SI521 "Open Educational Resources at the University of Michigan" Open Textbook/OpenContent

'What is OER?'


The term Open Educational Resources (OER) was first coined in 2000 at a UNESCO conference. The most common definition of OER is, "digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning, and research" (OECD, 2007)

'Resources" include:

  • Learning content: Full courses, courseware, content modules, learning objects, collections and journals.
  • Tools: Software to support the development, use, reuse, and delivery of learning content, including searching and organisation of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and online learning communities
  • Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design principles of best practice and localized content. (OECD, 2007)

What is open courseware?


Open courseware is a subset of Open Educational Resources (OER).

The open courseware concept is a part of a larger movement that promotes free and unrestricted access to knowledge. An open courseware site provides open access to the primary teaching materials for courses taught at educational institutions, enabling educators to draw on the materials for teaching purposes, and students and self-learners to use the materials for the development of their own personal knowledge.

An open courseware site:

  • Publishes course materials created by faculty (and sometimes other colleagues or students) to support teaching and learning
  • Is IP-cleared, meaning that the open courseware publisher has the rights to make the materials available under open terms and that nothing in the materials infringes the copyrights of others
  • Offers the materials free of charge for non-commercial use
  • Is universally accessible via the Web
  • Permits use, reuse, adaptation (derivative works), and redistribution of the materials by others

-MIT OCW (add citation)

MIT OCW: First open courseware effort


First announced in April 2001, MIT OCW is a large scale, free web-based electronic publishing initiative. Currently this online education system offers over 1800 courses, almost all of the MIT courses available. The free online course materials provide any user with access to the internet open access to the syllabi, lecture notes, course calendars, problem sets and solutions, exams, reading lists, and some video lectures. The MIT OCW is free and does not require users to register to utilize the offered resources. To reach goal of publishing the entire school's curriculm, financial support from the Willima and Flora Hewitt Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been generously provided.

At the time, this was quite the revolutionary idea. Why would students continue to pay to get an education at MIT, when they can just get the courses online for free? Why would faculty share the knowledge to the world that they have worked so hard to produce?

MIT Opencourseware is "based on the conviction that the open dissemination of knowledge and information can open new doors to the powerful benefits of education for humanity around the world."

MIT has two main goals for MIT OCW:

  • To provide free access to virtually all MIT course materials for educators, students, and individual learners from around the world.
  • To extend the reach and impact of MITOCW and the "opencourseware" concept.

Educators around the globe are encouraged to utilize the materials for curriculm development, and self-learners and students may draw upon the materials for self-study or supplementary use. In the specific case of MIT OCW, course materials contained on the MIT OCW Web site may be used, copied distributed, translated, and modified by anyone, anywhere in the world All the is required of adopters of the materials is that the use be non-commercial, that the original MIT faculty authors receive attribution if the materials are republished or reposted online, and that adapters openly share the materials in the same manner as MIT OCW. (from The MIT OpenCourseWare Story)

Intellectual property owners have legitimate interests in their work, and the open courseware initiative seeks to balance their needs with society's need for open information sharing, learning, and debate.

Who Benefits From Open Courseware?


(From Implementing Opencourseware Executive Summary, March 2004)

Global Society

  • Accelerate higher education in less advantaged parts of the world
  • Overall raise the standard of education around the world
  • Create exemplary course materials for teaching and learning
  • Help bring people together from all backgrounds and promote mutual understanding
  • Help provide knowledge for the betterment of global society
  • Help everyone have the opportunity to 'stand on the shoulder of giants' and make progress



Not only are their benefits for the users of open courseware, but also many benefits for the producers and publishers of open courseware.

  • Advances the institution's mission - usually higher learning non-profit institutions have educational and public service missions. An open courseware initiative solidly supports the messages of the institution's mission statement.
  • Enhances the institution's image around the world - In the case of MIT, going to the trouble of publishing all your courses for the world to learn from, is a very strong statement regarding the importance of open education to the world. MIT has received an enormous amount of positive press coverage for what they have done.
  • Generates community pride - faculty, staff, students and alumni have expressed their pride in being part of an institution that is "doing the right thing".
  • Stimulates innovation - MIT believes that by publishing the actual course materials used in in classroom teaching may indirectly affect the quality of those materials in a positive way over time. As the opencourseware model affords viewing, new ideas and teaching methods will find their way into courses.

