Don’t say OER

On 11th September 2012, I presented Manufacturing pasts: Opening Britain’s Industrial Past to New Learners and New Technologies’ at the Association for Learning Technology annual conference in Manchester.  It was a parallel session and to my recollection we had 40+ attendants, who very well received the presentation.

Leicester Mercury article about impending demolition of Benjamin Russell building, 1993. From CC-BY-NC

One idea which came out of the presentation, to which I saw participants nodding in agreement, was that it is a good idea to avoid using the term OER (open educational resources), or at least to use it very sparingly, when describing open-access material to those who have a good chance of not being ‘in the know.’  A term such as OER may sound like jargon, and jargon can be divisive – shutting out those who are not ‘in the know’.  Furthermore, I need to be able to concisely explain why I am digitising this material and why it needs to be online and given an open-access license.

In the case of the Manufacturing Pasts project, the reason for digitising is that we just don’t have a very good historiography of the UK’s manufacturing decline in the 1970s through the 1990s. Furthermore, this era is generally a ‘digital dead zone’ of official documentation. Local councils were cutting budgets and archiving fewer documents beginning in the 70s, and digitisation did not really begin until the later 1990s, and so there is a lack of some important material. Just discovering and digitising these manufacturing-sector artefacts is necessary.

Benjamin Russell building, Mill Lane, Leicester, before its demolition in 1993. From CC-BY-NC

And why does it need to have an open license? Does it matter? Yes it matters, because we are putting these materials freely out on the internet. That in itself greatly increases their reach — someone in Kankakee, Illinois can easily search our my materials and listen to our interviews with Leicester workers, whereas before Manufacturing Pasts, an interested person would have had to have physically come to the archive to listen to the interview on an analog system. Because the items are openly available on the internet, we give them the Creative Commons copyright as a kind of guide to use and also as a protective measure.

Did you know that copyright clearance is seen as a form of quality assurance? My colleague Ming Nie found in the EVOL-OER reuse study that educators, when looking for online material to use in teaching, look for material that is copyright-cleared. In fact, I heard from academics in various ALT-C sessions, that copyright clearance is a desirable quality for online material because it means it has gone through that process, someone has cared enough to review it and clear it of copyright issues, and it can be reused ‘without fear.’

So although I like to avoid using the jargon ‘OER’,  I recognise and advocate the value of open materials and open practice, and I foresee their progression toward mainstream educational practice.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester


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