Technological roadmap for developing OER

We at NDLA are working on a roadmap that will define the guidelines for all our future projects, architecture and technological plattform. This is work in progress but we have narrowed the scope to focus on some core elements. From these core elements I have picked out the most important ones and written down my thoughts.

It all starts with User Experience

Start developing with strong focus the user experience and always keep the user at the centre of you development. Its natural to think about UX when developing the fronted of a solution but one tends to forget that the way we build APIs and other infrastructure components also affects the user experience.

User experience is«a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service»

Build your systems for change

The edTech marked is changing rapidly and new and innovative solutions is being presented on a weekly basis. Not all of these new services will of course be relevant for projects developing OER but…. as we see fields like adaptive learning, learning analytics, crowdsourcing and game based learning developing over the next decade it will be important not to build OER plattforms as monolithic structures.

Open licenses, open source and open standards

We at NDLA(Norwegian Digital Learning Arena) have build our project on a strategy with open content and open source as core elements. We do this for many reasons. The most important aspects are that openness gives us flexibility in terms of development and higher quality on the end product. At the same time it prevents vendor lock-in and lets other projects re-use and build on our content. Many OER projects are looking to a more decentralized model of production. Having a free license on the content is crucial to support this transition.

It is important to be aware that having a strategi with open content does not exclude the possibility of also bundling with Copyright material.

Separate technology, design and content

It is a goal in itself not to develop content for a specific technology or platform. If you manage to separate content from technology it will provide easier transition from one platform to another and it also provides greater opportunity to introduce the digital resources to your users on different platforms based on the same core content.

A practical example is an online resource developed for a web based plattform where you at one point would like to use the same content in an mobile app. If implemented correctly the content(or parts of the content) can be presented to the user seamlessly between these to plattforms.

In many projects, it is to costly to implement this strategy fully. For these projects there are standards for embedding content from different platforms together. One of these is LTI.

A modular approach to development

In computing, microservices is a software architecture style in which complex applications are composed of small, independent processes.  These services are small, highly decoupled and focus on doing a small task, facilitating a modular approach to system-building.

Some key properties of microservices architecture:

  • The services are easy to replace
  • Services are organized around capabilities, e.g. user interface front-end, recommendation, logistics, billing, etc
  • Services can be implemented using different programming languages, databases, hardware and software environment, depending on what fits best
  • Architectures are symmetrical rather than hierarchical (producer – consumer)

The term «Microservice arcithectur» simply means you focus on building small in order to keep it simple.

As mentioned earlier in this blog post, this is something we’re working on right now, and the areas that I have mentioned her are only a selection.  This means that this bloggpost by not in any way represents our final roadmap.

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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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How does openly-licensed content stack up against traditional textbooks?

There are still teachers and politicians leaning towards the old school textbook when choosing resources to use in the classroom. This is based on what I would call the «Gutenberg paradigm» where publishers control the decimation of knowledge together with an elite group of authors. The assumption is that «you get what you pay for».

At the same time there are constant discussions on whether open educational resources and EdTech in the classroom has any documented effect. One relevant question in this context is of course: how does traditional textbooks stack up against open educational resources and free, openly-licensed textbooks. Is the frase, «you get what you pay for» still true when it comes to textbooks?  

In fact,  researchers at Brigham Young University have found that this is not the case anymore.

A new multi-institutional study the researchers have been looking at the academic outcomes of students assigned free, openly-licensed textbooks versus those assigned traditionally-published textbooks. What the study finds is the opposite of what folk wisdom tells us: expensive textbooks are notsuperior to free ones. In fact, the results show a striking trend that students assigned free, open textbooks do as well or better than their peers in terms of grades, course completion, and other measures of academic success.

If traditional textbooks are not producing better outcomes, then what exactly arestudents paying for?

Here’s a breakdown of the results:

  • Course completion: In all of the courses studied, students who were assigned open textbooks were as likely or more likely to complete their course than those assigned traditional textbooks. In one course, the completion rate was remarkably 15 percentage points higher for students using open textbooks.
  • Grades: Students who were assigned open textbooks tended to have final grades equivalent to or better than those assigned traditional textbooks. In more than a quarter of the courses, students using open textbooks achieved higher grades, and only one course using open textbooks showed lower grades (which is at least partially explained by the course’s significantly higher completion rate, which includes the grades of students who would have otherwise dropped out).
  • Credit load: Students who were assigned open textbooks took approximately 2 credits more both in the semester of the study and in the following semester. This is a sign that students are reinvesting money saved on textbooks into more courses, which can accelerate graduation times and potentially reduce debt.
  • Overall success: Overall, students in more than half of the courses that used open textbooks did better according to at least one academic measure used in the study, and students in 93% of these courses did at least as well by all of the measures.

The study is based on more than 16,000 students across 10 institutions, and is the largest and most rigorous study of its kind. Naturally, there are some limitations, most notably that the researchers cannot conclusively claim that textbooks are the sole cause of differences in student outcomes, since uncontrolled factors such as variation in teaching methods may have played a role. However, more than a dozen other studies have been published over the last five years that find a similar correlation between open textbooks and as-good-or-better student outcomes, which shows a definitive trend.

In addition to results in these studies it is important to take in account other aspects of the open license like the possible translation into new languages and the the fact that it is possible to adapt an change books to meet local needs.


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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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The “O” in OER and MOOC is crucial for the future of global education

The word “open” can be used in almost any context and very often it will bring a positive association with it.

In some cases it does not matter if one uses the term precisely, but when used to describe educational resources it is crucial that we understand the difference between “open” as in open access and “open” in its more pure form, for example a resource that is licensed under Creative Commons.

Many of the MOOCs that are launched these days will give open access but the content is not released under a free license. As you might know one of the “O”s in MOOC stands for Open, so this can be confusing.

My top 4 reasons for the “O” to be important are:

  1. An open resource under a Creative Commons license will be free forever – with open access resources the author can revoke your access to their resources at any time.
  2. Open educational resources promote sharing – open access limits sharing 
  3. An open resource gives the teacher(or student) the possibility to make their own version in their own context, this gives every teacher control over the end product presented in the classroom.
  4. Open promotes the dissemination of knowledge into smaller languages trough translation. For teachers and students in smaller languages it will be very important to be able to translate and and re-contextualize instead of starting to develop all their resources from the ground. This is simply a matter of funding and for smaller languages and developing countries

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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

OERs in small Languages – reuse and crowdsourcing is the only way to go

Later today I am talking at The seminar Open Learning in Minority Languages in Leeuwarden(Netherlands) on how we at NDLA build Open Educational Resources for Norwegian Secondary Schools. This seminar is part of the LangOER program supported by the European Commission. When preparing for my talk I started thinking(and now writing) about what I would say are the key factors to promote OER development among smaller and less used languages.

The backdrop for this question is that less used languages face the risk of linguistic/cultural decay in the fast evolving OER/OEP landscape currently dominated by English.

My approach will be based on the experience we have from NDLA and my personal belief the “open” is an important quality in its self.

These are some of the key factors as I see it:

  • Define open as the primary long term strategi(Open content, not only free access)
  • Develop methods to translate and re-contextualize resources from English and other large languages
  • Engage and develop communities to be able to scale maintenance and development of content in the long term
  • Use micropayment as a method to promote a marked of startups and smaller companies
  • Look to Wikipedia and the open source community for inspiration
  • Open standards  to promote plattform independence

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This work by Christer Gundersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.