The final session of the Fiji workshop was an
organized debate between two teams, one taking the pro-OER case and the other
the anti one. I led the anti- team with Frank Rennie leading the pro case. I
ought to say that I was asked to do this, I’m not an anti-OER person.
I think most of the argument I’m going to
put have been said elsewhere, so there’s nothing particularly new in this post
for people who follow the OER movement, but having been through the process of
collating the arguments, I thought I’d put them here too.
So my main arguments were:
- Sustainability – this
is the daddy of all the arguments, with Big OER projects costing substantial
amounts of money, there is a real issue around whether we can afford to
continue to do OER, or at least in the way it is realised currently.
- Lack of reuse – I
just borrowed from David Wiley on this one.
- Reuse is hard – going
back to my previous post about adaptation, and building on the experience of
the partners in this project, it seems that taking an existing OER and adapting
it to your context is actually really hard work. Often it saves little time and
requires a different skill set than simply creating your own from scratch.
resistance – this isn’t really an argument, but just pointing out that there is
a lot of work to be done to overcome resistance from institutions and
individuals to sharing. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t do it, but we shouldn’t
underestimate the effort required also.
- Leave it to others –
or put another way ‘education ain’t no good at this stuff’. To demonstrate my
point I pulled up traffic data comparing Slideshare to MIT’s open courseware
and the OU’s openlearn, and even worse, Wikipedia compared to these two.
Traffic may not equal quality learning, but my argument here was that while
education ponders different ways of doing this, comes up with repositories that
take years to get built and develops complex usage and metadata processes,
other people just get on with it.
- Lack of evidence – we
simply don’t know if OERs are useful pedagogically (we’ve got lots of anecdotal
evidence). What is the return on investment here? Sure some people find them
useful but then so would flying out individual educators out to each of those
people to give one to one tuition, but we wouldn’t argue that is sustainable.
- Cultural imperialism?
– I borrowed from Dave Cormier on this one. As he puts it: "If the MIT edtech curriculum started being the default curriculum taught in even 10% of chinese universities this gives whatever professor is teaching that course ENORMOUS control over the direction of the industry"
- Quality/Depth – I don’t
really buy this argument but I thought I should include it, that there may not
be the depth or range of coverage.
- Learn through
creation – this one came from some people on my twitter network when I said I
was looking for anti-OER arguments, and I think it’s quite a subtle one. If
adaptation is difficult then there may be a tendency to use OERs ‘as is’, and I
think there is some initial evidence that supports this is the main use. For
the educator much of the learning, both about the subject and how to teach it,
comes from the process of creation. It is the old adage that the best way to
learn something is to teach it. If people begin simply taking existing OERs
will there be a process of deskilling, dumbing down or simply not progressing?
None of these are deal breakers for OER, and we can see all of them as the type of issues that arise in a new discipline. Our debate also ended up being focused around a technicality, as to what constituted an OER. I limited it to the big, formal OER projects as these were easier to attack, and I could make the arguments about sustainability and education projects not being the best way to move this forward. But if by OER we really mean 'shareable assets' then a lot of these arguments become weaker.
As I said I don’t
necessarily buy all these arguments and could put some pretty good counter
claims to them myself, but for those of us in and around the OER world they're worth addressing. The worrying thing is that my team put our case so convincingly, we won the debate. And I didn't really want to…