Thursday, March 21, 2013

Activity #8: Creating an OER Course to Introduce Digital Skills

Estimated usefulness: G - quite useful;
M - moderately useful; B - not very useful
This activity was undertaken in an effort to determine how easily an open, online educational course could be created using only existing OER.


I began with a quick outline for a 5-week course, with the learning objectives for each week sketched in only lightly. It looked something like this:

Week 1. Bits & bytes
     -programming; basics of digital coding (bits, bytes, etc.); silicon chips
Week 2. The functional computer
     -computer operation; smartphones; car computers; etc.
Week 3. The internet; finding information
     -web surfing; online learning
Week 4. Digital literacy
     -image manipulation; blog writing; word processing; video; media editing
Week 5. The social internet
     -email; social media; forums

The intention was to offer a very broad introduction to basic digital skills for children in an English-speaking, developing nation, who were experiencing personal computers for the first time.

I then used the following list of searchable OER indices to provide candidate OER for use in each of the five weekly blocks.

OPEN-U Openlearn:
Rice Connexions :

Each of the six indices listed was searched in turn in order, starting at the top, to find at least three OER elements that could support the learning objectives of each of the five weeks. Once three candidate elements were identified for a particular week, that topic area was omitted from subsequent index queries. As a result, most of the time searching and most of the 'hits' came from indices higher on the list. As I worked down the list of indices, fewer gaps remained to be filled in my course outline.

Each OER identified as appropriate was briefly evaluated for potential suitability, using a 3-rank qualitative scale: G - good; M - medium; B - bad. Since most of the OER recovered were coarse-grained, that is full courses or modules rather than individual knowledge units, a complete inspection would have been impractical. Instead the OER description was used as a rough indicator for the estimation of potential suitability. If the description included mention of one of the learning objectives I had identified, I assumed that there would be one or more learning units within the course that could be used in my course, although it is unclear how much effort might have been needed to extract and de-contextualize them.


It proved possible to identify three potentially useful OER for the first four weeks of the 'Digital Skills' course, and only two for the final week. The quality of these 'hits' varied from week-to-week: Week 1 GGG; Week 2 MMM; Week 3 GGG; Week 4 MBM; Week 5 MB. Seven of the hits came from Jorum, six from MERLOT, and one from MIT/OCW. The search function for Ariadne appeared broken during the period I attempted to access this resource.

The quality breakdown of the 14 OER recovered was: G - 6/14 (42.9%); M - 6/14 (42.9%); B 2/14 (14.2%) (see pie-chart graph at the top of this posting).

The full dataset upon which these summary observations is based appears in the first comment to this post.

The search engines provided with some of the OER index sites could stand improvement. In some cases the databases are large and a search returns hundreds or thousands of listings. Further refinement of the search terms does not tend to reduce appreciably the number or diversity of listings returned. As a result, winnowing through the listings is tedious, and in most cases only the first three or four pages worth were reviewed for this project.

A review of Richardson (2013) suggests that although guidelines vary, accessibility of the OER indexed in the sites used for this study is reasonably good for access via modern browsers.

Discussion and Conclusion:

On the whole, the results of this exercise were somewhat disappointing. It would be nice if the estimated quality of the OER recovered had been higher. It would also have been preferable if more of the resources had not borne an extremely high contextual burden. Many of these resources were clearly developed for presentation to specific audiences, for example educators, or project managers, or software designers. In fact, half way through the project I wished I had named my course "An Introduction to Digital Skills in Education." Unfortunately, course development assignments do not work that way.

The most disappointing aspect of all is that the great majority of the OER that were discovered through searching the major indices are coarse-grained, full courses or modules, instead of fine-grained, learning units (= learning objects) with a very narrow focus and low context burden. In preparing an introductory course on digital skills for children in developing nations, it is not clear that the use of OER provides a more rapid application development approach than developing the necessary units from scratch.


Richardson, John (2013). Accessibility of Open Educational Resources. (Accessed: 21-Mar-2013).

This activity was undertaken as part of the open course #h817open