You can have the most fantastic array of open educational resources in the world but if nobody can find them then they might as well not exist at all. But how do people look for and discover OER? How can the OER community make it easier for users to find their learning objects and courseware?
Google, repositories, iTunesU, feeds, aggregators…There are numerous ways to find OER online. How about the ‘phone a friend’ option? It’s surprisingly popular, revealed John Robertson of JISC CETIS. When it comes to it, many people simply ask someone when they want to find something out, whether by picking up the phone, popping down the corridor, or putting a request on Twitter, on Facebook, by email, on an email list, or through a blog. It has its advantages: it’s personal; builds community; supplies recommended resources; is usually quick, and it’s easy to refine the search (you ask another question). But it’s also difficult to scale, can become annoying – in which case you may just get ignored – it can be erratic and it’s also a ‘closed’ search – only as good as the people you know.
That’s why people like Nathan Yergler of Creative Commons Global are trying to make it easier to find out, through an online search, if a resource is open. Creative Commons’ new prototype of a search for OER, DiscoverEd, takes a curation approach. Curators are asked to identify educational resources and, optionally, add metadata. The search includes information about who has labelled the material as OER so it will be possible to limit queries to specific curators. “Education is test domain but the tool is generally useful,” said Yergler.
Exposure to search engines has been high on the agenda of Jorum, the free online service that provides access to learning and teaching resources contributed by staff on UK universities and colleges. Jorum was involved in the pilot phase of the OER programme. Resources had to be deposited or represented in Jorum in some way (a web link to a resource, for example) and tagged as #UKOER.
As part of its involvement in the programme, Jorum built a new system – JorumOpen – reduced metatdata profile, introduced bulk deposit methods, exposing content to search engines such as google, and developed a content package preview. With Jorum lined up to support the next round of OER projects, future plans include new licensing options, a search widget and a new visual identity.
While Jorum had a deliberately relaxed policy towards around the technical demands and guidelines they imposed on the UK OER programme – “we just wanted to get the stuff out there, to turn on the tap and see what would happen,” explained Lorna Campbell from CETIS – the organisation did give a strong steer to using web 2.0 technologies and making use of RSS capabilities.
Lisa Rogers of CETIS, who was involved in two UK OER phase one projects and additional OER technical work agrees that making OER discoverable through RSS and APIs is a “viable solution for building smaller collections”.
She used the Flickr API to upload pictures, used RSS feeds to bulk upload resource descriptions and links to Jorum and explored using Yahoo Pipes. Her table of usage results was impressive: the 128 videos uploaded to YouTube garnered 17,417 views, and the 860 images on Flickr received 25,940 views.
From international organisations such as Creative Commons to individual OER projects within UK institutions, it’s clear that real imagination is going into efforts to make open content more discoverable. And who knows – perhaps for many people the result of these efforts will mean that taking the ‘phone a friend’ option will no longer be the final answer…