most people are amateurs when it comes to creating effective online teaching and learning materials. But the truth is, you can get OER’s for free!

But the real drawback to more widespread use of OERs is that people simply don’t have time to change what they’ve always been doing.  That means that while they may silently recognize the fallacies in their objections, they really can’t be bothered to explore the value of OERs.

So what can we do to convince people to change their behavior and to do that which is good for them and their students?  Probably nothing.  The situation will not change until mandates and dictates are issued by administrators who recognize the benefits of OERs, in terms of quality and in terms of cost effectiveness, to promote OER use and reward OER users.

In the meantime, we evangelists have to keep doing what we’re doing so that when the time finally comes we can say, “I told you so.”

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Beware the Use of “OER”

September 24, 2015

It’s time to bite the bullet. I’ve talked and written about the differences between Open Access, open source, and OER. I’ve said that the Open Access movement concerns free publications – journals or texts.  I’ve said that open source concerns free software. And I’ve said that UNESCO introduced the term OER more than a decade ago, and currently displays the following definition on their website:

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.  (Citation

This definition is almost identical to the original 10+ year old definition. Note the use of the word “freely.”  They don’t say that OERs are cost-free.  But when you find something on the Web, and when those somethings display an “open license,” usually Creative Commons, you can see whether or not there’s a cost associated with your reuse of the something.

But, the practical reality of the definition of the word “freely” has evolved dramatically since UNESCO’s original definition.  Today, more than a decade later, and despite the vagueness of the meaning of the word “freely,” the operational definition of OER  is that this word has come to mean no cost.  That is, most everyone who uses or sees an OER today assumes that it’s completely free of cost. But it isn’t necessarily so. But where does that leave us?

Unfortunately, while most of the time OERs are free, from time to time they are not.  In MERLOT, we do not call our collection an OER collection.   That’s because there are some things in the collection that are not free of cost.  Mostly they’re there because they are really good; instructors, librarians and student should know about them.  So the materials are in the collection – with the notation that there is a cost associated with them.  But when you find things elsewhere that claim to be OERs, the situation is different.  Without a proper license, it’s buyer beware.  Misuse of a material that does have cost information associated with its reuse could have a cost for misuse later!

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Free the OERs?

December 23, 2014

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Over the last few years, the adjective “open” in Open Education Resources (OER) has come to mean “free.”  That is, an OER, for all practical purposes is being interpreted by most people as Web-based materials that are free of cost.  In addition, some (many?) are claiming that for an OER to really be an OER, it must carry a CC BY license.  If these things are in fact true, that would mean that if you find something on the WWW, you don’t have to pay to use it, you can change it any way you like, use it any way you like – whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes, just so long as you give attribution to your source.  Sounds pretty liberal to me.  Maybe too liberal? What do you think?

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New Survey on MERLOT OERs

August 18, 2014

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Homilies can be misleading.  “You get what you pay for.”  Or, “The best things in life are free.” Which is it?   Clearly they can’t both be right.  In the case of Open Education Resources (OER), the best things in life really are free.  I am constantly amazed by discussions and debates about the value of OER.  It’s pretty clear to me, and I can’t understand why it’s not clear to everyone, that OER is a free resource that anyone can voluntarily use, or not.  If you discover something and don’t like it or think it is inappropriate for your needs, you can just ignore it.  This is especially true if you are searching MERLOT (www.merlot.org) where you can often tell something about the quality and appropriateness of the learning materials that you find there.

A few years ago I taught an online course for Sloan-C (now known as Online Learning Consortium).  One of the course topics concerned the use of repositories such as MERLOT’s, for instructors to discover and use OER.  When I later asked the students of the course, all of whom were fulltime instructors at colleges and universities, if they found the course valuable, almost all said yes.  When I asked them if they intended to use OER repositories in their own teaching, they were more equivocal.  They told me that the felt they didn’t have enough time to integrate discovered OER into their everyday teaching activities.  This is a pretty sad state of affairs because most of us, for whatever reasons, often cop out, and because of time constraints or just plain laziness adopt a course textbook that will wind up costing students $100 or more.  This is particularly sad, since there are so many OERs available for free that would cost the students practically nothing.  MERLOT contains, for example hundreds of Open Access textbooks that would satisfy many course requirements.  Even when a conventional textbook is adopted, the MERLOT ISBN Finder can be used by an instructor or even a student to find supplementary OERs related to an adopted textbook.

If you are a user of MERLOT OER, I invite you to participate in a new survey co-sponsored by MERLOT and the UK Open University’s OER Research Hub in which we are trying to learn about the usefulness of OER.  What are your thoughts about the usefulness of MERLOT OER?  Participate in this survey and help us to cast some light on how we can make OER more useful and cost effective for both ourselves and our students. All comments are welcome!

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A Word About Open Access Educational Technology Journals

March 17, 2014

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Last November I blogged about the true meaning of the word “open” as it relates to OER (Open Education Resources), Open Source (software), and Open Access (journals, journal articles and textbooks).  Today I want to expand a bit on the concept of Open Access (OA), and also provide a list of useful journal resources that are, in one way or another, Open Access.

