open education 2011

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OET about OER (Open Educational Thoughts about Open Educational Resources)

Thoughts and ruminations from the Open Education 2011 Conference, Park City, UT
October 25 – 27

The Canyons at Sunrise

First, some background for readers that may not be familiar with the focus of this conference. OER, or Open Educational Resources, are resources created with the intent of sharing. The mantra of OER is to, “Revise, Reuse, Remix, Redistribute”. Creators of true OER license their work to be used, edited, and reused for free. Typical OER licensing is provided under the Creative Commons licensing framework.

In this conference I connected with people of like minds and like interests related to the use of resources in education. We, and many others not in attendance, are the “early adopters” of this idea and are on the front lines of content exploration, creation, and research. We are, as Jim Groom put it, “the 29%” here to #OCCUPYOPENED (ok…I must admit…I still do not know what the 29% really means).

Some themes that emerged from the conference:

OER is important, although it cannot solve all the social ills of the word. Some comments heard throughout the week related to this theme:

  • OER allows for innovation and creativity and finding different ways to work together – from Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education
  • A culture of sharing increases opportunities for sharing – from Connie Broughton, Assistant Director, eLearning, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges
  • The opposite of open is not closed…it’s broken – from Cable Green, Creative Commons

OER has challenges associated with it including:

  • quality/impact, usage/distribution, sustainability – from Josh Jarrett, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • focus on the resource aspect only and not the learning experience – from Jim Groom, Instructional Technology Specialist / Adjunct Professor, University of Mary Washington
  • ability of content to be edited and reused – from Seth Gurell, Ph.D student, McKay School of Education, BYU

OER content takes on many forms but is often provided in large blocks (courses, textooks, etc…). Some of these blocks can be broken down into smaller components and edited or reused (print textbooks for example) and others prove more problematic (video for example). So, a question to the OER community…what are the grains of OER? How small do we go when talking about content that can be reused or remixed? I believe there are more questions than answers at this point.

“OER needs to be better not just free” was a statement made by Jim Shelton (Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education) and echoed by a few others at the conference. However, I heard and in fact hold a dissenting opinion on this. In my mind, OER IS better because it is free. Cost is one of the main reasons for creating OER. With states defunding education (Josh Jarrett) and student loan debt outpacing credit card debt (Nicole Allen – textbooks advocate for The Student PIRGS), the free aspect of OER may be the most important. What would have happened in the music industry if music companies charged higher and higher prices for CD’s and refused to offer more cost effective options (iTunes and single song purchases for example). I doubt that artists would have stood for it and certainly the consumers would not have bought into that model. Textbook publishers hold both students and instructors in the vice grip of convenience and access while pushing prices higher and higher. Something has to change. Publishers provide a valuable service and always have. They are just pricing themselves out of the value market.

Final thoughts:
I relate to OER in a very personal way. I create open resources for my students so they can reduce their costs to take my classes. As a mathematics educator working in the developmental education arena, I am confronted with a long list of reasons why students can’t or don’t succeed. I don’t want cost of learning to be one of them.

So, thank you to David Wiley, BYU, the volunteers, and everyone else who helped make this conference a fantastic learning experience. Already looking forward to next year.