Open content

Aggregation not adaptation

Tony Bates gave a keynote at the Fijian workshop I was at. It was, as always, good value as he covered changes in technology and their implications. I was in broad agreement with him but one element had me questioning him afterwards.

He repeatedly stated
that if he were doing this presentation as a set of OERs he would chunk it up,
stop at certain points and introduce a learning activity. He’d set it out with
learning objectives at the start. In his advice he suggested that educators
shouldn’t do it themselves (‘you’ll get hurt’, he joked) and should seek
support from instructional designers and technical staff.

These two things
seemed wrapped up in a particular view of OERs to me. In my question I argued
that his don’t do it yourself advice rather precluded a bottom-up approach to
OER generation, which was in my view, the best way to go. He gave a robust
defence, arguing that we need both, but to maintain quality people should seek
help and support.

Reflecting on this
made me appreciate that I have come to a particular view around OERs, without
really stating it. There is some of it in my Little OER and big OER post, but
for clarity (and for you to knock down), it goes something like this. I like
OERs that:

  • are not explicit learning content – they do not
    have to be generated with the aim of being used for learning;
  • do not specify the learning that will occur – I
    like Zittrain’s concept of generativity, that a system will have unpredicted
    outputs when you allow a level of creativity. I want a ‘system’ that is
    generative with respect to learning, and thus specifying learning outcomes or
    activities restricts this;
  • are easily aggregated into a pathway or
    framework which is created by the educator. This is where I see the educator
    coming into the system, they pull together many different resources, and add
    context, activities, extra material and interpretation.

One question then is
‘are these OERs at all then, or just ‘stuff on the web’?’ I’m not going to
answer that on the grounds that it sounds like the interminable ‘what is a
learning object?’ debate that I gave too much of my life to a few years back.

This seems to me
another possible interpretation of the principle I suggested in another post
that ‘complexity resides in the network, not the application’ (I repeat this to
myself twenty times every morning as a mantra). The reason I felt uncomfortable
with Tony Bates’ approach was that it was pushing that complexity back in to
the app (or the resource).

An upshot of all this is
that I think the emphasis in much of the OER movement is on the adaptation of
OERs. This is because they are Big OER, with the complexity built in to them.
The Little OERs I prefer aren’t adapted, they’re aggregated, and you add stuff
around them. If I was ‘World OER Leader’, then shifting the emphasis to
aggregation would be my first and only decision, before I resigned and let David
do the job because he’d be better at it.


  • Frances Bell

    Just seen your reply and I think that the productive difference between your view and Tony’s is very useful if it can generate debate. I was thinking about Wenger’s use of dualities in Community of Practice e.g. reification and participation, both desirable on occasions and inextricably linked. Your resuable_and_aggregatable_chunks are very attractive and could appear in pathways implemented by LTs or directly by coalface educators. The drivers behind big OERs include persistence and relevance (as well as reputation, etc.) but these are phenomenona that impact but are not guaranteed for small OER. However, for the creative educator using big OERs is a mixed blessing. For example, I was very pleased to use the Internet Detective from INTUTe and dismayed to find that JISC are discontinuing support so my reuse is limited by this and the licensing (I can’t break it down and reuse it easily). My own home grown resources and activities (my own pathways in VLE or Wimba Create) contain links that need to checked/amended each year but this is within my control. In fact. it’s part of the updating and review that keeps the material fresh.
    I am wondering if the difference between your views and Tony’s is the old “Who does what?” spat. I remember at one of my first mass encounter with learning technologists (at a CETIS pedagogy forum) I heard the word “academic” spat out out as though it were a term of abuse. I think academics and learning technologist can respect each other’s individual talents not always locked into role expertise, but only if they work together (sometimes) and constantly give away their knowledge via participation and not just reified products and rules.

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