Open Educational Resources on GitLab

1. Context

The group oer at GitLab collects Open Educational Resources (OER). In a nutshell, educational resources are open if they are distributed under free licenses (such as suitable variants of Creative Commons licenses), guaranteeing Wiley’s 5Rs of Openness, namely the rights to reuse, redistribute, revise, remix, and retain. Consequently, OER promise to reduce entry barriers towards educational resources as well as to avoid redundant work when similar educational resources of high quality are created in different organizations. I explain basics of OER in this OER presentation; an OER video recording (October 2019) entitled “Open Educational Resources: What, why, and how?” for that presentation is available.

According to the UNESCO’s Ljubljana OER Action Plan 2017 OER can play a “pivotal role […] toward achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and above all Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Quality Education.” However, several barriers have been identified that hinder a widespread adoption of OER, and the Action Plan proposes actions to overcome them, in particular for “building the capacity of users to find, re-use, create and share OER.”

Subsequently, the Action Plan shaped the 2019 UNESCO Recommendation on OER, which addresses five objectives with corresponding Areas of Action, among which the first reads: “Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER”

The oer group of projects is well aligned with UNESCO’s Action Plan and Recommendation in that it (a) respects the 5 Rs of openness [Wil14] for Open Educational Resources, (b) observes the requirements of the ALMS framework [HWS+10], and (c) additionally employs best practices from software engineering [Lec19]. Currently, OER collected here were or are being created at the Department of Information Systems of the University of Münster, Germany, mostly with the free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) emacs-reveal (some details on emacs-reveal below); additional OER projects based on free licenses are welcome.

2. Current OER projects

3. Technical Background

For educational resources to be free and open, next to proper licensing requirements also technical requirements exist (as defined in the ALMS framework of [HWS+10], extended in [Lec19]):

  • OER should be usable (for learning) with FLOSS on (almost) any device, also mobile and offline.
  • OER should be editable with FLOSS (this requires source file access).
  • OER should be re-usable under the Single Sourcing paradigm (see [Roc01]), which enables reuse and revision from a single, consistent source without copy&paste (copy&paste creates isolated copies, where the reconciliation of changes and improvements by different individuals would be almost impossible).
  • OER should offer a separation of contents from layout (then, experts for content do not need to be design experts as well; also, cross-organizational collaboration is supported where each organization can apply its own design guidelines).
  • OER should be defined in a lightweight markup language, which is easy to learn and which enables the use of industrial-strength version control systems such as Git for the management of OER collaboration (comparison, revision, merge).

The above requirements are met by emacs-reveal [Lec19-jose]. Emacs-reveal supports the creation of OER presentations (HTML slides with audio explanations and PDF variants) from source files that are written in Org Mode as lightweight markup language (see [SD11] for a general introduction to Org Mode), which can be read and written as text files in any text editor. However, an editor with “real” support is recommended to benefit from Org Mode’s features. The native text editor for Org Mode is GNU Emacs but other editors support Org Mode as well.

With emacs-reveal, HTML presentations based on reveal.js are generated from Org source files. Thanks to features of the HTML presentation framework reveal.js (with plugins) and Org mode, usual and advanced presentation features are provided (e.g., animations and slide transitions; speaker’s view with preview, notes, and timer; embedding of images, audio, video, mathematical formulas; table of contents; bibliography; keyword index; hyperlinks within and between presentations; themes for different styling; responsive design with touch support; quizzes for retrieval practice; code highlighting and evaluation for programming languages). Besides, emacs-reveal allows generating concise PDF versions from Org source files (in addition to the PDF export of reveal.js).

With emacs-reveal, license attribution for OER figures is simplified, with machine-readable licensing information represented in RDFa in HTML [Lec19-delfi]. Besides, emacs-reveal supports the specification of an OER’s primary license with SPDX headers as used in the REUSE project, from which license information can be generated (“Except where otherwise noted, the work x by y is published under the license z”), e.g., the note at the bottom of this HTML file as well as the final slide of the howto for emacs-reveal, display generated license information in human-readable form and contain machine-readable RDFa markup (PDF versions just contain human-readable variants).

For the above OER presentations, the generation of reveal.js presentations from Org sources happens automatically in a continuous integration infrastructure of GitLab based on a special Docker image (about details of which the users of emacs-reveal do not need to know anything).

4. Contributing

Your contributions are very welcome! Please check out some hints in a separate document.


Author: Jens Lechtenbörger

Created: 2022-09-07 Wed 14:42