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Steps to Adopting 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 Wendy Bolyard and Rachel Emas
May 2, 2022

A quick search of the Internet and thousands, likely millions, of resources are at your fingertips making it easy to forget that most of these are not in the public domain. This means that what is so effortlessly found may be protected by intellectual property laws (copyright, trademark or patent laws). Educators, and others, are overcoming restrictions and taking advantage of Open Educational Resources (OER)—textbooks, videos, software, simulations and other tools and learning materials that are provided at no cost through open licensing. OER fosters equity, a pillar of public administration, and is viewed as an effort to combat educational inequality. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) believes OER can improve the quality of learning, knowledge sharing, policy dialogues and capacity building globally. This article explains the steps to adopting OER materials for courses or general knowledge expansion. 

OER is often licensed through Creative Commons (CC), a nonprofit organization with the mission to help overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s pressing challenges. The four elements of CC licenses—give attribution, non-commercial, share-alike and no derivatives—are mixed and matched to grant permission that allows users to copy, distribute, adapt and make use of creative and academic works. David Wiley, in Defining the “Open” in Open Content and Open Educational Resources, published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, wrote “The terms ‘open content’ and ‘open educational resources’ describe any copyrightable work … that is either (1) in the public domain or (2) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities.” The 5Rs include: retain, revise, remix, reuse and redistribute. 

Whether you need new resources on a specific topic, to supplement or replace a textbook or to expand your knowledge with a wider variety of media and materials, OER provide opportunities to adapt, repurpose, reuse and redistribute materials often created by experts. OER can be found in a variety of materials from traditional academic readings and texts to TED Talks, documentaries, audiobooks, podcasts, reports and articles, to name a few. 

These various OER resources are available through a range of reputable sources. Some of the outlets for open-access course readings and materials include OER Commons, OpenStax, Open Textbook Library and Merlot, amongst others. Merlot is a widely-used peer-reviewed outlet for online learning and support materials. Beyond traditional readings, OER Commons also offers case studies, data sets, interactive activities, lesson plans, assessments and more. For other types of materials such as free music, photos, graphics and textbook or report publishing, there are a variety of sources including Freesound, CC Mixter, Pexels, Pixababy, Noun Project, Humaaans and WikiBooks and many more. Additionally, OER Commons and Merlot have content builders available. Future PA Times articles from the Section on Public Administration Education will identify additional information regarding these open resources. The following section explains how users might select which OER to retain, reuse and redistribute in their work. 

In selecting which materials to use, users must identify the sources’ quality, appropriateness, accessibility and technical features. In assessing quality, one should evaluate the expertise of the author and/or reputation of the institution, as well as whether the item has been through a peer-review process. The appropriateness refers to whether the materials align with the objectives and/or learning outcomes. Users need to understand what skill or knowledge they are trying to teach and if the materials meet that need. Additionally, the appropriateness of the source must ensure that the content is accurate, written at a proper reading level and scaffolds with other knowledge in the course or training. 

In evaluating the accessibility of potential OER, users must reflect on how all participants or students can and will approach the materials. For instance, do the images have alt-text? Can the work be used with screen readers? If there is an audio component, is the transcript of the audio included? Users must also assess the technical quality of the materials–such as clear visuals, high production value, clean audio, etc. And, as mentioned earlier, the legality of such sources must be established to ensure that there would be no infringement on intellectual property in using the sources. 

Open educational resources have a role to play in promoting equity in learning and training, as they lower the financial barrier to access for users, participants and students. This article addressed the steps to adopting OER materials for courses or general knowledge expansion while respecting the intellectual property of the materials’ creators. Keep an eye out for future PA Times articles from the Section on Public Administration Education which will further the discussion of open educational resources in public administration.

Author: Wendy Bolyard is clinical assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. Her teaching interests include leadership and ethics, research and analytic methods, and introducing students to public administration. She was the founding director of the School’s Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration program and currently serves as academic director for the 2022 Mandela Washington Fellowship program. Wendy is chair-elect of the ASPA Section on Public Administration Education. [email protected]

Author: Rachel Emas is an assistant teaching professor at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark where she serves as the Director of the EMPA, traditional MPA, and Online MPA programs. Her research interests are in the areas of sustainability and environmental policies, especially around sustainable and equitable urban food systems. Rachel also studies public service pedagogy and equitable teaching practices. She serves on the Executive Board of the ASPA Section on Public Administration Education.  [email protected]

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