Frequently Asked Questions About OERs

By Dr Samuel Nikoi – OER Evaluator




What do we mean by Open Educational Resources?

‘Digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research.’ (OECD)

‘OERs are educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses to re-mix, improve and redistribute.’ (Wikipedia)

Why do we need OERs in HE?

Because there are specific gains in sharing OERs and penalties for not sharing.

Pull arguments i.e. gains for sharing: Free sharing reinforces societal development and diminishes social inequalities

Push arguments i.e. threats for not sharing: Traditional academic values of openness to knowledge will be marginalised by market forces such as Microsoft or Apple

What are the benefits of OER for HE institutions?

Institutional visibility ( see:

A showcase for attracting new students  

Better use of available resources which can lead to cost cutting of content development

Helps to reach out to new groups of people without access or prior knowledge of higher education

Can improve the quality of learning materials and stimulate internal improvement and innovation

Improve the universities reputation as a socially responsible University

Which institutions are currently involved in OERs?

Over 3,000 courses currently available from over 300 universities. Examples are:

UK: Open Learn; BERLiN; OpenSpires

USA: MIT Open Courseware; Connexions; Utah State Uni.OCW

EUROPE: ParisTech OCW; MORIL which is a Pan-European OER initiative.

ASIA: China Open Resources for Education; Japanese OCW Consortium.

OTHERS: OER Africa; UNESCO Virtual University; AEShareNEt in Australia.

What’s in it for me?

Sharing stimulates further innovation leading to recognition by peers

Publicity and visibility within the academic community

Potential for collaboration with academics in other institutions around the world

Potential for commercialising a version of your OER

Are you saying I should release my materials – i.e. those my students pay £10K a year for?

Yes. Your students do not pay £10K for your materials. They pay for a university experience, including: accreditation; socialization; teaching; networking and cultural experience. Teaching materials are only a small part of the university experience.

OERs for who?

Current and potential students of your University

·           Independent learners

·           Work-based learners

·           Educators

·           Researchers

·           The global public

Are OERs sustainable? What is the long-term viability of OERs?

There is limited research evidence on sustainability of OERs. However there are various funding models which point to sustainability:

Institutional e.g. MIT OCW

Endowment e.g.  Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy project

Membership e.g. Sakai Educational Partners Program

Donations e.g. Wikipedia Apache Foundation

Conversion e.g. Elgg educational community

Contributor pay e.g. Public Library of Science (PLoS)

Sponsorship e.g. MIT iCampus  with Microsoft

Governments e.g. The United Nations

How can I be sure about the quality of OERs available?

Assessment of the quality enhancement of the production process

Institutional reputation  and expertise in a given discipline or subject

Individual profile and expertise in a given subject area

Growing community around the OER

What other issues are there regarding OERs?

Keeping materials up-to-date and in multiple repositories

Interoperability issues

Metadata standards

Tracking and assessing the value of OERs


‘OERs will help nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, creating, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need.’ (The Cape Town Declaration, 2007)


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Fax: + 44 (0) 116 252 5725


The OTTER project is funded by the Higher Education Academy and JISC.

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