For week two of Martin Weller’s Open Education course at the Open University, one of the activities was to read three articles from a suggested reading list on open educational resources (OERs) and discuss three issues related to OERs and how they are being addressed.
I read several articles, but am focusing here on three:
- Albright, P. (2005). UNESCO (IIEP): Final forum report. Available at: http://learn.creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/oerforumfinalreport.pdf
- Downes, S. (2007). Models for sustainable open educational resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 3, 29-44. Available at http://ijklo.org/Volume3/IJKLOv3p029-044Downes.pdf
- Smith, M.S. & Casserly, C.M. (2006) The promise of open educational resources. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 38(5), 8–17. A pre-publication version is available here: http://learn.creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/changearticle.pdf
Personally, I am most interested in the question of motivations for faculty to contribute OER–for me, it seems obviously a good thing to do, but I may be an anomaly. In what follows I also consider possible motivations for educational institutions to support OER, as well as the issue of moving beyond a producer/consumer model.
Why should teachers and faculty care about OER? Why do I?
I was less than impressed with the suggestion made in Smith and Casserly (2006) that faculty are motivated to make teaching and learning materials open simply because of “the idea that their content will have a much larger audience” (7). This doesn’t really say much at all unless accompanied by an explanation of why faculty might want a larger audience for their teaching and learning work. I suppose it’s possible that some want their resources to be viewable by a lot of people simply for the sake of ego, but I expect there are other reasons that would work better to motivate faculty to contribute OER.
One place to start is to ask why I think it’s important to open up my teaching materials, my reflections on teaching (e.g., my blog) and even my courses up to anyone who wants to view, reuse, remix them, etc. I’ve already done some thinking about the value of doing so, in an earlier blog post (in which I also consider some potential downsides). A few reasons, from that earlier post as well as some additions:
- Making teaching more “open” can motivate one to ensure it is as good as possible (when it’s closed, it’s a bit easier to let some things slide, even with the best of intentions, due to time or other constraints). (As also noted in Albright, 2005 (p. 8)).
- Seeing what others do with one’s work can lead to ideas to improve it.
- Allowing others to use and adapt one’s work could potentially lead to collaboration with others, which can mean opportunities for thinking about teaching and learning in different (and potentially better) ways–e.g., it could reveal ways in which one’s thinking and teaching are unconsciously bounded by time, place or privilege. It might also lead to collaborative teaching, which could be beneficial for students (if different perspectives and methods are provided in the same course).
- Students in a course that is “open” to many participants may benefit from the various ways of thinking, speaking and writing that could be more likely than if the course was made up of students who are similar in the sense of all being admitted to the same educational institution.
- If we are really passionate about teaching, and think that what we do is valuable, then why should it be limited only to those who can pay, and to those who have had the experiences needed to be able to demonstrate their worthiness to be admitted to our particular institutions of learning? It is, of course, not necessarily the case that those without such credentials are incapable of learning the way students who are officially registered in our courses do.
The thought here is that perhaps one or more of these might be motivating for other faculty as well.
However, it is one thing to recognize that sharing OER is a good thing to do, and quite another to overcome the stresses of time constraints and heavy workloads in teaching situations in order to devote time to doing so.
Albright (2005) suggests some more pragmatic incentives (based on a forum discussion amongst many participants), including:
- considering the development and dissemination of quality OER as evidence in support of tenure, promotion, and merit processes for teachers and faculty
- giving awards for outstanding OER (along the lines, I suppose, of teaching awards)
- “adoption of [other] institutional policies that encourage opening educational content and valuing the creation of such materials” (9), e.g., supporting faculty who wish to make their courses available to learners beyond the institution, by removing bureaucratic barriers to doing so and even providing IT and other support as needed
For UBC, especially for people in the “teaching” stream of Instructor I, Sr. Instructor, and Professor of Teaching, the first point here seems an obvious move. Insofar as those of us in this stream are evaluated on the basis of teaching, curriculum development, educational leadership (and related), then creation and dissemination of good quality OER seems to fit right into that already-established framework. The second suggestion seems fairly easy to implement as well (though of course, it requires time and effort to set up and sustain).
It’s crucial to point out here, though, that all of these suggestions can merely add to faculty workload, which in many cases is already too heavy. It makes sense to recognize the time commitment involved in developing OER, in opening up courses to wider audiences, etc., and to provide some kind of time compensation in return. How much depends, of course, on the degree of work needed for the OER. A course reduction is one possibility, as is reduction of service commitments.
