Embedded Open Transparency: A Definition – 9 x 9 x 25 Week 2 (of 9)

license plate collage spelling out the word Open

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

In this week’s instalment of posting for nine weeks in a row, I’m exploring open transparency as an issue in modern teaching and learning. At the moment, I live and breath open education and use of open educational resources (OER) in my professional and graduate studies, so it seems like a good topic to blog.

Today’s topic is the definition of OER, and I’m looking for some feedback and help related to this. I am using the following definition of OER in my dissertation and I’d love your feedback:

Open educational resources (OER) are digitally stored, openly available content materials that are explicitly openly licensed (using Creative Commons or other open licensing standard). Creators/author(s) grant permission and help ensure discoverability and ease-of-use for download, storage, adoption, adaptation, and re-sharing of these resources as part of learning experiences. Content types include video, audio, text, textbooks, images, illustrations, animations, and simulations that are editable and adhere to inclusive design principles for accessibility.

This version differs slightly, and in what I hope are important shin-kicking ways, from the major definitions out there (there are three or four “go-to” definitions of OER that I’ve seen used). All of the definitions that are out there are intentionally political or diplomatic in what they include (or do not include) in their parametres. Examples include the following: UNESCO, SPARC, Creative Commons. The SPARC definition is close, and it’s a good and simple choice. However, I do not believe it helps to educate people, funders, businesses, that are not familiar with the values of openness.

In the first sentence of my proposed definition “openly available” (kick) is a reminder that an open resource is not particularly useful if a potential user cannot access it free of restrictions. For example, if access requires a user account or password. Right at the moment, one of the trade-offs of having a user account for access to educational resources seems to mean agreeing to provide a third party with an irrevocable open license to your personal and educational data and creations. Hmmm.

In the second sentence “help ensure discoverability and ease-of-use” (kick) is a reminder that simply granting permission to use something that is difficult to find and/or difficult to use is not as helpful as it could be. If you are a creator or adaptor of OER, is there something you can do to make your creation more useful for users? Easier to find? Easier to understand? I really encourage you to consider that and I hope my proposed definition might encourage that.

If you are intentionally making it difficult to find or use an open resource related to a partially open or freemium business model, should you be calling it OER? Perhaps you mean something else. “No-cost resource,” or “Affordable resource” are acceptable ways to frame things, it’s transparent for end-users who have a right to know the difference between that and an OER and make an informed decision. This becomes a critical issue for those that are funding what they call, or believe to be, the creation of OER. If the end product cannot be easily discovered or downloaded, or even worse, is deliberately obfuscated by an account or a paywall, these are affordable resources, which I repeat, is great and has a lot of value. However, there are some bad actors that are intentionally misleading educators and learners by calling these types of resources OER.

Finally, shin kick number three, sentence three, “that are editable and adhere to inclusive design principles for accessibility.” If I cannot download and edit the resource you’ve created with a nice open license, and if the resource is not designed to be inclusive, it’s not really an OER is it? If it’s only useable by some people, and not all people, it’s not really open. If I have to have the technology skills of a University of Waterloo computer science grad to crack it open and make changes, nope, not really OER.

Useable by all people is the goal for me for OER. I do not believe it is possible, within my limited skill set as yet, to find a way to ensure that a resource is useable by all people. There are pervasive global issues of equity and access to resources (in any format), so I’m just really working on getting as close as I can as often as I can. This definition is really helping me with some good reminders.

With the definition I’m testing, I’m attempting to support a healthy climate of transparency among and for funders and creators of OER. If what you are creating does not align with the definition I’m proposing, then you should really think through what you’re labelling the resource. You should not be approaching government or foundations to receive funding for a project you call OER, that then turns out to be something other than OER for end users. As a funder, you should not be promoting what you are funding as OER if you are funding something else. No-cost resources are great, amazing, affordable educational resources (AER)–can be things–are things–can be really good things, but they are not OER if they aren’t lining up with the definition I’m proposing.

What are your thoughts?

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