An obvious difficulty with the OpenFiction project courseware is that most of the writing exercises suggested in the discussion units are in Anne Bernays’ and Pam Painter’s What If? Use of the courseware is limited if you don’t have access to the book, and copyright doesn’t allow for reproduction of the exercises in the course materials. I suppose I could ask Pam for such permission, but I don’t see it as being in her best interest, as that would likely reduce the market for her book. This is one of the biggest limitations for sharing open educational content–that most of it depends on or refers to materials that are not openly sharable.
This may seem like a minor limitation for tOFP, as it’s easy enough to go to Amazon and buy a copy of What If?, but it’s surprisingly difficult to do this kind of thing in some parts of the world. In evaluating MIT OCW, we’ve come across users who couldn’t order books because even modest prices for used books on Amazon were too much, credit cards weren’t used at all in some regions, and one user who had to have book hand-carried from the states because customs in her country would destroy anything mailed in country. I don’t pretend that tOFP will have the kind of international interest or use that MIT OCW has, but there are probably going to be circumstances where the access to What If? will limit some users.
That being said, I’ve found writing exercises to be an incredibly useful tool both as a writing student and instructor. As a student, they are a really low-stakes environment, an opportunity to practice a particular skill without the pressure of completing a whole story. In teaching the distance learning class, they were remarkably helpful in that they gave me the chance to respond very specifically to writing skills that I could not address in reviewing whole stories. My inclination with tOFP courseware then is to add more writing exercises, rather than to eliminate the ones already referenced.
My plan then is to slowly over time add my own exercises to the courseware at each point where an assignment references What If?; I won’t eliminate the references, but I will supplement them with non-restricted exercises. Should tOFP attract a group of users down the road, I’d also welcome suggestions and contributions of writing exercises to add to the materials. I hope that this will be a direction that many educators openly sharing materials will head, gradually weaning their materials of dependence on copyrighted materials. Not elimination of their use, as they have an important role, but movement to their use as supplementary rather than primary.