A key feature of Open Education Resources (OERs) is their capacity to make teaching and learning materials freely available to a wide audience. OERs are free ‘at the point of access’ and can be used or re-used by anyone anywhere, regardless of whether they are affiliated to a formal educational institution. An important aspect of OERs is that they allow for customisation, for flexible use and sharing with few copyright restrictions. OERs either reside in the public domain, or are released under a license (most commonly a Creative Commons [CC] license) that permits their free use or repurposing by others (Atkins et al., 2007:4).
JISC uses the following broad definition of open educational resources
Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner. Examples of OER include: full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world. (JISC 2011)
Mackintosh’s (2011) view of OERs identifies three interrelated characteristics:
- educational values – this translates as ‘barrier-free’ access to the resources
- pedagogical utility – anyone accessing OERs should be able to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the resources
- technology enablers – effective OERs are in a format which ensures that they are ‘meaningfully’ editable. Potential (re-)users of OERs are positioned not as mere consumers but as active participants in the process of creating and sharing the resources (Bruns, 2008; Tosato and Bodi, 2012).
Existing research on OERs in the UK context has mostly been concerned with their use in the higher education sector, with a number of studies examining the use of OERs and their impact on academic practice as well as barriers and enablers to OER uptake (Browne et al., 2010; Nikoi et al., 2011; Rolfe, 2012).
Most research on the use of OERs in the school sector focuses on the implementation of OERs in developing countries. This includes initiatives such as The High School BLOSSOMS project (Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies Initiative). BLOSSOMS examined low-tech solutions to overcoming barriers to accessing OERs in the Middle East (Larson and Murray, 2008). Similarly, the Teacher Education in sub-Saharan Africa project (TESSA), undertaken by Open University, examined the issues involved in supporting user communities to harness and integrate OERs for their own systems and cultures (Thakrar et al., 2009, Wolfenden et al. 2010). We were, however, unable to find any published work that referred to the use of OERs in teacher preparation and development.
Preparing teachers to operate effectively in the rapidly-changing environment of digital literacies presents a number of challenges, some of which OERs might help to address. There are two key drivers for this. Firstly, in the UK, as elsewhere, teacher preparation takes place in a variety of contexts, including university-school partnerships as well as in programmes that are entirely school-based. This means that trainee teachers, or for that matter early career teachers, are likely to need access to support materials at different stages in their professional training and development, and at a variety of points during their academic or professional study. The flexibility offered by OERS fits well with this diversity of provision. Secondly, the field of digital literacy itself is characterised by its fluidity as new devices become available and new programmes and applications are developed. Rapid changes in the curriculum structures of compulsory schooling add to this sense of fluidity – the adaptability and reusability of OERS is well-suited to this context.