OpenFiction [Blog]

Are learning resources overbuilt?

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on July 22, 2005

Am I the only one who feels like we might be overbuilding learning resources in the OER context? I’ve been trying to think through issues of scale, reusability and derivatibility as they relate to open educational resources, and I’m feeling once again like the goals of educational technologists are getting tangled up with the goals of OER sharing. It’s really easy to spend time and energy on the technical aspects of open educational sharing, but I’ve always felt that the genius of the concept was not in technology, but in the revolutionary intellectual property practices involved. The intellectual property practice—sharing your educational materials with the world—is enabled by new technologies. It wouldn’t obviously have been practical before the web, but the heart of it is the IP practice. It feels like the energy of the movement should be around making the concept of openly and widely sharing resources the default practice among educators.

Technology in the service of OER sharing ought to do the minimum required to take materials from their native format and get them online in an open and searchable format. Every step further down the technology road represents:

• Effort that might have been applied to publishing other content.
• A judgment about the relative value (to an unspecified global audience) of a given piece of educational content as compared to any number of others.
• Assumptions about the academic, cultural and technological circumstances under which the materials might be adopted or adapted.

All of the above are fine in the context of specific educational technology undertakings, but if you are talking about making the largest possible body of materials available for reuse by the widest possible audience, the choices inherent don’t scale.

Educators themselves are not the best people to be making decisions about the global value of their teaching tools (witness tOFP). We wouldn’t be using the materials we create if we didn’t think they were the best tools for teaching a subject, but I’m sure there are plenty of writing instructors (and instructional designers) out there who’d argue with tOFP content or the way my course is designed. The point with the tOFP is that they were the right materials in the right format for a particular instructor and a particular group of students at a particular historical moment. When an instructor’s enthusiasm for his or her materials drives them (or others) to expend effort in reformatting the materials for some hypothetical wider audience, odds are that effort will miss on some of the judgments and assumptions above. If the OER movement focuses on the wholesale issue of getting as much good content openly available—including teaching materials, research, textbooks, and journal articles—local educators will do the retail work of adapting the content to local conditions, and that effort will be guaranteed to meet the needs of at least some learners.

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