oer,  Weblogs

What if OER was blogging?


I work a lot in OER, and I do a lot of blogging, and I often blog about OER. But I don’t blog as OER. In this post I’m going to compare two things that are completely different – OER repositories and blogs – and so you can’t make any valid comparisons. But that’s the point of the post really, to see if there is a different way of looking at a topic.

I’ve been looking at the stats for various repositories recently, both OA publishing ones, and OER ones. Thanks to David Kernohan for pointing me at JISC’s IRUS service, which provides a breakdown of publication repositories from UK universities. You need to have a login from a UK university to access it, so I’m not sure how public the data is. But it does provide you with a breakdown across all unis. The figures vary wildly eg the number of deposits per institution range from just six to over 37,000. The average monthly downloads ranges from 0 to 174,000. But in general most institutions have a total number of deposits in the low 1000s, and monthly download figures between 5-20K.

If we look at the UK’s now retired nationwide OER repository, JORUM, the stats are quite strange. They vary wildly by month eg 9K in Feb 2015 and 463K just a few months later in June. They list “views” and “downloads” – my guess would have been that views would always exceed downloads (people tend to look at an item to assess it rather than download I thought). But this shows wide variation also – sometimes views far outstrips downloads (eg Sept 2015 285K vs 80K) but other times the opposite occurs (eg Sept 2014 8K vs 351K). It would be interesting if anyone has theories about this, but that’s not really the point of my post.

I’ve also seen the stats on a few institutional repositories (which I won’t name) – some are impressive with millions of hits and others really don’t get much traffic at all. I was thinking about this in relation to blog stats. This blog has reasonably high traffic, whereas my new blogs have zero visitors. Partly that is a function of having built up enough content in here that others have inked to, so it has some SEO juice. It is also a function of being caught by lots of bots, so the stats are not always reliable. Visitors (which I think is the more reliable figure) over the past year was 214K and visits (probably mainly bots) 3.3 million.

I offer these figures up not as a poorly disguised humble brag (ok, not that poorly disguised), but just because they’re the ones I have. I know plenty of other bloggers who far outstrip these. The point is, they are the type of access figures that are comparable to many big projects and which would be reported happily reported in impact statements. Now, as I said I am deliberately comparing things which are not alike – a blog visit is not the same as an article download.

But the thing it set me thinking about was the figures are in the same sort of league. And blogging is done in spare time, at little or zero cost to the institution. What if we started envisaging projects more in terms of the blog as the core element rather than the dissemination or engagement channel? When a project or an institution is tasked wit building an OER repository, we all know what that looks like, and our default mode is to produce content, build a database, recruit a technical team, etc. But what if we said instead, we’re going to employ four bloggers (say), who will write engaging posts about the topics rather produce academic content? Are those posts better accessed and used than formal OER?

I’m pretty sure someone (Jim Groom? Alan Levine?) has written on this before. And I’m not quite sure I know what I mean by it. But I think there is something in there about rethinking what we mean by OER to be content that is more socially embedded and personal. The impact stats suggest it might be a more successful route if number of eyeballs is our measure.


  • Willem

    View is the page with metadata of an item, download is the real thing. Google not only indexes the metadata page, but also the full file.
    So there can be search queries that only show the fill file and not the metadata file.

    • admin

      Thanks Willem, I hadn’t realised that. This might account for some variation, but I’d be surprised if it explained all of the big swings. I suspect the data has been subject to bot attacks in places.

  • dkernohan

    Hi Martin – nice post.

    IRUS is nice but the real value is via Project Counter (https://www.projectcounter.org ). Their Code of Practice details the way in which one gets from “raw” repository downloads to something that can reliably approximate actual downloads by actual people.

    Something like 86% of repository downloads are just noise – primarily known robots/spiders (IRUS protects repositories against evil robot spiders) and multi-clicks (where someone clicks “download” multiple times in order to make the resource download faster). There are many ways of making that cut in your stats, both proprietary and homebrew, but COUNTER standardises how it is done so you can compare download numbers across multiple repositories/systems.

    I don’t recall whether Jorum used COUNTER but I think not. This is most likely because COUNTER is optimised for research articles – I know this because I’m part of a team working on a version for research data. The App and Content Store (which some call “new Jorum”) may well build on COUNTER, but as there is no directly applicable code of practice I’m not sure quite how this will work.

