Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Open Source Education Resources...

Open source software has, for years, been touted as the embodiment of the Web's founding principle - resource sharing.  The central idea is that, rather than all content being closed and proprietary, authors could choose to openly share their material and make it available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design.  Making one's work open source transforms it into a collaborative project, often leading to a better end-product.

This is hardly news.  However, with the start of a new semester, it seemed prudent to raise awareness about an equally valuable yet little-known movement known as Open Educational Resources (OER).  Guided by the same open source principles, OER is a collection of freely accessible, openly formatted and openly licensed documents and multimedia files that can be used by any educator or, really, anybody who wants to learn.  Educators voluntarily share their course materials - including syllabi, readings, assignments, modules, audio and video lectures, and more - all in the interest of sharing and collaboration.

If you take a look at the website, you'll notice that there are thousands of materials posted covering most major fields of study, and designed for primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels of education.  It's as valuable for a second grade or high school teacher as it is for a college professor.

For example, after a quick search on the topic of "Web Development", this course came up, along with all of its corresponding materials.  And, again, because it is an OER resource, not only can I use these materials for my own course without worrying about copyright issues, but I can also modify them and try to improve upon them, so long as I then re-share my modifications and give attribution to the original creator.  It's not only allowed; it's actually encouraged.

Yes, there are plenty of other projects out there seeking to make educational content freely available.  For instance, my personal favorite is Coursera, which allows anyone to enroll in an ivy-league-caliber class for free.  But while making it free to enroll in a high-quality educational class is a very positive thing, it's still fundamentally different than making the class design itself an open and collaborative effort.

Designing syllabi through open and mass collaboration?  The world is clearly progressing forward.



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