What is "open"?

CC licensed (BY-SA) Flickr image shared by opensourceway

Jump to a section about open:

What is “open”?
Open Educational Resources (OER)
Open file formats and standards

What is “open”?

Many “open” initiatives are impacting higher education today, including:

  • Open Source Software – eg. Moodle, WordPress, Drupal, Course-builder, CAS, MediaWiki, Sakai, Shibboleth, and uPortal
  • Open Access – Free, immediate, permanent online access to the full text of research articles for anyone, webwide. See the Directory of Open Access Journals or Open J-Gate for example.
  • Open Data – The release of data such as maps, library catalogues, chemical compounds, health data, census data and other non-textual material in such a way that it is free to use, reuse, and redistribute.
  • Open Pedagogies – such as Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web.
  • Open Policy – such as that of the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) that says, “all digital software, educational resources and knowledge produced through competitive grants, offered through and/or managed by the SBCTC, will carry a Creative Commons attribution license”.

All these forms of open share a set of underlining attributes:

  • Free – public funding results in a public good
  • Access & use is explicitly expressed upfront – not dependent on access copyright, payment of fees, proprietary owner permission
  • Easily & quickly adapted
  • Customization & enhancements don’t require large investments
  • Errors, improvements, & feature requests are openly shared & managed
  • Development, distribution & use is community/consortia based
  • Sustainability relies on sharing – resources, development, hosting & support
  • Users are developers


The DOL TAACCCT solicitation includes a number of requirements that relate to “open”.

Grantees are required to use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license on both new content created with the grant funds and modifications made to pre-existing, grantee-owned content using grant funds. The use of a Creative Commons license in this way creates what is commonly referred to as Open Educational Resources (OER).

Grantees are also required to develop digital assets within online and technology-enabled courses, including course components, tests, e-publications and applications using open file formats to maximize interoperability, exchange and reuse.

The DOL solicitation references e-learning open standards and specifications such as LR [Learning Registry], AICC [Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee], LRMI [Learning Resource Metadata Initiative], IMS [Information Management Standard], PESC [Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council], or SCORM [Shareable Content Object Reference Model]). Applicants must identify the industry standard they will use in online course development.

In support of grantees having a clear understanding of just what these open requirements are we thought we’d shed a bit more light on what is meant by open educational resources, open file formats, and open standards and specifications.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license, such as the Creative Commons Attribution license required by DOL, that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.

Open educational resources include full courses and supplemental resources such as textbooks, images, videos, animations, simulations, assessments, and more. Learning materials are OER if they are freely available under a license that allows them to be:

  • Reused
  • Revised
  • Remixed
  • Redistributed

Open File Formats and Open Standards

To foster a greater understanding of what is meant by requirements for open file formats and open standards the OPEN group generated a revised version of the Technical Standards for Digital Assets section of the DOL TAACCCT solicitation.

Technical Standards for Digital Assets (as rewritten by the OPEN group)

All digital assets within online and technology-enabled courses, including course components, tests, e-publications and applications used in course development, should be produced to maximize interoperability, exchange and reuse. Maximizing interoperability, exchange and reuse will be fostered by using technical standards as follows:

(a) Digital file formats.

To enable others to easily access and work with all grant-funded, CC BY licensed content, grantees will make their content available in a file format that allows anyone to natively and directly edit the content. Grantees may choose to make content available in multiple formats, but at least one of these formats must be openly editable. Generally speaking, this means providing the original file format used to create the content. The type of file format varies by type of media:

For documents: openly editable formats include original Microsoft Office files (eg: .doc, .docx, .ppt, etc) and other editable document files. An example of a closed document format is a PDF, since files with the .pdf extension do not allow edits.

For images: Grantees should share source files for images (e.g. Adobe Photoshop), video clips, or Flash (such as FLA).

For video: Common video formats include MP4 (H.264), MOV, OGM, WEBM, FLV, and AVI.

For audio: Common audio formats include MP3, OGG, FLAC, and WAV.

Recommendations for maximum compatibility: If the content is created in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc, it is recommended to make it available in 3 formats: (1) The original Microsoft Office file (eg: .doc, .docx, .ppt, etc) for others to natively edit, (2) a PDF version so that the content is viewable on the widest range of devices, (3) a conversion to OpenDocument Format via LibreOffice (http://help.libreoffice.org/Common/Opening_documents_saved_in_other_formats). For video and audio, it is recommended grantees make available content in the native format in which it was originally recorded. In addition, in post processing/editing, it is recommended grantees export video to two formats: OGG Theora and MP4. For audio-only files, exporting to OGG Vorbis and MP3 is recommended. Include high-resolution versions of videos where possible.

(b) Packaging formats for course level resources.
Many TAACCCT grantees are developing courses deployed through a Learning Management System. To maximize interoperability of courses between different LMS’s, grantees will submit course package files in either IMS Common Cartridge, SCORM, or AICC. Grantees must identify the industry standard they will use.

(c) Meta data for describing the resource.
Meta data are “tags” attached to digital resources that make it easier to publish, discover and reuse educational content. These tags allow learning systems to accurately generate data on how resources are used by educators in diverse learning environments across the Web. TAACCCT grantees will tag their resources using the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) so data about their open content can be searched on the web and entered into the Learning Registry.

– – – – – – –
For more information on Open Formats we recommend the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework Open Formats detailed description.