On the Lack of Reuse of OER

A student of mine, now DOCTOR Sean Duncan (congrats again!) has posted his excellent dissertation studying reuse of OERs online under a CC-BY license. This was one of the most enjoyable dissertations I have ever chaired. I’ll cover highlights below, but I encourage you to check out the full text of Patterns of Learning Object Reuse in the Connexions Repository for yourself.

The study examined patterns and amount of reuse within the Connexions OER repository at Rice. CNX seemed like a great choice for examining reuse because the system is built specifically to support both adapting individual modules and remixing individual modules into courses / collections. Importantly, through system metadata that CNX also makes openly available, all these relationships can be explored programatically in a straightforward way. So CNX is in many ways a best-case scenario for studying reuse, adaptation, and remixing.

Terminology and definitions are very important if we’re going to be doing quantitative measures of different aspects of reuse. Here are Sean’s terms and definitions.

  • Use – Count of each inclusion of an original module as-is in a collection.
  • Reuse – Count of all but the initial use of an original module as-is in a collection (i.e., Use – 1).
  • Translation – Count of each derivative of an original module where the language differs between the modules.
  • Modification – Count of each derivative of an originating module where the language does not differ between the modules.
  • Recycled – Count of each reuse, translation, and modification of an originating module.
  • All Use – Count of each use, translation, and modification of an originating module.

Sean opens the results chapter by saying:

A critical, unstated assumption made by the researcher turned out to be false, but its identification is, in and of itself, an important finding. Specifically, the researcher assumed that there was significant use of Connexions modules within Connexions collections. Because the study goal was descriptive quantitative data, this was not a fatal flaw and its early identification resulted in important methodological revisions.

And here is a sample of some of the findings:

The total count of Unique Modules Published was 5,221, but the total count of unique published Connexions modules that were used in any collection or as the originating module for another derivative module (i.e., unique modules used), was only 3,519. In other words, 32.6% of modules published in the Connexions repository are not used at all.

The next calculations were the count of how many times modules were included in any collection (i.e., the total use count), which was 4,713, the count of how many times an individual module exceeded an initial use (i.e., the total reuse count), which was 967 times, and the count of modules that were used in two or more collections (i.e., the total unique modules reused), which was 724. These calculations indicated a reuse of discrete modules as 20.57% of the unique modules used, with a reuse rate of 1.34 times for each reused module.

There were only 1,013 module uses where there was no common author [between the module and the collection].

Of the 3,519 unique modules used, 105 were translated into 174 derivatives, while 101 were modified into another 120 modules.

Ultimately, of the 3,519 modules used in Connexions, 861 of them were recycled in some way for a total of 1,262 uses. This means that almost a quarter of all modules that were used at all were recycled. Between basic reuse, translated derivatives, and modified derivatives, recycled modules were used almost 1.5 times beyond their originating object’s initial use.

Only 15 modules were used, translated, or modified more than five times (see Table 5).

As I said, read the full Patterns of Learning Object Reuse in the Connexions Repository for yourself.

To me, this study begins to confirm the “dirty secret” of OER – that the reuse emperor has no (or only very scanty) clothes. I’m planning similar studies of other collections now, and looking for graduate students to run these studies. Looking for a thesis or dissertation topic? Let me know!