Typology of Open Educational Resources based on their purpose

There are many models for developing Open Educational Resources, and this is partly because the goals of the various projects are different. To make this clearer, I propose a typology of Open Educational Resources based on their purpose. When people develop Open Educational Resources, they make many decisions around format, scope, organization, licensing and so on, and these are informed by the purpose the resource is to fulfill, as well as technological and organizational limitations. After publication, the resource can be used in many other ways by different users, indeed one of the strengths of the open licenses is to enable this kind of unexpected use and reuse, however the original purpose is still a useful guide. To be clear about the purpose is not only important for the design project, but is also a necessity for any rigorous evaluation to take place. 

I suggest that it will be useful to think of the development of Open Educational Resources as fulfilling four very broad purposes: transformative production, direct use, reuse, and transparency/consultation. These categories are inspired by and expand upon Caulfield’s (2009) distinction between openness as reuse, and openness as transparency. Which of the purposes are seen as most important, will have an impact on what kind of resources are produced, and how they are produced.

By transformative production, we mean that the process of producing the resource in itself has a transformative effect upon the people involved in the production process. Just as the purpose of writing an essay in school is not to generate a large amount of finished essays, but rather in the effect on the person writing the essay, this category suggests that the purpose of the production of open resources, or the opening of existing resources, is the effect it will have on those involved. This effect is always present even unintentionally, and could be positive – where teachers put more efforts into their teaching, because they know they are being filmed – or negative – when teachers abstain from experimenting in class, because they are afraid of having their failure caught on tape. However this category covers projects that have this transformative effect as their main goal for the production of open resources. This category is different from the three that follow, which all pertain to the resources after they have been produced.

By direct use, we mean that the student can visit the resource and use it to learn independently. This means that the resource would ideally contain all the material needed to learn, ie. be complete. The resource should also be developed for the web, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by interactive quizzes, simulations, games, and other mechanisms. Developing this material might be expensive, and it should be clearly targeted to a specific group. A good example in this category is the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative courses (see for example Dollar and Steif 2008).

By reuse, we mean that the material can be modified, redacted, and integrated with other material. In this case, the student does not directly access the material, but it is mediated through an intermediary — for example a teacher, or a curriculum developer. In this case, the material needs to be openly licensed, so that the transformation is legal. Material in this category does not need to be complete, or targeted to a specific group, since it will be repurposed. The material in this category is often not organized as an entire course, but as a large collection of small modules. The material should ideally be available in file formats that are easy to modify by the user. A good example in this category is Rice University’s Connexions project, which uses small modules, an open XML file format, obligatory open licensing, a built-in system for derivation and attribution and a flexible system for quality review to facilitate reuse and the creative building upon other’s work (Baraniuk 2008).

By transparency/consultation, we mean that the material will not be used directly by learners, nor will it be “reused” or repurposed by intermediaries. Rather, it will be available for people who are interested in learning about how a given class is taught. This could be other teachers, who wish to get inspiration about different ways of teaching the same thing, or students who are planning to choose a major, and would like to know what a given subject entails. It could inspire other teachers, or even provide materials for a comparative study of curriculum. This requires material that reflects as closely as possible what actually happens in the classroom, or material that is distributed to students in a normal situation. The OpenCourseWare projects are good examples of this category, and so are the open textbook repositories in India and Indonesia (Ghosh and Das 2006; Hariyanto 2009).