Experiences of using Open Educational Resources in journalism teaching and research

Image with a pile of books and text Open Access Resources

This blog post was written by Carolyne Lunga as part of the final assignment for the module EDM122 at City, University of London

In this essay, I reflect on using OERs in my teaching and research of journalism and media studies and discuss the challenges I have encountered and strategies I have adopted to improve my knowledge on OERs and indicate plans for improving my practice.

Open Education Resources (OERs) have been defined in various ways. Literature shows that a discussion on OERs generates mixed understandings since scholars do not agree on copyright, openness, cost, and universal access among others. While some definitions celebrate OER benefits to higher education and those who previously did not have access (UNESCO, 2002; Mishra, 2017a, Mishra, 2017b), others interrogate the notion of whether OERs are ‘free’ or ‘not free’ (Downes, 2012) considering that access to the internet itself requires financial and time resources and that there are some societies who lack access to electricity. In terms of definitions, Mishra (2017), notes that OERs, are understood by many as referring to any resources available free of cost on the internet. This is supported by UNESCO’s definition of open access as referring to “free access to information and unrestricted use of electronic resources for everyone (UNESCO website). As Mishra (2017: 371), further notes, the basic premise of OERs is that “they can be reused and adapted in various contexts without seeking further the permission from the original copyright holder”. This is advantageous to educators who can reuse OERs for teaching and research. Mishra (2017a: 371) further notes that without a discussion on copyright, the discussion on OERs is incomplete since “information available on the internet can be shared for personal use, its reuse, revision, remixing and redistribution require the permission of the copyright holder”. In relation to cost and access, Olivier and Rambow (2023) are more positive about the value of OERs, noting that they are beneficial for those who cannot afford to purchase paid for content, specifically in contexts where higher education is expensive and inaccessible to many. D’Antoni (2008: 8) also provides an optimistic view when he contends that they can “assist in achieving educational justice across the world”. Meanwhile Richter and McPherson (2012) criticise the notion that OERs can bring about justice when they argue that unless they are fully adaptable or reusable in various contexts, their mere existence cannot bring out justice. Furthermore, there is no discussion of what this justice may entail.

As a journalism lecturer, a discussion on OERs is significant for bringing to the fore issues that are central to discussions of how digital journalism/communication is practiced. This includes access and participation online, the prevalence of disinformation and misinformation on online platforms and how it affects access to credible news/information, the digital divide, how credible journalism is hidden behind paywalls and the rise of hate speech, and propaganda. In digital journalism, I teach students to adopt a critical stance and question how big tech platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have the power to influence and control how and what we consume online, the dominance of advertisements online and algorithms among others can divert our attention towards entertainment. For these topics, I rely on journal articles and books from journalism scholars who publish with Routledge, Elsevier, and other big publishers criticised for commercialising education (Paywall movie, 2018). Journalism is concerned about democracy and my students, and I discuss how ‘democratic’ the internet is. I believe that a conversation about the internet itself, how it structured and its development in a capitalist era is important if we are to explore fully the value of OERs for education and society in general. For instance, Papacharissi (2002; 2004) argues that while the internet has potential to revive the public sphere, by enabling the participation of various social groups, it is inaccessible to some due to high data costs, lack of digital and media literacy skills, and censorship of information. Carson (2020) supports this by arguing that the commercialisation of the internet and inequalities online make it inaccessible. The quick spread of fake information through digital technologies also hinders the internet from being truly democratic (ibid). These issues resonate with the debates around OERs.

I teach Digital Media Communication and Introduction to Visual Communication which combine the theoretical and practical components of design where students work with images to manipulate, combine them, and edit them using Photoshop software. I teach students to develop content for social media platforms and analyse various news websites in various parts of the globe. I teach how disinformation, and misinformation have become prevalent online, particularly on social media platforms and how this threatens the normative role of journalism in providing citizens with accurate and truthful information (Carson and Farhall, 2018). In delivering journalism courses, I mostly use books, journals, newspapers, and other materials which are paid for and accessible through the university library. These are readily available, and I make use of the subject librarians if I require assistance accessing a particular resource. I have used OERs to complement library materials. However sometimes I struggle with questions of whether I have properly repurposed and reused these resources to avoid plagiarism? I mitigate this challenge by checking several times if I have fully referenced the source. For instance, the UNESCO website provides access to OERs on media and democracy. Informed by Mishra (2017) that OERs can be reused, I have been able to reuse the materials and make them relevant for the diverse group of students that I teach by including examples of journalism practice in other contexts. I also use Hybrid Investigative Journalism, an open access textbook by Konow-Lund et al (2024) which considers how reporters, citizens, bloggers, community coordinators and others undertake investigative journalism for teaching and research. My research students use it for their dissertation research and say that they find it useful in that it incorporates empirical evidence and experiences of scholars researching diverse contexts. Adopting OERs in my teaching and research supervision has enabled me to enhance the learning experience of students and provide them with access to information that they may not have access to (Mishra, 2017a, 2017b).

