Future Learning and OER

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  Bad to good, immature to mature, supported to outdated, etc.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.

The goal?
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.

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11 Responses to Future Learning and OER

  1. I was unaware of iBooks author. I agree that we will still be talking about OERs, and in the context of self-developed smart materials

  2. Hi Stu,

    Interesting perspective. Yes, having a resource termed “official” makes me most of the time just accept it. On the other hand I would imagine that everything becoming “official” by virtue of nothing being unofficial would be hazardous.

    Leah poised a great point this week in her blog by talking about how many people would review a Wikipedia article versus traditional scholarly journals. It seems Wikipedia gets more reviews so could this be viewed as more official?

    You addressed some other important concerns, the cost of education and the rising amount of students with large debt. I would imagine that if post-secondary institution also followed the model as you stated in your blog: “Education in its fundamental form should be one giant Open Educational [Resource] endeavour…”

    Hopefully textbooks will still have a place as I learnt this week that longer texts to aid in the development of our brains, in ways that shorter texts often which are online do not. The article: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” talks about how the way we process and store information is changing due to the fact that now the majority of the information we receive is coming from online sources.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts this week.


  3. damoclarky says:

    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.

    In response to your comments regarding officialism, 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 (http://turnitin.com/). But what do you do when you cannot verify information? For instance, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (http://www.abs.gov.au/) 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 verifying the information they publish. It is an Australian Government Department, which makes it more difficult (not impossible) to deceive. 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?

    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. While managing people who are effective critical thinkers is very challenging, these people serve an important role in society – challenge is what purported to be “official”.

  4. Pingback: The future of OERs and the current publishing paradigm « Damo’s World

  5. chris morand says:

    I agree with you points about Google. The main reason I think is a better search engine is that Google is a giant corporate machine and whatever it doesn’t have now it will develop in the future. I think a company with that many resources can put the time and energy into creating a better search engine and posiibly, if the demand is there, and OER search tool.

  6. Pingback: Future Learning and OER « Learning Change

  7. Pingback: Future Learning and OER | Love to read, love to learn!

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  10. Ben Akoh says:

    Your description of OER as one giant resource got me thinking about the model for remunerating content creators. Perhaps educational resources should be classed as public good. In this state, the producers of educational content could then be paid through revenue generated from the creative use of the resources.

    For instance, Person X creates content; content is placed in OER; everyone including University Y has access to the content; content is used to teach Student Z, who pays fees along with other students to Person X in a scheme managed by University Y. The possibility of University Y to generate revenue is based on its innovative (number of courses, specializations, etc) uses of the OER. Simple, linear logic, but I believe it is more complex than that.

    The point of this being, that the existing models of funding and supporting education are not sufficient to address the gaps created by the disruptive principles of openness such as open education and public good. New models are required.

  11. Pingback: Future Learning and OER | E-Learning and Online Teaching Today

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