OER: Make up then break up

Having gone through 2 major projects now to produce open educational resources (OER) from scratch, I know what it takes! We produce, source and aggregate all the different pieces together, whether it is text, illustrations, photographs, videos, simulations, concept maps, or all of the above. The result is a complete package, under an open license, for a specific purpose or context.

As in our case at Siyavula, our open textbooks are produced according to the South African curriculum for Maths and Science. The whole package is there ready for teachers, learners and parents to use, for free. But, the benefits of an open license go far beyond just being free. Just to recap the “OER mantra”, the benefits are:

  • reuse
  • remix
  • revise
  • redistribute

You can access our open textbooks on their websites to read online, on mobile phones and on Mxit, You can also download them as pdfs and the source files (which for the moment are LaTeX, so not very accessible to the ordinary teacher, but plans are in the pipeline to use the OERPub Editor). This content can then be used by anyone to create their own version by remixing and revising it. But, we are still presenting them with the whole package (which is an excellent package in its entirety in my opinion 🙂 ), but maybe a teacher only wants only the biology illustrations to create worksheets, or all the physics concept maps for revision exercises, or only the chemistry activities for practicals. I think this is more often the case than not with teachers when they create their own resources from what is available.

I first started thinking about this last year at one of our review workshops with the Department of Basic Education where one of the curriculum advisors asked me if he could get a folder with all the Gr 7-9 illustrations in it to use in their tests in their district. So, although we were providing the whole package for use for free, he wanted access to a subset of this package (ie. all the illustrations) for his own remixing. And, he would have further benefited, and probably be more likely to take advantage of the open license, if these component parts of the whole package are easily accessible. In other words, in creating OER:

make up for reuse, but break up for remix

In many cases, OER is created in response to a specific need or context, for example, our Siyavula textbooks are created for the South African curriculum, a professor at university can’t find a textbook she likes, so creates her own from scratch for her course and openly licenses it, an organization responds to the unaffordbale prices or college textbooks and develops open textbooks for the most common courses, etc. But, all of us involved in creating OER want our content to travel beyond the context it was created for (aggregated into a complete package), we want it to be adapted and localised to other contexts. But, for that, I think a step in the open textbook production process should be to finally disaggregate the OER into its component parts.

And importantly, make these component parts available on relevant platforms for the media type. So, the whole textbook could be available for editing online, for example in Connexions, the OERPUB Editor or Pressbooks, but I think that the individual chapters, even activities in a workbook, should be downloadable as a zip file as individual odt or docx files, as these will probably be used more readily be teachers creating their own worksheets. Furthermore, illustrations and photos should be in a location where they can easily be downloaded and reused individually and also referenced easily back to the original source. For example, put all the images from your textbook in a Flickr photostream or on Wikimedia Commons. In this way, I believe you are making your OER more accessible for remixing and allowing others to fully take advantage of the open license you have applied to your work.

I scribbled down a diagram to illustrate this graphically:


At Siyavula, we do not yet have the text in an easily editable format for others to rework and reuse. But, I decided that for the books that I have coordinated and produced, I would start out by responding to that initial request of the curriculum advisor on behalf of all his teachers, to make the images more easily accessible. I created our Siyavula Flickr photostream, with an album for each “strand” within Natural Sciences Gr 4-9. The album contains all the illustrations that I commissioned for the books, as well as all the concept maps that I created, and the photographs that I took. These albums are:

My hope is that teachers in South Africa will now have easy access to images related to the curriculum for use in their tests and worksheets. But not only this, anyone across the world can now easily take advantage of all the openly licensed illustrations that we had developed. The concept maps are another resource which I think anyone around the world can benefit from. Read my previous blog post on concept mapping.

Update: Several people have asked how they can download the concept maps and images from Flickr in high resolution. So, I created this quick step by step instruction on how to do this. See here.

In experimenting with a new form of engagement, I have created a quick form for you to fill out. No matter who you are or when you are reading this, I would love it if you gave a response.

2 thoughts on “OER: Make up then break up

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