Open Education File Format Tips and Tricks

When you are making an open education resource, it’s not just about the content of the resource, although content is very important. You need to think about the different users around the world, and the different devices they may be using.

I read recently that over 75% of Afghanistan has 3G mobile coverage, (the numbers are equally astounding for most of Africa), so if we’re making open education biology courses for example that we’re hoping to reach the 3rd world, we can’t just be thinking swfs, or even pdf depending on the creative commons licence attached to it. We need to be thinking mobile formats, small screens, dial up internet speed, offline viewing, open source software….

open education

We need to think about opening out our open education, so that a range of people can access and enjoy it. If we have made a great swf animation, you can export it as avi and post on youtube, albeit without interactivity Or why not let people download the source fla files in a zip…. And if you do post on youtube, this may be fine for people with great internet connections, but what about the situation away from internet, where distance learning still requires a postman – we need to make these videos available for download too.

Let me tell you about pdfs though, as it makes another point about open education… We write a great open education resource for our biology courses that we wish to share with the world, so we put a creative commons licence on, save as pdf (easier for printing), and post on the internet. Simples, no? But how can anybody remix your content, without the need for proprietary software (Adobe Reader Professional). You need to post the content as txt as well, and open office format so anybody, can open it, even if it means spoiling the format. You may wish to post it on Google Docs as well, and on your facebook group…

There are levels of open education when it comes to file formats.

  • OER that only requires open source software to open and edit e.g. Uncompiled source code, .html, .txt files (most open format)
  • OER that does not reveal source code but can be opened but not edited in a free package (e.g. .swf, .pdf,)
  • OER that requires proprietary software to open but source code is then revealed (e.g. .fla files require flash but then it opens the source code to be remixed)
  • OER that requires proprietary software to open and source code is susequently not revealed (e.g. some screencast recordings)

These are useful to know when you are attributing your open education as you may have CC No Derivs, in which case you need to think about whether you reveal source code or not, but to be truly open, it must be able to be viewed in an open source environment, which is another consideration.

I find that the scattergun approach is the best way to work, and share the resources in a number of ways simultaneously. That we we can ensure our open education reaches exactly who we want it to in a format they can understand. We want open education to be free, and readable for everyone.

Written by:

Phil Tubman BA MSc Cert Ed AHEA
Certified Member of Association for Learning Technology
Lancaster University

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