    The fluctuations in the old Jorum figures may well be due to differing ways of filtering out non-valid downloads. And indeed page views.

    • admin

      Thanks very much David, that’s really useful. The Jorum data does seem odd, almost to the point of being meaningless. Maybe it has been subject to bot attacks or something in places? Although there might be some variations across months, you’d expect some patterns to emerge but it just seems almost random here.

  • sheilmcn

    Interesting post Martin. I do think of some of my blogging as OER, especially when I write for our team blog. I think the value/recognition/time thing is an issue though. Not sure how you get round it, but I think there is something in there about the open educational practice continuum.

    • admin

      After I’d published I realised I should have linked to your I am OER piece Sheila. The recognition is the key point – if we had a project site realising these stats after a big investment, we’d think it was a good return. Bloggers getting them for almost free seems like a very good return on investment.

  • Penny Bentley

    I think you’re onto something here. Two of my favourite blogs/websires for eyeballing OER are The Public Domain Review https://publicdomainreview.org/essays/ and Brainpickings https://www.brainpickings.org/tag/science/

    Embedding content (images, books, audio etc) into engaging posts/essays gives it meaning, relevance and alternative points of view. I’ve been thinking for some time now, in the context of k-12 STEM education, embedding OER into blog posts framed by the curriculum could be an excellent way to engage teachers in the use of OER (and save them heaps of time).

    • admin

      Hi Penny, thanks for these links. I think it’s something about recognising the primacy of blogging and people connecting to that, rather than the content being the main focus and the blogging being the means of adding to it. But I’m still thinking it through.

  • David Jenkins

    It’s a fair observation. It chimes with recent comments I saw from a researcher who felt their editing of Wikipedia was more valuable than their authoring of academic journal articles and I imagine there are fewer barriers to blogging OER than compared to blogging other research outputs.

    Institutions like to have their own repositories to showcase and measure their output.I guess they would want a way of showcasing and measuring this OER blog output too, or to encourage people to deposit in a repository as well as blog?

    Do people perceive deposting OER in repositories as more prestigious or credible than blogging it?

    Obviously, to reinforce the case for blogging evidence to illustrate that blogs are a more effective medium than repositories would be needed.

    The key, perhaps, is in your last sentence. Is number of views our measure? Whether it is/should be shapes which means of dissemination should be used.

    • admin

      Hi David, yes whether views really means _anything_ is a debatable point. I was just just highlighting though that we do report such stats from projects which often have big budgets, and yet bloggers get them often as a matter of course, and for very little money. So imagine if we actually paid people to do it.

    • admin

      Hi Phil, yes the Edinburgh stuff, and the OpenLearn site, do this to an extent, adding commentary and blogging around content. I was pondering taking this to even the next stage where the bloggers _are_ the OER. But maybe that isn’t OER then.

  • CogDog

    You are on a blogging tear, Martin! I still want to try your visit to a random back post, and this one here deserves a full post response. But some first responses —

    Views and download counts are only indirect indicators for reuse. How and what people do with it, despite some hopes from efforts a few years ago by Scott Leslie when he was there, seem to only viable if people write about it. And that, of course will be anecdotal, and not data one can chart and graph.

    What you describe has been my approach for teaching my media creation courses (aka DS106). So much on what we ask students to do is focused on producing the final product; a paper, presentation, video, and rarely the process it took to get there. When I teach DS106, I am not grading as much what they produce (the OER) but how they write (blog) about their idea, where it came from, references for media, how they made it. It’s valuing not only the movie on the DVD but the extras (which we wont have with digital streaming, another post)

    I only built one “repository” back in 2000 at the Maricopa Community Colleges. The metaphor was the kinds of shipping packages you get when you order something, all different kids of content, shapes, sizes, but described by a “packing slip”, a metaphor for meta data. What we hoped for was for people not only to share the thing, its descriptive info, but to write about it in a way to help other educators better understand the context. Mixed success and the only place you can find the thing is in the Internet Archive http://web.archive.org/web/20120114201209/http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/mlx/

    This writing about the stuff we do is generally a thing to do “if I have time” not as built in to the project as you suggest. Some call this curation as the examples like brainpickings does brilliantly, but is also different from the creator writing about their own works.

