OpenFiction [Blog]

Still more from the IIEP-OER forum

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 9, 2005

A post I was really happy to receive in the IIEP-OER exchange, from Boris Vukovic of McGill University:

This is a reply to recent forum exchanges about the commitment of faculty to OER, the “quality” of OER, and the state of higher education today.

Once again the discussion develops as a result of what seem to be two
distinct visions of the function and purpose of OER:
1. OER as distance education
2. OER as course publication

John Petroff’s position exemplifies the first one. The expectation of complete courses that can on their own educate the user, faculty who are fully committed to scholarly OER production, and centralized OER consortia, all fit the model of distance education. In contrast, Steve Carson’s arguments support the second vision, OER models that focus on opening course content to the public for the purposes of individualized mix-and-match learning, academic exchange and comparison, and modeling institutional OER practices for developing nations or projects.

Rather than thinking the two visions are incompatible, I see them positioned at different points on the OER development continuum. I believe we are currently at a stage of gaining momentum and recruiting support for OER, at the start of the development continuum. This is where I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Steve Carson. John Petroff is standing miles down the road on this continuum, when OER becomes another standard for academic excellence, when faculty culture transforms to accept technology as the means to promote education for all, and when the Internet use and infrastructure the world-over become sustainable. I want to stand with John Petroff eventually, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

To use Steven Lerman’s metaphor, at this point in time we need to gain critical mass in the OER movement. This will lead to the development of standards of practice, which should result in the establishment of the practice itself. We cannot gain this critical mass if we set the bar too high. If you were to approach me as a university instructor and tell me that my OER should be as comprehensive and self-sufficient as a textbook, I would turn away because I don’t have time to put together a textbook, I want to protect my intellectual property, and I put more pedagogical emphasis on in-class collaboration and constructivist meaning-making (“I” here is a hypothetical professor). We do not want faculty turning away from OER right now. So, OER should not be perceived as giving away complete courses for free, but rather as cultural showcasing and exchange of academic course content, where “culture” refers to countries, institutions, or departments. If you were to approach me and tell me that my OER will serve to exemplify the teaching of Psychology 101 at McGill University, offering course content for comparison and adaptation to other Psychology 101 professors around the world, I would definitely sign up for it. Different visions notwithstanding, it is important that we are all traveling down the same road and will eventually reach the same milestones in the OER development.

And my reply:

I whole-heartedly agree that the two visions are not incompatible at all. The internet can function as a mode of distribution for open educational resources that are designed for classroom instruction, and can also serve as the medium for self-guided instruction through open educational resources, and there’s no conflict at all between the two. I’d also add that in addition to the critical mass of people involved, we need to work toward a critical mass of open materials that can later be used to create the resources John describes. By setting the bar low on the sharing end, we encourage materials from all cultures (in every sense) and with these materials we can create new OERs that are richer and more diverse.

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