OpenFiction [Blog]

Retail sales and someone else’s underwear

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on October 4, 2005

One of my favorite quotes about opencourseware came from an educator who said, “teaching with someone else’s materials is like teaching in someone else’s underwear–I’d never do it.” While I don’t think the simile quite works, I think it’s instructive when you start to think about localizing open educational resources. Plus, the field of education technology is littered with misfitting comparisons, starting with the lego metaphor of learning objects. I’m guilty of using the simile of opencourseware as a wholesale business and localization as the retail end of the chain. Again, useful in communicating a concept, but not exactly right.

The wholesale/retail idea can do some damage by portraying the process of developing regions buying what developed regions are selling, a consumer model. Unlike what the underwear simile implies, I see “localization”–for lack of a better term–to be more than second-hand use of teaching materials. One of the reasons I constantly advocate that educational resources be formatted in the way that best suits their immediate intended use, and then minimally reformatted for open sharing, is that I don’t think the “localization” process will turn out to be as simple as swapping out a few images and culturally inappropriate metaphors any more than translating a novel is a process of looking up words in a dictionary. Each stands as its own authentic creation.

The goal of OER sharing (in improving educational systems, anyway) ought to be thought of as supporting the local creation of high-quality teaching materials, rather than the pushing the reuse of materials created somewhere else in local contexts. The question in my mind is really what qualities of OERs are most helpful to local educators in understanding their field better and communicating that understanding to their students. The next question then is how can we be sure that the materials created in the widest possible range of local contexts are widely shared as well, so that we can learn from them…


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  1. […] up and use MIT’s curriculum, saving time and improving quality in one fell swoop (the “dirty underwear” model); two, that OCW would repeat Wikipedia’s success and that teachers around the […]

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