Guide to the use of OERs


The Software & Information Industry Association is the principal trade association for the software and digital content industries. SIIA provides global services in government relations, business development, corporate education and intellectual property protection to the leading companies that are setting the pace for the digital age.

Last month, SIIA released a Guide to Open Educational Resources (OER) to help inform the field about the benefits, challenges and total costs that must be considered around the funding, development and adoption of educational resources, including OER. Included in the Guide was an SIIA editorial sharing our perspective and public policy recommendations.  

SIIA views open educational resources (OER) as one of many appropriate models for the development and distribution of content needed to meet the needs of students and educators. SIIA expects that future educational needs will be addressed by a mix of instructional materials, including OER, and that there is a critical, though perhaps evolving role for commercial partners and proprietary models. 

SIIA recognizes that interest in OER among government agencies and education decision makers, as well as many non-profit entities and foundations, appears driven largely by the goals of reducing costs, improving access, providing quality, and supporting educator/student customization of their content.  SIIA urges the community of OER investors (e.g., legislators and education officials) and users to consider the following:

  • Even in an age of common learning standards, the need to personalize learning will continue to require a robust choice of curricular resources – proprietary and OER – and related technology tools and services. Investments by government authorities or other organizations based on the assumption they can simply ‘build it once’ could inappropriately limit options. No single resource or set of resources will be sufficient to meet the wide range of educational needs.
  • The principles of academic freedom and personalization of learning require that government agencies and educational institutions continue to support educational choice. They should not in the future limit the use of funds to only the development/adoption of OER, but instead should continue ensuring grant and other funding for acquisition/implementation of any and all resources that meet the particular educational need, whether OER or proprietary.
  • To meet diverse and evolving educational needs, the nation’s education sector demands an environment that encourages R&D investment – public and private, for-profit and non-profit – to ensure ever more innovative and effective resources. Education leaders should strive for a sector that encourages investment and competition, provides resource choice, and rewards innovation.
  • Educational resources, including OER, require not only the initial investment, but as importantly must budget for the total, long-term cost of development and use. These ongoing and recurring costs include user training/support, as well as content hosting and maintenance, content updates, and technology updates that, according to some SIIA members, can often require as much as an additional 20% annual cost. 
  • When making cost-benefit calculations and comparisons, it is important to consider these total initial and ongoing costs of development and adoption. Comparisons require both short-term and long-term factors, as well as recognition of both individual use and systemic impact.
  • Institutional, local, or state adoptions of content should use the same review standards, criteria, and process when the content is of the same or similar type – e.g., core, supplemental, etc. – no matter whether OER, commercial or other license.
  • To the degree that public funds are invested in the development of (open) educational resources, they are best targeted to address gaps where quality resources are not currently available to meet educational needs. In addition, such public investments should consider the benefits of public-private partnerships or related models that ensure an ongoing user commitment and a recurring revenue stream needed to update, support, and sustain the resource over time.
  • To the degree that government funds are invested in the development of OER, those resources should be available through a CC BY license allowing third parties to revise, reuse, remix and redistribute the resource, including commercially. An NC license – prohibiting others from using the work for commercial purposes – would be counter to the public policy goal of leveraging public funds to have the widest impact on innovation, cost-savings, access, and diversity of resources.

Mark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.