This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba. This week our instructor has given us free reign for our weekly blog topic, in part asking “What are some of the issues that bother you about OER?”
Reflecting on the past 5 weeks of my study I recall my very first blog post and a comment by a colleague and good friend David Jones. David suggested one of the problems for OERs was that everyone has their own preferred method of introducing a topic, and so there is a predisposition to creating anew rather than re-using or re-purposing resources. This fundamentally undermines the principles of OERs. While I did concur with David’s comments, and drew a connection with this idea, and more broadly the ideas of George Siemens around Groups and Networks, I do have another related issue that I see for the future of OERs. The predisposition of the teacher is only one small (but significant) part of a broader collection of varying factors that influence the design of an OER. These varying factors generally are what I would call the learning context. I have blogged quite a bit about the significance of learning context in the past.
I believe the context of the learner is a critical input to the design of any learning artifact. You wouldn’t create an online course for learners with poor Internet connectivity. When doing instructional design, a typical
There are just so many factors to consider when designing a resource, not least of which the learners themselves. Learner demographics, their previous knowledge and experience, their motivations for study, their work and family commitments, their culture and nationality, their access to technology, their competence with technology – there are so many dimensions. In most cases, you can only speculate on some of these matters, but they all have an influence on the outcomes for the students. When you are looking for OERs, you may need to contextualise them for you and your students. Depending on the variation of context, a consider re-write may be necessary to make the OER accessible to your own students.
There are also institutional factors to consider including your institution’s attitude towards OERs, copyright policy, publishing platforms (mobile devices, hardcopy print, LMS and so on).
My concern is that variations in learning context may significantly limit re-use of OERs. I have previously commented that to maintain a healthy learning environment, it is important to have a good balance of re-use and adaptation of OERs:
Too much re-use will result in assimilation of ideas which can stifle innovation and stalls evolution. Too much creation anew or even adaption to an extent will limit the benefits of OERs in terms of sharing the costs of development of such resources, as you are constantly re-inventing the wheel.
It is the latter that I am concerned will be he downfall of OERs.
Further questions put forward by our instructor for this week are “Should some OERs be ‘official’ and others ‘unofficial’? Why? Should this be a question to ask?”
This goes to the integrity of OERs, but perhaps the question should be “how do we educate educators to write professionally in an information age?” My class-peer Leah has written an excellent blog post commenting on attitudes towards the citation of wikipedia in scholarly articles. The academy generally frowns on the use of Wikipedia. Yet, Leah quite rightly makes the point that many Wikipedia articles are critiqued by many more people than any “official” publications. Even Google has a similar opinion. Like any source of information, it needs to be evaluated in terms of accuracy, authenticity and integrity – all important information literacy skills of the 21st Century and something that we should all do when reading/viewing/listening online. It is a self-publishing world. Consider the authorship of the article, the history, and the citations contained therein on which the article’s content is derived – all prominently available in wikipedia. Then make a reasoned judgement on the credibility of the information and if it checks out, why not use it.
Damien, you make an excellent point about learners and context (and I’m not just saying that because you said nice things about me). I recognize in myself the modernist desire to “make it new” and put my own spin on things. That’s just subjectivity. But there is the accompanying secondary desire to make sure the resource does what I want it to do, for whom I want it to address. For instance, I’m having difficulty finding OERs on my topic that start at the masters or doctoral level, which is the audience I need to work with soon (which is also outside of a traditional higher education institution…another part of context).
I keep thinking that there’s something to the notion of small bits when it comes to OERs. If I had the impulse to create something that I hoped would be used by others, I might want to chop it up into very discrete bits. As the curator of said OER, I would combine those small bits into greater chunks in order to make what I thought were instructionally relevant sequences of material. Others who might not see things the same way or who have different groups of students could pick and choose what would be useful to them without having to take on the whole sequence. Like buying a can of tomatoes, not the whole grocery store.
Students…Contexts… interesting perspectives. The point I take from your post is that OER should also seek to understand the learner’s context. A very important concept. But whose responsibility is it to ensure that created content is relevant to a particular context? Culture is diverse and global. The web generates its own culture – one that cuts across traditional cultures, and one that tend to perpetrate itself as the dominant one to which its users are forced to embrace if they must find uses for them. More subtle is the culture of the OER creator which is intrinsically linked to the content.
Whose responsibility is it to keep content culture neutral? Is this possible? Perhaps this creates a new line of revenue for a new profession – “OER culture neutral content adapters” or “engineers”. Is this what OER need to become more pervasive and globally accepted or politically culture-correct?