Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

OERs in US, Canada and Netherlands

Last week, U.S. News and World Report published an article about the rise of openly-licensed educational materials. Simon Owens’ article outlined the important milestones of open education resources(OERs), or open textbooks movements.

The nonprofit organization Creative Commons that created and updates the licenses released its first versions in December 2002. Founded by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig and other academics, Creative Commons sought to provide a less rigid alternative to the standard copyright system, allowing artists and other content creators to be more permissive in how they let others use and distribute their work.

Education materials are the prime target of Creative Commons, why?

A 2008 California State Auditor report found that the average annual cost of college textbooks was up to $905, and the costs are increasing at four times the rate of inflation. According to the report, textbooks can comprise 60 percent of total student costs at community colleges, and one survey revealed that seven out of 10 college students will avoid purchasing a required textbook because of price. The Twenty Million Minds Foundation, a California nonprofit that advocates for and creates its own Creative Commons textbooks, estimates that California college students alone spend $186 million a year on textbooks, and it predicts that adoption of open textbooks could save them up to $162 million.

David Wiley and Open High School of Utah

David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham University in Utah, has been immersed in the OER community predating the creation of the Creative Commons license.

He is a founder of the Open High School of Utah, a charter school that is taught entirely online and only uses open education resources in its curriculum.

So far, the pilot program has reached about 6,000 students, but starting this Fall that number will expand to as many as 75,000.

In Utah, the schools are, for the most part, using open textbooks from nonprofits like the CK12 Foundation. Other states have approved funding to launch their own RFPs, which technically anyone can bid on, including traditional textbook companies.

David Wiley gave a briefing on why, how and the status in this presentation. He pointed to the valuable potential that OERs can bring to us but maybe most people aren’t aware of it : increasing access and participation!!


20 Million Minds Foundation

Dean Florez, a former California Senate majority leader who is now the CEO of the 20 Million Minds Foundation, has played an active role in the passage of legislation in his state that will allocate $5 million toward developing these textbooks for college students.

Governments are joining the actions

While many of the open education experiments have thus far occurred in states and at individual universities, national governments from South Africa to Poland have also joined the fray. Perhaps the movement’s greatest victory came this year when the Obama administration announced $500 million in grants through the Department of Labor to be distributed to community colleges and professional training programs across the country. (TAA-CCCT grant program, This is the second round of grants in a four-year initiative totaling $2 billion.) Also there were legislation to support open textbook in  California.

Check out this article from U.S. Department of State : Op-Ed: ‘Are Open Educational Resources the Key to Global Economic Growth?

British Columbia Government Lends Support 

British Columbia is set to become the first province in Canada to offer students free online, open textbooks for the 40 most popular post-secondary courses. Up to 200,000 B.C. students each year could benefit from this move under B.C.’s Families First Agenda, saving each student hundreds of dollars a year or more on textbooks.

Government will work with post-secondary institutions in implementing an open textbook policy in anticipation they could be in use at B.C. institutions as early as 2013-14, supporting students taking a variety of courses in areas like arts, sciences, humanities and business. The open textbooks are expected to be created with input from B.C. faculty, institutions and publishers through an open Request for Proposal process co-ordinated by BCcampus, a publicly funded organization that aims to make higher education available to everyone through the smart use of collaborative information technology services.

open textbook

Visual Notes of Honourable John Yap’s announcement at #opened12 / Giulia Forsythe / CC BY-NC-SA

Publisher : “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

In November, Pearson announced a website called Project Blue Sky, which indexes and allows you to search OER materials.

Netherlands Wikiwijs program

Not only in US and Canada, Netherlands Wikiwijs program was launched by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science five years ago. It’s intended to mainstream the use of open education resources (“OERs”) through an Internet-based portal. Let’s visit the story of “The Global Search for Education: Internet Sharing Programs” from Huffington Post.

open education resourcesThe Wikiwijs program enables all teachers in the Netherlands education system (primary, secondary and higher education) to search, find, create, develop and share all forms of multimedia learning materials. The program, as its current project leader Robert Schuwer recently explained to me, has two components. The first enables teachers to find and access resources from educational and cultural institutions. The second component is open education resources (“OERs”) available under creative commons licenses where the sources of those resources are the teachers themselves. Hence, Dutch teachers are able to share their learning examples and best practices with their colleagues around the country.

What’s the usage of Wikiwijs currently?

We are now in our fifth year; in 2012 we had 650,000 downloads from the Wikiwijs platform and we had approximately 1300 uploads directly to the platform.

Some teachers in the Netherlands had already been creating their own materials and learning tools before Wikiwijs. Wikiwijs tries to create more awareness of the advantages of OERs. It could provide learning resources that are more up to date and materials that are helpful for specific target groups, e.g. gifted children. That is, the flexibility to customize OERs for different needs is a big value for personalized learning.


“My long term goal is that open educational resources should be the default choice. In other words, when someone is creating learning materials, it should be understood that they will be shared.”Robert Schuwer, the current project leader of Wikiwijs

There are progresses as well as obstacles for OER initiatives, a sustainable model with the government’s support is crucial for long term success. As the idea based on learning theory of constructionism gets recognized more widely, teachers as makers and learners as makers will be a vision that could help grow OERs into mainstream. Nowadays how to learn is much more important than what to learn, and open-licensed contents provide a sandbox for constructing knowledge.

Learn more about efforts toward open education from governments around the world on Creative Commons site.

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6 Responses »

  1. Great Article!! K12 Schools will be moving more and more towards OER eTextbooks that will be created by teachers for teachers to the New Common Core Standards. Digital Learning Tree has a eCourse Development Platform to allow teachers to create their own eTextbooks and also offers online classes to help teachers learn how to teach in the 21st Century as Digital Teachers using Tablets and iPads.
    eCourses online below:

  2. Enjoyed your overview but wanted to make sure that you’re aware of the amazing contribution of Canadian educators & ed technologists in this field. Open learning is supported by more than just open textbooks. Saw you linked to Stephen Downes Free Learning but did you know that BC Campus and the awesome Scott Leslie have been supporting and developing use of OERs and open learning for years? U of Athabasca folks provide all kinds of resources and support for open learning through support of Wikieducator and George Siemens and Stephen Downes are arguably the first to explore the participatory open connected learning possible through a MOOC-style delivery format.


  1. OERs in US, Canada and Netherlands | Educational Technology in Higher Education |
  2. OERs in US, Canada and Netherlands | (R)e-Learning |
  3. OERs in US, Canada and Netherlands | Learn and Teach in the 21st century |
  4. OERs in US, Canada and Netherlands | Utbildning på nätet |

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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