Back to School: Legal Challenges for Teachers (Breaking Down OER Silos)

As students around the world return to school, ccLearn blogs about the evolving education landscape, ongoing projects to improve educational resources, education technology, and the future of education. Browse the “Back to School” tag for more posts in this series.

In Part 2 of my Legal Challenges for Teachers series, I will address a problem we call “OER silos.” OER silos are what results from legal and/or technical incompatibilities in OER. Instead of becoming part of an ever-growing pool of resources that can be legally shared and adapted locally by anyone around the world, these OER become trapped in silos, and can only be used by a limited group of people or combined with a limited set of resources. This means that when teachers go looking for high-quality, open digital resources, some of the most relevant and valuable resources may not be available to them, or may be unusable.

OER silos are a problem at the institutional and state levels as well. States have invested millions of dollars in the development of high-quality digital learning resources. While the digital resources they create can typically be shared technically, in practice, restrictive or conflicting usage policies often dramatically limit sharing across institutions and state borders. This is because it is often unclear who may use the resources developed using state funding, how they may be used, whether they can be shared with others, or even who owns them. With continuing financial constraints on education, these resources should be shared to reduce duplication and increase available materials. However, without clear policies addressing intellectual property and licensing agreements, these valuable assets often simply cannot be shared.

One group that is working to solve this problem is the Southern Regional Education Board “a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps government and education leaders in its 16 member states work together to advance education and improve the social and economic life of the region.” Since its inception in 1948, the sharing of ideas, programs, and effective practices has made SREB states respected national leaders in education innovation. In 2004, the SREB initiated the Sharable Content Object Repositories for Education (SCORE) project to support interstate cooperation among statewide learning object repositories to enable sharing and use of digital educational resources within and among participating states. In its effort to help member states share digital resources, the SREB has developed a series of technical and legal policy guidelines for use by member states.

Last spring, I consulted with the SCORE Steering Committee as they developed intellectual property policy guidelines related to increasing the sharability of digital learning objects among member states. Ultimately, the Committee decided to recommend the promotion and adoption of Creative Commons licensing for learning objects within the repositories. The guidelines will be published this fall, and we hope that others working with digital repositories for learning will follow the SREB’s lead in providing helpful guidelines for institutions wishing to share resources.