Depending on your background, you have heard either from open educational resources (OER) or open source. In essence, they are similar concepts but used in different contexts: OER in educational environments and open source in the context of software project.
I was recently invited to talk about this subject in a podcast episode. As the episode is only available in German, it was important for me to provide a short summary in English on the topic.
The idea is simple: Usually, learning materials for teachers are strictly licensed by their respective creators. That means access, distribution and modification are only allowed if the license allows it. However, in modern educational systems, teachers might gather their learning materials from different sources and platforms like social media networks. Furthermore, these materials are sometimes modified and distributed without further license concerns. Often, the gathered learning materials do not include any licence information which leads to confusion about its legitimacy.
OER solves this by providing similar licenses as in the open source world. Allowing access, distribution and modification (depending on the license), it gives teachers a better understanding how to work with learning materials.
Open source software is the contrary to closed source or proprietary software. Closed source code can usually only be used according to the license and payment, is not allowed to distribute and usually not easily to modfify as external party. Therefore, the characteristics of open source on the other side are:
Not all open source projects include the same license. There are many licenses available that focus on the issue if modifications of an existing open source project have to be also released under open source licenses. This might be not an issue for the open source projects but gets quite tricky for closed software projects, as dependencies have to be checked thoroughly for any license violations. Companies usually do not want to open source their own software projects.
The advantages from open source are most importantly transparency: If the source code is public then the code can be reviewed and assessed by experts and consequently the trust increases. However, the past has taught us that even open source projects might include bugs and unfortunately also security bugs. If the source code is not reviewed, transparency is only an empty word. Despite that, open source projects can be easily forked (copied), modified and worked upon by many developers. Especially in the software tooling world, open source is one of the most important pillars. Other examples might be Linux and web servers.
Open Educational Resources (OER) is an important new building block for educational systems. However, it does not solve the question where to find learning materials that are actually licensed freely. Providers and search engines are needed, to provide easy access. This is where the project kits comes in.
kits is a project platform hosted by a public institution for quality development in schools (Lower Saxony, Germany) and focusses on digital tools and media in language teaching.
You can find all these open source tools (in German) on their website: kits. To further increase access and usability, the B310 team and myself help in developing new tools or modifying existing ones to increase access and quality for OER materials. As transparency is an important factor for OER, all tools are provided as open source code.
If you prefer listening instead of reading, I recommend the podcast “DiOLL aufs Ohr” in general and especially the episode “OER und Open Source” with Tim Krieger (project lead kits) and myself as guests. We discuss what Open Educational Resources (OER) and open source actually mean and how the project kits contributes to an open and safe access to learning materials. The podcast episode is only available in German.