Downes on OER sustainability
Stephen Downes recently posted a really useful summary of sustainability issues that’s a good first read in understanding the problem. Like any summary, I think it misses some of the complexity–MIT OCW has actually only gotten a minority portion of its funding from the Institute itself. Most of the money has come from foundations, along with a handful of very generous alumni and corporate contributions, and innumerable small donations from site users around the globe. I see it less as a question of which model will predominate and more as an issue of projects finding the right mix… Also, not because I want to pick nits with a really useful article, but because I think it needs to be made clear to others considering an OCW project: Stephen cites licensing as one of the major expenses for OCW and it’s not nearly the issue it was predicted to be, ranking behind issues like data entry and document conversion.
So the good stuff–I doubt I could have expressed how education is colliding with the producer culture more articulately:
…the functions of production and consumption need to be collapsed, that the distinction between producers and consumers need to be collapsed. The use of a learning resource, through adaptation and repurposing, becomes the production of another resource. Though there is a steady stream of new resources input into the network by volunteers, this represents, not the result of an OER sustainability project, but the beginning of it.
Here also is a jumping off point for a movement away from the emphasis on reusability (a supply-side mass market economics) toward one on reinterpretation (a demand-side producer culture economics). I’ve argued this before, but no project can really sustain the costs of producing “reusable” materials, even assuming they could determine what that meant. The real costs of open publication can be measured in the distance between materials as they were used in the classroom and the open versions of those same materials. As the distance tends toward zero, so does the cost.
So the path to sustainable projects seems to lie in getting as many materials onto the web in as close a state to that of their original use as is possible. This means–among other things–reducing the amount of copyright-protected materials in the originals, eliminating or minimizing technical reformatting, eliminating duplication of data entry effort between LMS’s and open publication tools, and automating or eliminating consistency of presentation. Movement down the path requires new tools, which are difficult but not impossible to create, and new behaviors by faculty, which may only happen at the pace of faculty retirement.
Once the materials are out there, educators and learners increasingly–again maybe at the pace of retirement–have the tools and know-how to shape them to their needs. In doing so and then sharing the result, as Stephen suggests, they create the next generation of open educational resources. Not co-creation, really, but perhaps viral creation, the same educational DNA mutated and recombined for potency in a different environment.