Characteristics of OER
Open Educational Resources are best understood by the following characteristics that define them as a way of definition:
OERs are most commonly cost-free. The OER movement generally sets great store in lowering the total cost of ownership, which means that not only should resources and tools be cost-free wherever possible, but also that the medium of their distribution should not presuppose expensive hardware or software. For example, resources which require high bandwidth might cause large Internet connection costs in developing countries. So it is good practice for OER creators to look at the wider picture of OER usage and aim at minimizing all possible cost factors.
Issues of cost-minimization may include or disguise issues of cost-shifting. Cost-minimization may mean minimization only for the end-consumer, or it may take a more holistic view. Cost-shifting may mean that costs are shifted away from the end-consumer, producing only an appearance of cost-minimization or a (real) avoidance of profiting out of the end-consumer.
Cost-shifting in OER is accompanied by measures which spread the costs of production processes. For example, the costs borne by educators are reduced by involving software programmers, legal experts and repository managers in the whole OER production process,
Cost-shifting in OER is also accompanied by measures which maximize the cost-efficiency of production processes. Reusability is a core principle here. For example, the reusability of a software license reduces legal costs without adding any time-related burden to a legal expert.
There is no one economic model which OERs must follow. On the contrary, there is considerable debate and experimentation in this area. What characterizes OER production is the move away from the traditional model where a consumer pays the producer for their goods or services. By freely making these resources available online for use and modification to specific purposes, it deviates from the present cash-and-carry system that operates for educational materials.
Open educational resources are currently an Internet phenomenon, because currently only the Internet can offer the almost zero-cost and universal access that characterizes OER. OER are generally available for public use, without password-protection or registration requirements. A higher degree of openness concerning accessibility relates to the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it. Underdeveloped or poor infrastructure also need to be considered when thinking about open access.
Accessibility can also be used in the narrower sense of ensuring that OER are accessible to disabled users. Accessibility practices include creating subtitles, providing alternate text for images, audio article transcription, generating high contrast color schemes, verifying that content is accessible at larger font sizes, and testing that interfaces are navigable via keyboard and/or alternative devices.
By being freely accessible for use to anyone with access to the internet, OERs makes it possible for users with limited resources to have high quality resources for their studies.
Open: Consumer/producer relationship
Openness may also refer to the openness of production: the set of producers is not necessarily closed to or separate from the set of consumers. Not all OER's share this characteristic, but it is a common theme in OER that consumers may become producers and vice-versa. The technical openness of production processes leads to a social openness of the same processes. A higher degree of openness concerning the consumer / producer relationship relates to the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works.
OER are often characterised by use of certain licences, although this is not a part of their definition. The licencing of OER is rather wide and includes but extends beyond copyleft and free software. Resources which are widely recognized as OER, such as MIT's OpenCourseware, use licences such as CC-BY-SA-NC (a Creative Commons licence which requires attribution, adherence of modifications to the same licence, and restricts to non-commercial use).
The most important criteria of OER licences is that they should permit
an indefinite chain of distribution without further permission and
However there are no precise definitions.
A higher degree of openness concerning licenses relates to the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression.
While OER normally have educational content, there is some debate or uncertainty as to the inclusion of very fine-grained resources under the term OER. Fine-grained resources means the smallest possible building blocks of resources, such as images or audio-clips. Images or audio-clips may not have a specifically educational content by themselves, but educational sites may nevertheless collect them and make them available for educational purposes. At the other end of the scale, repositories and tools can be considered "OER", although by themselves they may have no special educational relevance, and it may only be their application to educational resources which makes them educational.
Emphasis is laid in all descriptions of OER on the varied and all-encompassing nature of resources.
One way to list possible resource types is by the skills of the resource producer:
Programmers: tools for creating OER content, tools for OER repositories.
Legal experts: intellectual property licences.
This list cannot be closed; for example, how does one categorize the broader group of people who promote OER. Further, there is an OER interest in experimenting with closing the producer-consumer gap, so perhaps the consumer's activity needs to be listed