If you want to know about the history of (or anything else about) OA, I suggest you reread my blog, Is it Really Open, or Google the term and choose from the 2.2 billion hits (in 0.22 seconds).  One of the other things you will probably discover is that OA can be pretty complicated.   For example, there are different levels of Open Access – Gold, Green, and some argue Platinum.

Open Access Platinum level means that the material is free to use and available from the publisher, as soon as the publisher makes it public – similar to MERLOT’s Journal of Learning and Teaching (JOLT).

Gold level material is usually also published by a real publisher – as opposed to self-published, but it’s usually not available for free the day it’s published.  So if you want to access Gold level OA material for free, you’ll have to wait 12-18 months (the “embargo” period) after it’s been first published.  If you want it sooner, you can buy it or subscribe to the journal.  How and when such material becomes free depends on the policies of the publisher.  Also, authors who choose to publish this way may have to give up their copyright to the publisher.  When that happens, the publisher can let the author make a not-final, “preprint” version of the paper immediately available on a server other than the publisher’s.   Many, if not most of IEEE’s recent journal articles are available this way.

To complicate all this a little more, some Gold publishers let authors pay a fee, after a submission has been reviewed and approved for publication, to forgo the embargo period, allowing the material to be freely available the day it’s published.  That is, for a fee paid by the author, these days it’s usually between $2K-$3K (or whatever the market will bear), a Gold paper is made immediately available to readers for free, somewhat like Platinum OA.

Green OA is like a green light given by a publisher to allow the author to immediately post their work on a server other than the publisher’s, for unrestricted free access.  So this is similar to Platinum in that it’s available right away, but not on the publisher’s server.

On top of all this is the matter of licensing.  Who owns the article or text that is made available as Open Access?  Traditionally, authors own what they write unless or until they sign away (transfer) the copyright to someone else – usually a publisher.  The transfer terms and restrictions on distribution can vary, and are a matter between the author and the publisher.  For true Green OA, there is no copyright transfer; authors own their material and do what they want with it.  In any case, like OER, OA materials, when posted online should carry a Creative Commons license informing readers how they can use or reuse the material.  The license may be issued by the author or the publisher, depending on who finally owns the copyright.

Below is a list of educational technology journals that claim to be Open Access.  Because it’s hard for publishers of OA to generate the kinds of revenue they need to stay in business, there’s no guarantee that any in the list will be there when you go to find them.

American Journal of Distance Education
Asian Journal of Distance Education
British Journal of Educational Technology
European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning
HETS Online Journal
International Journal of ePortfolio
International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN)
Journal of Distance Education
Journal of Educational Technology & Society
The Journal of Educators Online
Journal of Interactive Online Learning
Journal of Instructional Pedagogies
JOLT – Journal of Online Learning and Teaching
Journal of Virtual Worlds and Education
Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration
The Texas Journal of Distance Learning
International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning (all issues)
DEANZ – The Journal of Distance Learning

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Is it Really Open?

November 26, 2013

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If you are reading this blog, you probably know a fair bit about the concept of “openness.” You may even think that an “open” item is something that you can find online that is free, and available for your use, and even for your reuse. By “reuse” I mean that you think you can change it and then “reuse” it for your teaching or research needs.

Well, that may or may not be true. In fact, the word “open” can be used in a number of contexts. For example, when we talk about “open source,” we are explicitly referring to software. Moodle, the learning management system (LMS) is an example of open source software. The source code is available for you to reuse, modify, etc. as you wish. Of course there can be other conditions related to open source software, but that is beyond the scope of this blog.

Then there is the term “Open Access.” Open Access is a movement that concerns the publication of free, online journals, journal articles, and textbooks. Material published under an Open Access policy is generally freely available for you to access without having to subscribe to a publication, or even join a society that publishes such publications. The Open Access movement started as a result of demand by various research communities to allow government-funded research to be freely available since the public (taxpayers) had already paid for it. The Open Access movement has been extended beyond journals and journal articles to now include textbooks. You should note however, that just because something is Open Access doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a copyright. In fact, such materials continue to be owned (copyrighted) by the author, the publisher, or both. And if you cite material from an Open Access publication, it must be cited in exactly the same manner as if the material were from a traditional publication.

Finally we have Open Education Resources (OERs). This is a term that was first defined more than 10 years ago at a Hewlett foundation-supported UNESCO conference, and it concerns online learning materials, sometimes called learning objects. Hewlett defines OERs as:

OER (sic) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. (For more information, visit http://www.hewlett.org/programs/education-program/open-educational-resources)

From a practical sense, OER’s generally have a license that indicates what you can and cannot do with them. Creative Commons (CC) licensing (www.creativecommons.org) defines six possible licenses that an OER can carry. Depending on the license, they may or may not be free, and you may or may not alter them. It all depends on what the owner of the OER declares in the CC license.

