A MOOC on Open Educational Resources as an Open Educational Resource: COER13
Patricia Arnold, Munich University of Applied Sciences, Germany
Swapna Kumar, University of Florida, USA
Sandra Schön, Salzburg Research, Austria
Martin Ebner, Graz University of Technology, Austria
Anne Thillosen, Knowledge Media Research Center Tübingen, Germany
Open Educational Resources (OER) are sometimes regarded as the most influential social innovation
made possible by internet technologies in the educational sphere (Brown & Adler, 2008). Even though
the term itself was coined by UNESCO more than a decade ago (UNESCO, 2002), the OER
movement only gained momentum over the last couple of years in German-speaking Europe. Massive
Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in some respect have pushed the OER movement forward. They
facilitated the important shift from purely providing openly licensed resources free to reuse and revise
to actually offering open practices (OPAL, 2011). These practices provide educational opportunities
using OER within a course format with learning support to an audience formerly excluded from high
quality tertiary education, for instance. On the other hand, many MOOCs and particularly xMOOCs
(using the widely acknowledged distinction between community–oriented cMOOCs and instruction-
focused xMOOCs introduced by Daniel in 2012) provide open educational opportunities but do not
generate OER as such. Generally, they only realize openness in terms of access. These MOOCs are
free of cost but require students to register and participate within a protected platform, using
copyrighted resources. The other dimensions of openness are rather neglected, especially the
dimension of creating resources that are available to reuse, revise, remix and re-distribute by learners
or educators due to an open license.
In this book chapter we describe and analyze the case of COER13 (http://www.coer13.de/about.html),
a community-oriented cMOOC titled ‘Online Course on Open Educational Resources’ that was run as
an Austrian-German joint venture in 2013. All but one of the authors of this chapter were convenors of
the course. COER13 was deliberately designed and implemented to promote the OER cause. The
overall aim was to generate a comprehensive OER on the topic of OER with the course itself, using a
cMOOC format to possibly reach a large audience. As a consequence all materials were openly
licensed and the course design was oriented towards the production of OER on various levels. With
this particular focus the case of COER13 addresses the ethical dimension of Khan’s (2006) e-learning
framework, which involves viewing and evaluating e-learning with a socio-political lens, e.g. analyzing
in what ways e-learning tackles urgent social challenges such as access to education for all or
bridging the digital divide. Within the ethical dimension, issues of copyright and other legal issues are
explicitly addressed. Hence the case presented here, with its close link to open education and
alternative licensing schemes, exemplifies the challenges that have to be met when developing e-
learning from an ethical perspective, striving for greater equity of access to education.
The chapter is structured as follows: As OER are the key concept of this case study, we will start by
summarizing what OER are and how they are presently used in German-speaking Europe. In the
following section we describe the educational design and the basic facts about the MOOC COER13.
For our special focus on the ethical dimension of Khan’s e-learning framework we then present the
processes that we used and the challenges that we faced as convenors in developing the resources
for the course. In addition, we describe the assignments, meant to encourage participants to produce
OER, as well as the challenges of actually putting them into practice. We finish this behind-the-scenes
account with an assessment of the impact of COER13 for OER production and OER practices in
German-speaking Europe. Finally, we reflect on the case as an example of an e-learning course that
addresses the ethical dimension of Khan’s e-learning framework and consider what implications our
case might have for other MOOC designers.
Open Educational Resources in German-speaking Europe
Open Educational Resources have garnered increasing attention in the last decade. An important
milestone was the UNESCO initiative ‘Free Educational Resources’ in 2002. Several definitions are
currently available that define open as the opportunity to use, to share, and to modify educational
content. For example, the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) defined the
term Open Educational Resources as a “universal educational resource available for the whole of
humanity, to be referred to henceforth as Open Educational Resources“
(http://www.unesco.org/education/news_en/080702_free_edu_ress.shtml). According to Ebner &
Schön (2011), Open Educational Resources (OER) are now defined as resources that are available
for free, are allowed to be modified, remixed and republished and are produced with a freely available,
open source software (for example as an odt-file in Open Office). An appropriate legal framework or a
license that allows others to use the resources and specifies which uses are legally possible is
essential. Internationally, the so-called ‘Creative Commons License’ package is the most used license
model. This might be due to the fact that it has been translated into many different languages and has
been adapted to the prevailing intellectual property laws of several countries worldwide.
