The Future of Open Educational Resources
I spent two days last week at the Open Education conference in Park City. It’s a community and a movement that has evolved around developing and distributing educational content. It’s right there, in the title, these are folks with an interest in “resources.” For a long time, the group has been primarily interested in making free educational resources accessible broadly. David Wiley, one of the founding fathers of the movement, just ran a great pilot in five Utah districts near Salt Lake City where they replaced traditional science textbooks with free OER books. The traditional textbooks cost $75 per copy; printing costs for the OER books ran to $5. Even in schools using the glossy textbooks for seven years, the OER books cut costs in half, with no effect on the percentage of students scoring proficient of a test (Video of Wiley’s Talk). We’ve gained efficiency, and saved money that we can spend on more teachers or tax cuts for the rich or paying down debt, or whatever. Shining a focused light on a topic, like content, can be both illuminating and myopic. The central metaphor running underneath the enterprise of OER is that of the supply chain. Content is produced, indexed, and organized by suppliers, assembled and delivered by middlemen, and consumed by end users. We’re trying to replace a supply chain of copyrighted material, with a supply chain of OER. The community has dazzling expertise around this supply chain—these are people who are zealous in their pursuit of breaking down the access barriers between those who want to make and those who want to consume. But education, knowledge, and wisdom are not products to be delivered. Education is not the filling of a vessel, but the lighting of a fire, and all that. If all we do is replace crappy glossy textbooks with crappy free textbooks, then we’ve saved a little money, but we haven’t created a new vision of education. Jim Groom: #OccupyOpenEd11Enter Jim Groom, who gave a dazzling keynote at the Open Education conference. Jim teaches—no, not teaches, teaches is the wrong word—Jim is the facilitator of DS106, a course started at Mary Washington in Digital Storytelling. It is a course, but more a community, where students from around the world collaborate in making media, designing assignments, critiquing, sharing and supporting one another. Learning in this course is demonstrated not by knowing stuff, but by creating a vision in media and communicating that message to the world. In his talk, Jim reminded us that Open Education Resources are but one piece of the more important mission of creating Open Education Experiences. The content of education needs to be in the service of pedagogy. Moreover, the OER resources can make new experiences possible. When textbooks cost $5 instead of $75, every kid can get a copy. They can bring it home, mark up the text, use it to study, and do all of the things that kids in wealthy districts take for granted. When teachers use content built from OER, they can tailor materials to particular communities, particular issues, and even particular students with particular learning needs. Put all this stuff online, and we can analyze student activity and give learners and educators real-time feedback; we can share curriculum across communities; we can start dreaming of releasing kids from seat time and demanding and evaluating individual mastery. The first mainstream discussions about the possibility of OER to affect pedagogy are emerging around the “flipped classroom”—the idea that kids watch lectures online at home and come into school to do what used to be called homework. The most exciting part of this conversation for me isn’t the exact methods proposed—it’s that we’ve started talking about how new technologies enable new teaching. When somebody brings it up, just about everyone in the OER community agrees that resources are just one part of the picture. But our conversations are often stifled by the metaphorical framing that we bring to those discussions. Education is not a supply chain. Content is not education. Resources are not experiences.  If we get trapped by our language, we’ll used 21st century technology to gain efficiencies in 19th century educational experiences.