Academic Departments

  • Showcases departments and their offerings - open courseware has been embraced by faculty as a way to promote their departments and the department curriculum. As part of the MIT OCW, a introductory web page for each department is published as an overview. This provides another avenue for departments to advertise their offerings, in addition to each department's website through the MIT website (
  • Enhances faculty and student recruitment - MITOCW is another positive avenue to aid in recruitment.
  • Accelerates adoption of digital materials and web-enabled teaching methods - If university policies and practices regarding use of web-based course management systems, the efforts of working with faculty to organize and prepare their materials for publication in digital form may have the beneficial side effect of expanding the use of such materials and systems for classroom teaching.
  • Fosters collaboration among faculty - faculty can routinely look to see what other faculty are working on, and possibly find common or related interests by viewing others' course materials. Open courseware may offer deeper insight into what is actually being taught by different faculty in the department, and ultimately will be a catalyst for increasing integration or coherence among their departments' offerings.

Individual Faculty Contributors

  • Provides new vehicles for contribution to faculty members' disciplines - through their research, faculty are already accustomed to contributing to the creation and advancement of knowledge in their field. Opencourseware provides another avenue, but in a different way, to contribute to scholarship in their fields.
  • Affords greater visibility - Opencourseware is a low effort way for faculty to publish their work. Through publishing their work, faculty can receive feedback from other professionals in their field around the world, and possibly meet new people in their field that they may not have had to opportunity to meet in other ways.
  • Provides service to faculty to help them organize and archive their materials - depending what current resources faculty have to create their course materials for opencourseware, the actual process of publishing pushes the faculty to possibly get themselves more organized, and provide a means to archive their materials. MIT evaluation results indicate overwhelming faculty satisfaction with MIT OCW as a low-effort activity that helps faculty sharpen and organize their teaching materials. Some faculty report that they site their OCW in course publication in funding proposals.
  • Provides an information resource - like external visitors, the institution's own faculty may find opencourseware materials useful as a reference and learning resource.
  • Reflects and embraces faculty values - opencourseware provides an instrument for realization of faculty goals. In addition, the initiative supports the faculty who are passionate about teaching and who value the importance of the creation and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of society as part of their personal and professional mission.


  • Aids in planning course of study - Because MIT opencourseware is organized by department/discipline, and provides a much richer indication of what is actually taught in the classes compared to what can be found in bulletins and catalogs, some of the current students use MIT OCW to explore and map out their courses of study as they progress through their education at MIT.
  • Provides an information resource - students can look back at past classes if available, to find materials such as past problem sets and exams, that can help them with their studies in specific courses.

Improving & Evolving Content


An advantage of showing your materials to the world through opencourseware, is that you can get ideas from the world. Simple comments such as typos or bad links, ranging to a complete overhaul of your material. Is there a better way to approach a subject? How to better address different learning styles? Further break your ideas into more steps so users can better understand the process you're discussion? More content appropriate images that might represent your ideas better? The content can reach experts in other countries that may not have known of your work before.

Critiquing faculty's work in an institution may give advantages to the institution as a whole, because the institution will have a higher level of more comprehensive work than other institutions that do not get their work routinely critiqued.

Allowing for feedback opens up a whole other method for peer review that was not so widespread and accessible in the past.

Teaching has been generally hidden in the past. Professors generally teach to a room of students, with no audio or video recording their lectures. Students have no proof of how the prof teaches the class, so ...

critiquing faculty work & compare to schools that don't critique

  * market through research (peer review)
  * teaching has been hidden in the past (no recordings: only teachers and students)
  * price discovery: teacher review website
  * drivers/incentives for OCW/OER in various communities, and within those communities



Localization refers to the process of taking educational resources developed for one context and adapting them for other contexts. These contexts can be geographical, pedagogical, political, or technical. The practice of localization encompasses more than the translation of materials into a local language or swapping a photo to reflect a culture. Localization is at the heart of the OER process—it exemplifies diversity, openness, and reusability. (“What is Localization?” OER Commons Wiki)

OER materials have traditionally been created in a manner that served a local population first and were published as discrete learning objects when time and expense permitted. Now as OER’s are easier and less costly to implement, many OER organizations are pushing to create learning objects (define learning objects) that are usable to a global population. This particular trend is known mainly by the term transnational curriculum, or “transnationalizing” educational materials.

What is transational curriculum?


