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Making-of: Transitioning the Siemens Stiftung media portal to an OER platform

13. Oct 2015 Contributed by Maria Schumm-Tschauder

The increased use of digital media in education is boosting the importance of online platforms offering high-quality lesson content. Quality, the way in which the content is made available and the options for using it all play a key role. Siemens Stiftung has chosen to provide its teaching and learning materials under an open license as "Open Educational Resources" (OER). The foundation has now made the first 600 individual media items available from its media portal in German, English and Spanish. In contrast to traditional media, OER can not only be downloaded for use in lessons, but also edited, passed on and republished. In providing OER, Siemens Stiftung is supporting UNESCO's call to enable everyone to participate in high-quality education wherever possible. The offering will be continually expanded over the coming months.

Screenshot of the media portal

"Despite a wealth of OER initiatives around the world, few high-quality teaching and learning materials are available under an open license. However, open media offers great potential for individually supporting learners based on their abilities and level," enthuses Dr. Nathalie von Siemens, Managing Director and Spokesperson of Siemens Stiftung. "We see it as a way of improving education and career opportunities for children and young people, particularly in developing and emerging countries."

Background: The Siemens Stiftung media portal contains some 5,500 digital teaching materials relating to science and technology for preparing and conducting lessons. These teaching materials were developed by the Siemens Stiftung’s educational partner working with a team of authors with the appropriate technical and didactic training. Previously, users could only access and download the media if they first registered with the media portal.

Cost of transition: All the materials on the media portal were carefully examined to ensure they meet the legal criteria to be used as open educational resources (OER). For those media not meeting the criteria, we calculated how much time and money it would take to make them "OER-ready." We found that significant differences existed. The extra costs for converting the media to OER were between 5% and 25% of the original production costs, depending on the original attributes of the media. If the existing user rights were not adequate, we had to renegotiate with the authors. Another cost factor was whether the resources existed as standalone media or were being used in media collections such as content packages for interactive whiteboards. And finally, there were media that neither met the legal criteria nor were able to be renegotiated. These media were or will be replaced by newly developed media. Here we found that the expense was only slightly higher than for the previous media. In some cases we are paying higher fees to the authors in exchange for unrestricted user rights.

Quality assurance: Nothing changed here for media under an open license. All the media went through and will go through a standardized quality assurance process that checks their technical accuracy, content, and linguistic quality. Authors, graphic designers, technical editors, etc. all must follow this process. All media are approved and released by project managers at the Siemens Stiftung, a process in which the portal’s integrated role management and project management software proved very helpful.

Rights management: An expense not to be underestimated! The importance of carefully documenting copyright information was underscored during the transition to OER. It’s a good thing we paid attention to this when we were first designing the media portal. This made it possible in many cases to renegotiate extended user rights with the authors. The automated rights management and documentation system that our technology partner provided proved valuable here. It is integrated into the portal software, making it possible at a glance to identify all the authors involved in the development of any material. This is especially important for the materials that consist of multiple media originating from different authors. What was also helpful for us is that from the beginning, we had our own media developed by our educational partner and only purchased very few outside media. Going forward, all our author contracts will contain an OER clause. The integrated user and rights management function made it simple to extend OER access to non-registered users.

Media formats: Many media are available in different formats (PDF and Microsoft Word, for example) so that they can be edited or republished on as many platforms as possible. In the future, all new media under an open license will be prepared this way from the beginning. Our distribution system also allows all users to download various individual media of their choice or entire packages as a ZIP file. Since the media portal also still contains media with special terms of use, media under an open license are automatically identified during download with a special code in their file name. For media in different language versions, please note that much of the content had to once again undergo the entire quality assurance process (technical accuracy, content, and linguistic quality) and could not just be translated 1:1. We have been vigilant about the educational and technical qualities of the translators and continuously expanded their knowledge. If these conditions are not present, errors can easily occur. Media such as Flash animations and videos must also be created in multiple languages from the outset or in some cases reconstructed.

You can find the expanded media portal and information on OER here: https://medienportal.siemens-stiftung.org

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