Santtu at the helm by wili_hybrid

Santtu at the helm by wili_hybrid

When I get a free minute I try to get through some of my feedreader. Unfortunately I don’t get very far into it because Abject Learning is first in the list.

This time Brian is questioning the need for OER, and I have to say I largely share his position, it is over rated in the grand scheme of things.

One of the other participants asked a question that resonated with me: if we live in an era of information abundance, why is the primary drive around OERs the publication of more content? And what other activities around the open education movement might be an effective use of our energies? What other needs have to be met?

The predictable response from content centric OER proponents relates to copyright and freedom, OER content is “free”.

But as Brian points out, this is increasingly a non issue:

I staked out something of a confrontational stance… that higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce when we now live in an era of unprecedented information abundance. That we in the institutions can endlessly discuss what content we deign to share via our clunky platforms, while Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, TED Talks, the blogs and other networked media just get on with it… That I might not be able to legally reproduce much of the copyrighted media on the web, but I can link to it, maybe embed it, or simply tell students to search for it.

Already, formal education is out of the picture in every way. Our educational services are locked up in Blackboard, and our teachers are too afraid to professionally network online. Online education is a dark web. Stepping up to the plate then is Open Education services like Wikieducator, but bringing another set of restrictive criteria that effectively keep people in a twilight zone – adherence to one form of copyright. While the Internetworked cultural development powers on, largely ignoring copyright or bypassing it with hyperlinks, embedding and data sharing, OER efforts want to declare a point of difference because we think copyright is still even relevant! Trouble is we are held back because the user base we rely on to produce this “free culture” still have no idea or just don’t want to have to worry about copyright – they just want to get on with the teaching with what ever the best content is on the day, and with the least amount of practical restriction as possible.

The rhetoric about freedom and moralistic argument in OER amps up non-the-less. We fail to see that we are loosing our freedom as it relates to effective and efficient educational practice. Not to mention the role we play in assisting with the erosion and missed opportunities in Fair Use and Fair Dealings.

The distinction here is between educational practice and content production. Instructional designers have long confused the two. For an educational practitioner (and a student) there is more usable content than we could possibly need for education, more is good and more will come. Most of the good stuff is already openly accessible and in many instances copy-able! The communication channels around it all are open too, why would we want to limit our options with some complex and practically irrelevant detail about copyright, effectively giving ourselves another form of lock in?

As a content producer it is a diffferent story, we need more content with less restrictive copyrights, but even for us it is less of an issue now with linking and embedding, not to mention how quick it can be to simply ask for permission.

In short, OER can be a distraction and can lead us back to content centric thinking that is not the real issue we need to be talking about. OER should stand for Open Educational Reform (appropriating that from Alex Hayes), where we talk about access and equity, connectivity, relevence, flexible assessment, and efficiencies. I am increasingly trying to look at the OER services like Wikieducator more for their platform feature sets relevant to what I need to do, and less (if at all) for its stunted content and contradictory ideas about freedom.