The key element of Open Education Resources (OERS) is the fact that they encompass a variety of teaching resources which are free at the point of access and that they can be re-used by anyone regardless of whether they are affiliated with a formal educational institution or not. Importantly, OERs are highly customisable and allow for re-use and sharing with few copyright restrictions given that they either reside in the public domain or have been 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).
The UK-wide Open Educational Resources programme, currently in its third year, was launched in April 2009 as collaboration between the Higher Education Academy and JISC, with funds provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This funding enabled UK-based Higher Education Institutions to explore cultural, technical and pedagogical issues involved in the OER development, discovery and use (JISC, 2008).
JISC/ HEA (2010) adopt the definition of OERs offered in the context of the programme, where they have been described as:
…teaching and learning materials (…) freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner (…) [these] resources [are] contained in digital media collections from around the world (JISC/HEA, 2010)
Mackintosh (2011) has broadened this definition to incorporate three interrelated dimensions: educational values (in terms of barrier-free access to the resources), pedagogical utility (anyone accessing OERs should be able to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the resources) and technology enablers (i.e. OERs should be in a format which ensures that they are ‘meaningfully’ editable). This means that potential (re)users of OERs are positioned not as mere consumers but as active participants in the process of creating and sharing the resources (Tosato and Bodi, 2012).
Existing research on OERs in the UK context engages mostly on issues of relevance to the higher education sector, with a number of studies examining the use of OER 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).
Whilst there have been two phases of OER funding for HE to date, there remains little coordinated development of resources for the school sector. A notable exception has been the BECTA-funded (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) project ‘Repurpose, Create, Share’ whose aim was to create and share digital resources across participating secondary schools and the National Education Network (Hemsley, 2008). Since the demise of BECTA in 2010 there has been less support in this area. What remain are the regional networks that have formed around broadband consortia to work with local authorities to provide resources, advice and continuing professional development, and the pockets of excellent practice that arise from the school partnerships that have emerged from the relationship between HEI training providers and the school sector.
In terms of issues of relevance to the school sector, most existing research focuses on the implementation of OERs in developing countries. This includes initiatives such as The High School BLOSSOMS (Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies Initiative) project in the Middle East Region (Larson and Murray, 2008) which examined low-tech solutions to overcoming barriers to accessing OERs. The Teacher Education in sub-Saharan Africa project (TESSA) undertaken by Open University examined 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).
This context has a number of advantages to the specific area of the DeFT project and the broader areas of digital literacy in teacher education. Firstly, in the UK as elsewhere there is a diversity of models of teacher preparation, including university-school partnerships and 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 preparation for teaching and at a variety of points during their academic or professional study. The flexibility offered by OERS fits well with the 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 being developed. The rapid changes in the curriculum structures of compulsory schooling promote this sense of fluidity, and the adaptability and reusability of OERS is well-suited to this catalyst.