I’ve posted a number of times on Open Educational Resources, and mentioning these might help explain why I subject the entire issue to serious criticism, a small sigh, and a raised eyebrow.
- In this post from last December, I created a dialogue between myself and Powers That Be, about why I cannot get a grant for creating OERs.
- Two years ago, I evaluated the OERs available for History, and found them seriously wanting.
- Back in 2014, I questioned what an OER even is. (That was long before David Wiley defined it all so well in this week’s reading.)
And now? I’m even more skeptical, because now my own institution is pushing them. I think it was Alan Levine who first turned me on to the idea that state legislatures in the U.S. want OERs because it saves them money — they can decrease their education budget if everyone’s using “free” textbooks.
It’s easy to see who makes the money with a textbook – the publishers, then the authors. With OERs it’s harder to see. In this case, it’s the state saving money, or pulling it from education. In other cases, it’s more commercial. I remember how happy I was, many years ago, when MIT released hours of lecture on YouTube. Then I discovered a company that had built a “shell” for this content, adding some discussion boards and a document that looked like a syllabus. As an instructor, you bought access to their platform for the semester, and used it like an LMS, with all the content comprised of MIT’s “free” videos. The company got money, but not MIT, not the professor. It seemed wrong then. It seems wrong now.
So now my question is, cui bono? Who benefits from OERs?
Lest you think I’m just a grumpy old prof, I don’t have to whine about my own institution’s intellectual property policy. It was developed in the first year we offered online classes (1998) by my prescient and exceptional colleague, Louisa Moon. She saw immediately the potential for online classes to be taken over by institutions, and taught without the faculty member being needed at all. One could develop a class, and the college could decide to take it and have “staff” teach it instead.
So our policy not only preserves ownership by faculty of the things we create, but even our sabbatical policy says we keep ownership so long as we don’t make excessive use of campus resources when creating stuff. I think that’s fair.
However, I work at a public community college. We do not have the same issues as universities, with their endowments and grants. But we do have a recent push to adopt OERs, and I’ve argued against it as a requirement. Not that I like textbooks (just search “textbooks” here on my blog to see how much I despise them and the whole publishing model), but if there aren’t even good open textbooks for History, there must be other areas where nothing good is available. So for me, the four priorities for using OERs are:
- The academic freedom of the professor in choosing what to assign
- The quality of the materials
- Whether commercial entities benefit from their use
- Everything else discussed in this unit: the 5 Rs, open licenses, etc.
I guess that’s a little different than what this unit intended.