Education is fundamentally about sharing knowledge. Teachers share knowledge with students. Students share their questions with teachers. The teachers share feedback, criticism and encouragement with their students – and so the cycle continues. Without sharing, there is no learning.
In the past, the only option for sharing knowledge in HE was through the use of textbooks – but for every additional person, it required another copy of the textbook. Then came the Internet and the digitisation of textbooks and resources that could be shared and downloaded multiple times at the touch of a button from literally anywhere, allowing us to educate on a scale that was previously unknown. Perfect I hear you cry. Well, not quite.
Copyright laws were around long before the Internet and essentially legislate how we make and distribute copies of creative works, like educational resources. This prevents us from tapping into all of the advantages the Internet brings in terms of sharing. The Open Education Resources standard (OER) is working to tip the balance back in favour of sharing. It means that creators and authors of text books, research papers and other educational resources can assign an ‘open’ license to their works allowing it to be shared, downloaded, customised and used freely by students and teachers. So important is it, that at the end of last year, the US Department of Education launched a campaign ‘Go Open’ (#GoOpen) to encourage states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials, and set a standard to create ‘open learning’.
There is a big desire in both the UK and the US to use OER, however, it presents HE with the challenge that creators of educational content – i.e. the lecturers and teaching staff - will have to use OER to create their own lessons and courses to align with the common standard, making it possible for them to be shared. But this alignment to an ‘open’ way of learning will undoubtedly have a happy ending if students are able to receive personalised texts from resources that can be downloaded, shared and even customised by the teacher to provide them with what they need at the touch of a button.