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Prof. Michael Kerres and Richard Heinen, LearningLab at Universität Duisburg-Essen

Siemens Stiftung promotes the idea of Open Educational Resources (OER). Drawing on a simple licensing and transparent legal policy, every user can now use, edit, combine and share the open educational media.

The Media Portal will be gradually expanded over the coming years to become an interactive platform for open educational content. Two researchers from Universität Duisburg-Essen advise the Stiftung on this plan: Professor Michael Kerres, Chair of Educational Media and Knowledge Management, and Richard Heinen, who heads the university's LearningLab. They talked to us about the possibilities of OER and the impact these resources will have on the teaching and learning of tomorrow.

Professor Kerres, you've been working on OER in your department for many years. What brought you to this topic? 

Michael Kerres: In the LearningLab here at the University of Duisburg-Essen, we look at the extremely diverse forms of teaching and learning with digital media – from school to university, vocational training and lifelong learning. The ways in which learning materials are produced, provided and used are extremely important in this context.

That's because digitalization has completely transformed the framework. In the past, teachers prepared the materials themselves and photocopied them for their students. Doing this today in the digital world poses a whole series of legal questions: What materials can I use? Where and how can I make these new materials available to my students? Can I provide them to colleagues on closed or open-access platforms? Licensing learning materials as OER can answer many of these questions.

We're also interested in how the different platforms developing on the Internet interact with each other. Are we seeing the emergence of closed systems, which offer a good user experience but mean we risk becoming dependent on individual providers? Or is it possible to create an open ecosystem, in which resources can be shared among different platforms and reviewed and improved by any number of participants? The openness of educational content is of course also related to the question of educational equality and plurality.

Mr. Heinen, to what extent do OER play a role in learning innovations? 

Richard Heinen: OER by themselves change nothing. Individual teachers need the motivation, from themselves or others, to change their lessons. In principle, digital media offer the potential to prepare topics in a more diverse way with greater use of multimedia. This can be especially important in mixed learning groups, where materials need to be adapted to individual learners with special abilities and requirements. For example, students might want a particular cognitive challenge, or they might need the material to be prepared in a special way to make it accessible to them.

Teachers today work in such mixed groups increasingly often. OER now offer a legal framework in which specially adapted content can be passed on and used by colleagues, provided the teachers are willing to collaborate. Collaboration plays a role on another level, too. When they work with digital media, students can create new content together, documenting their learning outcomes for example. If they use and produce OER, this content is also visible and usable beyond the classroom walls.

Why are teachers still so hesitant to use OER? 

Michael Kerres: Teachers often don't know what open educational resources are. They use materials they find online that fit their lesson. They're often unsure about whether and how they're allowed to use the materials, edit them or pass them on. There's simply not enough awareness of the fact that OER can be a solution here. That makes it particularly important to educate people about these resources and make a conscious effort to create OER. The license information shouldn't be hidden away in the small print. The provider should explain the meaning and purpose of OER. Instead of having a vague feeling of uncertainty, people will then be aware of the possibilities of open-access educational content.

Richard Heinen: Another thing is that OER often mean learning with digital media. That makes it important for the schools to have the necessary technology and organization. Do I, as a teacher, even have the option of using interactive content in the classroom? Does the school have mobile devices, and have the students learned how to use them? It's clear that OER are one aspect of the complex changes necessary if schools are to meet the challenges of a digital society.

How can the quality of OER be ensured?

Richard Heinen: The quality question in the context of OER opens up a spurious debate. People accuse OER of poor quality in order to discredit them and prop up existing business models. But if a provider deliberately produces OER and tests them together with teachers, the same measures are used as with conventional, commercially produced materials. In either case, it isn't ultimately the authors and producers who decide the quality of resources, but the teachers and students who work with them. It's important here for OER, and indeed for conventional materials too, to establish forums for reviews and comments and to encourage teachers to give their opinion. A helpful addition to these user opinions are recommendation pages, where, for example, the federal states in Germany allow experts to choose resources they particularly recommend.

Good user feedback and reference systems can also reduce the risk of biased learning resources. If an OER provider really wants to use its materials to manipulate people, attentive teachers and editors can intervene by issuing warnings and using suitable platforms to make others aware.

What contribution do you think foundations can make to the spread of OER?

Michael Kerres: Foundations have been important to OER right from the beginning. The work of the Hewlett Foundation, for example, together with UNESCO and the OCED, first drew broad attention to the topic internationally.

Foundations have a number of options for supporting development of OER. They can stimulate public discussion and provide information using events and publications. They can also set an example by publishing high-quality OER and developing portals to distribute these. The way the materials are designed can then also help to develop new learning scenarios. The aim should not just be to have OER, but to use them to align learning with the needs of today's society and enable as many people as possible to access this learning.

In the next few months, you will be advising Siemens Stiftung as it transforms its Media Portal into an interactive OER platform. What are the main challenges for such a platform?

Richard Heinen: We've touched on that already. The Media Portal has been offering high-quality resources for a long time. If Siemens Stiftung now produces OER, it's important that it maintains the quality assurance measures it has established. The interactive part can certainly be designed to involve users in quality assurance. In other words, teachers should be encouraged to use the portal to give their opinion on the resources and describe which materials they have used with which learning groups and for what learning objectives. The result could be that resources are used in many different ways that the author never imagined.

Michael Kerres: It's also important to make it clearly visible to teachers that the materials are OER and to explain what that means. The Media Portal should ultimately also give teachers the opportunity to provide their own OER, especially if this content is created using the materials already in the portal.

Thank you very much for the interview!


You can find the media portal and information on OER here: https://medienportal.siemens-stiftung.org


“Teachers often don't know what OER are. That makes it particularly important to educate people.“