    • admin

      Hi Alan, you’re right about views and downloads of course, they can be meaningless. But most projects take them as at least proxies for engagement (it’s better to have 10K views than 10 is the general belief, although if those 10 were the right 10, maybe not). It is something about foregrounding blogging that got me thinking here, which is what you have often advocated. Maybe it’s not blogging that is foregrounded, but that blogs represent people, and OERs represent stuff, and we tend to relate to people more.

  • lornamcampbell

    Hey Martin, interesting post. My blog is pretty much my primary output as an open education practitioner, but I’m not sure I’d ever really thought of my blog posts as OER. I think perhaps they are though. Particularly the ones that get pulled through to Open.Ed.

    I think syndication and aggregation is an interesting aspect in all this. Rather than implementing an institutional OER repository, Open.Ed is currently just a blog aggregating content and blog posts. It may well morph into something else in the future, but that’s what it is at the moment.

    I actually really like the idea of starting to think of engaging blog posts as the primary output of projects and institutional initiatives, but I agree that reward and recognition is still a big issue. I’d be very interested to know if anyone has managed to get their blog recognised as evidence of impact and esteem in the REF. Any idea if anyone looked into this?

    • admin

      Hi Lorna, yes I don’t really think of my blog as OER either. But what if we actively paid people to blog instead of produce OER? Getting paid to blog was one of those web 2.0 fantasies, but now I look at it, there is something odd about the way we’ll (I mean universities with a project budget) happily pay to develop a database, gather content, etc but the thought of paying people to blog is not in the remit. Yet the stats might suggest the blogging is the better route to engagement.

  • Pat

    From the solvonaut stats the vast majority of traffic is bots, and i’d not rate any tracking mechanism which didn’t rule out bots by default (basically any tracking which doesn’t use javascript isn’t worth it). A friend tried to spam his altmetrics score and found it quite easy (i helped) and I wonder what these stats will mean once REF comes around.

    As per OER blogs. PoliticsInspires (Was Oxbridge, now just Oxford) was an OER Phase 2 using WordPress for blogs via OER (it wasn’t funded to do that – something to do with building OER collections and linking them). It still exists and is going strong (1 in 5 of the last 100 UK OERs comes from them).

    As for other examples, try globalsocialtheory.org (which seems an example of blogs as OER). I also wonder if one reason UK OER perhaps dried up was it came at the end of the RLO phase and we still made stuff with flash.

    The biggest OER collection in the UK is cc licensed pics. Simple process scale well

    • admin

      Thanks very much Pat, some good stuff in there that I didn’t know. On the traffic side I suspect the Jorum stats are almost meaningless, the variation is so great. For WP I think there is a lot of bot traffic in there, but it’s at least consistent, eg if I post then my visitors go up, I get the same patterns across years, etc. So you could probably apply a consistent factor to it in order to eliminate bots (eg maybe it’s 1/10th of the reported figures). As David suggests, unless everyone is using the same approach it’s difficult to make comparisons. I think my post can be boiled down to “my dodgy stats look as good as your dodgy stats”

  • Jim Groom

    Blogging still carries a certain self-promoting, navel gazing patina which is why I like it. But the beauty of that is it resists the textbook logic of OER. OER has come to mean a vetted academic resource (often a textbook) for a particular subject that is free and saves puppies. That enables grants, repositories, and the like, much of which has been funneled to a few sources and as I learned at OER16 much of which is dying on the vine as the money dries up. Part of that is the natural churn of institutions, but the bigger part for me is the way in which OER as an academic unit of utility sucks any real sense of narrative and personality from the object. For many that may be fine, but for me that is why I avoided classes with textbooks like the plague and studied literature and films. I wanted to be part of an ongoing narrative to learn, and often good faculty provide this and the textbook is just an aid. But more the OER seems more central than an actually faculty, and when that happens I would much rather subscribe to a voice and an idea than a resource or a solution.

