The term OER was created in a meeting at UNESCO in 2002. Since then, the OER movement has progressed all over the world, and in 2012, COL and UNESCO organised the first World OER Congress. This resulted in the 2012 Paris OER Declaration, calling upon all countries to release teaching, learning and research materials developed with public funds under an open licence to allow their reuse, revision, remixing and redistribution without the permission of the copyright holders.
The 2012 Paris OER Declaration defines OER as
teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work. (UNESCO, 2012)
In their simplest form, OER are any “educational resources (including curriculum maps, course materials, textbooks, streaming videos, multimedia applications, podcast, and any other materials that have been designed for use in teaching and learning) that are openly available for use by educators and students, without the accompanying need to pay royalties or licence fees” (Butcher, 2011, p. 5).
OER projects can expand access to learning for everyone, but most of all for non-traditional groups of students, thus widening participation in higher education. They can be an efficient way of promoting lifelong learning, both for individuals and for government, and can bridge the gaps between non-formal, informal and formal learning (OECD, 2007). In other words, OER provide quality, affordable educational materials adaptable to the broadest range of teaching and learning needs.
David Wiley’s framework of 5Rs describes what can be done with OER: Retain: the right to make, own and control copies of the content; Reuse: the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video); Revise: the right to adapt, adjust, modify or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language); Remix: the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup); Redistribute: the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend) (Wiley, 2014).
Also critical to understanding the real educational potential of OER are the following two concepts: pedagogy and digital. Pedagogically, the concept is underpinned by the notion of using resources as an integral method of communicating the curriculum in educational courses. However, it is the ease with which digitised content can be shared via the Internet that has the potential to unleash the full power of resource-based learning without bankrupting educational systems.
Resource-based learning breaks down the traditional notion that a talking teacher is the most effective strategy for communicating curriculum. Thus, more focus is placed on the design and development of high-quality resources as a strategy for building and assuring the quality of educational provision. It also investigates the potential that the integration of new educational technologies into teaching and learning environments has for supporting, improving or enhancing those environments (Butcher, 2011).
OER is based on the premise that someone has copyright of the content and releases the same with an open licence. Traditionally, the copyright holder reserves the right to control the distribution of the work. As author of the work, the copyright holder can also assign the rights to anyone or license the work for use in a specific manner. Open licences also provide that option to the copyright holder. “Open licence” basically refers to any legally binding instrument that grants permission to access, reuse and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions. While there are different ways to license a work, the most predominant one is provided by Creative Commons (CC). There are six difference types of CC licence, of which four are normally considered open licences. Those licences with a non-derivative clause are not open. For more details on OER and open licences, see COL’s publication Understanding Open Educational Resources.
In Nigeria, the Copyright Act, Section 5, C28LFN 2004 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the exclusive right of the owner of copyright to: reproduce, publish, perform, adapt, distribute, sell and broadcast; prepare derivative works; distribute copies of the original work or derivative works; and, in the case of cinematographic films, perform the work (Nigeria Copyright Act, 2004; Nwabachili, 2016). Nigeria is also a member of and signatory to other international treaties on copyright, such as the Berne Convention (on literary and artistic works), of which Nigeria became a member in 1993. Hence, OER can be used within the copyright laws of Nigeria without any legal hurdles.
Discussion so far indicates that OER should be freely shared through open licences, which facilitate reuse, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. OER should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet. Hodgkinson-Williams (2010) presents the benefits of OER for a range of stakeholders:
Access to relevant learning resources is an important aspect of lifelong learning, and the ability to provide that access at the necessary scale is proving a challenge. Addressing this challenge is essential for ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all, as outlined in SDG4, as well as for supporting citizens in gaining sustainable livelihoods. The development of OER is a potential answer to these challenges, as it provides governments, institutions, organisations and individuals with access to some of the best materials available globally, allowing them to adapt the materials to fit local contexts and reduce the costs associated with materials and course development.
During the first World OER Congress, in 2012, governments and institutions were encouraged to leverage taxpayers’ money through the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds. A case in point is the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) intervention programme for training and research in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. TETFund intervention focuses on library and book development, national research grants, the development of curriculum/programme content, academic manuscripts, research journals and institution-based research. To enable the TETFund to achieve this mandate, the TETFund Act, 2011, imposes a two per cent education tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria. The Fund administers the tax imposed by the Act and disburses the amount to tertiary educational institutions at federal and state levels. Without a clear policy on the sharing of these materials through open licences, already impoverished citizens will continue to pay twice for content and resources already paid for by taxpayers. It would therefore be prudent to openly license publicly funded educational resources, for the common good. In addition, and as noted earlier, the emergence of resource-based learning has broken down the traditional notion that a talking teacher is the most effective strategy for communicating curriculum. Thus, embracing OER in Nigeria’s higher institutions will provide learners with much-needed access to resources for quality learning experiences.
In addition, OER: help in the provision of quality alternatives for teaching and learning; stimulate increased equal access to quality educational resources; reduce the cost of textbooks; and help enhance access to quality knowledge repositories for learners, teachers and researchers. OER also offer additional opportunities to supplement face-to-face learning and the ODL system, and they can complement the content students receive from their lectures. They can help academics to contextualise global practices and can promote a healthy academic culture of knowledge sharing and openness amongst academics; thus, lecturers can be sharers rather than hoarders of knowledge. Lastly, OER: enhance free and open access to knowledge and provide better engagement for learners; stimulate the transformation of teaching and learning by enabling innovative pedagogical practices; enable free access to knowledge, which can be reused and repurposed in different forms; and promote informal learning, wherein credentials are not needed.