Update to the OER community

The following project update was sent to the Athabasca 
OER-community list at the 4th of October 2016.

Dear friends of the OER World Map,

I hope you all had a great summer break! I would like to give you an update of the development of the OER World Map project. As many of you will know, this work followed from the initial discussion in this community 2012. 2013 the Hewlett Foundation decided to fund the project. After an initial development of several prototypes, the North-Rhine Westphalian Library Service Centre (hbz) based in Cologne, Germany, started developing a production system in 2015. All proposals are available online.

The OER World Map can be seen as an Social Education Management Information System which aims at accelerating the evolution of the global OER ecosystem by strengthening the ability of the OER community to organize itself. It combines elements of a social networking platform, a business information system, a geoinformation system and a library catalogue and will contribute to overcoming the challenge of mainstreaming OER by collecting and visualizing the building blocks of the global OER ecosystem. By doing so, it connects OER actors with each other, facilitates sharing of experiences and resources between them and fosters collective learning. At the same time it provides a sound operational information basis for developing infrastructure and policies in favor of Open Education.

During the summer break we launched version 1.1 of the OER World Map platform. Besides many improvements “under the hood”, in the backend of the system, the new version includes a completely reworked layout as well as the opportunity for users to register and create personal profiles. For technical details please have a look at our blog. Since the success of the project depends very much on the participation of the community, we warmly invite all of you to register on the site and create your personal profile on the map!

Besides improving the technical system, we also worked hard on increasing the database during the last months. Our constantly growing Country Champion Network includes more than 30 institutions and experts from all over the world. Together we have already collected more than 270 OER services, like repositories and aggregators. Many of them are carrying qualified information on included subjects and used licenses.

At the beginning of the year we also published the “OER Atlas”, a printed version of the map listing OER actors and activities from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. By publishing the Atlas, which targets especially at OER policy makers, we proved that it is possible to collect the data for a complete country with a reasonable amount of effort. We hope to export this model to other countries in the near future.

All in all I guess it is fair to state, that the platform entered its adolescence and will start to provide increasing value from now on. Our roadmap includes a bunch of great new features like subcategories for our data types, the “Openness Indicator”, as well as the “Fields of activity radar chart”. Another goal is to extend social networking functionality continually; For example we just recently included the opportunity to comment on entries for registered users.

You can contribute to the success of the project not only by creating a profile, but also by becoming an editor or even a country champion. If you want to join us in mapping the world of OER, please write us a mail to info@oerworldmap.org. We are looking forward to hear from you soon!

Best open wishes

Jan Neumann & the OER World Map team


How OER World Map determines search result order

OER World Map collects a lot of data. This is essential for making data centrally available, but as more is collected, the difficulty of finding a specific item increases, regardless of license or data content. Therefore, as data in OER World Map increases, it is very important to implement efficient and targeted search and ranking algorithms.

There are search algorithms, whose complexity, efficiency and confidentiality are impressive. The major search engines in the world are clear examples. Of course, a relatively small non-profit project as the OER World Map can not develop a such complex search algorithm from its own resources. This is also not desirable because the platform is built on the principles of transparency and openness.

Why is transparency so important?

We can assume that the user has the ability to comprehend the search behaviour and what caused the respective ranking of a search result.  Furthermore, and as long as they feel that, in determining the rankings, no topics, authors, vendors, interests or similar parameters are preferred, the user can trust the result. However, once parts of the algorithm are hidden in the proverbial ‘black box’, is at least a theoretical possibility that some searchable items might receive preferential treatment (or be discriminated against).

Like the entire code of OER World Map, our ranking mechanism is implemented as open source. In this way, the OER World Map demonstrates that the same rules and conditions are applied to all resources (services, organizations, people etc.), and that no differences of treatment are existent.

Of course, every search algorithm includes factors that lead to the higher weighting of individual results – otherwise there could be no ordered ranking at all. (These factors are just not dependent on specific content but on universal features like morphological matching or the length of an entry for example.) In the following, the most important search ranking constituents are illuminated (as of September 2016).

The code of the OER World Map

The search for the OER World Map is based on Elasticsearch as the main container for data storage. Elasticsearch is an open source search engine based on Apache Lucene. It allows the configuration of the search mechanisms via a JSON file, called index-config.json within the OER World Map. Within this file you can define whether and how individual data should be searchable. Currently, Elasticsearch is configured as follows:

  • “name” and “alternateName” are both indexed, in original spelling and variants in order to ensure that searching with typos could still produce the intended hits.
  • All other fields are indexed in their standard format (as written in the database).
  • From the data model point of view, all resources can be associated with addresses and geo-coordinates.

