Thoughs on institutional OER contributions

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1 Introduction

In the recent discussion on the OER Toolkit discussion (on the iiep-oer-opencontent mailing list), Philipp posed these questions:

  • Question 1 - How could we ensure that those who contribute benefit enough, so that they are willing to spend their time on improving content, reviewing online resources, and fixing formatting issues?
  • Question 2 - Are there strong volunteer communities that could adopt parts of this Toolkit?

I spent a little while thinking about how there could be more contributions from universities to the toolkit (or shared OER spaces like wiki educators). The motivation is to work out how universities could provide its own staff as volunteers to help out with the toolkit, by writing for it and maintaining resources.

The only way this can happen is if maintaining the shared resource is not much more work than maintaining an equivalent but 'separate' resource. If maintaining the shared resource is more work that what I need to do anyway, then extra funding is needed, and sustainability becomes an issue. Similarly, the shared resource needs to be able to meet certain institutional requirements (although it's being hosted outside the institutional boundaries), see below.

By 'resource' I don't mean just posting a brief page (say with some links or a summary), but I actually mean maintaning a 'real' resource that's used in teaching at an institution.

So how can we make this happen?

Let's assume that I have a high quality set of documents (say on some aspect of OER content creation) that an academic or a university is happy to publish with open web access, say under a CC license. However, we still need to decide whether to publish this onto our own institutional website or to a shared space (say OER Toolkit or Wikieducator).

That is to say: Either do our own (OER) thing, or join an existing (OER) space.

I would argue that three important issues in this are: 1. Getting credit (and branding) 2. Getting statistics 3. Being able to easily repurpose (host in many places)

These aren't the only issues, and they may not be the most important ones, but I'll try to convince you that they have some importance.

2 The issues

2.1 Credit/branding.

Let's look at : It's hosted on wikieducator, but produced by COSL ( The page is branded as COSL page, and so some credit goes to COSL. That's great, and serves as an encouragement for COSL to contribute to this. Sub-pages, e.g. have got weaker COSL branding, allowing other people to take ownership and contribute. I think that's a good solution.

So while I think credit/branding is important, the current infrastructure allows us to do what's required, so we can tick this one off.

2.2 Getting statistics.

If we publish materials to our own website, we get good statistics from our web logs or via a service like google analytics. That's really important to us, because it informs us whether we are successful, and where we should go next. Of course mediawiki shows you access stats at the bottom of the page, but that's really not good enough to make a case (say to an evaluator) that a resource is actually valuable.

I have no idea what the situation for the above mentioned COSL OER Handbook is like, but I imagine that at best, COSL could scrape the relevant web pages and count hits. While that's something, I would argue it's not good enough. Possible solutions might be to simply make (aggregate, anonymous) statistics publicly available (e.g. a 'stats' tab at the top of the wiki page), or perhaps to enter into stats sharing agreements, where (for certain subpages) (aggregate, anonymous) statistics can be shared with institutions.

2.3 Being able to repurpose.

If a university publishes materials off-site, then what about the need to use that material within the institutions? We've already talked about repurposing material earlier in our two week discussion, and that's absolutely crucial here. At the very least I need to be able to get a pdf of resources I contributed. But really I would want to be able to extract a particular 'section', e.g. as html/xml with the relevant assets (such as images).

I.e. suppose my institution played a major role in developing the OER toolkit on the wiki. How can we justify contributing to that resource, if we then aren't able to pull the toolkit back into our own learning management systems / intranet etc where it is actually needed for work with our own students?

In other words, even if the OER toolkit is identical in content with a resource that I need to create at my university, then creating this resource on the OER toolkit means extra effort. Therefore I can't do it on the OER toolkit, but will develop my own resource in house.

For universities in the south, this situation might be even worse: You contribute to developing a shared resource (say on wikieducator) for several months. Then your international internet fails, and you're stuck without internet for a while, loosing access to the resource you created, which you now cannot use for your own teaching. From an institutional point of view, that makes no sense whatsoever.

How do we solve this? Mediawiki provides “Special:Export”, but in my view it's not usable enough for a typical content creator. So, while it's possible to get your contributions back in principle, it's not really possible without effort. (More about this at Mediawiki_OER_export where I've spelt some of this out.)

3 Finally ...

Overall, I'd argue that issues 2 and 3 are unsolved problems, and that they could be real barriers in adopting shared resources (like the OER toolkit or wikieducator). That is to say: These issues could be real barriers for institutions in actually putting 'highly developed / important / live' content onto those services.

However, that's really what we want: In my view, we want the 'real' content (in a public and shared OER space), rather than a summary or unmaintained copy.

Finally, to strengthen the case, here's an analogy from online video and podcasting: YouTube and Apple's iTunesU appear to be very successful with their institutional programs (cf. Berkeley and others on YouTube, and the newly expanded iTunesU section). That is to say, YouTube and Apple manage to get Universities to put their content on YouTube/Apple provided platforms. If you look at how this is done, it fulfills all of the above criteria: branding is possible, you get stats, and finally, the relevant outlet is just one of your institutional outlets: It's never the only outlet. (Unless you want it to be.) Of course a key factor is also the popularity of the platforms, but without branding/stats/multiple outlets it wouldn't work.