Since the 2002 UNESCO initiative, the idea of making education and any content needed for
educating people freely available on the Internet has become more and more popular. An important
driver was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that started its OpenCourseWare initiative in
2003. Afterwards, several important initiatives and projects were implemented, especially in higher
education. The OECD published a study (2007) with the first international survey about OER and the
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation reviewed the OER movement (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond,
2007). The European Commission also started to fund projects focused on open educational content
and open source tools (e.g. OLCOS, Bazaar).
Proponents of OER regard OER as a significant social innovation that potentially helps to tackle urgent
global problems such as access to education for all and the reduction of educational inequality
throughout the world, thus providing new means and ways for learning. Potential benefits of OER are
• OER offer a broader range of subjects and topics to choose from and allow for more flexibility
in acquiring material for teaching and learning.
• OER leverage the educational value of resources by providing teachers personal feedback,
lessons learned and suggestions for improvements.
• OER provide learning communities such as groups of teachers and learners with easy-to-use
tools to set up collaborative learning environments.
• OER promote user-centered approaches in education and lifelong learning. Users are not only
consumers of educational content, but create their own materials, develop e-portfolios and
share study results and experiences with peers.
In addition, pragmatic and market driven considerations such as public relations, the recruitment of
new students, or internal quality management are potential drivers for OER activities, especially in
higher education (Arnold, 2012; Schaffert, 2010).
Despite the great potential of OER for education, German-speaking Europe has been particularly slow
in the OER uptake for several reasons (cf. Arnold, 2012 for details). One reason might be the fact that
Germany, Austria and Switzerland have very strict intellectual property laws compared to other
countries in the world, and copyright infringements are closely prosecuted. Generally, intellectual
property right law protects the rights of creative people like artists, musicians as well as authors in a
way that using their work is normally prohibited. Exceptions exist in some cases for private usage or
copies. Thus, even if materials are freely available on the Web and published by the copyright owner,
they normally cannot be re-used in an educational setting. Additional regulations give schools and
higher education slightly more freedom to re-use resources, for example if access to the resources is
limited to a closed group, texts are only partially reproduced, etc. Still, the widely spread diffusion of
internet, video projectors and other digital devices often leads to situations that are in conflict with the
laws (Ebner & Schön, 2013). For example, in Germany the use of a photo or an illustration (digital
copy) from an older text book (from the 1970s, for example) with a video projector or interactive
whiteboard in a school lesson is not allowed. Given these strict and complex regulations, many
teachers and lecturers (and students if they are aware of intellectual property right) remain deeply
unsure as to how to treat these issues correctly and would rather refrain from using materials
produced from others.
Another important issue is the fact that, unlike in the U.S., in Western Europe it is impossible to
relinquish one’s intellectual property right. There is no ‘public domain’ option available that could be
used as a simple way to allow others to use (educational) content. Alternative licenses, especially the
Creative Commons license model with a clear legal description concerning the local laws, provide a
great option to handle the legal challenges in Western Europe. Nevertheless, the intricate legal
situation remains a burden for the OER movement, as most educators, teachers and learners often
feel they cannot possibly engage with these intricacies on top of their other obligations.
Last, but not least, the German speaking countries face another challenge: Whereas OER in English
seem to be available for nearly every item and issue; this is not the case for OER in the German
language. Despite the increasing internationalization of higher education, resources are still
predominantly needed in German. Even if higher education were able to use OER in English, schools,
vocational and continuing education clearly need materials in the German language. Although several
initiatives have generated OER across educational sectors and subject areas in German speaking
countries in the recent past, there is still a dearth of German speaking materials that are clearly
licensed as OER.
Against this backdrop, we as OER proponents saw the need to support the OER movement in
German speaking countries and, especially to accelerate the production of OER: The idea to convene
COER13 was born.
COER13 – Open Course on Open Educational Resources in 2013
Eight experts in the field of learning and teaching with digital media from Austria and Germany,
affiliated with five different organizations, formed a team of convenors to offer COER13. The course
ran over 12 weeks in spring 2013, was offered entirely online and had 1090 registered participants.
