Open Educational Resources (OER)

Use of Open Educational Resources in E-learning for Higher Education

Rosa Navarrete, Sergio Luján-Mora, Myriam Peñafiel. 2016 Third International Conference on eDemocracy & eGovernment (ICEDEG 2016), p. 177-183, Quito (Ecuador), March 30 - April 1 2016. ISBN: 978-3-907589-11-3.


E-learning encompasses not only technology but also pedagogical and instructional strategies to configure a complete learning environment based on the Internet. E-learning is nowadays widely used in higher education as a mean for supporting learning on academic programs. Concurrently, the Open Educational Resources (OER) are becoming a valuable alternative to improve access to high-quality educational content released under open licenses by outstanding universities worldwide. The conjunction of both concepts can configure a strategy to improve the quality of the curricula in the higher education institutions, particularly in development countries, in order to equalize the learning outcomes of international academic programs and to reduce the cost associated with educational content development. This work aims to achieve a preliminary understanding of the potential of the OER availability to be used in E-learning environments. As a case study, we have conducted an exploration of the feasibility of using OER to supplement E-learning environments for Higher Education in Computer Science at Ecuador. The search of the OER suitable to be used for this purpose has been performed on all categories of OER websites, including Open Courseware projects of prestigious universities. Moreover, this paper highlights the main barriers as well as the opportunities derived from adopting OER in E-learning environments.

Keywords: E-learning, Higher Education, OER, Open Courseware, Open Educational Resources

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The E-learning has evolved steadily enabled by the advances in the Information and Communication Technologies and the appearance of pedagogical strategies to take advantage of innovative learning opportunities.

On the other hand, the increasing availability of Open Educational Resources (OER) has become a valuable opportunity to foster access to high-quality educational content released by prestigious universities and academic institutions around the world, under open licenses to allow their free use, reuse, and adaptation.

OER are digital contents for teaching-learning purpose released under open intellectual property licenses to enable their free use or repurposing. These resources include full courses of academic programs or learning material such as textbooks, lessons, lectures, assessments, and tests [1].

The integration of OER in E-learning environments can support the learning process by taking advantage of the inherent quality of these resources and the reduction of the costs associated with this process.

In this paper, we have explored the feasibility of using OER in E-learning environments based on the exploration of the available resources for downloading from the OER repositories. This availability has considered only the resources with intellectual property licenses that enable their adapting to meet learning requirements of a particular field of knowledge.

Currently, the E-learning is widely used in higher education institutions as a complement to the face-to-face learning as well as in the continuing education and the distance education [2]. For that reason, we have conducted a case study of the potential use of OER to support studies of a university degree in Computer Science. The search strategies and the criteria applied in the selection of resources are also included in this case study.

This case study applies to Ecuadorian universities because of the new regulations on higher education have aligned academic degrees in the ICT area with the nomenclature of the ACM Computing Careers [3], which includes Computer Science.

The outcomes of this work highlight the opportunities and point out the barriers to the adoption of this strategy to support the learning process. Further, the findings have revealed the transition to new alternatives in educational resources and their conditions for use.

The contents of this paper are organized as follow. Section II covers E-learning concept, Section III includes OER concepts, Section IV describes the Case Study, Section V presents the Results of the Search of OER, and Section VI presents the Conclusion and future work.


The concept of E-learning has evolved since its appearance. Therefore, the definitions of E-learning are conditioned by the different approaches. Some of these approaches emphasize on content while others in the technology and communication [4].

A widely accepted concept establishes E-learning is the use of internet technologies to create and deliver a rich learning environment that includes a board array of which is to enhance individual and organizational performance [5].

The discussion about the E-learning concept is out of the context of this work. However, it is important to bear in mind the common components of an E-learning environment, which are the digital content, the learning activities, and the services provided by the supporting technology. These elements are inscribed in the pedagogical proposal that guides the learning process [6]. Therefore, the successful of the e-learning environment to support an educational purpose it is related to the quality of all of their components about the learning outcomes and the learners, but fundamentally in the quality of the materials for the learning.


