Building an entire post-secondary course using Open Educational Resources

HTML code displayed on a screen.

This post is an adaptation from a previous conference presentation, Building an entire post-secondary course using Open Educational Resources – Online Learning 2018. This post will discuss my personal experience building a course solely using Open Educational Resources. I will share the positive and challenging aspects, as well as the learning that occurred along the way.

In the 2017-2018 academic year, Durham College, in conjunction with other post-secondary institutions, received funding from eCampusOntario to develop a new program for eLearning Developers. Part of this program was an HTML Introduction course, which I was very familiar with. The course was already being offered in other online programs, and I taught this course several times in the past. The last time I taught the course, we ran into a bit of a problem. The course was built on the Moodle platform, and mostly utilized external website links to learn about the weekly topics. The resources we used for the course were no longer available, and the other faculty member I taught the course with had to scramble to find new resources. The worst part was that this occurred mid-way through the semester while the course was running, impacting learning for the students and creating unexpected work for the faculty members. With the opportunity to redesign the course, I wanted to ensure that this problem did not happen again in the future.

With approval to recreate the course, I took advice from my manager and other professors to use Open Educational Resources (OER) in the course. I decided I wanted to take it one step further though and use OER for the entire course. This approach would allow me to copy the material directly into our Desire2Learn learning management system, using our HTML course design page templates that help us meet Quality Matters standards. This approach would also ensure that if external websites ever went down, we would not lose access to the course material, and we would meet our LMS policy and procedure.

The first step was to critically evaluate the content that was available for the subject of HTML, and I must say, there was a lot. Several of the resources I found while searching through OER repositories were old, out of date or contained incorrect information. It was a very time-consuming process, but I was confident that it would pay off in the end. I looked into a resource I regularly used as a student named W3 Schools. The W3 Schools website offers online information and tutorials; however, the information was copy-written and could not be copied into our learning management system. W3 Schools was a very credible source, and I wanted something with that level of credibility and accuracy to use in the HTML Introduction course.

Finally, I looked to Mozilla, who you may know as the company that created the website browser FireFox. They have web development resources for new and experienced web developers, and to my luck, the material was all under various Creative Commons licenses that met our requirements. This included text, imagery, coding examples, and coding practice exercises on all of the topics that the course needed to cover. It was also using the latest HTML5 approaches, so the students would be learning about what they would be using in industry.

After collaboration with colleagues, work-study students, and professors that would be teaching the course, I was able to move through the course development process and launch the course for the Spring 2018 semester. I was happy and thought of all of the positive impacts that the course would bring the faculty members and the students.

  • There was no longer a cost for textbooks, which saved the students money.
  • The material was coming from worldwide industry leaders in the field of website design and development.
  • There were elaborate coding exercises to provide the learners with the opportunity for formative assessment, which would typically require a lot of development work and time from a multimedia developer; and
  • The course content was all stored in our learning management system, ensuring that we would not deal with the issue of losing access to course material in the middle of a semester.

I received praise from colleagues and faculty on the course design, and I thought my experience developing the course was over and an entirely positive experience. I was wrong.

During the 4th week of the course running for the first time, I returned to my desk from a meeting to hear a voicemail from the dean in charge of the course. They asked me to phone them back as soon as possible in regards to the HTML course. The dean informed me that a student had come forward, stating that my entire course was copied directly from Mozilla and that the student was not pleased and was threatening legal action.

The student felt as though they could have just learned the topic themselves by visiting the Mozilla website, and they should not have to pay for a course that steals content. They had threatened to contact the government, Mozilla and senior administration within the college about this. The dean looked into my course and asked why I copied and pasted the material from another website.

I was unaware of the dean’s background with OER and explained that the material was under a creative commons license and was able to be re-used for the creation of the course. I explained all of the previously mentioned benefits I just recently described in this post, went over the process of organizing the content to meet the weekly learning objectives and also answered questions like why was this not done in APA format, was everything cited and I also explained that I created the summative assessments for the course.

After the phone call, everything seemed to end well with the dean, and the dean seemed pleased with both my approach and answers to all of their questions. I went for a walk to clear my head and bumped into a friend who works in our Communications and Marketing department, where I previously worked as a web developer for 8 years. He asked me how my day we going and I said I have had better days. He stated back, “Oh, I know,” which caught me off-guard. I asked, how do you know about the issues with the HTML course and he explained that he was the person who brought it to the deans attention, due to the student posting the remarks on Twitter for everyone to see, and tagged Durham College, Mozilla, and government agencies in the post.

Not only was the student talking about Durham and the course, they were also bringing me up by name due to my name appearing on the course outline. They said I was stealing content, that I wasn’t creating a quality course and even looked into my involvement at Durham College saying I was taking on too many projects and life-long learning opportunities and not putting time and effort into the course development. At this point, I felt as though I let my college down, that maybe I did do something wrong and I was worried that I would not receive opportunities to teach again at the college, which is a role that means the world to me. I reached out to my manager with all of the information I had on the matter, and they helped me provide a summary report of the course, the use of OER, and showed that all of the correct steps were taken throughout the course development project. The email was distributed to all of the individuals who were aware of the student complaint, and I felt as though my name had been cleared of wrongdoing.

Although my experience creating the course turned into a rollercoaster, it was overall a very positive experience, where I felt supported from Durham College, and it also provided me a few great lessons on using OER’s.

For one, if OER are being used in a course, I think it is essential to explain to students what an OER is, why it is being used and how it benefits and impacts them as learners in the course. This approach is currently being used in the Masters of Arts in Learning and Technology program. It has had a positive impact on both the other students in my cohort and I. Knowing how much money I am saving, and the content curation efforts that went into finding material made me feel like I made the right choice in attending Royal Roads University.

Not only is it essential to educate students, but we should also be educating our colleagues at our institutions on the subject of OER, why they are being used, the benefits to using them and challenges that may arise along the way. Educating our colleagues could be done through workshops or modules, that could be licensed openly for other individuals to leverage in the future. An institutional stance on the use of OER would also be very valuable. That way, when OER are being used, you can back the use of them by showing that the institution supports OER implementation into a course. This is a discussion we are currently in the early stages of at Durham College. Finally, one of the most beneficial aspects of the entire process was building a strong network to assist me throughout the process. I worked alongside mentors, subject matter experts, instructional designers, individuals with background on copyright, and OER. If I were to do this again, I would have also incorporated previous and past students to provide a student perspective.

Since completing this course development experience and attending RRU, I have found myself with a new-found passion for Open Educational Resources. The topic has been covered in a variety of our courses, and we have been introduced to leaders in the field through our readings and social media. I have also built relationships with fellow members of the MALAT cohort who are also passionate about OER, such as Chad Flinn.

The MALAT program has provided me with incredible opportunities throughout my first year.

  • I am now on a one-year leave from Durham College as a program manager for eCampusOntario, focusing on developing strategies for business programs to adopt open educational resources;
  • I will be completing the Thesis exit pathway, with my research focusing on OER in Ontario post-secondary institutions; and
  • I recently received one of the BC graduate scholarships, with my application mostly focusing on my upcoming work in the field of OER.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have about my experience. I can be reached via email at, Twitter at @BrandonCarsonEd, or feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

One thought on “Building an entire post-secondary course using Open Educational Resources

  • Irwin DeVries says:

    Brandon, that’s an incredible story with powerful lessons to be learned. It clearly demonstrates the need to be open about open; i.e. to build awareness and understanding alongside the introduction of OER as they may challenge some of the expectations and norms of traditional cultures in education. This includes not only faculty but also students, administrators and even communications departments. Many thanks for stepping out and sharing this valuable story and lesson.

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