Open educational resources at Oxford University


Open educational resources (OER) are materials which educators make the content available online to learners and also to other educators, to share, re-use and remix. Their use in teaching offers new and better ways to engage with learning anytime anywhere and raising the richness the course.

Free for all: iTunes U has enabled Oxford University to provide free educational materials to the public.
“[hundreds of] hours of free podcasts, lectures, films and admissions guides up on the iTunesu academic portal, available to anyone who wants to download them.”[1]
Informative: Oxford iTunes U podcasts help prospective applicants to become familiar with the application process and Oxford life.
Potential applicants will be able to access free podcasts about how to apply to the University, including choosing a college and a course, and preparing for interview. They will also be able to see what an Oxford tutorial is like.”[2]
Popular: the iTunes U effort at Oxford generated a number of headlines based on statistics.
“In the first week their [Oxford’s] 200 items were visited by 168,000 visitors and 60,000 downloads occur[3]
Information about the Oxford admissions process has proved very popular, attracting more than 30,000 downloads to date.”[4]
Apple’s iTunes U sees more than 300M downloads, offers 350,000 educational files[5]
Openness and reaching out: opening up to a wider audience, and contributing to the emerging OER market.
“We hope that this service will make Oxford’s diverse range of audio and video material more widely accessible to applicants, alumni, supporters of the university, and the intellectually curious[6]

Easy access:
“… for the first time this brings everything together on one, easy to use website, that is really easy for people to navigate. It gives people a real sense of breadth and depth of the activities that are going on at the university.”[7]

Learners are in control:
Providing material online means that students are more in control of how, where, when and the pace of their learning[8]

Supplementary: the podcasts can supplement other sources of learning, rather than being a complete substitute.
While most academics think that allowing students to experience content at a time that suits them is helpful, most also agree that it should only be used to supplement regular study. ‘This is by no means a substitute’…”[9]
Social responsibility:“At the end of the day that’s what universities are about… It’s about educating people and bringing new ideas to people, so it’s part of our overall mission.”[10]

Feedback from schools includes:

our more able students are being encouraged to listen to the podcasts both to improve their understanding of the plays and to encourage them to believe that the Oxford is not a rarefied and unattainable target, but operates at a level they will find accessible.”

In a survey of 50 Oxford  University academics who podcast open educational materials:

  • 91% want their knowledge to go to the widest public audience possible;
  • 55% want to help students worldwide understand their topic;
  • 45% want to help the public understand their research.

Researchers from the OUCS authored a report on the impact of Open Educational Resources. Findings highlight the need to support learners and academic staff alike in the referencing and the reuse of online resources.

The report was commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), it can be downloaded at:

The report forms part of a significant body of work by the LTG in the field of OER. ‘In recent years universities in the UK have released substantial collections of OER, including Oxford’s own acclaimed series of recordings, Open Spires. It’s very important, therefore, to find out how OER are being used. Academics clearly appreciate high-quality, easily discoverable, resources to enrich their students’ learning. As one lecturer told us, “Why reinvent the wheel, when there’s great stuff out there?

In working with our partners on the OER Cascade  Ripple project we thought carefully about how others could learn from our mistakes and use our experience as a resource in a move towards organisational change.

The value lies in direct influence on infrastructure and processes… The project has accelerated the pace of development both on workflows and infrastructure for wider scale release of OER….

… Ripple has helped us to identify the need to place a strategic emphasis on identifying suitable OERs at programme level as part of curriculum development and review, and on what are the reasons for doing OER and its relevance to us.

It has strengthened the relationship between the two institutions [Oxford Brookes and Oxford University].  … The range of topics was good and expertise very good. We were very happy to host a workshop and it worked very well; we felt fully in partnership…

To quote our evaluator  ” From a policy perspective the project has enabled significant change in a short period of time, influencing decision-making in both institutions. In addition to sustaining their efforts in OER within the institutions, the goodwill generated by this collaboration has inspired further co-operative efforts that will extend well beyond the end of the project’s life. Within the ethos of sharing educational resources for the benefit of all, which is the guiding principle of OER, this is an exemplary project.”

Through a community collection the general public or members of a particular group are invited to contribute to a project by uploading their own content or adding information to existing resources.

The RunCoCo project team set out to offer advice, training, and open-source software to those interested in running a community  OER collection online using similar approaches as The Great War Archive the team  built a support network to exchange knowledge about community collections, provide a point of contact for advice about community collections, and publish outputs which can be used for free by anyone in the sector. At RunCoCo events, projects have come together to exchange success-stories and to discuss the challenges of various community engagement models.

During the summer of 2010 staff at OUCS ran a Community Collection where members of the public, teachers, academics, museums and other units, were asked to send material related to the Anglo-Saxons to form part of a freely reusable web site. The Project Woruldhord (or ‘world hoard’) – extended OUCS’s research into public engagement with community collections, and in the space of a few weeks has assembled a large collection of freely reusable educational resources. The collection is online and anything you find in there can be used as OER for educational purposes under a Creative Commons Licence (CC-BY-NC-SA, see also Permitted Use).
Continuing a focus on subject based collections our project with Department of Politics resulted in a cross-institutional  blog which exploits RSS aggregation to harvest topic-relevant OER from searchable repositories. Contributors from both Oxford and Cambridge are submitting posts. Content is particularly focused on current political issues, e.g. the Tunisian uprising and the demonstrations in Egypt, and this focus on timeliness, as well as people, networks, and open-access learning objects makes the blog unique. It’s also a very good read.
Speaking of good reads, our new projects towards the end of this year have been to establish, in conjunction with the English faculty, the WritersInspire project and to publish 2,500 ebooks from the Oxford text archive into iTunes bookstores.These projects will create/assemble a substantial new body of open content focused on engaging new students. There will be a concentration on textual materials with embedded illustrative audio and video together with new publishing methods that include a substantial set of material released as ebooks for mobile devices. All material will be released under a suitable open content licence and published as downloads and feeds for use in perpetuity.
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