There were no course fees or any other prerequisites for participating, not even registration was
required to participate. Participants came from many different strands of the educational sphere,
school teachers 23%, higher ed central services staff 23%, higher ed lecturers 21%, freelancers 18%,
students 16%, and corporate sector 8%. Participants decided to take part in COER13 mainly because
they were interested in the topic of OER (98% of 392 responses), in the MOOC format (78%) and for
professional development (72%) (Jirschitzka, 2014).
When designing COER13 our main objectives were (a) to develop course based materials about OER
as an OER itself in German to enhance awareness of and knowledge about OER and OER-related
issues in German-speaking Europe and (b) to initiate the production of OER across educational
sectors and subjects. To gain experiences in MOOC design and implementation was a secondary
motivation for some of us but the MOOC format of COER13 was not at the forefront of the endeavor.
We opted for a MOOC because it provided an open educational practice that promoted the ideas and
the practice of OER (for the overall convenors‘ perspective within COER13 cf. Arnold, Kumar,
Thillosen, & Ebner, 2014)
The course itself comprised five thematic units dealing with different aspects of OER, each with a
duration of two weeks (Fig. 1). In addition, COER13 started with an introductory week in which we
explained the concept of OER and the course design and ended with a closing week in which we
shared course summaries and course evaluation across the learning community.
For each unit there was an optional assignment revolving around the production and usage of OER.
Assignment work had to be documented on the course website if participants aimed to obtain online
badges that served as an alternative means of course credentials. Even if participants did not strive for
badges, they were asked to share their assignment products with the learning community on the
course website or any other freely accessible platform.
For each thematic unit we provided instructional videos, reading materials and relevant internet links
on the course website. All materials were gradually added as the course evolved. Expert talks, offered
via live classroom software, took place once or twice per thematic unit. These online events provided a
pace to the course and allowed for synchronous communication between experts, convenors and
participants. Recordings of the events were later provided for all, as permanent learning resources.
In addition, for communication within the course we had planned and actually used a newsletter for
conveying announcements, summaries and organizational arrangements; a discussion forum
integrated on the website; and tweets and blog entries that were aggregated on the course website via
the course hashtag #coer13. As it turned out COER13 issues were also discussed in an existing OER
Google+ group (136 members) as well as in a specially created COER13 closed Facebook group (105
members) that participants set up during the runtime of the course. Google+ postings could also be
aggregated via the hashtag onto the website; Facebook does not support such aggregation.
Looking Behind-the-Scenes of COER13
How did we proceed to reach our objectives to develop a MOOC that would truly address the ethical
dimension of e-learning and push forward the OER adoption and production in German-speaking
Europe? In this behind-the-scenes account we will first look at our processes as convenors when
selecting and producing the resources for COER13 and report on difficult situations and decisions that
we encountered. In the second step we will look in more detail at the assignments that were aimed at
engaging participants actively in the production of OER. We will showcase some OER products but
also highlight surprises and difficulties with this approach.
(1) Processes used and challenges faced in generating OER for COER13
When starting out to plan COER13 we clearly wanted to collect or produce course materials for
COER13 that were openly licensed and thus walked the talk of the overall COER13 endeavor. For the
course website we used open source software gRSShopper with an integrated newsletter tool and
added an open source forum-software as gRSShopper did not provide a forum. More important than
the technological infrastructure of the site were the course resources that posed a significant
challenge. In English a myriad of resources exist that explain what OER are, in text, video- or audio-
format as well as resources that cover any other aspect of OER such as business models or
organizational strategies. In German, there was a lot less material available.
Our strategy to collect and produce OER-related material in German employed a mixed approach. On
the one hand, each convenor led the design of a thematic unit and searched for resources to use in
her or his unit. To use here meant to either integrate those resources into the specially produced
material for COER13 using the classic approach of re-mixing and re-distributing OER or to point to
resources on other websites. On the other hand, to give our course a common structure and
appearance we had agreed that each thematic unit should have a short video (if possible), introducing
the topic of the unit, text or other multimedia resources to dig deeper into the aspect to be explored as
well as one or two online events where experts gave a talk or participated in a panel discussion in
regard to the topic of the unit. These online events were held via Adobe Connect and the recordings
embedded in the website for all to watch in case they could not participate at the scheduled live event.
