Producer culture and knowledge innovators
So, more about how the producer culture model may fit better than the consumer culture model in describing users of open educational resources. The consumer culture model, which I’m suggesting applies to learning objects as they have been conceived, positions users as consumers of knowledge–i.e. they go and find the learning object that fits their learning need, interact with it, and come away with some specified chunk of knowledge acquired. Educators using these materials assemble the proper combination of objects for the learners under their direction. The goal of the process is to find the learning object that exactly fits with the need.
But taking von Hippel’s thinking about user-innovators and applying it to users of open educational resources would suggest we think of them as “knowledge innovators.” In addition to indicating that it is difficult to create a learning object that will exactly fit a wide range of educational needs, as I mentioned in a previous post, von Hippel’s book also would suggest that educators and learners may not be looking for a resource that exactly fits their educational needs. Take the following, and substitute the educator/learner for engineer:
…engineers seldom even want to see a solution exactly as their competitors have designed it: specific circumstances differ even among close competitors, and solutions must in any case be adapted to each adopter’s precise circumstances. What an engineer does want to extract from the work of others is the principles and general outlines of a possible improvement, rather than the easily redevelopable details.
While there are certainly circumstances in which the consumer model works for open educational resources (witness the popularity of lecture videos available on a number of open educational sites), and this use is far easier to document than adaptation of open educational resources, von Hippel’s writings suggest that learners operating at a high level and especially educators might be gaining more benefits through the process of adaptation (innovation)–the producer culture model–than through simple access to the materials. That is to say that there is an intrinsic value in the experience adapting materials created for one set of circumstances into materials designed for another set of circumstances. While some learners would benefit from watching a lecture video, few teachers would benefit from repeating that lecture verbatim.
My experience as an instructor is that reading and repeating an observation about fictional craft is not sufficient for me to truly understand it. I’ve said before that I learned much more about fiction by teaching it than I have by studying it, precisely because teaching demands that I take new information and reinterpret it within the framework of my own understanding of the craft and the particular needs of the students I am teaching. It’s not enough for me to read passages of Seymour Chatman’s book to my students. I must adapt the content to where we’ve been and where we’re going in understanding fiction.
Another example: I am finding intrinsic value in applying the open (ignoring that I bought the book for convenience) educational resource von Hippel provides to the issue of open educational resources, even though the specific content of von Hippel’s book does not address educational innovation or educational resources specifically. The specifics of his examples (mountain bikes, construction materials) are less useful and interesting than the principles, illustrating cross-disciplinary power of adaptation over direct use.