OpenFiction [Blog]

Reference or remix redux

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on June 8, 2006

I’m beginning to see the question of the extent to which opencourseware is used as a reference as opposed to a resource for remix as a vital one for understanding the value of open educational resources, one that touches on a number of the more difficult issues we’re wresting with at the moment. We’ve been trying to update the scenarios of use we use in our surveys to determine how MIT OCW is being used (see the latest Evaluation Report for these), to align them better with the qualitative understanding of how the resource is found to be valuable by our users. What’s of interest to me is that many of the types of impact we’ve been able to generalize even for educators, which is the audience segment that almost exclusively remixes materials, have more to do with uses of the site as a reference.

Clearly the site supports some remix uses, such as grabbing an image or graph to incorporate into lecture notes, and so saves prep and class time. But once the use goes beyond this augmentation of existing materials, the materials don’t appear to be used as directly. Educators planning courses and curricula are often looking at the approaches taken by MIT professors and adapting those approaches in the creation of new materials more suited to their local needs, which may or may not directly incorporate MIT materials. Right now, it looks like about 90% of MIT OCW use is reference-related, and 10% remix-related.

It’s of course entirely possible that this is influenced by the format of much of our material (PDF), which is not the most flexible format out there. On the other hand, it could be that OER use is a lot more reference and a lot less remix than many have imagined. This is a question that impacts thorny issues such as publishing format and license compatibility, and it’s really important that other programs with other publishing formats and licenses examine this question closely. The comparative data will be vital to developing a clearer picture.

3 Responses

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  1. […] Rich Baraniuk and his very successful Connexions project are an example of the remix view of the OER world. Rich lays out some of these views in an article in SmartClassrooms last month. Connexions is no doubt the most successful example of a remix-focused project, with monthly visits in the neighborhood of MIT OCW, and certainly presents users with the opportunity to remix content more easily than MIT OCW. The article, however, presents the notion that remix is better than reference as almost a foregone conclusion: Unfortunately, widely used content formats like PDF yield materials that are open in theory but closed in practice to editing and reuse. This renders them often merely “reference” materials that are to be seen and not touched. As a result, both innovation on the materials and community participation could be stifled. […]

  2. […] I see the OER community as roughly divided between those who put the emphasis on “open education”—that is, widening access to educational opportunities—and those who put the emphasis on “educational materials”—that is, those whose emphasis is on promoting the distribution, adaptation and re-use of educational materials. These categories are not mutually exclusive, and most projects in the OER community exhibit characteristics of both, but there seems in the remix/reference discussion to be an element of dogmatic assertion of the remix approach as being the “correct” one. […]

  3. […] cost savings in eliminating them. David is covering territory I’ve written about for a while (reference vs. remix uses of OCW). Finger in the wind, I’d say open licenses contribute to about a quarter to a third of end […]


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