Open content

Those OER issues

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.
  • Individual/institutional
    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…


  • Rob

    I’m glad you make the point that reuse is hard. I’ve thought that for ages but (probably for not looking in the right places) have not found anyone to agree with me. The idea of it needing different skills is valuable; perhaps it also needs different attitudes, e.g. a different kind of awareness of what you are attempting to achieve so that you have a better idea of how to strip down other people’s constructions to fit your context.

  • Patrick McAndrew

    Thanks Martin – luckily we *research* OER so results don’t always need to be positive!
    Good points and I think I could make them either way – with the challenge being to win the argument against you. Maybe we should set that up when you get back – hmm is this the modern day equivalent to challenge to a duel? (Answer: no it isn’t :)).

  • Mark Morley

    Thank you Martin for publishing your original piece and subsequently Patrick for your ‘counter’ piece.
    I’ve thought about this a little overnight and the one observation I’d like to make is that the emphasis seems to be from the providers’ perspective rather than the consumers’. This might be tied up with the actual term ‘Open Educational Resources’ and what education means. If this team is re-framed to ‘Open Learning Resources’ then it can encompass all things that are openly available for people to use for their own learning.
    I don’t know if I’ve really got my point across here, or if it adds any to the discussion.

  • Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    If you do not know how to do it
    show them how not to do it.
    The above articles and comments just show that.
    While they are searching the truth, they are just covering the truth with a death soil .
    We, Stanford and Yale Graduates , are practical managers solving the problems of any kind.
    2 Stanford and Yale gentelmen solved the OER. It is a model. Just try to improve it. Do not try to find out what you can critisize . It is an almost perfect model. Let us to improve it let the people join them .
    I use in Turkey together with local universwities to give credits and degrees using a local professor without any investment for brick and mortar and course preparation.
    In very short time courses will be used in 145 universities and 3.000.000 students in it. Even the number of students will go up to 5.000.000 in 2-3 years through the online courses with credit of Turkish Universitiers from academicearth and similar online courses. Such as Carnegie Mellon .
    Quality for OER is the most important issue. Therefore the had chosen the best universities in the USA. We need a little bit easier colleges ( but still good ) as well. Not everybody can go Harvard, and MIT .
    Dear Martin :
    Do not worry. OER not as it is but like is being used by million in the world. 7 billion people in the world is after it. But they just do not know about it yet.
    My immediate project is also an ONLINE English OER for the world 7 billion people.
    I learned in USA at Caltech and Stanford and Silicon Valley how to become innovative and own VISION .
    The more you can make problems simple
    the more you would become successful. from Turkey . I expect personel emails as well .

  • Lars Larsson

    I find sustainability in developing hard to use complex repositories to be best anti-OER argument here. Your post was interesting to read, and I automatically read the comments. And post a comment myself.
    This page didn’t cost much except hours of your own work. Wasting money on developing repositories that limits access and need huge administration, often with non-existing usability, just doesn’t cut it anymore when there are services like SlideShare.
    Along with limited interactivity, to post comments or upload in-depth material, it’s a hard idea to sell no matter the importance of the OER movement itself.

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