Imagine the day when students, because of the very nature of how they were taught, expect to and actually do verify the information they find online, work to produce content that adds to the body of knowledge in a given area and actively collaborate to provide others with better and better resources. Despite all the discussion around changing the direction of public education this constructivist/constructionist/connectivist notion still remains difficult to see in consistent practice.
So….given the current educational environment where does OER fit? I thought the best route to answer this overarching question would be to answer some simpler ones posed as part of week 5 discussions in my University of Manitoba Open Educational Resources course.
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.
Are OERs just a cute kitten?
Some probably are. What’s wrong with a cute kitten? How many people have become interested in cats because they fell in love with the kitten? How much have people all around the world learned from raising that cute kitten? Doesn’t the kitten grow up to be a well trained cat [Is there such a thing as a well trained cat?] or at least a mature one? In the end OERs exist within a quality spectrum. Bad to good, immature to mature, supported to outdated, etc. The trick here is to nurture the kitten.
Is Google better than any OER search tool could ever hope to be?
I think so. Unlike an OER search tool Google doesn’t start out attempting to narrow what you might find. Once again it comes down to students having the search skills necessary to make the tool as useful and productive as possible. I could not put a number on the resources, information, people and tools I have found online as a result of either well planned or sometimes very wide searches. While specific OER search tools obviously have their place they can not hope to match the level of discovery available to powerful Googlers.
Will OERs ever catch on in the developing world?
I can’t see why not. Continually improved access to broadband and mobile connectivity should support the increased use and distribution of OER. The development of appropriate partnerships like those sponsored by the Open University of the UK will also expand the reach of OER and openness generally. Even where the level of Internet access is limited the reduction in cost associated with the mass production of more traditional OER materials can improve educational access.
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.
Will OERs for large chunks of content ever catch on?
Of course! Educational institutions buy significant resources from traditional publishers or create significant resources because they can afford to do so. This is true either because they can pass this cost on to students who are still able or willing to pay or because the cost for such resources is subsidized by some other means. The rising cost of student debt and the general cost of education is surely putting some pressure on educational institutions to lower costs. One way to do this is to move away from the high cost of traditional resources. OERs will surely become more prominent and as they do and the quality and availability increases that role will grow. The adoption of resources like Google Apps for Education within K12 [it is free for K12] school divisions is a great example of this. When it works free is good.
Education in its fundamental form should be one giant Open Educational [Resource] endeavour. When the pedagogy and environments are in place [I am speaking from the K12 perspective again] there is no need for many of the high cost resources we tend to buy. Tapping into and supporting the OER movement should be the de facto standard for teachers and school divisions generally. Powerful learning and OER are a perfect fit.