Rory McGreal

Rory McGreal

OER necessary to continued great education

Maskwacis Cultural College played host to a special Open Education Resource symposium recently.

The ideal way to provide educational instruction is through the use of a variety of resources and materials.

Unfortunately, the world of copyright and paying to access some material is leaving a lot of the world behind the eight ball according to an expert on the topic of Open Education Resources (OER).

Rory McGreal, a professor at Athabasca University (AU) and chair of OER for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was one of the keynote speakers at an OER seminar held at Maskwacis Cultural College last month.

He provided some background on how the present copyright system came to be and how OER began in order to correct the imbalance it created. McGreal is also the founder of the OER Knowledge Cloud.

“Open and free material is essential for us to meet having an education for all people, though OER is only part of the solution,” he said.

OER, also known as the Creative Commons (cc) licence, was created in 2000 with the support of the United Nations to help everyone access educational and instructional material so that institutions and others could share items without having to pay for copyrighted material.

McGreal put the issue in a light most can understand called “digital locks” and “digital licences.”

“It’s a phrase to describe how companies restrict what we can do with a device we own. Like my phone, they penalize you for the legal use of the device by controlling it, even at times without your knowledge. They allow you the privilege of using the device or software, use it to collect personal data, but don’t allow you any rights to use it how you want. It’s like they control us,” he said.

“That’s why I think this is bad for education and why education needs to move away from e-textbooks and commercial content toward open textbooks and resources.”

He calls copyright, which was created in 1710, the ‘privileged monopoly’ because the author has the exclusive right of use for up to 50 years after their death.

“(The material) is not property, but an idea and ideas belong to all, not the privileged few,” he added.

With OER that is available openly online, anyone can access, use, copy, share, adapt, re-purpose, translate, mix or combine materials.

“You can augment, edit, customize, aggregate, reformat and mash up the content to make up a component of a course, build a lesson or a module or design an entire course of study,” McGreal said.

“As educators, we have to stop thinking of developing a whole subject course, but learn to assemble one. We can also de-bone a class or a subject by taking items out and replacing it with OER.”

OER is free and that sharing also helps reduce costs by lessening how long it takes to create material or develop a course, plus it removes having to pay to use copyrighted material or get licences or permissions.

“We can do far more with OER instead of making more money for publishers,” he added.

Along with helping push OER, AU and 30 other worldwide educational institutions are driving forward with a more open and accessible post-secondary education system that bases the model on OER principles.

“You can buy the material, but you don’t get total use of it, so that’s also why AU is part of 30 worldwide educational institutes that are moving toward a different model of providing people an education,” he said.

“It would allow anyone to get an education at any facility with any materials and be able to receive their credentials from our university if they wished.

“The challenge we hope to meet with OER and UNESCO is to provide access to post secondary education to the world by 2025 along with access to the Internet. Knowledge is priceless and as educators we need to protect that.”

To learn more about OER or to access an array of material, head to