Reference or remix redux
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.