Saturday, November 7, 2009

5.1.2, 3.4.2: Open Education Resources

I deliberately left Open Education Resources out of the E-Primer series, as there still seems substantial work to be done for them to go beyond being a 'good theory' and something 'inevitable' into something with a track record. OER has a host of dedicated adherents, and it seems they are close to achieving a form of critical mass and proof of concept. OERs have been of interest to me since Stephen Downes' classic paper on learning objects in 2001(Learning objects: Resources for distance education worldwide). It seemed a little like wishful thinking, but it had a definite attraction to it; at the time I was reading about (and practising) instructional design, and the barriers to a learning object economy at the practical level seemed more significant than some were letting on. Next in my journey was David Wiley's excellent differentiation (DOC) between 'Lego' and 'atoms'. Other pre-2003 works are linked to from here.

What put me off including them in the E-Primer series was the book by Littlejohn (2004): Reusing online resources, which, to my knowledge, remains an important read in the area. The book highlights the potential and (considerable) challenges the development, storage and re-use of learning objects face (and, again to my knowledge, continue to face). Issues of granularity, searchability, suitability, licensing and the establishment of a 'learning object 'economy' for reimbursing authors seem to remain as challenges (the issues have not seemed to have changed in the intervening years based on Conole & Oliver's (2007) Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research. My main personal objection beyond those listed is the potential loss of meta-narrative; what story ties the little bits together (related to granularity)? Further, thus far OER repositories have fallen well short of their ideals.

What prompts this post is the work being done by Wikieducator (see their OER Handbook for educators) and the recent (Vol.10, No.5) issue of IRRODL, a special feature on open access. I am yet to read it (my current research lies elsewhere), but it is encouraging to read in the editorial (PDF) these words from David Wiley and John Hilton III:
Overall, this special issue presents an excellent discussion of open education issues ranging from useful descriptions of successful projects to empirical data about user attitudes to thoughtful criticisms of present work. These criticisms are particularly valuable because so much of the extant literature about open education is almost uniformly positive in tone. We hope this special issue will help to begin a more balanced discourse about the benefits and very real challenges of open education.
It is encouraging to see some primary research being performed; the account of open textbook creation, an honest appraisal of sustainability,  and the results of a survey looking at incentives and disincentives for use (showing that the classic benefits and caveats I mentioned above still exist). On the theoretical side is one by the editors (Openness, dynamic specialization, and the disaggregated future of higher education) suggesting that "every institution must begin addressing openness as a core organizational value if it desires to both remain relevant to its learners and to contribute to the positive advancement of the field of higher education"), and another proposing peer-recognition over formal accreditation.

One of the ironies in is the tension between OERs replacing current formal education and OERs promoting and serving formal education; for OERs to be sustainable, it seems they may need to be supported on the scale only made possible within formal settings (see the Friesen article). I still view OER as a work in progress, with significant barriers to overcome; there is much enthusiasm for it. However, I also know that enthusiasm will only get a great idea so far. For OER to truly come to fruition it requires a critical mass and an inevitability in terms of institutional shift. I'm not (yet) convinced that either of these are imminent. Using OERs doesn't take the 'work' out of education design!

1 comment:

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