The term OER was initially adopted at 2002 UNESCO Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries [7] to refer some related contents such as “open courseware”, “open learning resources” and “open teaching / learning resources”. Since then, the OER initiative has been increasing in a sustained way, thanks in particular to many universities around the world that have joined to this initiative [8, 9].

The often used definition refers to OER as teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been released under an open license that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and distributed on by others with no or limited restrictions [1].

These resources include materials of different granularity levels such as full courses, syllabi, course materials, textbooks, lessons, assessment, and simulation software; furthermore, these can have different formats such as web pages, documents, presentations, video streaming, images, and podcasts. In the case of full courses, these can include resources in many formats that can be used in a separate way.

One of the most representative streams in OER fields is the Open Courseware (OCW), an initiative promoted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) [10]. The OCW is published in the public domain and enables that all the materials included in these courses can be used, adapted or redistributed, according to open license conditions.

A. Sources for OER

The OER are stored in repositories available through websites. These sources of OER can be categorized based on the type of resources [11] and the type of repositories.

1) Type of resources

The types are defined considering the granularity of the resources.

a) OCW websites

The MIT initially proposed the OCW in 2001. This university decided that the materials of its courses be freely and openly available on the Internet for non-commercial educational purposes. This meant that there were going to be any restriction on how a user could modify the materials according to his requirements, including the grants for edit, translate, combine them with others materials, and change their format [12].

After that announcement, the number of universities that opened their OCW sites has increased significantly on a global scale. These sites are a collection of freely available educational materials organized as courses. OCW materials may include syllabi, lecture notes, videos, course lectures, exams, reading materials, or any other resources used to teach the courses [13].

There are global networks of universities and educational institutions that offer access to their OCW. For example, Open Education Consortium ( that joins over 240 institutions from 50 countries, and Universia ( that includes 1.345 institutions from Iberoamerica to become the largest Spanish and Portuguese speaking network of universities.

b) OER websites

These websites offer resources from many universities, research institutes, libraries, and institutions related to the educational field. Furthermore, these websites enable that any contributor can release resources of small granularity such as videos or presentations. Two large-scale OER Websites that are well known in academic ambiance are MERLOT II (, a program of the California State University, and OER Commons (, a project created by ISKME.

2) Type of repositories

The OER repositories contain both resources and their metadata and are managed through websites. The search of the resources is based on their metadata. There are three types of OER websites according to the location of repositories that they manage [14, 15]:

a) Local repository

OER websites that manage resources and metadata stored in local repository.

b) External repository

OER websites that provide access to the resources and heterogeneous metadata stored in external repositories.

c) Hybrid repository

OER websites that provide access to a local repository as well as to external repositories.

B. Intellectual property licenses

The potential of the OER usage comes from the permissions granted by the open license that facilitates reuse, and possible adaptation, without first requesting permission from the copyright holder.

The open licensing framework “Creative Commons” is widely used in OER initiatives for releasing resources. This framework provides user-friendly open licenses for digital materials through a legal declaration which ensures that author of materials can retain acknowledgement for their work while allowing it to be shared; further, this can restrict commercial activity, and can prevent the adaptation.

C. OER and higher education

Many leading institutions in higher education have fostered the OER movement to give equal access to knowledge for all students worldwide. Furthermore, the universities also participate in the OER movement to enhance their academic reputation, to attract talented students and staff, and to improve learning materials and research results through the open sharing [16].

The participation of higher education in the OER movement has also encouraged to a greater diversity of learners and teachers to harness these materials. Particularly, the teachers can customize the resources to adapt them to fit their needs in different educational context and support the achievement of learning outcomes of their students [17]. To get this, the open license of resources is an essential condition.


A. Rationalize

As an instance of study, we have proposed to review the case of Ecuador. In this country, the higher education is dependent on government regulation through The Council of Higher Education (Consejo de Educación Superior). This Council is the responsible for regulating and coordinating the Higher Education System, and the relationship between the Government Executive Function and Ecuadorian society. The goal of this Council is to guarantee all citizens a superior quality education that contributes to the growth and the development of the country.

