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OERs: Why should we use them?

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If you are new to the idea of shared teaching resources you are probably wondering what OER is all about.
Well, OER is an abbreviation of “Open Educational Resources”, and is still a maturing concept. In essence, it encapsulates key principles of the ‘Open’ movement (such as open source and open data) and applies them to teaching and learning resources. In almost all cases, OERs are teaching and learning resources which can be distributed, edited and redistributed under Creative Commons licences. More definitions can be found at creativecommons.org.

An array of formats and media types can be released as OER’s such as images, video, sound clips, podcasts etc. Essentially, if it is a teaching resource and it is online, it can be licensed as an OER, as long as the work is original or re-uses materials that are themselves openly licensed.

Persuading people to release teaching and learning resources is not an easy task. Some academics believe releasing teaching resources online defeats the purpose of higher education. After all, if the information is available online and for free, why would students pay for higher education?

The truth is that the content in their lecture slides is most likely already freely available on the Internet. Higher education has to be – and is – more than just delivering slide after slide of information on a projector screen.

One major advantage of OER is that you do not have to make all the content yourself. If you were an academic and you were presenting a new topic or idea, you could find an existing OER, edit it, and redistribute it.

Over the last twelve months, the University of Lincoln has set up six teams, each of which had its own responsibly around OER. I am part of the sixth team, which focuses on providing technical support to the other teams.

One issue that OER possesses is making resources discoverable. It could be argued that there is no use in convincing academics to produce and publish teaching resources if they are not going to be used. We wanted to come up with a way of making our teaching resources discoverable throughout the university. So we looked at ways of promoting our content to ensure it could be found by as many people as possible.

So, why was “Bebop” developed? At the University of Lincoln, we run WordPress as a blogging platform, and use the BuddyPress extension to create a social networking platform. We have over 3000 members on our blogging site; blogs.lincoln.ac.uk. We decided to increase the discoverability of our OER’s by pulling importing teaching resources from a variety of web services. Many academics already use the blogging platform and external services to host content, so it made sense to combine the two so they can be shared and ‘discovered’ by as many people as possible on our social network. In doing so, it also allows an academic to collect all of their online teaching resources in one place. This is where the idea for the Bebop BuddyPress plugin originated.

To get the project off the ground, we applied for some funding from JISC which was used to pay for the development of the plugin (my development time). We also spent a portion of the money on some consultancy work, which was provided by Boone Gorges. Boone is an experienced BuddyPress core developer, and he supplied support in the form of code reviews, as well as answering my technical questions. Boone also wrote a nice blog post about Bebop, which may be of interest.

The Bebop plugin can aggregate videos from YouTube and Vimeo, images from Flickr, and slideshows from SlideShare. It also imports content embedded into RSS feeds and tweets. The idea is that our academics will upload their content to these external services, and then import the content into WordPress using Bebop, allowing others to use and reuse the published content.

We also designed Bebop to output the OER content it has aggregated as RSS feeds. This means we can push OERs into other services we maintain, such as our Staff Directory. Imagine a student who visits their lecturer’s profile and automatically has access to all the teaching resources they have produced. We believe this is a really nice concept, which will have a positive impact on our students’ experience of higher education.

Bebop will be making its way onto our WordPress platform in the near future. We are just waiting for some more user feedback from our test users before we can officially launch Bebop on our own BuddyPress social network. It is available for download if you wish to try it out for yourself.

With the JISC funding for Bebop coming to an end, we are starting a new project, which is very closely related to Bebop. We will be making an OER repository that will store the content that our academics produce. We can then support staff in the process of publishing their teaching resources onto a local repository. Bebop will then be able to pull this data from the repository straight into bebop, where it can be shared alongside the content aggregated from other sites.

Dale Mckeown is a 22 year old web developer for the University of Lincoln and is in the process of starting his own web development company. He has been developing websites and web services for the last four years, and is knowledgeable in a variety of languages and web standards.

Image courtesy of University of Lincoln – www.lincoln.ac.uk

Update:

Sorry to let you know that Dale stopped the development of Bebop, that way it’s no longer part of info.ch’s functionality.

Wir müssen euch leider darüber informieren, dass Dale die Entwicklung von Bebop gestoppt hat und die Funktionalität leider darum auf info.ch nicht mehr zur Verfügung steht.

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