OER and open source models
A few stats about Firefox, which I would say has to be counted a one of the more successful open source projects:
Some 1,000 to 2,000 people have contributed code to Firefox, according to the Mozilla Foundation, which distributes the Firefox browser. An estimated 10,000 people act as testers for the program, and an estimated 80,000 help spread the word. 75 to 100 million people are using Firefox.
I fall into the 75 to 100 million group.
David uses the “scratch the itch” metaphor in discussion OER, and I think it can be applied to educational resources in general, open or not. The problem, which I think he identifies in his own way, is that with open source software, we are all largely itching in the same way (With Firefox, I believe its called “Explorer-itis”), but with educational resources, we are largely itching in our own particular way. Educational systems don’t run on the same operating system, and often don’t share the same protocols, so it’s difficult and unwise to try to converge on a single solution. I’ve suggested before that an effective educational resource is likely to be effective only for a small group of teachers and learners sharing a significant amount of context. This leads me to a conclusion similar to David’s:
We need 500 more Introduction to Programming courses with some personality and some attitude. … When there are real choices out there (not “choices” between 17 clones that can’t be differentiated), then people will start finding OERs they like. This will lead to people reusing OERs.
It’s interesting to me that he then goes on to say that consumers-only of OER do not contribute to the health of a project:
Problematically for the world of OER (like the world of open source), consumers who are “users-only” do not sustain projects. The entire point of OERs is to give them away for free. No one pays. People who find OERs and reuse them as is do not contribute to the health and growth of the project.
I suspect he means by this that they don’t directly contribute. A counterpoint from the Cohen article:
Mozilla plans to make enough money to keep growing. But a windfall came in the form of a royalty contract with Google, which, like the other search companies, is always competing for better placement on browsers. Under the agreement, the Google search page is the default home page when a user first installs Firefox, and is the default in the search bar. In the last two years, the deal has brought in more than $100 million. … Thanks to the Google agreement, the Mozilla Foundation went from revenue of nearly $6 million in 2004 to more than $52 million the next year.
Any significant aggregation of audience can definitely contribute to the sustainability of an open source project, and the same is also true for an OER project. Firefox could not be where it is today if the 2,000 contributors–or even 80,000 supporters–were the only ones using it. There’s a tension here in that OER have a natural tendency to be more narrowly useful, but sustainability and our intuitive sense of “success” both point to large audiences. I do think there will be some OER projects that find sustainability in big audience models, but if we are to create a movement that is addressing the broadest possible spectrum of needs, my suspicion is that we’ll need some good small audience sustainability models that can be widely replicated.