This Council approved on July 2014 the regulation about the Nomenclature of the academic degrees awarded by the Higher Education Institutions in Ecuador [18]. This nomenclature is aligned with the International Standard Classification of Education of UNESCO.

In this regulation, the degrees in the area of Information and Communication Technologies correspond to the nomenclature of the ACM Computing Careers [3]. One of these degrees is the Engineering in Computer Science which is currently offered by some universities in Ecuador.

Upon this context, the purpose of this research is to review the availability of OER that could be used as supplemental material in E-learning environments for the knowledge area corresponding to the higher education career of Engineering in Computer Science in Ecuador.

B. Computer Science discipline

In order to be aligned to the ACM Computing Careers, we have used the 2013 Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Science (CS2013) from the ACM and the IEEE Computer Society [19].

This document defines the Body of Knowledge organized as a set of Knowledge Areas (KAs) with specialized topics. The Table I summarizes the main topics on KAs.


C. OER requirements

The OER must meet the following requirements in order to be considered for the purpose of this work.

D. The search of the OER

The expansion of the OER movement on a global scale has implied a growth regarding the number of projects and resources available [21].

Unfortunately, there is neither a directory of all worldwide OER projects. For this reason, the knowledge of where to find resources is one of the biggest challenges to using OER, although it is known that most resources come from developed countries [17].

Thereby, for the purpose of this work we have searched the resources in OER websites considering:

1) Large-scale OER websites

These websites have a large number of resources, over 60,000 [21]. For this case we have selected these websites:

2) Global networks of OER

These websites enable the search of the courses within a high number of OER websites from many universities and other academic institutions worldwide. For this case we have selected these websites:

3) Open Courseware of Universities

For a preliminary review in the context of this work, we have considered the first twenty-four universities in the USA, according to the Ranking Web of Universities [22], in order to verify if these universities offer Open Courseware for Computer Science area.


We have conducted the search of the OER in the sources defined in the previous section. In each case, we have highlighted the issues related to the search.

A. Results of the search in large-scale OER websites


This OER website enables an advanced search based on Categories and Subcategories. In the Computer Science category, we have searched full courses. Table II presents search results including the provider of the course and the KA to which it belongs (see Table I). Only the KAs with some results are included.

We can observe that MIT offers most of the full courses, but we have found a few courses from Stanford University, and a minimal number of courses from other institutions and personal contributors.


Regarding the resources in other formats, such as presentations and simulations, these come mostly from personal contributors. Table III presents the number of resources of each KA.


The search method in MERLOT enables to refine parameters such as keywords, category and subcategory, material type, date released in MERLOT (interval of time), format and more. These conditions can be set up in a simultaneous way; for this reason, this becomes an important functionality for locating the resources according to the requirements of the user.

Some subcategories within the “Computer Science” category can be directly associated with the KAs of CS2013. In the case of subcategories labeled as “General”, “Internet”, “Teaching”, and others, we have manually reviewed each resource to verify its KA.

Further, even though we have used the advanced search in MERLOT to filter the resources by the education level, we have discarded some of the resources of the search results that not correspond to higher education level.

2) OER Commons

This OER website enables an advanced search based on Categories and Subcategories. The Computer Science area appears as a subcategory of the Applied Sciences category. Therefore, the resources found in the Computer Science are not grouped by topics. These resources have been reviewed in order to assign them to the areas corresponding to the KAs of CS2013. In this review, some resources were discarded because its content corresponded to other subjects rather than to the Computer Science. The search results for full courses are presented in Table IV.


Table V presents the results of the search for other types of resources. Only the KAs with some results are included.


B. Results of the search in global networks of OER

1) Open Education Consortium

The Open Education Consortium website enables the search of the courses based on only one of these parameters: Category, Institution, and Language; it is not possible to combine them. The search results only display the title of the resources; therefore, in order to review the complementary information (the date of release, the contributor, and a brief description of the course), it is necessary to review these resources one by one.

The search results by topic “Computer Science” show that the primary contributor is once again the MIT. The same course appears in the editions of consecutive years. We have counted these resources once, only for the most current version since 2012.