The MERLOT collection (www.merlot.org) is unique in that it contains a wide selection of open materials, many of them carrying a Creative Commons license. The materials include Open Access articles, Open Access textbooks, open journal articles and OER’s. The MERLOT OER’s include learning materials as” microscopic” as simulations or animations that can be embedded by an instructor into an online course, through to complete online courses.

It’s really easy to search MERLOT II for all or any open texts, open courses, and OER’s, with and without Creative Commons licenses. I urge you to visit www.merlot.org, click on the Search tile, and explore our Advanced Search functions. While you’re at it, you might check out our Search Other Libraries tile) which allows you to search more than 20 other libraries of learning materials, all at the same time. Remember, if you’re looking for free textbooks, you want to look for the category “open texts.” Or, for free courses, look for “open courseware.” And if you need more guidance in how to do this, you can visit the new context-sensitive Help part of our new MERLOT, or you can email the webmaster at webmaster@merlot.org.

Happy hunting!

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MOOCs, MERLOT, and Open Educational Services: A Message from the MERLOT Executive Director

September 16, 2013

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MOOCs, MERLOT, and Open Educational Services:
A Message from the MERLOT Executive Director
  

The appearance of massive open online courses (MOOCs) may seem sudden, but for those who have been laboring in the vineyard learning to use technology to create and distribute content, mediate pedagogical interaction, and facilitate the business processes of education, MOOCs are the just the next stage in the development of open educational resources (OER). The evolution of OER began with open learning objects (LOs) in the late 1990s. These LOs crawled from the primordial technological sea and continued evolving with the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiatives in the early 2000s, which were then followed by open textbooks (OTs) (see Figure 1). MERLOT’s new student-centered portal, MERLOTx, provides easy access to this wide range of OER species.

Explanation of MOOC's

Figure 1. MOOCs as a recent evolution of OER

Educators welcomed each of these OER species happily and without much threat to the ecosystem of higher education. But at this early stage of MOOC evolution, there are different reactions. Optimists see synergy in the open online character of MOOCs that is a panacea for expanding access to affordable learning, developing new pedagogical techniques, and enabling global learning communities to create knowledge together. Pessimists see instead an invasive species that will destroy institutions, demobilize faculties, and dilute learning to a fast food, virtual drive-by experience.

Realistically, MOOCs are too new for there to be compelling evidence of their value, cost, and risks. The potential benefits and threats to academic quality, student outcomes, institutional integrity, and administrative processes are not yet known. However, the emerging features of MOOCs that have made them distinctive from the other types of OER are the services integrated with the content. The MOOC platforms for organizing and delivering the multimedia content, integrated with the social media tools for engaging individuals, and the assessment and analytic tools for providing feedback on learning and teaching are critical services that manage the content delivery within a design for learning. These services available through the open enrollment of MOOCs are the additional benefits that have been recognized as valuable by some learners, teachers, and institutions.

Open educational services are the tools that are free for anyone to use to design their own program of study using OERs or proprietary content. MERLOT has been providing open educational services to the world for years. MERLOT’s open library provides easy and free access to a diversity of free learning resources to support the individual’s learning needs, including developing the prerequisite knowledge and skills to successfully complete a MOOC or an online, hybrid, or face-to-face course. MERLOT’s Personal Collection tool enables individuals to organize and annotate their selected learning resources by defining their course of study, their learning outcomes, their prerequisite learning needs, their assessment methods, and more. MERLOT provides a “one-click” function for sharing personal collections, which then can be personalized. MERLOT’s Content Builder tool enables individuals to create an e-portfolio that can capture and share skills and knowledge; learners can publish their learning products with a user-friendly, web-authoring tool using text, images, and videos, and their e-portfolio can be formatted in an IMS Common Cartridge with Creative Commons licensing for easy distribution. MERLOT hosts these e-portfolios and enables members to share their works with a click of a button.

All these open educational services are available for free to MERLOT members (and it is free to become a member too). The MERLOT member community is also a valuable service for learning and teaching. Looking for experts in any field? MERLOT’s easy browsing and searching can help you find experts in a wide range of disciplines. MERLOT’s Virtual Speakers Bureau can be used to find “guest experts” with specialty skills, knowledge, and willingness to engage through technology tools. Looking to participate in online discussions? MERLOT Voices offers a platform for threaded discussions, sharing documents, posting images and video, instant messaging, and blogging.

MERLOT’s open educational services form the foundation of capabilities that can be leveraged to achieve institutional goals cost effectively. The California State University system employs MERLOT within its Affordable Learning Solutions initiative to save students money on their course materials, and this service has in turn been leveraged by a MERLOT partner, the University System of Georgia, for their own Affordable Learning Georgia initiative. The MERLOT Teaching Commons Services provide any partner a customized “portal” that blends MERLOT’s services into the institution’s initiatives (see Partner Communities). While MOOCs provide open enrollment of their services, MERLOT provides open educational services that enable registered MERLOT members to reuse, remix, publish, and share OER, and empowers them to teach and learn anytime and anywhere with Internet access.

* Reposted from the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT), Special Issue on MOOCs.

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