    Once the idea of open becomes a solution rather than an approach or ethos, it also becomes rarified and unassailable. At the same time the actual practice becomes less and less important, with fewer and fewer people finding time to blog because they are attending another meeting about portals to access OERs. Blogging should never be called OER because by and large OER is the opposite of good blogging: boring and impersonable.

    • admin

      Hi Jim, thanks for this comment, it captures what I was trying to say much better than I managed. I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or but I do feel we jump to the repository/content/project approach too quickly, because that’s what institutions understand.

      • Pat

        Interestingly of the commenters here (Sheila, David, Lorna, Phil, Alan, Myself when i had one) all CC license their blog. Jim and yourself however don’t

        Much as blogging could be seen as resistant to bureaucracy and managerialism, as Jim said at the DMLL conference, most.blogging software is protean, what it does is almost anything.

        You could say that means it’s not blogging, and choose another rabbithole, or ask what difference having a license brings to blogging? I’d doubt the license would bring any variations when conpared to the big change of the work being public.

        Perhaps OER would have been more successful if it had recruited more self publicists, perhaps it ran dry because it is trapped in a cabal of self publicists, perhaps the visibility of a cc license is an icthyus, perhaps it is a retweet button for the web

        • admin

          Hi Pat, my blog’s always been CC-BY – I think in messing about with themes I’ve managed to drop it off somewhere, thanks for the heads up, hopefully rectified now.

          • Pat

            I now see a widget. Phil is a show off and uses the OpenAttribute plugin which adds proper RDFA to a page. Lorna has a self hosted blog now so could install it as well, but Lorna doesn’t like metadata as much as Phil.

            For ref, when working on OpenAttribute, we asked WordPress if they might build licensing in to core, or into WordPress.com. Reply came there none. WordPress powers 25% of new websites, and would a be a huge OER win, but seems no traction in asking again.

          • admin

            Yes, Pat that WP thing is annoying, before I installed the plug-in I spent ages searching through options to see if there was something I’d missed to make CC a default, eg in Themes you can display copyright notice in the footer, but there’s no option of making this a CC version. Annoying.

          • Pat

            perhaps that answers the question
            Why don’t WordPress allow for CC licensing as an option by default (drupal doesn’t either, Moodle sort of does)
            But flickr does?
            So is photography OER / suited to sharing, but somehow, structurally blogging isn’t? Blog as diaries?

    • lornamcampbell

      Hey Jim, I agree with a lot of what you says, but I’m also inclined to think that the main thrust of your argument is primarily true if you equate OER with textbooks. I’ve never thought of OER, as I recognise it, as having a textbook logic, thought I do realise that this is the common perception in some parts of the globe. I’m also not convinced that it’s universally true that “OER has come to mean a vetted academic resource,” if that is the case then I’m very 🙁 I love the idea of subscribing to voices and ideas, but I still think that resources can be very useful sometimes. And I absolutely agree that if we see open as a solution rather than as an approach then we are loosing out on the real beauty and value of openness.

      “Blogging should never be called OER because by and large OER is the opposite of good blogging: boring and impersonable.”

      Ooooh contentious! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen lots of inspiring OER over the years, and I can absolutely guarantee that I’ve written many boring blog posts in that time too :}

      • Jim Groom


        Thanks for taking me to task 🙂 I do conflate OER with Open Textbooks because that is the natural course this argument has taken over the last 10 years in the US. I am a product of my environment. Society did this to me! And the idea of trying to fit the practice of blogging into the logic of OER seems to open up all kinds of questions for me about the the institutionalization of blogging, which is what happened to the promise of open. It became a series of funding organizations, interested investors, and ultimately the codification of a practice that could work along the lines of a model for mass reproduction. This was the same allure for MOOCs, and it was interesting to me to see at the EDEN confernece this year the great edtech debate was between OER vs. MOOCs, Clash of the Titans 🙂 But for me, the choice between the two has little to do with personal investment in exploration of the tech to make teaching and learning more compelling. And I see the argument for access both represent, I really do, but all too often that becomes an investment in a few institutions/companies to control the means of open. Open need not be a manifesto or a religion, it can be something you do in your garage (my metaphor for blog) outside the demands of what makes sense as a policy or national movement because we all know the way that goes. There is often nothing there, and worst case scenario it is used obfuscate the real blockades to access, basic public funding of services like higher ed tuition 🙂 As for boring blogging, I know, very contentious, and I am guilty-but how else am I gonna piss off Weller?

