Timeline – the history of open educational resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes. For anyone that wants to understand why Open educational resources in so many ways are changing global education today, I think it is crucial to understand the history of OER.

During the last weeks I have been setting up a list of projects that I feel has had an impact on this open educational movement, and at one point I decided to make a timeline.  As many of you might be aware of the OER movement was inspired by the free software movement and open source. I have chosen to start my timeline in 1985 when Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation.

Although OER is the leading trend in distance education as a consequence of the openness movement, many OERs are not truly open. When listing these OER projects I have been very liberal in terms of witch projects to include. So this is by no means a list of OERs but rather a list of projects that have influenced the development of OERs.

Do you know about any projects that should be in the timeline? All feedback is appreciate!

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How does openly-licensed content stack up against traditional textbooks?

There are still teachers and politicians leaning towards the old school textbook when choosing resources to use in the classroom. This is based on what I would call the «Gutenberg paradigm» where publishers control the decimation of knowledge together with an elite group of authors. The assumption is that «you get what you pay for».

At the same time there are constant discussions on whether open educational resources and EdTech in the classroom has any documented effect. One relevant question in this context is of course: how does traditional textbooks stack up against open educational resources and free, openly-licensed textbooks. Is the frase, «you get what you pay for» still true when it comes to textbooks?  

In fact,  researchers at Brigham Young University have found that this is not the case anymore.

A new multi-institutional study the researchers have been looking at the academic outcomes of students assigned free, openly-licensed textbooks versus those assigned traditionally-published textbooks. What the study finds is the opposite of what folk wisdom tells us: expensive textbooks are notsuperior to free ones. In fact, the results show a striking trend that students assigned free, open textbooks do as well or better than their peers in terms of grades, course completion, and other measures of academic success.

If traditional textbooks are not producing better outcomes, then what exactly arestudents paying for?

Here’s a breakdown of the results:

  • Course completion: In all of the courses studied, students who were assigned open textbooks were as likely or more likely to complete their course than those assigned traditional textbooks. In one course, the completion rate was remarkably 15 percentage points higher for students using open textbooks.
  • Grades: Students who were assigned open textbooks tended to have final grades equivalent to or better than those assigned traditional textbooks. In more than a quarter of the courses, students using open textbooks achieved higher grades, and only one course using open textbooks showed lower grades (which is at least partially explained by the course’s significantly higher completion rate, which includes the grades of students who would have otherwise dropped out).
  • Credit load: Students who were assigned open textbooks took approximately 2 credits more both in the semester of the study and in the following semester. This is a sign that students are reinvesting money saved on textbooks into more courses, which can accelerate graduation times and potentially reduce debt.
  • Overall success: Overall, students in more than half of the courses that used open textbooks did better according to at least one academic measure used in the study, and students in 93% of these courses did at least as well by all of the measures.

The study is based on more than 16,000 students across 10 institutions, and is the largest and most rigorous study of its kind. Naturally, there are some limitations, most notably that the researchers cannot conclusively claim that textbooks are the sole cause of differences in student outcomes, since uncontrolled factors such as variation in teaching methods may have played a role. However, more than a dozen other studies have been published over the last five years that find a similar correlation between open textbooks and as-good-or-better student outcomes, which shows a definitive trend.

In addition to results in these studies it is important to take in account other aspects of the open license like the possible translation into new languages and the the fact that it is possible to adapt an change books to meet local needs.


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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on work of Nicole Allen available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicole-allen/college-textbooks-do-you_b_8261086.html.

You are free to re-blog, adapt and share the content with attribution to the author and a link back to the original version.

The “O” in OER and MOOC is crucial for the future of global education

The word “open” can be used in almost any context and very often it will bring a positive association with it.

In some cases it does not matter if one uses the term precisely, but when used to describe educational resources it is crucial that we understand the difference between “open” as in open access and “open” in its more pure form, for example a resource that is licensed under Creative Commons.

Many of the MOOCs that are launched these days will give open access but the content is not released under a free license. As you might know one of the “O”s in MOOC stands for Open, so this can be confusing.

