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Free to Learn Guide/A Short History of OER

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If you have not heard of OER before this, you are not alone. The OER movement is only a decade old and has received scant attention in the popular commercial press and media. The movement began in earnest in 2001 after Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles Vest announced that MIT would establish a groundbreaking and unprecedented new program, OpenCourseWare, based on a proposal from members of MIT's faculty. The goal of the OpenCourseWare project, Vest explained, was to make all of the learning materials used by MIT's faculty in the school's 1,800 courses available via the Internet where it could be used and repurposed as desired by others without charge.

"OpenCourseWare looks counter-intuitive in a market driven world," Vest observed at the time. "It goes against the grain of current material values. But it really is consistent with what I believe is the best about MIT. It expresses our belief in the way education can be advanced -- by constantly widening access to information and by inspiring others to participate."

Inspire others to participate it has. Scholars at more than 250 colleges and universities, a majority of them outside the United States, have joined forces or participated in the OER movement in some manner. In most cases, though, their participation has occurred primarily from the bottom up. Very few educational institutions, particularly in the United States, have devoted meaningful material resources to this effort.

At the same time, hundreds, perhaps thousands of professors, instructors and teachers have already been individually investing in the goal of greater access by rapidly integrating OER into their pedagogy, typically in an ad-hoc fashion and in most cases with little or no support from their parent institutions. Often working after hours without compensation for their efforts, many of the most effective and forward-thinking instructors are already using the Internet, and practices and materials associated with the OER movement, to share lesson plans, course outlines, teaching methods and materials, articles, essays, texts, exams, illustrations, exercises and are even streaming videos of their in-class lectures.

In the process, these instructors have begun to open the doors to higher education wider than ever. They are bringing a diversity of more affordable, high-quality learning experiences within reach of growing numbers of students, many of whom are financially or geographically disadvantaged. In the process, many of these instructors are also discovering new and better ways to teach and cultivate learning as they take a "virtual" look over the shoulders of others who teach the same subjects.

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