Theory and practice of open educational resources

One person using a laptop
Gema Santos, of the UOC Library, defends her doctoral thesis on OER (open educational resources).

“Bones pràctiques en visualització de dades” (Good practices in data visualization), a learning module on the requirements for presenting data in an attractive and entertaining manner. This is an open educational resource (OER) drafted at the UOC and available via the O2, the UOC's institutional repository, under a Creative Commons licence. Content such as this OER allow people to learn about subjects that interest them outside the classroom. They are open-access and fulfil the 5 Rs: they can be Reused, Reviewed, Remixed, Redistributed and Retained.


The UOC Library is strongly committed to open access and is working to increase the publication of OERs. Its team is made up of experts in the field like Gema Santos-Hermosa, learning support librarian and a key figure at the UOC’s Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences who, on 10 January, defended her doctoral thesis, Desenvolupament i reutilització dels recursos educatius oberts en la docència universitària: repositoris i usuaris (Development and reuse of open educational resources in university education: repositories and users) at the University of Barcelona's Faculty of Library and Information Science. Ernest Abadal (University of Barcelona) and Núria Ferran-Ferrer (UOC) were the thesis supervisors. The panel awarded the doctoral thesis, the second in Spain to focus on OERs, a mark of Excellent cum laude.


What is the current situation regarding the reuse of OERs in higher education?

Gema Santos's research project helps clarify this question from two aspects: the predisposition of repositories and the needs of users.

1. Repositories and OERs

After analysing more than one hundred international educational repositories, it concludes that:

  • Reuse is an issue that remains pending. In the majority of cases (60%), it is still insufficient and excellent only in a small number of cases (3.6%).
  • Growing use of Creative Commons licences. In general, an upward trend has been identified, as well as a certain relaxation in the law, which still does not permit reuse.
  • Theory vs. practice. It has been observed that the theoretical intention of reusing OERs (mission statements and policies) is at odds with their implementation, given that it is difficult to encounter open formats (to unblock and re-edit content) and versioning systems (that allow the co-existence of different versions of OERs).
  • Educational repositories have not fulfilled their maximum potential. Fewer than half of the repositories offer specific educational metadata and only just over a quarter include learning objectives, which would simplify the search and recovery of OERs in accordance with the needs of users and, consequently, their reuse. Furthermore, they do not include systems that allow users to generate comments, evaluations or metadata.


2. The needs of users

Over two hundred users of OERs were surveyed, the majority teachers, from 45 countries around the world. Gema’s research concludes that:

  • There is major awareness of OERs and of the culture of reuse.
  • Users invest time and effort in creating high-quality resources which, at the same time, generate more open practice.
  • Open educational practice depends more on the willingness and personal conviction of users than on educational prestige.
  • Institutional mentoring and involvement is required to promote the adoption of OERs.


Gema Santos-Hermosa holds bachelor’s degrees in Information Science and in History from the University of Barcelona, a master’s degree in the Information and Knowledge Society from the UOC and a PhD in Information and Communication in the Knowledge Society, jointly from the University of Barcelona and the UOC. She is the reference librarian for the UOC’s Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences; adjunct professor at the University of Barcelona; coordinator of the EMPOWER group of experts in knowledge resources at the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU); and coordinator for action in open learning resources for the Spanish Network of University Libraries (REBIUN) Repositories Working Group.