Open Educational Resources for Medicine and Healthcare

I recently attended a great seminar on Open Educational Resources (OERs) organised by MEDEV called “Re-imagining open education, published works and social media“. For those not in the know, OERs are pretty much what they say on the tin! They are educational resources such as presentations, images, files, documents, etc that are open for re-use by others.

The reason I’m so interested in this area is that we’ve just started running a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) using Creative Commons OERs developed through a $10 million grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT in the US. The resources developed are designed to be used in lots of different ways and include Flash course modules that can be embedded into web pages (see this one as an example) but also the powerpoint decks, MP3s of the voice overs and word documents of the transcripts.

Lots of educational institutions around the world are using this content and it’s great to have the opportunity to make it more widely accessible. Our MOOC is completely free, and you don’t even need to log in or “enrol” to use the content. If you want to have a look at it, go to http://www.healthinformaticsforum.com/MOOC.

I think it fairly self-evident that OERs are a “good thing” and therefore there are two developments that need to happen in the world of Open Educational Resources:

1. There needs to be far more content produced on a wider range of health topics.
2. The content needs to improve in quality to become interactive, immersive and “professional”.

How will these things happen? Well, the first step, in my opinion, is that government and publically funded organisations need to start coordinating production of content so that there are not many different versions of similar content reproduced over and over again. If the government is funding (directly or indirectly) a new educational resource, there needs to be a responsibility to open up that resource and not reinvent any existing wheels. Much like the recent government policy announcements on the responsibility of publically-funded researchers to publish in Open Access journals, educators who are funded through public resources should also have the responsibility to collaborate to make the resources they produce open access and re-usable.

The second step is the introduction of more innovative business models around use of the courses. We’re running the HIF MOOC on a free, open website that is supported by industry sponsorship. This enables us to put the time and effort into curating and uploading content, and building the community around it. It also means the resources are used by individuals who might not be able to afford expensive college fees or live in parts of the world where access to higher education is limited. With more people finding ways to cost-effectively host and distribute content, a virtuous circle of increasing quality and increasing uptake could be found.

At the MEDEV seminar in London, we identified many of these issues (and more!) and I think there is a consensus that more collaborative work is needed and new business models need to be developed. As a leader in this area, it’s great to see MEDEV hosting these types of events which brings together the people necessary to ensure OERs can continue to get developed and used.

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