Moreover, these recordings generated additional permanent resources on OER as encapsulated
This approach basically worked out fine but had its own intricacies and challenges for us. All
convenors engaged in the COER13 production had a rather vague mandate from their respective
employers or affiliated organizations to develop and deliver the MOOC, which was mostly a mix of
professional mandate and personal engagement. This implied that there were no additional financial
or personal resources available for OER production, which affected the development of the general
educational design. For example, one of the convenors took up the COER13 development as part of a
university project that was charged with researching and developing new educational designs for its
students. Immediately the question came up whether a joint venture with many different organizations,
in which some of them are other higher education institutions, while others are not, lay within the
scope of the project. Even more difficult to answer was the question: Is the development of a course
like COER13 for an open target group billable time for the university project, given that some of those
who take the course might be students of the university, while many would not be students at all?
Luckily for the OER production within COER13, one of the convenors was very adept at video
production with simple and cost-effective techniques. In addition, our aim was to integrate already
existing material and perhaps translate it to German. As it turned out, due to the difficult copyright
situation in Germany (where the course website was hosted, under the auspices of the e-learning
information portal e-teaching.org) there was only scarce material that could be re-used and adapted,
and that was already under an open license. Simple book illustrations that we would have liked to
incorporate into our home-made videos could, however, not be used as they were copyright protected
– or were in conflict with our overarching decision to put all resources on the COER13 website under a
Creative Commons license By-Share Alike 3.0 Germany (CC BY SA).
This decision in itself resulted from a larger debate. Originally, many of the convenors intuitively opted
for a Creative Commons license By-Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC) license that would give the
materials only free for non-commercial purposes. Plunging deeper into the implications of the licensing
system we then came to realize that a non-commercial attribute would be not compatible with, for
example, being listed via a search engine like Google. Another consideration was: Students do not
typically pay for courses at state universities in German speaking countries. A NC license would have
thus excluded state universities that offer master programs for professional development for which
students pay fees as well as private universities or commercial providers of (further) education from
reusing the materials.
Other compromises also had to be found: resources like slides from presentations of the experts were
often encapsulated in PDF formats or shared via Slideshare, which meant they did not fulfill the
requirements of OER in terms of using open source software and open data formats.
(2) Assignments to encourage OER adoption and production
As one of the COER13 objectives was to actually promote the practice of using and producing OER
we embedded optional assignments into each thematic unit that would require participants to get
practically involved in OER creation, distribution and diffusion (Fig. 2).
Working on the assignments was also a prerequisite for obtaining badges on two levels. Of 89 persons
interested in obtaining an online badge, 56 actually managed to do so (27 intermediate level wOERker
and 29 basic level hOERer). Although the percentage of participants who obtained badges was
comparatively low (considering the fact that COER13 had 1090 registered participants) the
assignments still seemed to have instilled a lot of activity around OER creation and adoption.
Participants also seemed to have worked on the assignments independent of the badge systems. The
variety and often impressive results of the assignments appear to have validated our approach.
On the other hand, the approach also provided challenges for us as convenors and possibly also for
the participants. Due to the fact that the overall course communication was spread over many different
channels and not all could be aggregated via the COER13 hashtag onto the website (e.g. the
Facebook group postings) convenors as well as participants were not sure whether they had come to
notice all assignment work that was possibly of interest to them. Generally, it was difficult to keep track
of the different products triggered by the assignments. Also, due to this situation it was not possible to
give systematic feedback to participants for their products, e.g. whether or not the chosen licenses
were adequately selected, etc.
(3) COER13 impact for OER production, practices and political debates
The overall aim of COER13, that of increasing knowledge about OER and modeling OER practices,
was substantially achieved. In addition to the resources produced by the convenors (thematic videos,
recordings of the expert online events as well as text materials and relevant links) available on the
course website, participants contributed both in terms of participation and OER generation to reaching
the overarching aims. Several examples of this are listed below:
(1) A variety of summarizing posters and graphics was produced that encapsulated OER knowledge in
a nutshell to give interested educators a quick start. One of the most comprehensive and yet artistic
summarizing infographic is the Cheat Sheet, produced by a group of Austrian teachers participating in
COER13 (Fig. 3).
