Tuesday, July 19, 2011

OeRBITAL thoughts

OER OeRBITAL Off to Leeds to talk about OeRBITAL this week, so I'm trying to get my OER head on again. A few days ago I came across this list - Four layers that need to be considered to make most effective repurposing of an OER (in Conole, G., McAndrew, P. and Dimitriadis, Y. 2011. The role of CSCL pedagogical patterns as mediating artefacts for repurposing Open Educational Resources, in F. Pozzi and D. Persico (Eds), Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities: Theoretical and Practical):
  1. Visual representation of the design – how can the implicit OER design be made more explicit and hence shareable?
  2. Opinion of goodness – how appropriate is the OER for different contexts?
  3. Transferability through pedagogical patterns – how can generic patterns be applied to specific contexts?
  4. Layer of discussion, critique and contextualisation – how can social and participatory media act as a supporting structure to foster debate between those using the same OER?
I find it rather difficult to relate all four of these points to my own practice, in particular the first one, but thinking about this has been a useful exercise in crystallizing my feeling of unease about the OER industry. Who are the OER industry? The big players who have attempted to distort higher education by financial intervention, playing along with the anti-intellectual cost-cutting agenda, rather than investing in individual development for future growth.

On one level, I am happy to make any learning materials I produce freely available in microchunked formats to be consumed by learners (Martin Weller's "little OER"). I am unhappy about packaging such materials up into larger, static units which appear to offer the potential of supplanting teachers - death by repository - not because I'm worried about doing other people out of a job, but because this oversimplification of the process of acquiring wisdom (i.e. education), tends to overplay the acquisition of knowledge (i.e. training) and the importance of forming personal learning networks.

The industrialization of education pressurizes students and teachers alike to feel that education is a passive process, something that is done to them or they do to others - as long as both parties turn up, wisdom will happen. This externalization of knowledge acquisition masks the true outcome of education, acquisition of wisdom rather than of knowledge. Knowledge can be acquired via an Internet connection, wisdom cannot. That is why Illich was both right and wrong. Externalization of the acquisition of wisdom is as absurd as the idea that you can "teach" someone to be an entrepreneur, or beat it into them.

So why am I laying the blame for the crisis in higher education at the door of the OER industry? I'm not, but the OER industry is both a symptom of the malise (industrialization/externalization) and a partial cause (externalization/industrialization) of the crisis. That is what I am uneasy about. OERs are pretty much an unmitigated good, but only in small doses. The OER industry is bad. There, I said it. Again.


  1. Nice post Alan - I agree with a lot of what you say. If OERs are going to make a real impact they have to be owned by teachers and learners not big corporations. In a smal way we are attempting to bring OER closer to the stakeholders that matter in the OPAL project by articulating the practices around the creation, use and repurposing of OER. Will it make a difference? Dunno lets wait and see...

  2. Intellectually, I'm still trying to digest your (excellently written ;-) paper and figure out why something I'm so in favour of (little OER) makes me so uneasy (big OER). I think this is the closest I've come so far.

  3. Thanks for this, Alan; it helps with the 'iTunes U - should we or shouldn't we and if we do, how should we?' discussion.

    Terese Bird

  4. Little OER is relatively easy; small bricks are suitable to build many structures but pre-fabs are not, unless by some marvelous co-incidence its exactly what is needed. Most little OER resources fit into pockets of existing needs in existing courses, and provide useful alternative approaches to explaining a concept. Most big OERs probably only find a suitable home in new courses where no previous content exists, or the curriculum has significantly changed and there is a need to fill a large gap quickly. Big OERs are more likely to fit a common generic problem e.g. statistics, and yet even they struggle.
    But the wisdom of seeking a solution to underused resources, especially where the coordination of little OERS within them has been carefully constructed pedagogically makes sense.
    Lots to talk about and draw forth - looking forward to it.