OERs again

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.

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.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Opensource.com

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:

  1. The academic freedom of the professor in choosing what to assign
  2. The quality of the materials
  3. Whether commercial entities benefit from their use
  4.  Everything else discussed in this unit: the 5 Rs, open licenses, etc.

I guess that’s a little different than what this unit intended.

The new joy of online lecture

I spend a lot of time creating my online lectures. For previous classes, I’ve written out my lecture, added imaged and embedded video, and recorded my voice reading the lecture. I focus on themes that aren’t in the book, possible interpretations, and telling stories. Here’s one example from my History of Technology class.

But for my most recent class, I decided to make narrated slideshows and upload them, embedding the lecture (with captions possible, of course) in the Canvas page. Here’s an example:

 So, yeah, a lot of work. How do I know they’re viewing it? In my older classes, I created quiz questions that couldn’t be answered with reading or listening to the lecture. But I really was too lazy to do that.

So instead I decided to have them submit “Lecture Notes” in a Canvas quiz. Instructions:

Please submit this week’s lecture notes here. Notes should contain a paragraph about the main point of the lecture (its implied thesis), a full outline of the lecture, and a brief response (something you learned you didn’t know before, something you disagree with, something you found interesting). 

That “brief response” has turned out to be a joy to read. Here’s what I’m getting:




I can use the submission comment to reply directly to each student in SpeedGrader (much speedier now that I’ve implemented James Jones’ QuizWiz Canvancement). I like seeing their learning!