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Public Organizations’ Capacity for Creating and Providing Access to Open Educational Resources (OER)

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lois M. Warner
June 10, 2022


Twenty-twenty represented the start of the Decade of Action (United Nations) across the globe, and among the actions emphasized has been to increase resources. A source of inspiration for educators in the field of Public Affairs and Administration is the adoption of the Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2019), adopted by the General Conference during the 40th Session, and establishing a coalition, in summary, to support capacity building in creating OER, and facilitating international cooperation in that regard. 

OER is defined as learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright, released under an open license that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose adaptation and redistribution by others (UNESCO). In this article, we consider existing capacities in U.S public organizations for creating OER, and for providing access and value to educators in related fields. Reflecting on the long-standing principles in managing public organizations, including documentation and record-keeping, fast-forward to contemporary electronic formats, public organizations are storing enormous resources of information on Public Affairs and Administration that are of educational value.

Existing Capacities for Creating OER

Public organizations store information as audio recordings, film, photographs, text and video, and a lot has been accomplished in digitizing earlier material. A large number of public organizations have websites and reports that show that public access to digital material continues to increase, however, a lot of this activity is related to forms and transactions (analytics.usa.gov). A recent search for OER (Warner, 2022) at local public and nonprofit organizations reveals that only a few identify materials for use in tertiary education curricula. Dr. Nokulunga Sithabile Ndlovu (2020) of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, however, proposes a model for formal and informal collaboration among educational institutions, workshops, conferences and professional learning communities for building stakeholder capacity in public organizations for creating and using OER. 

Collaboration is at the center of Ndlovu’s model, with formal and informal collaboration among stakeholders locally, regionally and internationally (government: policy; teacher educator institutions: pre and in-service training; schools: teachers and learners; cultural institutions: libraries, museums and archives; and communities of practice). Recent research for OER demonstrates the need for greater collaboration between educators and public organizations, as well as among educators themselves, to focus on OER creation and use in teaching courses on Public Affairs and Administration. Indeed there is collaboration between public and nonprofit organizations and their commitment to OER creation is evident, but this does not fully embrace creating and providing OER for tertiary education. This emphasizes a role for educators in disseminating information about the use of OER in specific courses, for example, by sharing their syllabi, and evaluations on students’ learning outcomes achievements. Expanded definitions of OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, research articles, videos, tests, software and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge (UNESCO).  

Providing OER Access and Value to Educators

Indeed, there has been quite a shift from protecting your intellectual property to providing open access to your teaching material. But, educators themselves benefit from free access to a larger supply of teaching resources for diversifying and enriching their courses. For example, a textbook by one individual, or group writing in unison, may offer limited perspectives on a course theme, as compared with each chapter of required reading in a course comprising articles by different authors who are effectively addressing the same, and/or similar, challenges and issues in many different ways. Diversification in this way can offer students additional and alternative perspectives and multiple managerial approaches to address them. By adopting OER produced by other educators, and creating OER themselves, faculty in Public Affairs and Administration can contribute to reducing the costs of higher education, while making it accessible to more, and increasing the quality and value of education for students in the field. 

There is concern, however, among educators and within their respective institutions, about how to ensure that best practices are shared and expected benchmarks are met when creating OER and on using them successfully in higher education. There is, therefore, a rising call for increased research on OER effectiveness as it relates to students’ learning outcomes achievements, on the need to hold annual conferences on this subject, and to publish open access journals with reports on OER research. As interests and scholarship in OER continue to increase these developments will likely unfold. 


This Decade of Action, with commitment from international organizations and agreement among their member states, offers a context within which to advance the movement for OER in Public Affairs and Administration, through local and regional collaboration among stakeholders in public organizations, education institutions and related professional communities.

This is one in a series of PA Times articles from the Section on Public Administration Education aimed to foster attention on the use of OER in Public Administration Education.

Author: Lois Warner is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the School for Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

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