(2) Many open educational resources in a variety of subjects and across educational sectors were
identified and often tagged on edutags as a result of COER13. They were announced at the COER13
website, e.g. in the forum or via the aggregated blog and twitter postings. Some already existed and
were linked to from the COER13 website, while others were created afresh by participants, often using
the tools presented in unit 2, thus making these OER more accessible for German speaking
(3) An OER wiki was created with suggestions and recommendations for strategies and policies
introducing OER into institutions or pushing for OER at a national level (hosted by Graz University of
Technology, one of the convenor’s home university).
(4) Descriptions of use cases were added from across educational sectors that exemplified the OER
idea in a feasible educational practice. These were intended for newcomers to get a better
understanding of the topic.
(5) Two smart phone apps for different mobile operating systems were developed that assist in
searching and finding appropriate OER material in different free available WIKI systems
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=at.tugraz.oerwiki&hl=en; Ebner, Scerbakov & Schön,
2014). Both apps were programed in close cooperation with a seminar on app development that one
of the convenors held at Graz University of Technology. Finally, a game was developed to learn how
different OERs can be combined, called the OER-Remix-Game
The resources created or included by the convenors as well as the above mentioned resources have
experienced significant use during and after the course. The course website received more than
15,000 site visits and nearly 78,000 page views during the course offering. The ten online events
reached between 40 and 134 live participants and attracted between 111 and 2953 views of the
recordings. Even a year after the runtime of COER13, blog or twitter postings use the COER13
hashtag and the website’s news page displays the latest aggregated entries, on average twice per
month. In addition, the convenors and possibly participating educators refer to the COER13 website
frequently in their subsequent seminars, talks and writings, if connected to social innovations in
COER13 was originally intended to be an entirely online and global endeavor accessible to all with
Internet access and command of the German language. However, for a large group of the participants,
it turned out to be a regionally focused and a blended course. The Virtual Pedagogical University
(VPU), an organization for teacher training in Austria, integrated the course into a blended learning
endeavor for Austrian teachers, declaring from the start of COER13 on, that the VPU would act as a
small vessel accompanying the big ocean cruiser COER13 ( Fig. 4). Such an appropriation of our
cMOOC, in fact, was in complete alignment with our overall course aims, constituting another use
case for OER. Had COER13 been designed as a classic MOOC without the explicit aim of facilitating
OER production and practices, VPU would possibly have felt less invited and perhaps also less
entitled to use it for specific professional development and for blended learning.
As described above, when designing COER13 we intended to create an OER that could be used by
others in the future and would model OER practices, and we largely succeeded in terms of the
resources produced and the ways in which they were used. However, course communication took
place not only in the spaces planned by us, but also in other digital habitats (Wenger et al. 2009).
Discussions took place in social network groups like Facebook and Google+ that are not open to the
public. Furthermore, as mentioned above, it was not possible to aggregate the Facebook postings to
the website using the COER13 hashtag. Materials shared by participants within these communication
spaces were therefore not available to all. At the same time, it is possible that participants might not
have communicated in the same manner if their communication spaces were not protected or closed
or could not have been chosen freely by them according to their preferences. This highlights the
challenging decisions to be taken by those who strive to create and provide OER that are accessible
to all, but would simultaneously like to respect the privacy and communication preferences of
participants in a MOOC.
