impossible-701686_1280The topic of OER took me back a few years. It got me thinking about the time my then employer decided to create a new course to train language teachers.

Everyone on the team was very excited about the possibilities and we talked at length about who our students would be, what their needs were, and how best to design the course. We mapped out the skills the students would need to master and the tricky points (like grammar) that they would need to be able to explain to the pupils in their own classrooms.

We knew what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it and the reasons for our chosen approach. The development team were spread across three different locations and were used to working closely, if remotely. We were delighted with our plan and felt energised to create it.

The devil is in the detail they say and the ‘detail’ here is that we needed content for 72 lessons in a variety of languages and in a range of levels, from beginner to advanced.  All of a sudden our wonderful course plan seemed to evaporate before our eyes. We were a small team with a tight deadline. How could we do this on time and in budget? Now it felt like we had signed up to do the impossible…


…until we discovered OER!

Suddenly, the impossible became quite doable. We soon found a range of resources, some of which were perfect for our purposes, others could be ‘tweaked’ or used as examples to inspire the students.

Not only that, but many resources had been commented on by other users, which speeded up the selection process, as we could bypass the ones marked as containing errors and focus on the material that got a 5 star rating.

As usual, in terms of original authors, we saw the same names coming up time and again, which also helped grow our network. Many of these people were active on Twitter, or had websites of their own, so we had new people to follow, new sources of inspiration.


More recently, through new colleagues, I have started to find scientific OER, many of which were entirely suited to our purpose, in terms of content. Access, though, was a different matter.

While some material was downloadable, it was not universally so. External websites and their contents can come and go. Being solely reliant on them for lesson content, or preparatory material for a flipped classroom may increase perceived risk and decrease faculty enthusiasm for using them.

Making resources available in read-only format reduces their ‘openness’ and effectively renders them inaccessible to those who would value them most. No matter which country you are in, Internet access can vary greatly based on geography, and in the developing world, cost is a factor added to the usual mix of speed and reliability of connection. Once again, the devil is in the detail.


In our OER lesson, there was a suggestion to include material from MOOCs as part of the traditional course material. While there is logic both to not reinventing the wheel and to enabling students to learn online and from highly respected institutions, one element of the conversation that was missing, was the level of support required.


By the nature of their size, MOOCs can be a daunting environment, where significant motivation is required of learners, in addition to time management and independent learning skills. Somebody needs to teach those skills to the students before sending them off to sign up for an open course. Somebody also needs to be there to support the students during their MOOC studies and somebody may need to facilitate discussion and reflection on how the MOOC material links to the traditional course. And that ‘somebody’ will most likely be the class teacher. Has anybody trained them for this?


So, maybe its time now to make conversation around OER, both as users and producers. (Anyone interested in policies, try Torsten Reimer’s blog post for Jisc). As users, where can we find OER? How might we use them? What are the potential benefits for teaching, learning and networking? As producers, how and where can we publish? How will other people know the resources exist? Will they be truly ‘open’ and accessible?  And perhaps, the most crucial detail of all, will we have institutional support?

Image: CCO available at


Open Educational Resources…making the impossible possible.