But this raises another question, of course: what motivation do institutions have for providing such support for faculty to develop OER?
I have been impressed with the emphasis that many universities have on promoting open access research, at least through the provision of institutional repositories. At UBC, I have had extensive help putting my publications and conference papers into the UBC institutional repository, including having someone else find publishers’ policies on what version of publications can be posted online as open access, and when, and contacting publishers directly when needed.
But no one has encouraged me to put any of my teaching work online. I’m curious as to why there is emphasis and support for open access research at my and other universities, but not for OER. One might say that showcasing the research of the university can help with PR, including showing the public that the research they are helping to fund is useful. But showcasing the teaching that goes on at the university can work similarly, I would think, and could also be a way to attract students as well as faculty who are passionate about teaching.
Is the discrepancy between support for open access and OER yet another instance of the focus on research over teaching? More likely it’s that encouraging and supporting open access for research doesn’t require as many resources as doing so for OER (though really, this is just a guess on my part). Making publications open access means getting permission, ensuring they are tagged with the appropriate metadata, and posting them in an institutional or other repository. For OER, on the other hand, there are also other things to consider, including quality control, issues with technological interoperability, and questions about where to store them, at least (not every university does or should have an OER repository).
Thus, back to the question: what could motivate an institution like a university to encourage and support OER development amongst faculty? The possibility of attracting students and good teaching faculty through showcasing teaching and learning practice at the university may or may not be enough. Smith and Casserly (2008) point to the possibility of governmental support, but that is not likely to be long-lasting.
Of course, it may be that institutions are not the ones who are providing the financial and other support for faculty to develop OER. It may be other organizations that do so instead. Smith and Casserly (2008) suggest that scholarly societies might play a key role in such efforts, but they also link this to work by “volunteers” (13), which is not ideal. Downes (2007) lists numerous possible funding models that might work for organizations or even commercial ventures (34-35).
Still, even if the bulk of the work on OER is done outside of educational institutions, it would help if educational institutions provide some kind of encouragement for teachers and faculty to be involved in their development.
Another potential issue that stands out for me in regard to OER is that it’s too easy to fall into a sense that as a teacher/faculty member one is “providing” OER for others to “use.” As both Albright (2005) and Downes (2007), it’s important to move from a “provider/user model” to “a community model of collaborative development” (Downes, 2007, p. 38). This is not simply to avoid the situation where a few countries and cultures are providing knowledge for the rest of the world, but also to reflect the reality of how OERs work most effectively. The idea is not for something to be created and remain static, used as is, but reworked and repurposed as necessary for new contexts. Thus, as Downes (2007) notes, pointing to a comment made by a participant in a UNESCO forum on OER, we should move from thinking of OER on the model of “‘knowledge for all’ to ‘construction of knowledge by all’” (38).
Downes takes this point further at the end of his article, when he discusses decentralizing OER production and dissemination. Noting the way Wikipedia and bitorrent work, Downes argues that a community of volunteers might be better for sustaining OER than a centralized organization. The distinction between producers and consumers could be collapsed in the sense that “The use of a learning resource, through adaptation and repurposing, becomes the production of another resource” (41), which could then be re-uploaded into a repository. This collapsing of roles could work even if OER are controlled more centrally, but perhaps would be even more likely if not. The idea of such a decentralized system is intriguing, though again, relying on volunteer effort can simply add to already-heavy workloads for teachers and faculty.
But importantly, Downes’ article points to the fact that users of OER are not simply other teachers, but also learners, and collapsing the distinction between producers and users of OER means also doing so for teachers and learners. Thus, learners can and should also be involved in producing and disseminating OER. Many teachers and faculty recognize the value of involving learners in the development of curriculum and materials in traditional teaching situations; the same could be said for OER. Working on altering and re-submitting OER could be an effective part of the learning process, and thus not “extra” work on top of a curriculum.
I am sure there is more to be said about possible motivations for teachers/faculty and institutions to support OER, despite the fact that this is one of my longest blogs posts ever. Ideas?
Successful completion of this activity can earn participants in the Open Education course an “understanding OER” badge. But the instructions say the blog post should be around 500 words or so. I did not follow the rules. Wonder if I can still get a badge, or if I get docked for my post being too long, as I sometimes tell my students might happen. Or hey…I’ve written nearly enough for FOUR badges!