open (but hard to find) educational resources

by P

Embarking on the quest to find open content for education.

I have been working on open educational resources for a while now, but I have never tried to find content / resources for an area that I personally am not involved in and that I do not know much about. I was asked to find out what content could be used to support teaching at the Social Work Department at UWC and decided to take some notes along the way, maybe this is helpful for (1) the people developing repositories, many of which have annoying limitations that could easily be fixed, (2) other people searching for open content.

Set the sails! I started with a look at the Department of Social Work website to pack a few keywords into my explorer bag: “social work”, “social welfare”, “social policy”, “psychology AND child development”, “human diversity”, citizenship, “community welfare”, “child and family”, gender. Besides finding the appropriate content, I also have to keep in mind (1) how the content is licensed, since normal copyright usually does not let us copy the materials into another learning management system, and (2) if the format of the content makes it easy to integrate it into teaching and learning processes at UWC.

Get the compass – where is North? We head to google, the compass of web navigation and type in “open educational resources finder”.

(1) OCW Finder

First link takes me to – a thematic repository of OCW courses put together by David Wiley at Utah State University. Unfortunately in this case, the list of courses is heavily skewed by MIT’s massive presence in the OCW field and strongly focused on technology and engineering. 422 resources for keyword engineering, 276 for science , 151 for sciences (and 1 for sceince). Also, it does not seem to re-index new courses frequently, since only half of the very good Johns Hopkins School of Public Health materials are listed. Nevertheless, keywords family and society find a few courses for further inspection: 2 on the MIT site (technology-related) and one broken URL to Utah State. The MIT ones turn out to be too technology focused.

(2) Commonwealth of Learning Knowledge Finder

Next link on google, the Commonwealth Of Learning knowledge finder ( The knowledge finder looks more like a regular search engine. You type in your search string (you can use the usual AND OR operators) and hit Find. I started searching for “social work” and it brought up 85 results. Hooray – that’s promising. Looking further I discover that many of the resources come from the same repository and are titled “Open Collections Program: Women Working: HOLLIS Search” and no further information is provided. Second caveat – a lot of resources that are linked to are pdf files, again without any metadate or description. More grief: the knowledge finder wants to keep you on the COL site, by opening a cached version of the actual content pages within a frameset. Unfortunately that breaks some of the links in the content pages – annoying (and unnecessary, reminds me of the early 90s when frames were all the rage). Nevertheless, I click through and start digging around some of the websites the knowledge finder suggested. The Harvard Open Collection site has two programmes, one on immigration (to the US) and the other on women working (in the US). However, the materials can only be used for the purpose of teaching or individual research and any other use, “including mounting on other systems” (= including in our e-learning system) “requires permission of Harvard University”. Well, I don’t have time to write to Mr Harvard, so that’s that. Final point on the COL knowledge finder then, please include license information in the list of search results.

Next link from COL knowledge finder brings up an online book on learning online: models and styles, which is not related at all to my search query. Furthermore, it is Copyright by two Universities with “all rights reserved”. Hardly free and open.

Finally on page 5 of the search results, a few links to the site. In hope of open content that fits my query, I follow the link to a 404 Not Found message.

The next link points me to a “Votes for Women and Chastity for Men: Gender, Health, Medicine and Sexuality in Victorian England” course on the website. The course look good, all materials are provided as simple html pages, BUT it is licensed under plain old copyright. On to the next.

The next one is a link to the chronicle of higher education article on (mostly) commercial providers of online courses for lecturers that do not have the time to develop their own online materials. Why this would be on the open knowledge finder, I am not sure. The article also mentiones a non-profit “Monterey Institute for Technology and Education”, which develops online courses. I follow the link only to find out that while the Institute is “Supported by a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation”, that grant does not seem to be sufficient and I am asked to join the Institute, at a small fee of US$ 25,000. I whip out my credit card and … just joking! The Institute also offers the friendly looking Hippo Campus site with educational resources to support learning, but the friendly hippo turns into an alligator when it comes to the terms of use, which states the content is provided “… for personal enrichment only. It is not intended for use by educational organizations …”. That’s it, thumbs down, on to the next site.


Google comes to the rescue and finds a working URL for the course on “Cooperative Problem Solving” that I originally found on the COL Knowledge Finder. I have a look at the course, which looks useful, and spend some time exploring the other content on the site. The resources are mostly licensed under Creative Commons licenses, but each module can choose which license it uses. To find out the licensing requirements, one has to download the copyright notice (usually in Microsoft Word format). It would be nicer if that information was provided directly on the course overview page.

Looking through the collection at itrainonline, I notice a whole section on resources for women (how about male gender study students?). Anyway, in the list of resources I find a link to the Indira Ghandi Open University, which offers a whole Multimedia Gender Training Kit, that looks relevant for the Social Work students at UWC. It includes modules on “Dimensions of Emporwerment and Gender Training”, “Gender Sensitive Policies, Interventions, and Institutions”, “Media, Methods and Approaches in Gender Training”, etc. This is an actual online course, rather than just a collection of materials, and comes with self-assessment tests and a possibility to become a registered gender trainer. That might be more than we need, but I can’t review if we could just use some of the content, because it is hidden behind a very intricate registration form. I hate registration forms … on to the next link.

Another resource I find, is a training toolkit developed by the Association of Progressive Communication on “Violence Against Women in the Context of War, Conflict and Militarisation“. I download the copyright note and find that they use the Attribution Non Commercial ShareAlike license. At UWC we prefer not to use the NonCommercial option, but this is a start.