The search by topic does not include courses from other universities; for this reason, in order to complement the search, we have used the “Search by Institutions” to explore the courses offered by some other universities that contribute to Open Education Consortium. Therefore, the results that are presented in Table VI combine both types of search: by topic and by institutions. Some others contributors such as University of Michigan, University of Alicante, and University of Sevilla have published courses in the Computer Science area. However these courses are earlier to 2012.

2) Universia

The search on this website has been conducted through the option “Areas of expertise”. After verifying these areas, we have found a nearby area to the Computer Science labeled as “Computation and Artificial Intelligence”. The results are presented in Table VII and they include only the courses released since 2012. As we can see, the results show a small number of courses from Spanish universities in comparison with American universities.


C. Results of the search in Open Courseware of universities

Based on the Ranking Web of Universities, we have reviewed 24 universities. The first step of this review has been to verify if the university has an OCW website, and then if this site offers courses in the Computer Science. Furthermore, as part of this review, we have recognized that almost all universities offered online courses on the edX or Coursera platforms, and therefore, we have checked if this modality offered courses in the Computer Science area. Table VIII presents all this information for each university.


The universities that offered OCW in the Computer Science appear on Table IX with an identification of the KA of the courses. Only courses released since 2012 have been included (if the information was available to determine this condition).



The results of this work have showed a wide availability of OER, particularly in the modality of OCW in Computer Science for all KAs of CS2013. The teachers can use and adapt the resources included in each Open Courseware to complement or support the learning through E-learning environments. This potential use of OER is possible because the licenses associated with these resources enable their free and not restricted use.

The MIT, as the precursor of this movement, is also the major contributor of OCW. For the purpose of this work, we have found OCWs, released by MIT and others prominent universities, in almost all KAs; hence, we can assume that these OCWs have high-quality of content. However, for other types of resources, the quality aspects such as the reliability and pertinence of the content must be reviewed; in particular, for the resources that come from personal contributors.

The KAs configure a recognized core of knowledge in Computer Science, hence, the contents of the OER found in this research are aligned with the learning outcomes proposed by ACM, which means that these learning resources could support the internalization of the curricula adopted by universities in Ecuador. The advantage is the availability of the resources for their usage and the saving of cost inherent in their preparation.

We have analyzed three types of OER websites, with 28 websites in total. In this review, we have found that a major problem is the information architecture of the websites. The structuring or categorization of the resources is different on each of these websites, so, the search becomes a time-consuming activity. Furthermore, the selection of the appropriate resources needs an additional effort to evaluate their quality. These problems could discourage the searching and retrieval of OER.

Moreover, according to the results presented in Table VII, we can state that many universities no longer maintain the OCW websites. For example, the Washington University declared that the OCW will not be longer available to the public since 2015, only those courses posted earlier can be reviewed. Instead, a significant number of universities analyzed have replaced the OCW with the online courses that universities offer through online platforms such as edX or Coursera. These courses have been launched under the concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a type of online courses aimed at a great number of learners [23, 24].

Undoubtedly, MOOCs are a valuable contribution to opening education to the masses by enabling learners to gain access to courses from highly reputable universities. While most of these courses can be taken with no fees for enrollment, the courses that are creditable for academic programs have a cost associated.

This type of online courses does not meet with the OER movement principles since their materials are not in the public domain and are usually protected by a restricted copyright license. These restrictions state that the course site contains copyright material, so, the use of the course materials requires permission to copy, modify, publish, transmit, and distribute.

In the OCW, the term “Open” means free, accessible, and reusable; while, for these Open Online Courses, “Open” usually mean free (no payment for enrollment), and accessible, only by the people who take the course, during the time duration of the course. Therefore, this could have an impact in the aim of the OER movement that is founded on the principle of openness access to educational resources in such a way that can be shareable and reusable for teachers and learners.

In our future work, we propose complementing this research with a survey of the learning experiences supported with OER in Computer Sciences that verifies their contribution to the educational process.

Finally, in light of these results, we are developing a process that enables an efficient searching of OER for specific needs of teachers and learners, considering only resources with open intellectual property licenses.


This work has been partially supported by the Prometeo Project by the Secretary of Higher Education, Science Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT) of the Ecuadorian Government.


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