Within the OER World Map, a search command to Elasticsearch is triggered by the method esQuery() in the Java class ElasticsearchRepository. The following parameters can be controlled by this method:

  • Field Boost: the field-boost determines which data fields get more weight in the search. Classically, in particular the “name” field is greatly boosted. For example, “alternate name” can (somewhat less) also be boosted. (Boostings are concretized below.)
  • Limitation to a specific partial result: to scroll through multiple search results pages, it is useful only to display the results of a partial area, so for example, only the hit “1 to 10” or “11 to 20”.
  • In very special cases, it may make sense to display search results on ascending order, meaning that the results with the smallest search result value are listed on top. The OER World Map and Elasticsearch basically allow ascending and descending order. The default provided by the OER World Map is “descending”.
  • For completeness, it should be mentioned that search results can be omitted entirely from the results list due to geo-filtering. While the source code of this feature is already written, it is corrently not yet activated. As soon as this implemented feature will be activated, a user can limit the search to a specific geographical area (through the display of a particular map section), whereby all results from outside of this area do not appear in the results list.

The global preferences of the OER World Map for field boosting are located in the file search.conf. At present, boosting provides the following weighting of fields:

  • “name” by a factor of 9
  • “alternateName” by a factor of 6
  • “provider.name” by a factor of 5
  • “provider.alternateName” by a factor of 4
  • “agent.name” by a factor of 4
  • “agent.alternateName” by a factor of 3
  • “participant.name” by a factor of 2
  • “participant.alternateName” by a factor of 1
  • “memberOf.name” by a factor of 1
  • “memberOf.alternateName” by a factor of 1
  • “member.name” by a factor of 1
  • “member.alternateName” by a factor of 1
  • “article body” by a factor of 1


Due to continuous development of the OER World Map, details (such as boosting factors) are going to evolve over time. New search fields might be added, or existing ones eliminated. It is envisaged that there will be an additional weighting based on “likes” (or some other voting system). The amount of links to a resource is a desirable weighting parameter as well. In any case, the quality and reliability of the OER World Map will always be gauged from the preservation of transparent and evenhanded search. OER World Map users can always check and be certain that search results are determined fair and reasonable.

The code of the OER World Map is hosted on Github. In still more specific questions, the team of OER World Map would refer you first to the source code but are also very happy to answer questions!

Walton Hall

Our Team Meeting at Milton Keynes

Like many other projects the OER World Map is driven by a virtual team, which is working distributed in different cities, which are in our case Cologne, Berlin and Milton Keynes. Though cooperation via the net works pretty well, it does not replace meeting personal for many reasons. Therefore we emphasize meeting personally on a regular basis.   

From the 7th to the 9th of september our English colleague Rob was the host for our “physical team meeting”. We met at the Institute of Educational Technology  of The Open University in Milton Keynes. Many thanks for the hospitality and for the guided tour through research labs of the institute! Continue reading


Platform progress report v1.1

It has been a while since the last technical progress report has been published. Luckily, this is not because nothing has happened since, but rather because we were busy building things. This blog post briefly summarizes the most important of those things.

User interface

The most prominent changes are naturally related to the user interface. The layout is now based on three interrelated columns; one for the map, one for search / filter result listings and one for individual entries. On top of that, additional information such as a feed of recent additions and statistics are available in a popup window. Less visible, but an enhancement neverthscreenshot-from-2016-09-14-102140eless, is the fact that navigating the map no longer requires full page loads and is thus much smoother.
The templates that editors of the OER World Map use to input data have also been slighlty reworked. In order to reduce the number of fields that are presented to the users, the inverses of fields for links that have a more or less natural direction have been hidden. In order to clarify the semantics of data elements, descriptions are available via tooltips. The most significant simplification probably is that Markdown is now supported for fields that hold running text.

Finally, first elements of an administrative interface have been implemented. Among these are the administration of roles for registered users, a UI for data migrations and a precise log of all changes that have been made to the database.

screenshot-from-2016-09-14-100536Account registration

During phase II, the emphasis was to win editors for the OER World Map by individually inviting them to collaborate. An important step towards growing a bigger community of OER World Map users now is the possibility for anyone to register a user account. Once registered, it is possible to create a personal profile and thus represent oneself on the map. Also, the possibility to comment on entries is only available to registered users. You are very welcome to screenshot-from-2016-09-14-101737participate in editing data beyond that; get in touch if you are interested!

From a technical point of view, we have switched to what can be described as a perimeter security model. User authentification and authorization is now done by an Apache reverse proxy before a request even hits the OER World Map web application. On the one hand, this separation of concerns brings a performance gain. On the other hand, it would be hard to compete with Apache’s battle proven security anyways.

Data storage & versioning

While invisible to most users, there have been very important improvements in the archticture of the back end of the system. While using an Elasticsearch index as our main data sink allowed us to quickly grow the system during phase II, some of the limitations of that approach became evident once more editorial activity was recorded.

On the one hand, data needs to be denormalized quite heavily to fully embrace the features of a document oriented system such as Elasticsearch, especially when it comes to aggregations. On the other hand, the data in the OER Data Hub is highly interlinked. This combination makes write-operations quite expensive because a single update operation often modifies multiple JSON documents in the index. A successful write operation could only be assumed once the data trickled into all places it was supposed to be, which made waiting times unacceptable.

To complement the extremely fast read operations that Elasticsearch provides with equally fast write operations, a special type of relational database, a triple store, was added to the technology stack. It is now our primary data store and the single source of truth in the system which asynchronously feeds the Elasticsearch index after write operations.

Another precondition to gradually open the platform to a bigger circle of editors has been data versioning. In order to ensure data quality, it must be possible to retrace the evolution of the dataset. In other words, it is necessary to completely understand who changed which parts of the data, and when the changes happened. Naturally being familiar with the way source code is versioned, we adopted the structure of Git commits to the RDF data in our triple store:

Author: felix.ostrowski@XYZ.com
Date: 2016-07-01T15:55:51.012+02:00
+ <urn:uuid:123> <http://schema.org/name> "Felix Ostrowski" .
- <urn:uuid:123> <http://schema.org/name> "Felix Ostrowsko" .

Author: felix.ostrowski@XYZ.com
Date: 2016-06-29T18:01:40.587+02:00
+ <urn:uuid:123> <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#type> <http://schema.org/Person> .
+ <urn:uuid:123> <http://schema.org/name> "Felix Ostrowsko" .

A nice side effect of all our data being a series of commits such as the ones above, is that the back-up strategy is simply a matter of saving plain text commit files. These are the only precondition to completely recover our data set after potential failures.

Data model & filters

On the data model side of things, a tag field has been added to all resources. This, along with the corresponding filter, allows editors to create arbitrary custom subsets of the data. With regards to the Service type, a license field is now exposed, along with a controlled vocabulary of licenses and the corresponding filter. Finally, the funder property is now available for Projects.


Video stories are now online

We now have our first video content available through OER World Map! You can review the entries at the following URLs:

Open Educational Resources in Africa

NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project

We hope to add more stories in this way over the coming months.  If you have a video relating to OER that you would like to share with the community then get in touch.

Content published on YouTube with a licence that permits sharing can easily be repurposed for the map in this way using the embed code provided in the sharing menu.





The German speaking OER landscape in numbers

We recently published the OER Atlas, which gives a good overview on the actual state of the OER landscape in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The following post is a translation of the second chapter, which analyses and summarizes the collected data.

1. Entries per Type

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Figure 1: Number of entries according to entry type (persons, organisations, projects, services, events)

The database for the Atlas contains 157 entries in total. 134 of these were entered during the calls´ duration in November and December 2015 by using forms, all remaining entries were added afterwards.

The input is based on the OER World Map Data Model which distinguishes between actors (persons or organizations) and activities (projects, services, events). The distinction between the different types ca be difficult at times and is additionally complicated by an unclear usage of terms in common speech. In our rather technical language the term ‘project’ is defined as a targeted one-time undertaking that is limited by a certain start and end date [1]. In contrast ‘services’ [2], intend to provide additional value for one or more target groups on a permanent basis. In our understanding an ‘organization’ can run a ‘project’ which aims at developing a ‘service’, which is provided by the ‘organization’ usually after the ‘project’ has ended. In practice these distinctions are often blurred lines, and sometimes even the actors do no distinguish between organization, project and service, especially if the are named equally.

Therefore a number of entries had to be re-classified as different types afterwards. It occurs that entries, originally classified as a ‘project’, had to be ascribed as a ‘service’ by editorial review later on. Conversely, entries that were submitted as a ‘service’ were classified as a ‘project’, because the aimed at ‘service’ was not yet available.

With 64 entries the ‘services’ represent the largest group of submissions. Following the OER World Map Data Model there exists in theory at least one provider (organization or person) for every service (as well as for each project). Nevertheless this opportunity to submit a double entry (service and provider) was hardly used, potentially because of the relatively high effort to input the data [3].

The submitted ‘persons’ are not included in the Atlas– due to the small number of submissions, which was not representative.

2. Entries per country

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Figure 2: Entries per Country (D-A-CH Countries: Germany, Autria, Switzerland)

139 entries and therewith 88% of the total number are submitted from Germany. Austria contributes 14 entries (9%) and Switzerland adds another 3 entries (2%). Projected on a theoretically equal number of citizens this would equate to 131 entries from Austria and 29.4 entries from Switzerland. If this collection represents a realistic distribution of OER related activity in the three D-A-CH countries is questionable, because the data collection was initiated in Germany. As a consequence it is possible, that a number of Austrian and Swiss OER actors did not learn about the call or just did not participate.

3. Entries per Federal State (Germany)

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Figure 3: Entries per Federal State (Germany)

Concerning the entries submitted from Germany, separated by Federal State, it might be surprising that Baden-Wuerttemberg with 27 entries and Bavaria with 26 entries are head of the lead. One of the reasons for Baden-Wuerttemberg`s top position is that the “Zentrale für Unterrichtsmaterialien” (ZUM), as one of the oldest German OER initiatives, is located there. The metropolis region around Munich with initiatives such as Serlo and the Siemensstiftung as well as the association BIMS e.V. are the main cause for a high number of Bavarian submissions.

The German OER center Berlin is ranked third with 19 entries. Besides the public funded major project “Offene Bildungsmaterialien für Berlin” there are several OER producers as well as various actors, that can be accounted as political advocacy groups (Bündnis Freie Bildung, Creative Commons, Open Knowledge Foundation). Furthermore Berlin is home to the Wikimedia Germany Association that, amongst other things, held the large OERde 13 and OERde 14 conferences and completed the project “Mapping OER” just recently.

4. Entries/services per field of education

The participants of the OER Atlas were asked which field of education they connect themselves to. It was possible to name more than one field:

OER Atlas 2016_Bbl_DRUCK 190216.indd

Figure 4: Number of entries according to educational sector (early childhood education, school, vocational education, higher education, adult education, non- informal education)

According to that the school sector is numerously strongest with 102 indications, followed by the higher education sector with 82 and the adult education sector with 71 entries. At the end of the field are non-/informal education, vocational education and early childhood education.

The school sector got the most indications, but it can be assumed that its dominance is even stronger than what these data suggest. This conclusion can be drawn when you look at how many services where assigned to each educational sector in the table of contents (TOC) of the OER Atlas. In contrary to the statements of the participants (which allowed multiple answers), the assignement in the TOC required an assignment to only one educational sector:

OER Atlas 2016_Bbl_DRUCK 190216.indd

Figure 5: Cleared up number of services according to educational sector

From this perspective 55% of all submitted and counted services are taking place in the school field. Assuming that of the 21 services which were assigned to be cross-departmental a high number is rooted in the school sector as well, is occurs justified to speak from an obvious dominance of the school sector. The school sector outnumbers the following university sector by far and other sectors appear to be a lot less active in comparison.

The number of multiple indications can be interpreted as indication that within the field of OER the lines between the fields become blurred. There are various offers that address schools and universities at the same time, mainly because of the given thematically overlapping of upper secondary and tertiary education. Another example are offerings from universities that also address the field of further education. Finally all contents created in the context of formal education can be used as “collateral benefit” in the field of non- and informal education.

5. Services per subject

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Figure 6: Number of services by subject (science & mathematics, arts & humanities, infomation & communication technology, educational science, social science, health & welfare, generic qualifications, business & law, engineering, agriculture, services)

Regarding the subjects covered by the resources offered by the services it might be less of a surprise that most of the offerings are from the field of mathematics and science that are traditionally highly represented in digital media and open access. It is more of an unexpected result that 37 services offer capacities in the field of arts and humanities. Well represented here are subjects like languages, religion and philosophy as well as history. Following subjects are information and communication science, as well as educational sciences which can be explained by the fact that all services that cover the topic of OER are also counted as part of the education field.