OER in educational and political debates
COER13 also contributed to OER uptake in educational and political debates, due to the convenors’
involvement. For instance, one of the convenors presented COER13 at a faculty meeting, leading to
discussions about OER in the department. Even beyond the boundaries of the convenor’s department
the OER topic got attention and press coverage. Partially because of the MOOC hype in Germany in
spring 2013, university management supported COER13 and the course as well as the OER cause
featured prominently in the university’s newsletter and on its website. In addition, the OER topic made
it to the agenda of various regional German special forums for educators and educational policy
stakeholders such as http://www.e-learning.tu-
http://q2pforum.file2.wcms.tu-dresden.de/?p=443. It was also featured in various well-read e-learning
journals in Germany and Austria such as http://www.uni-hamburg.de/elearning/helm.html,
http://www.zfhe.at/index.php/zfhe/issue/view/38, and http://www.fnm-
austria.at/publikationen/newsletter.html. COER13 has also influenced MOOC developments in Austria,
where a new MOOC platform, imoox.at, received public funding and offered the first MOOCs in March
2014 (Lackner, Kopp, & Ebner, 2014) that implement OER practices (in contrast to the MOOCs
offered by iversity in Germany), also due to the involvement of one of the COER13 convenors.
According to the OECD survey from 2011, Germany belonged to the minority of four countries out of
34 countries that did not consider OER to be an important issue for national educational politics.
However, since 2013, the runtime of COER13, OER uptake was accelerated at the national level: In
August 2013 the first OER biology course book for schools went online and the prize-winning L3T
(learning and teaching with technologies) textbook published its second issue with a more open
license than the first issue (CC BY SA). In September 2013 the first conference on OER in Germany
took place, with a presentation of COER13 by one of the convenors. By November 2013 support for
and production of OER as a national political priority was included in the coalition treaty by the new
German coalition government. These developments cannot be attributed directly to COER13 but might
also have resulted from the increased awareness among many stakeholders in education due to the
MOOC’s prominence in many educational and political debates.
We used the MOOC COER13 as a case in this chapter to highlight the ethical dimension of Khan’s e-
learning framework, which includes considerations of cultural, geographical and learner diversity, legal
issues, privacy, plagiarism and copyright, the digital divide and social and political influence. OER as a
topic and OER practices aim to bridge the digital divide and to provide increased learning
opportunities, but these OER practices are currently not always integrated in MOOCs.
MOOCs were originally intended to support education for all, where not only the course itself could be
taken free of cost but also all the course material was available to anyone (Macauley, Stewart,
Siemens, & Cormier, 2010). Recently, the emergence of xMOOCs has seen a change in how
resources are used – the courses are freely available (often with registration), but the course materials
are sometimes proprietary, are available only during the duration of the course, and in many cases,
cannot be reused. This contradicts the concept of open or OER as it was envisioned. COER13, in
contrast, is an example of a MOOC that attempted to propagate the concept of a MOOC as OER and
create a permanent learning resource on OER, where the MOOC is not only free for all to participate,
but the MOOC resources are also free for reuse and adoption and remain accessible after the course
Legal issues as well as copyright and plagiarism are a concern in the development of MOOCs all over
the world, and have to be considered by platforms or universities involved in developing and offering
MOOCs. Copyright laws differ and fair use guidelines that are common in the US might not be
applicable in other countries such as Germany or Austria as explained in this chapter (Kopp et al.,
2014), posing challenges for educators interested in MOOC development and implementation. In our
case, COER13 fulfilled its aim by raising awareness of the OER cause, leading to frequent debates
among educators and reaching audiences that had not previously been aware or able to learn more
about OER. The example of the Virtual Pedagogical Academy Austria illustrates one of the ways in
which a MOOC that is OER can be used by other organizations or groups.
Different use cases or business models for MOOCs might exist that do not lend themselves easily to
adopt OER practices e.g. if a MOOC is offered to attract a new target group of learners by a for-profit
educational provider. For MOOCs offered by higher education institutions in the publicly funded
educational sector in certain countries, in contrast, it seems to be ever so worthwhile to consider the
OER roots of MOOCs and to implement OER practices to ensure that e-learning contributes to a more
equitable society at large. MOOCs that implement OER practices implement the ethical dimension of
e-learning much more successfully than MOOCs that might just offer free access to a MOOC at a
given time or use proprietary resources that cannot be reused. We present this case as an attempt to
model ethical practices for equitable learning opportunities and posit that when striving to realize the
ethical dimension in e-learning, the relationship between MOOCs and OER should be re-considered
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Acknowledgements: This work was supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in
Germany (BMBF) within the framework of the “Quality Initiative for German Higher Education” and the
university’s development project “Well Equipped for the Future” (duration 2011-2016) within this