OERs Where are You?

The expectation of the DelOREs Project was that there would be a large number of engineering design OERs available suitable for use in teaching and learning at undergraduate level. We have found, however, that whilst there is a very great deal of material that could be of use either to students or to teachers in this discipline, there is a very limited amount of material that is offered expressly for ‘open’ use and which conforms to the required licensing criteria.

To provide a useful resource, it seems to us that material must conform to the minimal ideal requirements, these being:

  1. Subject appropriateness
  2. A specified quality
  3. Alignment with target audience needs
  4. Explicitness of conditions of use which define an OER

Item 4 could be relaxed in some circumstances, provided that the legitimate use is clearly flagged by the licence/copyright statement and would be of benefit to the target user group.

Candidates for OERs cover, of course, a wide spectrum ranging from single stand-alone documents and web pages, to fully structured web sites, through webcasts to sets of lecture notes for a particular engineering design course taught module.

There are a number of OER collections and repositories whose brief is to provide material of this sort; however, that which has been provided specifically for engineering design students and teachers appears to be very restricted in both scope and quantity.

Frustratingly, there is a very great deal of material that is accessible on the World Wide Web which might be of value to both students and teachers of which much has clearly been placed in public sight with the intention of allowing its use for education purposes. However, the legitimate usage of this material remains unclear. This might be because no formal indication is given of the terms of re-use, the manner in which the copyright is expressed is more restrictive than intended, the expression of terms of re-use are informally expressed and ambiguous, and so on.

There is a certain difficulty, too, of catering in the same collection for teachers’ and students’ needs, since they are sometimes different. Students, for example, could quite legitimately read, mark and digest content contained within a resource the copyright of which was highly restrictive, but a teacher might run into trouble if they were to use it in any way that might be useful to them.

Material of this sort, notwithstanding its usefulness and the intentions of the provider, cannot be offered easily through a subject collection because of the danger of inadvertent encouragement to reuse material in a non-legitimate manner.

If nothing else this situation reinforces the belief that it is worthwhile pursuing the development of OER content – that is, material that is clearly marked as being ‘open’ –  and encouraging education, largely of the educators, in its usefulness to teachers and their students.

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