In This Issue
Fall Bridge on Open Educational Resources
September 26, 2016 Volume 46 Issue 3

Editors’ Note: Open Educational Resources: Past, Present, and Future

Monday, September 26, 2016

Author: Haynes R. Miller, Eric Klopfer, and Karen E. Willcox

This issue celebrates the past and contemplates the future of open educational resources (OERs). The amount and availability of digital learning material have grown astronomically in recent years. The landscape of entities competing to offer “open” education has similarly grown, and with it the variety of meanings associated with the term “open.”

MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), launched more than 15 years ago, was one of the first major institutional commitments to open education. The “open” in OpenCourseWare refers to online course materials that are freely available at any time for reuse and incorporation into other programs, for the most part under the Creative Commons license. More recently, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been offered through both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. But the “open” in MOOC typically means something quite different—open in terms of access for learners, but not in terms of reuse or adaptation of the educational materials themselves.

OER use is part of a more general transformation of the modes of engagement with educational materials, a transformation toward modularization, enabling the materials to be separated and recombined based on the needs of the user, whether student, teacher, or independent learner. The changes are apparent in the modularization of curricula at established institutions, the proliferation of modular learning resources (such as those created by Khan Academy), and the creation of entire institutions built around modular competency-based degree programs (such as the new graduate school of education, the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning). Associated with these developments, efforts are emerging to maintain and distribute digital resources to ensure that they remain accessible and widely available to diverse communities of teachers and learners.

This issue presents six articles that together survey the history and status of two open education platforms, the opportunities afforded by OERs, and the extent of adoption of OERs—and barriers to their adoption.

The first two articles discuss the history and current state of MIT’s OpenCourseWare. “MIT OpenCourseWare: How It Began,” by Shigeru Miyagawa, recounts the original motivations that led MIT to openly share its teaching materials, and discusses the impact of OCW both at MIT and beyond. In “MIT OpenCourseWare: A Leader in Open Education,” Cecilia d’Oliveira and Jeff Lazarus present a more detailed review of the devel-opment of MIT OCW, with descriptions of its enhancements, myriad offshoots, use around the world, and pedagogical impacts.

In the third article, “edX: Open Education in the 21st Century,” Nina Huntemann chronicles the emergence of edX, providing background on the (unexpectedly) long history of open education and organizations dedicated to it. She describes the multiple dimensions of edX, including the technological tools, course portal, and organization, and explains their development and their role in the mission of open online education. These dimensions form the core of what Anant Agarwal dubbed a “particle accelerator for learning,” a central entity through which multiple partners can participate, research, learn, and share.

In “Engineering the Science of Learning: Developing a Continuous Research Infrastructure for MOOCs to Catalyze Learning Research,” Justin Reich makes the point that current-generation MOOCs are not constructed to generate insights about what makes these courses succeed or fail for particular learners. Although data have been used to describe course participants and the way they engage with courses, what’s needed are effective theories and practices to make these courses better. Reich suggests a “continuous research infra-structure” to support the development of these theories and practices. This infrastructure necessitates technological, programmatic, pedagogical, and personnel shifts in the MOOC world, and Reich explains how to make those shifts.

The fifth article, “Crosslinks: Improving Course Connectivity Using Online Open Educational Resources,” describes an approach to curating OER materials and making them more accessible to learners. The Crosslinks Web-based application collects links of OER materials organized by topic and shows pre- and postrequisite relationships among topics. Crosslinks is an example of an application that provides a content-tagging framework for OER creators and a contextual search for learners.

Rebecca Griffiths and Nancy Maron, in the final article, “Open Educational Resources: Nearing an Inflection Point for Adoption?,” remind us that one motivation for the development of OERs has been the high cost of textbooks. They evaluate how deeply OERs have penetrated the educational landscape, what the barriers are to adoption of such resources, and what the future may bring. They conclude that progress in reducing the mean costs of educational material has been slower than early advocates had hoped, but adoption of OERs may be reaching an inflection point. Further research on the effectiveness of teaching practices incorporating OERs might help to spur their adoption.

We hope this issue will play a role in the historic movement and progress of OERs, and that it provides material for informed discussion about the future of the dynamic relationship between education and technology.

About the Author:Haynes R. Miller is a professor in the Department of Mathematics; Eric Klopfer is a professor and director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program; and Karen E. Willcox is a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and co-director of the Center for Computational Engineering, all at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.