My top 4 reasons for the “O” to be important are:

  1. An open resource under a Creative Commons license will be free forever – with open access resources the author can revoke your access to their resources at any time.
  2. Open educational resources promote sharing – open access limits sharing 
  3. An open resource gives the teacher(or student) the possibility to make their own version in their own context, this gives every teacher control over the end product presented in the classroom.
  4. Open promotes the dissemination of knowledge into smaller languages trough translation. For teachers and students in smaller languages it will be very important to be able to translate and and re-contextualize instead of starting to develop all their resources from the ground. This is simply a matter of funding and for smaller languages and developing countries

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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

OERs in small Languages – reuse and crowdsourcing is the only way to go

Later today I am talking at The seminar Open Learning in Minority Languages in Leeuwarden(Netherlands) on how we at NDLA build Open Educational Resources for Norwegian Secondary Schools. This seminar is part of the LangOER program supported by the European Commission. When preparing for my talk I started thinking(and now writing) about what I would say are the key factors to promote OER development among smaller and less used languages.

The backdrop for this question is that less used languages face the risk of linguistic/cultural decay in the fast evolving OER/OEP landscape currently dominated by English.

My approach will be based on the experience we have from NDLA and my personal belief the “open” is an important quality in its self.

These are some of the key factors as I see it:

  • Define open as the primary long term strategi(Open content, not only free access)
  • Develop methods to translate and re-contextualize resources from English and other large languages
  • Engage and develop communities to be able to scale maintenance and development of content in the long term
  • Use micropayment as a method to promote a marked of startups and smaller companies
  • Look to Wikipedia and the open source community for inspiration
  • Open standards  to promote plattform independence

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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Startup workshop for Maarifa Initiative in Addis Ababa

In mid July I traveled to Addis Ababa to start up the først Maarifa Initiative project in Ethiopia. On my trip to eLearning Africa in May earlier this year I met with my friend Fasika Minda at Addis Ababa University and Fasika will now lead the work for us in Addis this summer. Together with Zekarias Teshome will be organizing the work of students and development of both content and our website.
During the first workshop now i July we have launched the Ethiopian version of our website at www.maarifa.no/Ethiopia and startet translating content from English to Amharic. We have also recruited students who will work for us during the summer and we have now formed a team of 9 people in Addis.

We will translate and re-contextualize content in three different categories:

  • Basic ICT and web literacy
  • Life skills(teacher resources)
  • Literacy(teacher resources)

As a part of the project in Ethiopia we will also develop new content using H5P, mainly focusing on interactive content like drag and drop and fill in the blanks to add value to the content we translate.

We have re-used Creative Commons resources from The open University and their Tessa project, NDLA(Open educational resources for secondary schools in Norway), The Australian government and iktplan.no(a Norwegian project)

From August 3 – 6 we organized a larger workshop at Addis Ababa University where students will participate and translate content into Amharic.




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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

5 facts showing that EdTech is important for the future of global education

Many teachers and politicians are still asking critical questions concerning EdTech and whether technology can improve education in a global perspective. It is important to be critical and technology is no substitute for a good teacher or well-established teaching methods.

On the other hand there are some global numbers and forecasts which show that it is almost impossible to solve the global education crisis we face without including digital learning resources as part of the equation.

1. No fewer than 250 million children can not read or write. These children represents 20 percent of all children in the world.

2. 130 million of the 250 million people who can neither read nor write have been trough at least four years of school.

3. Globaly there is the need for 12.6 million new teachers until 2020 to reach the goal of education for all. This is according to Unesco, based on current paradigm without extensive use of technology.

4. Teacher Salaries make up about 80 percent of education budgets in most countries.

5. By 2025, there will be upwards of 4.7 Billion people online of and 75 percent of the increase will come in emerging economies.

I think these number tell us that we can say without any shadow of doubt that edTech and digital learning resources will play a “center stage” role in moving global education in to a new paradigme.

Source: EFA Global Monitoring Report 2015.

