The OER debate

February 11, 2010

Martin Weller reports on his EdTechie blog that he won a debate on the value of OER at his end of project meeting in Fiji. Unfortunately he was speaking on the side of the anti-OER. While he makes it clear this is not his personal stance Martin lists 8 issues that get in the way of OER being a success. His points are all valid but of course in a debate he only has to present one side of the argument. So I thought I would try to balance with the counter-arguments.

  • Sustainability – pricing OER as if it was a completely separate activity makes no more sense than if we started to cost giving a lecture as if that was all a “lecturer” did. Rather working with OER has an impact across many aspects of work, if you stop counting it as a *separate* activity and see being open alongside other things you do the extra cost becomes more reasonable. Any other process that finishes in hidden and closed resources is wasteful: OER is the ultimate “green learning”.
  • Lack of reuse – this is inventing a barrier to OER by laying out the difficult process for taking, changing and giving back content. Rather surely OER is about helping learning happen and there the balance of evidence is different: use, feed through, flexibility v reuse, put back and structure.
  • Reuse is hard – yes it is if you define it as hard. Saying look at this resource and do section 5 is easier than editing out the previous 4 sections. So do it that way.
  • Individual/institutional resistance – also individual/institutional enthusiasm (rarer but growing).
  • Leave it to others – join in with others. Adopting open approaches mean that we can safely put content out there on Slideshare, Flickr, scribd, … The build your own repository is a temporary feature.
  • Lack of evidence – there is not enough evidence but there are many pieces and the stories are not to be ignored. Including some from Martin/SideCAP/EduShare. More needs to be done – but again care is needed to avoid setting high barriers that cannot be met by other approaches.
  • Cultural imperialism? – I covered some of this in a presentation to JISC. Yes OER carries a cultural message but openness also provides mulit-way communication and cultural diversity to counter the imperialsim.
  • Quality/Depth – OER gives a route to quality and depth by extending the base of content beyond those in the same institution – providing a superset of content over that previously available.
  • Learn through creation – last summer I tried an exercise (with Grainne Conole and Andrew Brasher) guided by Yannis Dimitriadis looking at OER to find material that would help learners work collaboratively. This felt exciting and inspiring – and at a later workshop the same message came back. OER can be a creative process for the user (or even reusers).

In the spirit of debate perhaps one sided and my academic side leads me to add this note that actually there is a balance between the points I am trying to make and Martin’s. I have also strayed into his big OER v little OER territory so he might well be able to catch me out on a technicality!