This is my #ioe12 post for open educational resources. I’ve had the chance to see a certain number of David Wiley’s sessions over the years, so the video in this section was a nice refresher. Here are some key points I got from the resources in this topic.
Educating is sharing
By exposing expertise in the classroom, educators are sharing knowledge. If they decided to keep it to themselves to preserve their competitive advantage over the “novices” in the classroom, there would be no schools.
The distribution of digital expressions of expertise is nearly free
Sharing knowledge is nonrivalrous, meaning that if I share knowledge with you, I don’t lose that knowledge myself. Since spoken language has been invented, humans have been constructing on each others’ discoveries. Expressions of expertise, such as one conversation, written words, plays, or paintings, were not easily reproducible, at least not cheaply enough to make them freely available to anyone.
This has now changed drastically with digital technologies. Live event can be streamed and recorded, and made available to anyone with a cellphone. E-books (if they are DRM-free, of course) can be downloaded to any device to be read.
Digital resources want to be free
Once everything is digital, it is generally easier to make available to the masses, for free. 1s and 0s circulate back and forth all the time over the Internet, and whether those bits are a part of an email, a web page, a video, or an image, it’s all the same.
Unfortunately, we are using this web technology against its very nature, to restrict and protect digital artifacts. It is the case for course management systems, e-books, e-textbooks, streaming video, etc. This battle between preserving the old world order and a more open future is raging right now, and a growing number of college-level degree seeking individuals will put a lot of pressure on current processes, asking for a cheaper and wider access to learning resources to support the information age.
Learning objects versus textbooks
Openly available learning objects have been around for a long time. These chunks of information and assessment are usually aimed at explaining a small unit of knowledge. Learning objects are currently widely available, the problem seems to be related to finding the ones educators can use.
Textbooks, on the other hand, are usually longer, more linear chunks of information that sequence learning in a way that is appropriate for certain expertise levels. they have the advantage of being more internally standardized, offering an educational experience that follows a certain logic.
Sequencing learning objects as a textbook can actually require a lot of standardization efforts, which is why most textbooks are written by one individual. Crowdsourcing textbooks is therefore a lot harder that one would think, such as the Wikibooks example described by Benkler. When each chapter becomes a chunk, it requires a lot more coordination, which makes it harder to build on the small contributions by many people method that works well for Wikipedia. Quality control can also be a factor, since many states require textbooks to follow their prescribed curriculum before being adopted.
That is the hallmark of a large scale collaboration that is capturing the talents and time of many contributors, rather than what is effectively a low-cost distribution system for the work of one or two individuals.
OER adoption barriers
To me, the largest barrier to the wider adoption of OER is the following: Our capacity to generate new knowledge has outpaced our capacity to locate existing one. It is so trivial to push content to the web, yet we rely so much on Google’s algorithms to find information that has already been published.
We need standardized ways to tag and retrieve OER, the same way that research papers have been standardized to be easily indexed (a Google OER search, maybe?). This one is going to be tricky. Many initiatives have been around and have partially failed. I think one of the main reason is the variety of formats of OERs. In addition to traditional disciplinary information, we need grade level information, pedagogical style, file format (ranging from plain text to full-fledged 3D immersive experiences), etc.
OER and openess as a marketing tool
A lot of institutions still see OER as a way to increase their online reputation, making them more marketable by recording some lectures and making them available. As this quote from Hylén‘s paper goes:
“[Adopting OER] is good for public relations and can function as a show-window attracting new students. Institutions like MIT receive a lot of positive attention for their decision to make their resources available for free.”
I hope faculty members everywhere will see beyond this masquerade and embrace openness as it should be: A generous act of knowledge sharing. As more instructors become aware of the dire situation we are in, and how they can make a difference, I think you’ll start seeing more 4R-friendly OER surfacing on the web.