Announcement of the GoOpen projects in Uganda and Ethiopia

This summer we will do projects in Kampala, Uganda and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

The backdrop for our project is the need for digital learning resources that gives children young people good basic ICT-knowledge and digital skills. The need for digital learning resources in local and national languages in Africa is great. We based this conclusion on the simple fact that teaching, especially for the youngest children, take place in local languages.

Our project will therefore focus on providing digital learning resources in African languages and a platform to facilitate translation in to new languages based on a model of crowdsourcing and micropayment.

Micropayment for translation and re-contextualization

In this project we will translate and re-contextualization specific resources related to ICT and Web literacy into several African languages, starting with Luganda and Amharic.

We will use Mozilla Webmaker when building the resources and Transifex to translate. The project will build on the reuse of high-quality content licensed under Creative Commons. Our mashups will combine resources from many projects, mainly from www.iktplan.no(Norwegian project). The content structure will build on the Mozilla Web Literacy Map.


Mozilla define Web Literacy as the skills and competencies needed for reading, writing, and participating on the Web.

An important driver for our project is that we will not make new learning resources from scratch if we can re-use, re-make and create mashups based on existing high quality educational resources.

  1. Find open educational recourses targeting both teachers(teach the teacher) and students
  2. Re-make, create new mashups, translate and re-contextualization resources into new open Educational resources based on local needs
  3. Publish our new versions under a creative commons license
  4. Promote re-use of the re-makes and create a community of teachers and students

We build our community model on micro payment that goes directly to the student or teacher who contributes, will be central to the project. This is important for two reasons:

  • Whoever does the work will be the one who receives payment
  • Payment for translations will take place after the work actually is carried out

Translating Khan Academy is not the objective for our project this summer but we are looking to build our teams both in Uganda and Ethiopia to be ready for this task.

Khan Academy launched in Norwegian!

The Norwegian version of Khan Academy has been launched today, howcool is that!!! The project has come trough with help from NDLA and our own Khan Academy project manager, Elisabet Rommedal.

Photo by: Tom Knudsen

Khan Academy is famous for being one of the first OERs really going viral with millions of people using the site and learning from the videos on Youtube.  When asked wath is so great about Khan, Elisabet answers:

We find that students are so fascinated that they forget to take a break, says Elisabet Romedal. – Khan Academy uses various methods of game technology, so you can simply get a little hooked on math. When you get an assignment, it makes you want to do a new one.

To get a page in a new language, one must first have a test page that must be approved by the Khan Academy. A Norwegian beta site has been live since January 2015 and is already visited by 10,000 users.

Internationally there is a French, Spanish and Portuguese version of Khan Academy, and now also in Norwegian. If you are wondering which other languages are being worked on  you can find them here.

Photo by: Khan Academy
Photo by: Khan Academy

Sal Khan showing his excitement over the launch of the Norwegian site!

Creative commons LIcence makes it all possible

This translation is made possible because Khan Academy have licensed most of their work under a Creative Commons. In general this means that Khan have given permission to anyone who wants to re-use and translate their content.

At first the translation work into Norwegian was made by a Norwegian student who saw the value of Khan Academy for Norwegian students. The number of sequences in Norwegian has increased rapidly over the past year. Now large amounts tasks translated videos have received Norwegian subtitles, and many also with Norwegian voiceover.

The voluntary work continues

Elisabet Romedal wants more helpers to pich in with the work that still remains. – Now students and teachers adopt these wonderful resources that we have made available. We hope motivates teachers to contribute on a voluntary basis.

The Norwegian version of Khan can be found here. https://nb.khanacademy.org/

How to make your own taylor made Open educational resource – mashup from Khan, CK-12 and H5P

This video tutorial is based on workshops that we did in 2014, both in Uganda and Sweden. The basic idea is that instead of just consuming resources or writing your own from scratch, you take bits and peaces from global OER projects and build your own OER based on your specific local needs. This will ensure high quality and at the same time make it easer to build OERs for those with limited resources.

In this video tutorial I walk you trough the practical aspects of actually making your own taylor made OER based on a mashup of text, video and illustrations from the following projects: