Category Archives: quality


The OER World Map Openness Indicator – Background & Introduction

Since most of our team members are somehow connected to the library world, one of the first things we wanted to do, when we started phase II of the project, was to define a clear collection policy for the OER World Map, which should define which data to collect and which not. A clear scope, so we thought, would be especially important for a project like the World Map, since trying to collect too much often ends in collecting nothing right.

We consider ourself to be dedicated to Openness, which means that we support open licenses, develop open source software and even do most parts of our project communication openly on GitHub. Therefore our initial approach to define a collection policy was to restrict the OER World Map to entries, which are related to ‘real OER’, which according to my understanding meant in Creative Commons terminology CC BY, CC BY-SA and also CC BY-NC licenses and equivalents (though another strong opinion in our team argued that NC was no ‘real OER’ according to the Open Definition).

Discussing this issue occasionally, we finally came to the point that keeping this strict focus could not be maintained and that we had to loosen our collection policy. Some of the reasons for this were,

  • that also gratis services (=services, which provide free, but not openly licensed materials) offer some value for situations, where reuse is not needed,
  • that the gratis services of today may become the open services of tomorrow,
  • that the focus on licensing does not really fit for other things than OER collections. For example focussing on licenses only does not help very much to evaluate adequately a project focussing on developing open practises.
  • that otherwise openness has to be decided on before adding a resource to the map, which might raise practical problems.
  • it’s a rather paradox to build a service on open education with a very closed collection policy.

Though being based on good reason, we nevertheless felt that this decision challenged our initial goal to use the OER World Map as a tool to support ‘real openness’. Our solution to this dilemma was to develop an ‘Openness Indicator’, which would allow users to easily see how open a service is. By doing so, we believe that it is possible to be open and flexible as far as our collection scope is concerned, without losing focus on openness.

When we began thinking about how an ‘Openness Indicator’ could look like, our initial focus was to keep it as simple as possible so that it could easily be applied by OER World Map editors. We therefore came up with a very simple structure: three levels of openness, based only on the chosen license. The basic idea was to design the indicator similar to traffic lights, green for very open services, yellow for fairly open services and red for hardly open services.

While we were still thinking in this direction, we found that a special challenge was that we wanted to decide on the openness of a whole collection and not on the openness of an individual resource. It is easy to look up the license of a single resource, but how should it be possible to judge the openness of whole collections? In case a repository has a clear licensing policy, e.g. by stating that all included contents have to be licensed CC BY, this is quite easy. But according to our experience, this is rather the exception in the world of OER, where most repositories include heterogeneous licensed material.

Finally Adrian came up with the solution, which looked something like this:

  • Green: all resources are licensed under an open  license (CC 0, CC BY, CC BY-SA).
  • Yellow: Some or all resources are licensed under CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, CC-BY-NC, CC-BY-NC-SA
  • Red: All resources are licensed with ND-license or have no license indication at all.

Using this approach we found it was possible to combine the question of different levels of openness with the question of internal license heterogeneity, while abiding by the vision of a simple three colour scheme.

But again things turned out to be more complex than that. Rob was the first to express concerns that a simple three colour scheme might appear too offensive for some, while at the same time oversimplifying the topic. This concerns rang in the next level of development of the Openness Indicator. But the real breakthrough came when Pat Lockley from solvonauts joined the discussion. Actually it was him who hinted us to the “HowOpenIsIt?” Open Access Spectrum (OAS) developed by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) in cooperation with the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).

OAS, in its own words, “moves the conversation from ‘Is It Open […]?’ to ‘How Open is it?’ and illustrates a nuanced continuum of more versus less open to enable users to compare and contrast publications and policies across a grid of clearly defined components related to readership, reuse, copyright, author and automatic posting, and machine readability.” We found this approach so appealing, that we instantly wanted to reuse it for the OER World Map. But soon we had to find out that, once again, things are not so easy, since the OAS, being developed for Open Access Journals, does not fit for OER-repositories for several reasons:

In the ‘reader rights’ component there are several points which refer to the length of an embargo period. In the field of Open Access it is common that new issues are available only for journal subscribers at the beginning and become open respectively free after an embargo period of several months. This does not seem to fit to OER. At the same time this dimension does not ask for compulsory registration, which arguably is a restriction of the access rights of the reader and can be found occasionally in some OER services.

The ‘reuse rights’ dimension introduces very similar levels of openness as introduced above, but does not give any answer to the question how to handle license heterogeneity. Probably this is because consistent license policies are much more common in OA-journals, than they are for OER repositories.

The ‘copyright’ dimension seemingly does not fit to OER without modification, if at all. This component mainly deals with the question, if the copyright is held by the author or the publisher. Since commercial publishers are still the exception in the field of OER, this section will make no sense in most cases. Within the field of OER, especially within Higher Education, it actually could be more interesting to ask if the copyright is hold by the author or by the higher education institution, which employs her. Though this analogy seems to be quite interesting, I`m not sure, if it really makes a difference for the openness of a repository. As long as it’s open licensed, I would argue, it does not matter, who holds the copyright.

Also the ‘Author posting rights’ and the ‘Automatic posting’ dimension seem to be closely related to phenomena typical for (and restricted to) Open Access Journals. While the former refers to the question, how preprints are handled, the latter refers to the question, if resources are automatically posted to other repositories.

Last but not least the machine readability dimension is quite interesting and certainly makes sense to be applied to OER as well. Nevertheless the dimension does not refer to open formats of the resources, which is frequently considered to be quite important for the openness of a resource. Also it does not include the use of open source software, which might be an interesting aspect, when talking about the Openness of a service.

All in all we concluded, that we cannot adapt the OAS without major adoption for OER repositories. We therefore started defining an indicator, which reuses OAS dimensions as far as possible. An initial version can be found here. We will describe its structure and fields in one of our next blog posts. We believe that the Openness Indicator should be discussed by a wider audience and therefore look forward to receive your comments and questions on this important topic!

(foto: “Open Door” by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson, CC BY 2.0)