Saturday, April 4, 2015

Open Educational Resources

I was privileged yesterday to attend a summit on Open Educational Resources.  I have a lot of thoughts on this initiative. The keynote speaker was Cable Green of Creative Commons, which was a real treat for me as someone concerned with publishing.  He is a very good presenter and passionate about these projects.

OER is fueled by a number of forces:  the almost totally free distribution power of digital media on the Internet, the rising costs of tuition and textbooks, and the research showing that students are not buying textbooks and dropping courses due to the high prices of them.  Prices are outrageous and unsustainable, and I have empathy of students in this regard.

However, I don't think OER is the only answer to the last point.  That is a course design problem too.  If students can pass a class and meet the outcomes (often not the same thing) without access to the textbook, there is something wrong with the course and the teaching of it.  Assigning a book that is not critical to learning success is nonsense.  Therefore, I don't think that OER initiatives will answer all questions about student success, but it's a start.

I am seriously considering using an OER in one of my classes and am working with a colleague on a grant for another, but I am not entirely sure of the biggest piece:  faculty buy-in.  One thing that was not discussed fully yesterday is that adoption of OER really does entail a big effort in course redesign.  As such, it affects academic freedom (the subject of another post).  Short of a mandate, faculty buy-in will be slow, I think.  First, for multi-section core, freshmen-level courses, there must be agreement on the basic texts, or the college has a situation of either
1.  some faculty using free and others not, which will not be fair to students, and
2.  everyone one using free but different resources.

Second, for sophomore courses and up, there will probably be limited open educational texts.  For example, a marketing or business management course. 

The other downside is that the publishers can get ugly about these things.  Also, one textbook I use has excellent ancillaries and the faculty member might be forced to reinvent the wheel.

A better solution long-term, really, is for publishers to get on board and stop charging so much for books, stop making new editions that are not really new editions, and find low-cost alternatives.  The publisher of our speech text (no names here) was willing to work with us and bring costs down--not to free, of course, but to a more reasonable level.

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