The Council of Europe in the Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education defines transnational education as[1]: “All types of higher education study programme, or sets of courses of study, or educational services (including those of distance education) in which the learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based. Such programmes may belong to the educational system of a State different from the State in which it operates, or may operate independently of any national system.” (Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee (6 June 2001). "Code of Good Practice in the Provision of Transnational Education". Strasbourg: Council of Europe).

Methods of localization [1]

  • Translate and localize available OER (largely produced by sources out of North America and Western Europe)
  • Develop “local” OER products using “imported” OER through adaptation, customization and additions
  • Create OER in “local” setting with “local” materials
  • Collaborate internationally in the creation of OER

Intellectual Property & Licensing


Intellectual property (IP) clearance and licensing are major focus areas for open courseware initiatives.

Lessons learned from the MIT OCW initiative (The MIT OpenCourseWare Story):

  • An opencourseware initiative may require cultural changes in faculty practices related to both their own IP and the IP of others. Gaining buy-in to this will be necessary.
  • IP clearance is a time-consuming process and because of the level of effort and risks involved, it is one of the biggest barriers to faculty participation.
  • An organization undertaking an opencourseware initiative must have a clear understanding of IP do's and don't and apply them as part of a consistent IP clearance process.
  • To effectively manage the considerable level of effort involved in clearing third-party materials that will be required to make the course materials valuable to the target audience.
  • Over time, it will be beneficial to educate faculty regarding IP best practices. The more IP-friendly materials that are used, the loser the support burden for the organization.

Faculty Ownership


As part of MIT policy, MIT faculty own the rights to the course materials they author. Also like most universities, MIT does not own the rights to textbooks authored by faculty, the faculty owns the rights to the textbook. Faculty also own the electronic versions of the materials they create for their courses, even when the course materials are adapted into electronic versions to place online by the MIT OCW staff.

IP Strategy


IP is a big challenge when it comes to publishing course materials online. Many faculty use third-party objects in their course materials, which can be a challenge when it is later put online. These third-party objects need to be copyright cleared before they are put online, which can be very time consuming. If an appropriate solution cannot be worked out with the original owner of the content, such as acquiring permission or obtaining a royalty agreement that is compatible with the MIT open publication policy, MIT will alternatively find or create the content object with the consent of the faculty for that course.

Creative Commons Licensing


Creative Commons ( is a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging open sharing of information. The ideals of Creative Commons are in line with the MIT OCW publication policy. Creative Commons has developed an innovative model license that is becoming the standard for open publication.

Open Courseware Examples


University of Michigan, Open.Michigan


Discrete Educational Content Objects

One major difference between the University of Michigan Open.Michigan initiative and the MIT OCW initiative, is that in the building the Open Courseware site, Michigan has focused on making each content object available individually for the student to reuse. From the University of Michigan's Open.Michigan "About" page,

The Open.Michigan initiative "has a vision of a next generation learning environment: an environment that fosters collaboration around curricula, course materials, and content; generates connections between disciplines, teachers, and learners; and inspires use of educational materials in a more personalized and effective way.

Envision an environment beyond a collection of courses. We hope to build a space where the interplay and visualization of curricular paths, learning modules, and discrete pieces of educational content expand a user’s ability to comprehend material, adapt it to their individual needs, and contribute it back to the global community.

Current efforts focus on developing a repository of course materials and identifying discrete educational content objects. Future work will analyze the connections between curricula, courses, and content to develop and display more comprehensive understandings of our learning environment.

dScribe Model



"MIT is delivering on the promise of OpenCourseWare, and we are pleased that educators and learners from all parts of the globe tell us that OCW is already having an impact on teaching and learning," President Charles M. Vest said. "We hope the idea of openly sharing course materials will propagate throughout many institutions and create a global web of knowledge that will enhance the quality of learning and, therefore the quality of life worldwide." (The MIT OpenCourseWare Story")

OER Resource List


  • Where to Find OERs: [1]
  • OER Commons: [2]
  • OER Search Engines: [3]
  • 80 Open Education Resource Tools for Publishing and Development Initiatives: [4]
  • UNESCO Open Educational Resources List: [5]


  1. name="UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (2005)"


Things to consider: how this might be the first step in the universities toward a more open educational and research community, and how that is evolving, perhaps interview a few OCWC members, to get current on the similarities and varieties of initiatives; look internationally; another chapter covers copyright, so you could refer to it and treat the topic only as much as you require to talk about other aspects; what are the drivers, incentives for OCW/OER in various communities, and within those communities?