I mo
ve on to the MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching) that is provided by the California State University Center for Distributed Learning. It’s a clearning house for learning and teaching resources, and allows users to assess the quality of the materials, in the same way amazon users can post reviews and comments about books. I try my goold old “social work” search query: “No results found”. Oops. I decide to browse, rather than search. In the Social Sciences > Psychology section, I choose ePsych, one of the “MERLOT classics” and am taken to a very informative overview of what the materials cover AND the fact that they are not licensed under basic copyright (It would be nice to find out how they are licensed, but even to know that it is not just copyright is great). Well, it would be great, since upon arrival on the heavily multimedia’ed ePsyche site I am greeted by a warm “all rights reserved” message. Buggers. The site looks fun otherwise, covers the deliberate, the adaptive, and the biological mind, and could certainly be linked to as part of an online courses.

MERLOT suggests another resource related to the Social Work coursework, “The Experimental Analysis of Behaviour”, which sounds great, but the link to the resource is not working and I can’t find the course through google either.

I remember that the UWC curriculum contains a course on “Sociology of Crime & Violence” and decide to search for “violence” on MERLOT, which brings up a number of useful links, including a course on Victimology. Unfortunately the website contains no licensing information (which means it is covered by standard copyright). Another MERLOT link points to the copyrighted pdf on “The Structure of Family Violence: An Analysis of Selected Incidents“.

(5) Rice University Connexions

I move on to Rice University’s Connexions project. I browse the contents, but there are no resources linked to “violence” or “family”. I decide to search instead, but “social work” brings up resources ranging from general overseas travel safety to intellectual property. I am not deterred, and find two resources that seem to fit: “Community Response” to addiction, which is a one page overview clearly licensed under an Attribution 2.0 CC license, and “Evidence for Improving Social Support”, which is just a reading list of articles and books, without any further links.

(6) Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health

I give up searching through repositories, and focus on university sites for institutes working in related fields. I start with the Johns Hopkins Open Courseware site and find a wealth of public health related courses – many of which can probably be adapted for UWC’s Social Work curriculum. Most courses contain extensive lecture notes, readings lists (the reading materials might not be available though), and assessments. All materials are licensed under the CC Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike license!

Family Planning Policies and Programs: Introduces issues and programmatic strategies related to the development, organization, and management of family planning programs, especially those in developing countries.

Social and Behavioral Aspects of Public Health: The course is designed to help students develop basic literacy regarding social concepts and processes that influence health status and public health interventions. The course also hopes to help students develop insight into populations with whom they have worked in the past or will work in the future, and to develop one kind of effective writing tool (the narrative) for communicating about psychosocial issues in public health.

Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health Care: Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health Care aims at providing you with the knowledge and skills needed to diagnose (understand) community, individual, and organizational behaviors and change processes in developing countries and in cross-cultural settings as a foundation for planning culturally appropriate primary health care (PHC) in the context of the ecological model of health behavior.

Training Methods and Continuing Education for Health Workers: This course in Training Methods and Continuing Education for Health Workers identifies the role of training and continuing education as an important component of health service and personnel management. Participants will be guided through the steps of planning training and continuing education activities for a range of health workers from managers to village volunteers.

The History of Public Health: In the History of Public Health we will examine the historical experience of health and illness from a population perspective. This material seeks to reveal how the organization of societies facilitates or mitigates the production and transmission of disease.

(7) Del.Icio.Us -> Open University UK

I decide to give the social bookmarking tool a try – I have started using it more regularly since I found the firefox plug-in for it ( and I know that others in the  OER field promote it. Via the popular oer links I find the site, another project supported by the William and Flora Hewlette Foundation, which seems to replicate some of the work already started elsewhere (Connexions, MERLOT), and the excellent LearningSpace site at the Open University UK.

The open university UK has a fantastic collection of open courses on a wide range of topics and all are clearly licensed under CC Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 2.0. The content is organised by topics and grouped in units, with lots of self-assessment questions and comments. It will not be easy to copy / replicate them in another format, but the extra work might well be worth it given the careful design of the courses. Some courses that I thought might fit (but there are lots more) are:

Social Problems: who makes them? In this unit we explore the question of what it is that makes social problems social. What is it that makes some issues and not others worthy of public attention, anxiety or action?

The social in social science On completion of this unit you should be able to describe why and how we study social phenomena; outline how theory can help us to deal with complex evidence; give examples of the most appropriate theory; identify which concepts are most useful for the task; explain how hypotheses are generated; summarise what makes our evidence and arguments more plausible.

Caring: A Family Affair Care is needed at all stages of life. This unit makes care in the family its focus because the overwhelming majority of care, including health care, is supplied in families, much of it in private, much of it unnoticed and unremarked upon.

Arriving back in the harbour.
Phew – that was fun. So what worked and what did not? The repositories and specialised search engines need improvement. My main points would be to update the indexed content more regularly, provide better summaries and meta-information on the resources they link to, and definitely clarify the licensing of the materials on the site. A more successful approach in my case was to go directly to the Universities that created the courses and content (Johns Hopkins, and Open UK) and browse through their materials. However, people who are not as familiar with the OCW world, might not know which universities are active in the field, which is where google, rdf, and correct keyword tagging come in. Sites that host educational content should include rdf tags for their licenses and short description of the content togther with the keywords “open educational resources”, or “open content”, or “free and open content”.