Analysing the development of institutional policies for sustainability and quality of OERs with a focus on the Australian context
Stimulated by funding from benefactors such as the Hewlett Foundation and UNESCO, the OER movement has been growing rapidly since 2001, providing educational content freely to institutions and learners across the world through the Internet. Many organizations perceive benefits both for themselves and for learners elsewhere in distributing their learning resources in this way. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OpenCourseWare initiative (OCW), set up in 2001, makes content available freely from most of MIT’s courses and has provided the inspiration for many similar institutional projects. When the MIT OCW site was officially launched the following year, over 500 courses were available. By 2004 there were 900, and the total reached 1250 in 2005. Even more impressive were visitor numbers. By 2005, MIT’s OCW site had received more than 8.5 million visits, and visitors were growing by 56% per annum (MIT 2006). Equally significant was the speed with which the MIT OCW site demonstrated its value to the institution. In 2006, it was reported that 35% of new MIT students had based their choice of institution, in whole or in part, on their exposure to the MIT OCW site. It was also reported that 71% of MIT students using the OCW site found its content helpful or extremely helpful in their studies (MIT 2006). As expected, the MIT OCW project provided a model for other universities worldwide and saw the establishment of the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC). Currently, the OCWC has over two hundred institutional members worldwide (OCW 2008). // By the end of 2006, there were signs that the OER movement had reached maturity. An important sign were developments in Europe, where alternatives to the MIT model emerged. One of these was OpenLearn, launched by the Open University (OU) in October 2006, which was intended to publish the widest possible selection of OU course materials. It was also intended to do much more: its explicit goal was to engage and support self-directed learners using the latest Web 2.0 technologies. The site would not only host user-generated content (material created by individuals and organisations outside the higher education sector), it would also provide social networking tools to empower users to build their own learning communities (Shuller 2006). By mid-2007, 560,000 individuals had visited the OpenLearn site. In a single week in June 2007, the site had 8,000 visitors from the UK, 6,000 visitors from the United States and another 4,500 from the rest of the world. More importantly, there were 19,000 registered users (Taylor 2007). By April 2008, over 4,400 OpenLearn users had become fully-fledged Open University students. This represented additional teaching income of ₤2.7 million for the institution (Gourley & Lane 2009). // These initiatives form what is now known as the open educational resource movement, which promotes “the open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes” (UNESCO 2002, p. 24). While the term "open educational resources" was first adopted by UNESCO in 2002, it is in the OECD report, Giving Knowledge for Free (2007, p. 10), that the definition of OER currently most often used stands as “digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research”. This is the definition that will be adopted in this paper, although in the context of being aware of a wider interpretation. // Currently, many universities around the globe have launched OER projects (more than 300 universities). Millions of learners have benefited from learning through OER materials, and many educational institutions, mostly distance education providers, have obtained significant rewards in terms of enhancing their reputations, increasing student enrolment and developing innovative ways to produce distance learning materials (Wiley & Gurrell 2009). Also, OERs have contributed significantly to the proliferation of virtual communities of learning, where students, teachers and experts in their fields can discuss, make contributions and learn with each other through online collaboration (D'Antoni 2008). However, we still have much to learn about the OER movement. It is still grappling with issues such as resistance to giving away information and knowledge for “free”; at no cost and free to use and re-use. Licensing, intellectual propriety and copyright of OERs are also matters that remain ambiguous to educational institutions. In a similar fashion, many questions associated with policy development, sustainability and quality of OERs continue to be unanswered and under researched (D'Antoni 2008). In fact, according to UNESCO (D'Antoni 2008, p. 11), the above concerning matters are listed amongst the 14 priority issues that deserve attention for further development of OERs, with “awareness raising and promotion” being the first priority.