The the remix view
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.
Apart from the obvious “merely,” I think it’s worth pointing out the paradox of insisting that avoidance of widely used formats will increase community participation. Seems equally as plausible to say that publishing in widely used content formats will increase publication and use of materials. And if it does turn out that a great deal of OER use is in fact “merely reference,” does the production of the materials in an elaborate and less widely used format constitute a misallocation of resources? How much of Connexions use is really remix-related versus reference-based? I would not be surprised to learn it’s not far of the 1:9 ratio of MIT OCW use. How much more material would they have been able to publish in less labor-intensive formats?
Even within the realm of reuse and remix, it seems to me that interesting questions might be posed (though the answers are admittedly hard to get at). How much of Connexions materials reuse occurs within the Connexions system, and how much is reuse in which materials are being converted into Word, PowerPoint, and the myriad of other formats that educators use because it’s what they’ve always used? In my experience, teachers are a pretty idiosyncratic group in that way.
Rich also uses oft-repeated rhetoric to set Connexions apart as a populist alternative to the “elitist” MIT OCW:
MIT OpenCourseWare project and its OCW Consortium, are top-down organized institutional repositories that showcase their institutions’ courses. Others, like Connexions, are grassroots organized and encourage contributions from all comers.
To characterize MIT OCW as “top down” is absolutely to misrepresent the project. It was proposed by a small group of faculty who championed the idea to their peers; it is, and has always been, entirely voluntary for all participating faculty and students. The project has certainly enjoyed tremendous support from the administration at MIT, but has never been a directive or requirement, and the faculty who proposed the idea didn’t do so to showcase the courses—they did so as an alternative to the for-profit distance learning programs emerging at the time, seeking to widen global access to educational materials.
Rich also points to the OCW Consortium in saying that OCW does not encourage wide participation, which strikes me as odd. MIT has been very active in encouraging others to publish openly, providing resources and assistance as our own resources allow. There is now just about as much content published in OCW formats from other schools as there is on the MIT site itself. Some 1,200 classes worth of materials are published by universities and non-profit organizations using the OCW model in addition to MIT OCW’s 1,400 courses. Any school committed to publishing courses openly is welcome to participate in the Consortium, and we assist schools not interested in the Consortium itself. And while MIT takes an active hand in running the Consortium (largely because we have the resources to do so), it’s hardly MIT’s Consortium.
Anyway, it seems a little misdirected to be creating artificial turf battles as this article does. Whether remix or reference turns out to be the predominant mode of OER use, there is certainly demand for both out there and we should be celebrating any project that furthers the cause of improving education globally.