The future of OERs and the current publishing paradigm

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.

I recently read a blog post of a class mate relating to the future of OERs.  It has got me thinking further about this very topic and how technology is affecting the way we share online.

Stu says of OERs in five years time:

Instead of OERs what will we be talking about in five years?
We will still be talking about OERs in five years.  What I think we will be talking about more is the increasing ease of quality creation and the increased ease of distribution. Publishers are already under pressure because of this and that pressure will continue. Apple’s recent release of iBooks Author is a great example of this trend.  Even though the tool requires that content be distributed within the Apple ecosystem the ease of use and quality level achievable is astounding.

I tend to agree with your thoughts on what we will be talking about more in five years time – easy creation and distribution of artefacts.  You mentioned the pressure on traditional publishers as a result of the growing accessibility of self-publishing, and the introduction of new technology and services creating new markets for creators to sell their wares, such as Apple’s new iBooks.

I doubt the traditional publishing fraternity will rest on their laurels and will fight tooth and nail to retain their business model and profit margins as any corporate entity would do.  Of course, it may also mean a changing of the guard where the old tyrants are replaced with the new – Apple may well become a new breed of corporate control of the world’s intellectual property.  Money perverts altruism every time, but I am a cynical one.

Stu continues with a discussion of officialism in publishing:

First…should some OERs be “official” and others “unofficial”?
I don’t think it matters.  The most important thing for students is to have the skills and tools to find, verify and then appropriately use the resources they locate.  It does not matter if they are “official” or not.  In fact…the idea that a resource or piece of information is “official” I believe tends to lull people [students] into a state of complacency.  Everything should be looked at with the appropriate degree of criticism and be improved by the application of that criticism.

It would seem to me that it is only of value when there is trust in whomever the official may be.  Trust is a weakening commodity in the 21st century as our information age has given rise to many vectors by which to mislead and deceive others.  Fraud is rife online with all manner of cons being perpetrated.  Of course, as the information age provides the means for fraudsters, it also provides a counter in terms of being able to validate and verify what we are being told online – cross-referencing information from other sources.  Consider plagiarism detection systems for instance ( But what do you do when you cannot verify information? For instance, the Australian Bureau of Statistics ( publish aggregated information based on census surveys.  The data however is not available to be validated against the reports produced.  I’m not suggesting at all that the ABS has fabricated any of their reports, and to my knowledge, they have quite a high degree of trust in the community, but there is no way of independently verifying the information they publish.  It is an Australian Government Department, which makes it more difficult (not impossible) to fabricate information.  Large international companies however have far less scrutiny and that is where I am very mistrusting.  Google’s algorithms for search results are a highly guarded secret, and yet it is the most widely used searching tool in the world.  Who audit’s Google’s practices here?  They have been accused in the past of manipulating the results.  The EU has started an Antitrust investigation into Google.

When answering the question “Are OERs just a cute kitten?”, Stu asks the following rhetorical question: “[Is there such a thing as a well trained cat?]”.

The mention of kittens (or in the case of this little anecdote cats) reminds me of a comment made by a colleague who described the management of academic staff (faculty) akin to herding cats.  So my gut tells me the answer is “No!”  More seriously, while managing people who are effective critical thinkers is very challenging, these people serve an important role – questioning is what purported to be “official”.


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