        • lornamcampbell

          You’re more than the product of your environment Jim! Free your mind from these societal constraints.

          While I like Martin’s idea of producing engaging blog posts rather than more formal OER (though what is that?) I agree that you’re right about the dangers of institutionalising blogging. As soon as you are required to do something it takes on a whole different dynamic. I think you’re also right about the dangers of a few companies and institutions coming to control what it means to be open, and I think if that is what the open movement is reduced to, then we’ll have completely missed the point of open education. Having said that, I can’t get away from the idea that it’s better for publicly funded educational and cultural heritage resources to be available under open licence, than not. I guess ideally I’d like to see open as something that you can do in your garage *and* in your institution.

  • Simon Thomson (@digisim)

    Really great discussion that I just couldn’t help but add my thoughts to.

    In terms of the stats element – I’ve always found them spurious, but I’m nowhere near the Weller level so I don’t look at them very often. I mainly blog for me, if some people find it interesting then that’s a bonus.

    With regards to OER I think unfortunately the term has been slightly “owned” by what I call the “OER years” – the HEA/JISC funded initiatives that required the release of (mainly granular) openly licenced resources for others to use. I do think that this process lost a lot of the narrative. It was a shame that the information contained with OER was focussed on “metadata” and not on “narrative”.

    Personally these days I avoid the term OER (except when I refer to the “OER years” or the “OER movement”. I know focus on OEP (Open Education Practice). For me this is much better and allows me to discuss resources, approaches and philosophy. It also encapsulates blogs, which I wouldn’t necessary classify as OER – but I would see them as an important element of my OEP!

    • admin

      Hi Simon, the OER Years was a great series wasn’t it 😉 I think you’re right about OEP, but the problem there is that OER at least gave us a reasonable definition to work with. OEP is more nebulous and so even more difficult to pin down

  • Ken Bauer

    The comments here are amazing but let me add my Mexican two pesos worth.

    When I look at what some colleagues extoll as OER databases I shudder since they are not truly open in so many senses: require login to access, require onerous processes to deposit content, controlling on the format of the content deposited, and eventually the content disappears in a puff of smoke when the project dies. Then of course, the system is some proprietary format that nobody is able to export from once the project dies or the technology grows stale.

    Don’t even get me started on trying to export from legacy systems, I still get nightmares.

    When we take the control of our own content and make the decision to publish our blog posts, lesson plans, videos and experiences of our classrooms on our own blog or some other blogging platform we can indeed share more than “just another blog post”. Most of these posts are not pre-packaged and ready-ready-to-use-in-my-classroom units (but they could be) but are just as valuable if not *more* valuable than the former.

    Just the other day I repurposed or re-blogged a post from @cogdog for my students. I didn’t have to ask him (since it was CC-BY) but I did anyway to show my students the value of CC and the value of giving credit to the good work of others. It also allowed me to give a story of my use of Twitter to them.

    My Canadian reflex (and my parents) also gave me a need to ask anyhow.

    You can see one of those posts here if interested in how I showed it to my students: http://kenscourses.com/tc2027fall2016/instructor/blogging-like-a-champion/

    So yeah, keep blogging and sharing as well as labelling our content as CC-BY (or throw on an NC if you must).

    • admin

      Hi Ken, apologies it took me a few days around to responding. I know what you mean about some OER database projects, they seem to have had all the fun and life of openness sucked out of them. Of course, sometimes they’re meeting very specific needs that blogging wouldn’t match (not without a considerable readjustment anyway). For example, OER that meets Common Core requirements really needs to be quite formal and compete with commercial offerings.

      • Ken Bauer

        Excellent points and I often bring up “perfect is the enemy of good” when a rigid system to help curate, store and facilitate search gets in the way of “good” stuff. A well designed database of OER for specific purposes is a great thing but one that I’ve never had the need to encounter but I realize would be an excellent resource for others.

  • Tony Hirst

    To the extent that I get the odd click through to some of my blog posts from within VLEs (if the referrer URLs are anything to go by), I assume that those posts (often instructional ones) may be being used as OERs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *