What is Open Education?
I ask myself this question regularly and I am at the moment. When you return from some conferences you find your thoughts and underlying philosophies challenged, and I suppose they should be. Open education is certainly changing the world and leading to new opportunities for learners and educators! We talk about the student experience, but I’m all for the “staff experience” too – those working at the coal-face of education, working horrendously long hours, and I’m glad to say, open educational resources (OERs) are making a difference here too. At the OPENED12 conference there were plenty of examples of educators, tutors, teachers, lecturers sharing learning resources and saving time; involving students in open education activities to enrich their learning, and involving external parties and employers in open education to produce high-quality, real-life resources.
What struck me the most from visiting the US and Canada this year is that open education is a growing and living mystical beast that takes on its own form in different countries and continents. This is just my humble perception. One area of impact and the “big hit” in the US is the production of open source text books. (Open text books, e-books, eBooks, or e-by-gum-books as they’d say in Yorkshire). They mean any digital book (delivered by the web or a gadget) that is free or at a reduced-cost to students. So this is when I fell off my chair. “A reduced-cost to students”. How can open text books be marketed using the “open” brand, for which most of the globe believes to represent free in the sense of liberty and cost? How can these books be compiled using OERs and content produced elsewhere (and there were plenty of examples of this). How can commercial companies then use this to market product? Well they can, and they are. And the same goes for commercial companies packaging up OER into on-line courses to sell.
How do they get away with it?
The trouble is, it is difficult to police the terms of the open licences. If I stamp the Creative Commons variant “NC” (non-commercial) on my OER, how can I police where my resources end up? Another get-out-clause is the Creative Commons variant “SA” (share-alike) which means my OER can be commercially exploited (I don’t care about that), but publishers must share the item back. Again, I can’t police this.
Apart from knees trembling and reaching for the gorgonzola, how do we stop the whole open education idea getting smashed-up? The open education community can pledge to use these OER which have been lovingly laboured over, in a fair and just way as they were originally intended. Or perhaps I’m being ridiculous and it doesn’t really matter? Or perhaps I’ve been really daft for the last four or five years and not really understood. But, nay. Open education takes investment of time and money to sustain, so a cut of the profits should be distributed back to the original author. We also need to educate our learners that open education means just that; it doesn’t mean “low-cost” education, no matter how attractive that might also be. Everyone I know in open education does it because they passionately believe in the underlying cause, and it feels like exploitation of my good will, (late nights, bleary eyes), if someone then can make a fast buck out of my efforts.
In my talk I discussed how an OER takes on its own form and life-cycle. A healthy life cycle means OER can be easily found, used and mashed-up by the next user. Get THIS right and you end up with really “open” and “accessible” materials – OER that is useful for all types of learner with all types of needs.
You can access my slides on Slideshare, available:
Search for “UKOER” or “OPENED12” for plenty of other slides and presentations contributing to the open education debate.