Open Educational Resources (OER) Activity

I am engaged on the local and national level in conversations related to open educational resources (OERs), including open textbooks.

Pilot Project: Supporting Student Success in ENGN0030 through OER supplemental course material.
The Brown University Library is working with the professors of an introductory engineering course to explore how open educational resources (OERs) might have a high-impact on the learning success of students in the ENGN0030 course. The focus on the project is to, as much as is possible, identify OERs which fully follow the 5R guidelines (retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute), but the project also includes content that is licensed under a variety of Creative Commons licenses.

By identifying and evaluating OERs related to curriculum bottlenecks for students, we  support an approach to entry-level STEM courses to support student learning. This project is co-led with John Kromer, Physical Sciences Librarian at Brown University.

Fall 2016
Engineering student assembles list of open resources for each of the topics covered in the courses.

Spring 2017
The resources will be vetted by a team of Engineering students. This process ensures subject matter and course expertise are considered in the selection of the OERs for this course. Additionally, survey data from students about the course textbook will be reviewed and open textbook content evaluated.

Summer 2017
Collaborate with course faculty to design OERs into the Fall 2017 offering of ENGN0030.

Fall 2017
Run the course with the supplemental OER materials and evaluate student success.

The project also provides a layer of information literacy skills for the Student Assistants working on this project, namely:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally


Rhode Island Open Textbook Initiative

As Brown’s representative on the RI Open Textbook Steering Committee, I am engaged with colleges and universities on open textbook initiatives being undertaken across the state. On 9/28/2016, Governor Gina Riamondo launched Rhode Island’s Open Textbook Initiative which seeks to reduce textbook costs by students by $5 million per year. As a member of the Initiative’s Steering Committee, the Brown University Library will work with libraries in Rhode Island and beyond on increasing the use of open licensed textbooks. Librarians at Brown are eager to work with Brown faculty to identify relevant open licensed teaching materials that may prove beneficial to students in a given course. These open educational resources might include freely accessible, open textbooks, articles, data, online course modules or other media as well as course assessment materials. Partners in the project include the Open Textbook Network, SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), and the Right to Research Coalition.

Open Something

Letter O signed by a hand in ASL
By [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
O. Open.

What makes a MOOC open and not just online (MOC)? More than just the less-than-favorable pronunciation \ˈmäk, ˈmȯk\ , a MOC may also be the more accurate name for those classes where students sign up, take a class and get some sort of validation of completion. There is very little that is truly capital-O Open about MOOCs.

The strict definition of open content centers on the 5Rs. This framework evolved from the Open Content Project work of David A. Wiley (1998), which rolled into Creative Commons (2003). This work also produced the Definition of Free Cultural Works (2006) and  Open Knowledge Foundation (2004).

The 5R Principles (Wiley, 2014)

  • Retain
  • Reuse
  • Revise
  • Remix
  • Redistribute

After a quick look at the list of the 5Rs you can quickly see how ‘true’ openness may be difficult to attain. Author sensitivity to retaining ownership make the concept of having someone else take your resource, transform it and then publish it as a new resource; even if that new resource allows you to retain the license to the content. Questions of intellectual property as they relate to promotion and tenure bring up perception challenges to junior faculty eager to achieve stability in their profession after years of working their way up and over hurdles.

In OER and MOOC: The need for openness, Ismar Frango Silveira writes that both open educational resources and massive online open courses fall short of providing open content that is fully free. Free in this sense is used in the context of UNESCO’s Paris OER Declaration in 2012. Open suggests accessibility to humans regardless of cost or distribution format; licensing provisions for educators to use information and materials in ways that they feel best communicate a concept; and ultimately empowering teachers to teach, learners to learn, and information designers to design in a way that allows all people to have access to open content by employing universal design.

Educator rights. The goal is an informed population. Individuals who what to learn, have access to learn. This may sound idealistic and unrealistic, but all things open at its core supports open pedagogy whether that learning is in a formal or informal setting. As we pop from page to page online and follow links to learn more about what interests us, the literacy skills we need to navigate and evaluate content follow from having the ability to look at the content in the first place. Open Pedagogy is the core of the open movement from my perspective. Granted, I am an educator and academic librarian, and feel strongly about access to information. I enjoy learning from others how they see open content from the perspectives that they bring.


Wiley, D. A. (2014). The access compromise and the 5th R. Retrieved December 13, 2015 from

Silveira, I. F. (2016). OER and MOOC: The need for openness. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 13, 209-223. Retrieved from