On Free and Open Learning Content

I spent the day in Vancouver yesterday talking content with a great group of EdTechies from around BC. The one day Learning Content Strategies session was organized by Scott Leslie from BCcampus.

Much of the talk revolved around open education resources and some of the common barriers we face when trying to open content to the outside world, beyond the confines of the LMS. Copyright, collective agreements between faculty and institutions, and a reluctance on the part of some faculty to open their content (for a number of reasons) seem to be the major hurdles institutions are facing when it comes to making their content open.

I was thinking about this more last night, and wish now that I would have contributed more to the conversation. Specifically, there are 3 additional issues that I see as potential hurdles to adopting open content practices.

You want me to change this?

Issue one is existing process. Over the past 10 or so years since the LMS emerged as the primary vehicle for delivering content, considerable time and energy has been expended by institutions to establish LMS centered processes for content creation. No wonder talk of inserting a new strategy to make content open is seen as potentially disruptive to established processes – processes that took many people much work to establish. We have to figure out a way to incorporate strategies into our process that allows for open content without making it seem like we want to reinvent the process wheel.

What’s in it for me?

Faculty hesitation was touched on at the session, but much of it revolved around notions of the fear some faculty have that they might lose control of their work, or their effort would somehow be taken advantage of by others.

But for some faculty, I think the reason why they don’t adopt open content policies is a bit more pragmatic – they could view it as extra work.

I think there has to be something in it for them before they contribute. I don’t mean this as an ego bash against faculty, but rather an acknowledgment that they are busy people. They have to see some value in doing this otherwise it becomes just another task. The last thing they probably think about when creating content is the value of sharing it with others, if they even think of it at all. Which leads me to…

What do you mean open?

The last issue is awareness. At my institution there are probably many early adopters who would be happy to contribute their material to the common good if they were even aware this was an option.

This is where I can play an immediate role in my institution. Talking about initiatives like Creative Commons, pointing them to existing OER resources and generally raising awareness of open content on my campus will, hopefully, draw some of them out. I need to keep the conversation going that Brian Lamb started at my institution last spring (zip ahead to 11:50 to see Brian’s presentation, or check out his presentation notes).

Free Learning

One of the tools given to us by BCcampus yesterday to help continue the conversation is a new website called Free Learning. A custom Google search engine that only searches vetted, high quality open education resources, Free Learning allows educators to search for free and openly licensed educational resources that they can then reuse or remix for their courses.

The second resource I have are some of the loosely coupled presentations. Brian Lamb and Novak Rogic’s presentation has some fine examples of how content can live outside the LMS and the advantages to using blogs and wiki’s as content delivery platforms (as well as some super spiffy JSON code for embedding content from one page into another). Grant Potter from UNBC also demonstrated how distributed UNBC faculty are using a wiki to create a course and Richard Smith from SFU gave us the faculty perspective with a look at some of the tools he uses in his class, most notably livestreaming his lectures using uStream.

When it comes to bigger picture issues in educational technology (like Open Educational Resources), I am a neophyte. I haven’t spent nearly the amount of time working on these types of issues as my contemporaries. In the edtech scheme of things I am much more tech than ed. So I truly appreciate events like these that make me stop and critically think beyond the code about the work I do.

CC BY 4.0 On Free and Open Learning Content by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Profile Picture for Clint Lalonde
Wrangler of learning technologies by day, Dad, cyclist, soccer fan and, lately, home roaster of coffee by night. INFJ. I am the Manager of Educational Technologies at BCcampus, working primarily on open education projects. This blog is a personal blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BCcampus.


  1. Oh – I will have to check out Scribd – that’s new to me! And I didn’t mean to come across all cranky about LMS’s. You’re right; and that’s a lot of what I do already. I even embed my LJ student friends’ page in the course so that students can access it. I hadn’t actually thought of all the people using copyrighted textbook material. And I always have hopes that something like freelearning.ca will come along and help us to find good stuff in among the noise 🙂

  2. Hi Debbie,

    While I agree that there are a lot of faculty who are receptive to opening up their content, I also know firsthand from the number of faculty I deal with that insist on password protecting their websites that they want to protect their knowledge.

    This is not all faculty reluctance to opening their content. A big issue is also copyright. I’m not sure how many faculty use free and open resources to develop their courses, but most of the faculty I work with base their course on textbooks or other copyright material. It’s impossible to open up your content when you don’t have the right to open up that content. Which is why I think it is important to start with free and open resources.

    As for the fact that a great deal of stuff you find is crap, well, hopefully something like freelearning.ca will help alleviate that. I would argue there is a lot of great stuff out there, it’s just getting lost in the noise.

    I absolutely agree with your last point. Much easier to share things when you use open tools as opposed to the locked LMS. But there are ways to do both. Create a video, post it on YouTube for the world to see and embed it in your LMS course. Best of both worlds! Take your Word docs, post them to Scribd and embed the file in the LMS. There are lots of ways to get around the LMS with content.


  3. I support open content, and I suspect that many faculty are much more open to sharing than you seem to think. For me, the two main barriers are 1. the fact that a great deal of the material you find is crap and 2. the opacity of the systems that much of the material is hidden in, or of the language that it’s cloaked in. Like, ask me if my stuff is SQRL compliant, and I’m “who really gives a ____” – just let me post it somewhere and show me where I can find material I can use. Not whole courses – more often lessons or widgets or maybe a unit of material. In some format that I can edit easily.

    And bear in mind that it’s a hell of a lot easier to share things on YouTube or Google Docs or SlideShare than in D2L. LMS’s are the relics of fascism.

  4. Scott, the last point you make about keeping up with innovation is a great selling point to faculty. I imagine some of my conversations with faculty will unfold like, “sure, it makes the content open and transparent (in my aside voice), but look what else it can do. Using YouTube opens up a whole range of possibilities for your video that you simply don’t have when using the in house media server. Yu can hyperlink the video, you can annotate it, add subtitles, do a whole whack of things that we simply can’t do when hosting this content internally.”

    The other strategy is to get faculty to consider open content when creating their courses so that they at least have the option to open it up in return at the other end. It’s pretty hard to make your content open when you have used a whack of copyright material in it.

    Again, thanks for organizing the session. I hope there are more along the same lines in the near future.

  5. Clint, I was glad you could be there. I appreciate these notes and comments. I think I come at it too much from the other end, as someone who has been working on open content for too long and assumes everyone knows what it is and knows how to use it and publish it.

    I know you are a D2L school; I wish I had easy answers for D2L schools, but so far I don’t. But I (partly) agree with your assertion that solutions need to be part of the existing workflow. The best example I have of that is Jared Stein and John Krutch’s OpenShare Mod for Moodle – basically, once it is installed, it allows instructors to open up parts of their course while not having to remove it from the current moodle server nor expose their students’ work. (The reason I say on “partly”, and what I tried to bring out in the session last week, is that how to share resources out of locked LMS is a begged question, begged by the initial locking of the LMS to begin with. And as I also tried to tease out, there are more reasons that simply OER to look at disaggregated, loosely joined models of learning tools – keeping up with innovation being not the least of them).

    Anyways, thanks again for coming, and do let me know if there are ways we can help move any of these things forward. Cheers, Scott

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