Finding OERs

Background: Chris McMahon is the Delores project director. He has a great deal of experience in the management and presentation of information for design engineering and in selecting and using online learning materials, but this project is his introduction to the world of OER. His initial exploration OER-specific resource discovery has left him questioning whether aggregating and searching metadata provided OER producers is the right approach as opposed to customising a generic search to be specific to known OER sites. Chris writes:


My initial reaction from attempting to find material in the OER repositories and collections is that the descriptions of the available material are not particularly helpful in searching and finding resources. For example, I tried to find material on “gear design” in OER Commons. The 30 resources returned for my search were as follows:

Eight audio files from UC Berkeley. All were potentially relevant but little real indication of content was given in the descriptions. I would have to listen to each file to find if it is relevant. Only the title of the audio file indicates that it might be useful (each file has the same abstract, which describes the whole course–not the particular audio file).

The next eight resources were not relevant but included because the word gear appears out of the context of gear design (e.g. landing gear, protective gear) somewhere in the descriptions.

The next resource, MIT Open Courseware “Elements of Mechanical Design”, is very relevant but the reference expands to 17 sets of lecture notes, of which only 2 are relevant. The Abstract is only a very high level description of the whole course and gives no indication of the breadth and relevance of the underlying materials.

The next four resources are not relevant.

The next resource, MIT Open Courseware “Marine Power and Propulsion”, expands to 45 separate lecture documents, of which 2/3 are relevant. Again the abstract is only very high level description and gives no indication of the breadth and relevance of the underlying materials.

The next resource is repeat of the MIT OCW “Elements of Mechanical Design” but from an earlier year.

The next seven resources are not relevant but the descriptions contain words for which gear and design are stems.

In summary – the descriptions are whole course descriptions, not descriptions of the lecture/topic material within the courses. The descriptions (and presumably the RSS feeds) use the same format for single audio files and complete courses.

By contrast, using “gear design” as a search in Google gave very relevant material in the first page of the (327) results. Using the “type=PDF” qualifier was even better as it pulled up the lecture notes. Using the MIT OCW search facility was pretty good also.

What would be really useful would be to have a good search facility that allowed search within known OER repositories – a sort of “Google OER”.


Since talking this through with Chris I have resolved to make a better effort at publicising work that my colleague Lisa Scott has done on Google Custom Search Engines. However there are other implications for the project: in the static collection, how do we select and provide descriptions at the fine level of granularity that Chris wants while also keeping the valuable information of the original course context of the resource; will the quality of the syndicated metadata be good enough for the Bayesian filtering to work; can we supplement this by using information from the course/resource webpage; what use can we make of customised Google searches? (We know the the Triton project are also interested in this last point.)

5 thoughts on “Finding OERs

  1. Pingback: Finding OER |
  2. Dear Chris
    You are amazing. How did you study all that 30 output.?
    Yes. I always claim that OERs are not useful enough for people.
    Content must be wortwhile to read.
    In any subject there are one million book in the market. You never know which is good until your professor recommends.
    OER are the same you never know which one is good enough until your instructors say to you.
    Any idea how can I measure the quality of OER .

    I say ” If it is done by a good university, it is in good quality “

  3. You could try to use TEMOA.
    The goal of TEMOA ( is to have a unique index catalog of open educational resources (including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge) available on the Internet to help students, teachers and self learners.

    The objective of TEMOA is to improve discoverability of OER over the internet and to ease the task to educators to adopt them in educational practices. The catalog supports a multilingual search engine to allow the user to discover selected OER using enriched metadata by an academic community and enhanced by librarians, using Web 2.0 such faceted search and social networking tools. The catalog classifies educational resources in different areas of knowledge considering the scheme of reference of the “Hierarchical Interface to Library of Congress Classification (HILCC) proposed by the Columbia University.

    TEMOA is an educational service of reference that could be defined as an aggregator of information (infomediary), which operates as a catalog or metadata index. An infomediary (from the combination of the words information and intermediary) is a Website that gathers and organizes large amounts of data and acts as an intermediary between those who want the information and those who supply the information.

    Best regards,
    J. Vladimir Burgos Aguilar, MTI, M.Sc
    Liaison Officer of Innovation and Educational Technology
    Innov@TE Center – Center for Innovation in Technology and Education

    Project manager of OCW Tecnológico de Monterrey:
    & temoa (Knowledge Hub OER Index):

  4. Vladimir, while there is a lot about Temoa that I like, as far as I can make out from a quick search for “gear design” it doesn’t yield better results than Chris found from OER Commons.

    1. I guess it would be interesting to present the list of assessment criteria under which sites are being evaluated (i.e. OER Commons, Merlot, TEMOA and others)… and a list of expectations from search users (students and educators).

      I’m sure the results would be very interesting, like the report of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) a division of the American Library Association:

      Kind regards, VB

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