I went to two types of presentations – I’ll label them “hardcore research”, and “philosophy of open” to make distinctions, but I don’t mean to imply research is not involved in the second type. In the hardcore research group there were some excellent presentations from Rajiv, Tidewater college, and the Z-degree projects. I’ve labelled these hardcore research, because they did all those things you’d want to control for in examining the impact of OER. They tested pre-knowledge, controlled for demographic effects, compared across control groups, etc. When we started the OER Research Hub this type of research was noticeably absent. Indeed, it’s absence was the raison d’être for the hub – both to try and conduct it, but also to raise the profile for the need for such research. So, I was really excited to see this kind of work now coming through.
The “philosophy of open” type of presentation included ones from Rolin Moe, and Amy Collier. Here the analysis was on the movement itself, what does openness mean, and openness more generally beyond the open textbook or one off case studies.
There wasn’t conflict between these two camps, but I sensed that people had a preference for one or the other. Rob has pondered if there are two emerging cultures in open ed that these two types of talk represent. I think it is a sign that the field is maturing. We shouldn’t forget that Open Education (with relation to OER) is a new field (although open and distance ed is a much older one). Both of these types of talk are what we might expect as a field develops. The initial few years are often characterised by projects, case studies, advocacy, implementation. The research is usually small scale and local, and can be questionable, since most of the budget and focus is spent on actually developing content. But as it grows we get more substantial research, but also a greater element of reflection. Are we on the right path, what are the implications of this work, what are our principles here, what assumptions have we left unchallenged? These are all the right sort of questions to be asking.
I like being part of an emerging discipline, it’s exciting, and you get to witness these sort of transformations over a short period. I hope though that these two emerging cultures don’t diverge, and we end up with separate “sociology of openness” and “open ed efficacy research” conferences. Both groups benefit from the presence of the other, and it enriches the field overall. Come on, group hug.