A little piece of the OERu credentialing puzzle


Having been engaged with the Open Educational Resource universitas (OERu) since its early days, I was pretty happy to see a small but important piece of the credentialing puzzle snap into place at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) this week. 

Guest post from TRU: Open Education Week 2014

At the time of this writing it’s Open Education Week. The purpose of Open Education Week, coordinated by the Open Courseware Consortium, is to “raise awareness about free and open educational opportunities that exist for everyone.” That makes this a particularly good time to think about examples of open education and practices emerging in higher education. Ergo this post.

The OERu made history when a distance education student in our Open Learning Division who had completed an open course in the OERu received formal credit for this course by my university.

The OERu course is AST1000 Regional Relations in Asia and the Pacific, developed as an open course built entirely from OERs. The course incorporates a “pedagogy of discovery” or “free range learning” as described by Professor Jim Taylor (Emeritus) from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).



Learners can either engage with the course entirely on their own in any way they wish for free through WikiEducator, the MediaWiki-based home of the OERu, or work through it more formally and for credit.  Learners can access the AST1000 materials, activities and assignments without password. During this OERu prototype the WikiEducator course content was also integrated in real time in the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) demonstrating the ability for OERu partner institutions to host parallel versions of our courses in the local LMS. While the course itself is free, students who wish to receive assessment for credit pay a fee for these services.

oeru learning system ast1000
Overview of the OERu learning environment for AST1000

Building on their experience from the AST1000 prototype, colleagues from USQ are progressing work to reconfigure the course for micro format. Micro Open Online Courses (mOOCs) are intended to offer OERu learners more flexibility to manage their learning around personal commitments and learning interests. Four micro courses are envisaged: 

  1. Introduction to Asia and the Pacific
  2. Understanding Culture in Asia and the Pacific
  3. Tourism in Asia and the Pacific
  4. Regional Economics in Asia and the Pacific

It would also be possible for OERu partners to offer versions of the AST1000 course with full tutorial support on a fee for service basis.

As transfer credit was not yet available for this course, a prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) evaluation was conducted by a qualified faculty member through my institution’s regular PLAR process. The process evaluated multiple elements including the course outline/description, qualifications of the instructor, assessment methods, relevant field of study, year level of the course content, and qualification for credit. The course met the required standard and the student received full credit for the course. Snap!

And so a small piece of the OERu puzzle was added to the picture. But it’s not time to blow the trumpets just yet. There are many additional pieces that we need to continue work on. In fact, it sometimes feels like we’re also still filling in the picture on the puzzle box as we move from open content to open practices. Just a few of the pieces of the picture that we’re still trying to paint (and there are many more):


While the course content is free by the 4-Rs definition as described by David Wiley, i.e. free to reuse, revise, remix and/or redistribute, the learner assessment cost was approximately a third of the cost of taking a full course at my institution.

This is not an insignificant saving, but rather is getting closer to “free” in the sense of “free beer” or at least maybe cheap (but good!) beer. This will be an ongoing project for the OERu as it continues to grow.

Credit transfer

While the PLAR process was successful in gaining credit for our student, a longer term OERu concept has been that member institutions would assess and credit learners taking OERu courses that were provided by their own institutions and then use credit transfer recorded on the transcript among partners to spread the goodness around using well established protocols.

In my own institution we are in the process of completing the evaluation of our open course contribution to the OERu, an adaptation of a previously developed first year art appreciation course that we forked from the Washington State Open Course Library via an adaptation from the Saylor Foundation. (A presentation on my research into the design aspect of this project can be found here.) Alternatively, one or several institutions may emerge that provide this service more broadly across the partnership. This takes time and requires an adjustment as well as some answers that can’t always be fully provided at this point. There is an element of faith in all of this – an iterative process of learning and sharing our experiences as we move step by step down this winding road.


Because we knew our student, and a trusted instructor was providing support and assessment, there was little difficulty authenticating the student and the coursework submitted. However, for ongoing students more systematic and efficient approaches need to be found to ensure the identity of students when they are applying to a member institution for credit.

During the OERu Transnational Qualifications Framework and Course Articulation meeting we explored a number of assessment scenarios published in the Report on the Assessment and Accreditation of Learners using OER. The OERu has established a working group which will progress planning for credit transfer and course articulation within the network. 

Multiple uses

The value-added from the development and open provision of OERu courses will multiply not only when more students are given credit, but also when partner institutions are able to treat the courses, where desired, fully as extensions of their own program portfolio. In this way internal and external students can mingle in multiple ways and for various purposes, gaining value from the exchanges and engagements that will occur.


There are no quick solutions, technologies, techniques or ed-tech venture capitalists that will solve some of the challenges facing those who desire to see open education practices flourish in and among our institutions. What I like is that to date over 30 public post-secondary institutions and other open-minded agencies in this partnership are committing to working out these issues as educators, in a manner that respects and builds upon the experience, expertise and commitment to learning and students that is fundamental to the ethos of public higher education. Please leave any questions or comments on my personal blog

About the author

Irwin devries
Irwin DeVries, PhD. 

Director, Curriculum Development

Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning

Blog: Open and Distance Learning

Email: Idevries@tru.ca

Posted 14 March 2014 by Irwin DeVries