6. Services per service type

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Figure 7: Services by service type ( mooc provider, text book provider, repositories, referatories, wikis, other)

The term ‘service’ is, according to the definition above, quite abstract and needs further concretisation. The development of a convincing system of sub categories therefore is an important research question. The OER Atlas is not capable of answering this question concludingly, but it can pose and set it into scientific focus. At this point two aspects can be emphasized:

6.1 Repositories and referatories

Recent studies distinguish between repositories (platforms to store resources) and referatories (platforms that contain links to resources). During the process of attributing the entries to one or another category the following became obvious:

  • The term ‘repository’ is still indistinct and requires further definition. Ideal-typical repositories are found in the higher educational sector as ‘institutional repositories’ which are characterize by providing a defined collection of materials which is accessible and managed by a specific repository software. In comparison this kind of repository can hardly be found within the school sector. Nevertheless there are numerous services which provide a stock of OER. This leads to the question if every website, which provides resource automatically can be classified as a ‘repository’.
  • ‘Referatories’ appear in different forms and diverse technological backgrounds. The simplest form of a referatory is a link list such as the one you can find on ‘CC Your Edu’. A more sophisticated approach is provided by social-bookmarking-services such as Edutags which allow to generate link lists collaboratively. The technically most advanced form are search engines  such as Elixier which index meta data or/and full texts of documents to provide fast information retrieval.

Relatively high in numbers are services that combine both repository and referatory functionalities, for example several of the German federal education servers. The OER Atlas counts these services as referatories – this assignment however is not necessarily mandatory.

6.2 Wikis

Figure 7 also points to another phenomenon: Wikis are the numerously largest group of counted services in Germany. 24 of a total 64 services (37.5%) are based on wiki technology. Wikis can be used to generate link lists (compared to the simple referatories mentioned above), as well as to upload documents (compared to repositories). Additionally they allow users to generate web documents in a very simple and quick way. The OER Atlas results show that wiki technology seems to be popular especially  in the school sector.

7. Services by license type

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Figure 8: Number of servcies according to used license type

One important aspect for analysing OER services are the used  licenses. 45 of 64 services stated to provide (also) CC BY-SA licensed material. This positive impression is supported by the fact that 44 services indicated to use only one of the license types CC 0, CC BY, or CC BY-SA. According to this 68.75% of the German-speaking services exclusively publish under licenses that are approved by the Creative Commons seal ‘Approved for free cultural works’. These licenses all match the requirements of common OER definitions. This (presumable also in international comparison) excellent result reflects the high priority which is given to licensing issues by the German OER community. Only 4 out of 64 services indicate to use other than Creative Common licenses, which is positively regarding the aspects of combinability and legal compliance.


[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projekt.

[2] We use the term ‘service’ in the sense of ‘online-service’ including all different kinds of offers, which can be found in the web and which provide value to the OER community. The most prominent example are repositories. We adapted the term from the schema.org vocabulary. It seems to be somewhat irritating in and might be adjusted in the future.

[3] Unfortunatly the OER World Map input templates where not yet in place when we collected the data for the Atlas. We therefore had to use provisional templates to collect the data, which did not offer optimal usability.





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Can we map Open Education Week?

During a small research project starting during Open Education Week, we will try to look for ways to map Open Education Week, e.g. to put the activities of Open Education Week on the OER World Map.

Our interest in mapping Open Education Week data is twofold: on the one hand we made progress defining our data model by taking real world examples and trying to model them on the OER World Map. Initially we used OER stories for doing this on a micro level, targeting individual actors and activities. Just recently we produced the OER Atlas, giving us the experience of collecting data of a complete country. Collecting Open Education Week data will provide us with another interesting example of collecting real world data on a macro level.

On the other hand we assume that regular events (like conferences or Open Education Week) are good opportunities for regular updates of the OER World Map database. We already synchronised the data collection for the OER Atlas with the OERde 16 Festival and we guess that getting the data of the major global OER events would provide us with a solid set of the most important OER activities, even if smaller projects might be missed. Ideally, the data collection would happen automatically, so that the data being submitted for a conference or another event is automatically transmitted to the World Map. In order to analyse this idea more in detail, we will first take a closer look at the proposals submitted to Open Education Week.

We expect this activity to provide at least two different types of insights:

  1. We expect to learn, if it is possible to model the submitted data with our data model. If we find things which we currently cannot map we might extend or change our model.
  2. Posing the question “What should be put on the map?” also offers a good opportunity for Open Education Week and the Open Education movement in general to define and understand the value of mapping. Open Education remains an ill defined topic and trying to collect information about it in a structured way will provide deeper insight in the organization of OER ecosystems.

So what will we do in detail, and how can you participate? We started by putting all Open Education Week submissions (without the many events) in a Google Doc open to everyone. We also started reflecting on each entry and members of the OER community are sincerely invited to join this process of reflection by adding comments, especially to entries which are marked as “unclear”. Later on (probably within the next two weeks) we will summarize the results in another blog post and start mapping those events where data is available. In the long run, we will also consider improving identified shortcomings by extending the functionality of the platform.