I make students aware of the vast OERs that are available on the UNESCO website. Apart from information on media, the OER resources on the UNESCO website include those on the Creative Commons (cc) licences, education and technology and artificial intelligence. Before taking the EDM122 Digital Literacies and Open Practices (in Higher Education), I was not aware of the meaning of cc licenses and how they work, and I did not have a full understanding of OERs. After learning about them in the course and being exposed to literature on OERs including links to where to find them (e.g. the OERs guide from Edinburgh), I feel more confident guiding students on what the different licenses mean and how content can be reused, knowledge which they can use when researching for their essays or writing news stories on place and in their professional lives as journalists. I am also able to use the UNESCO materials and attribute them accordingly. For instance, some of the UNESCO publications I have accessed are licensed using the Creative Commons-Attribution 3.0 IGO license which means I can “download, copy, translate any of these publications and use it free of charge, as long as the original author is given credit for the original creation. No prior permission is required to do so” (UNESCO website, 2024).

In a context in which journalism is practiced differently in various parts of the world and some credible newspapers are found behind paywalls, discussing about OERs with my students has enabled me to help them understand what they are, and why it’s important to acknowledge work which is originally created by another person and made available for reuse and how they can add on to the knowledge by incorporating their own examples. The advantages of using OERs in teaching and learning supports Olivier and Rambow (2023: v)’s point that “OERs bring fresh air to the higher education ecosystem when higher education is not accessible to millions, is not affordable, and is plagued with issues of poor quality in many countries”. However, problems of quality and discoverability of OERs remains a challenge for most educators and students (Kortemeyer, 2013).

In teaching Introduction to Visual Communication and Digital Media Communication courses, I can talk about OERs, copyright and good professional journalistic practice. In the former course, students are required to find images which they can transform using Photoshop software and I have observed how some students come into the course with no in-depth understanding of copyright and licensing. Various journalism student guides at City and in other universities include information on copyright for students benefit in ethics classes which they mostly take at first year. Informed by knowledge gained from the EDM 122 course, I have had the opportunity to discuss copyright law and licensing of images in more detail to make students aware of the ethical and legal implications of violating regulation by manipulating images that belong to others and are not for repurposing. I have included additional copyright readings on the module handbook including Ekstrand and Silver (2014) which explores theories of the image to inform discussions about copyright reform in the digital age and the university’s Copyright guide. During lectures and practical sessions, I made the students aware of images that they could use and corrected the assumptions that they had, about images on the internet being widely accessible and free to use for all.

Another problem of downloading and reusing images and videos without checking the licensing restrictions is that students can become victims of propagating disinformation. Kirchengast (2020) argues that deepfake technology requires strong regulation due to the harm they can cause to individuals and society. I assign students practical assignments to take their own photographs to use in the course. In some instances, students develop their own photos by making use of generative AI software such as Adobe Firefly which enables one to create their own images and use without having to worry about violating copyright or licensing regulations. But still it raises questions about how to acknowledge information developed by generative AI platforms. The university’s generative AI policy states that students should indicate when materials are generated by AI including the prompts used (City Generative AI policy, 2024). I emphasise why students should always exercise integrity when conducting research and acknowledging sources. The result has been the creation of high-quality essays with thorough in-text citations and bibliography creation.

I use the UNESCO digital library to access various materials on topics that are relevant for my teaching. For example, during the pandemic UNESCO published a lot of information on the Covid-19 pandemic, and disinformation and I found their open access library very useful considering that very little was known and published at the time about the Covid-19 pandemic. I was careful in how I used other materials on the pandemic as not all information available online is open access, though this was a challenging process which took time.

During this time when artificial intelligence is topical and conversations around generative AI tools impact in higher education and society at large, I am constantly referring to the UNESCO website to access information and understand more about generative AI. For example, the open access UNESCO document titled “Generative AI in education and research” has helped me to understand potential risks that generative AI could pose to human agency, inclusion, equity, and gender equality. Furthermore, the document provides information and recommendations to government agencies, and policy makers on how Generative AI can be used for society’s benefit (UNESCO, 2023). To improve my practice, I plan to continue learning about OERs, including talking to librarians who specialise in these resources to acquire expert guidance on using them and how to publish my own work. I am organising student workshops with OER experts so that my students can also benefit.

In conclusion, the essay demonstrated how I use OERs in teaching and research of journalism. While OERs provide advantages of access particularly to those without access. Scholars acknowledge problems associated with internet access, lack of digital and media literacy skills and lack of internet infrastructure to some sectors of society which means that they cannot fully benefit from OERs. I have shown how issues discussed when talking about OERs are directly linked to the conversations discussed on digital journalism which has enabled me to discuss disinformation, access, copyright, and licensing. By taking the EDM 122 course, I have had the opportunity to enhance my knowledge and support my students better.

I plan to publish this essay on the course blog “EDM 122: Digital Literacies and Open Practice” blog under the Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA. This licence allows for distribution, adaptation, remixing and building on the materials as long as the creator is given credit and adaptations are shared under the same licencing terms, not allowing for commercial use (Creative Commons, 2019) This licence protects authoring rights and allows for build-up of knowledge and ideas in a fair way to future users as it needs to be shared under the same terms and in a non-commercial way (ibid).


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Creative Commons (2019) “About CC licenses” https://creativecommons.org/about/cclicenses/ (Accessed 31 January 2023).

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