Why Fully Open Educational Resources Terrify Me
Over the last two days, I attended the OpenVA conference and its Minding the Future preconference. The purpose of these events was to bring together faculty in Virginia to talk about open and digital learning resources. Speakers in the culminating session today described a vision of the future where content creators (faculty, instructional designers, etc.) create educational resources and release them on the web for all the world to use.
That idea feels great to me. Emotionally, I really enjoy the idea of an open and free-wheeling exchange of academic resources. Have a great way to teach a particular concept? Put it online! Share it with faculty of the world! If it’s good, it might be adopted, updated, remixed to make it even better. I think most folks would agree that greater inter-faculty communication and sharing is a good thing.
And yet, a proliferation of open and digital learning resources has not occurred. Thousands of lecture videos from enthusiastic faculty haven’t been posted online. Huge collections of free, innovative interactive Flash and HTML5 apps have not appeared. Massive repositories of activities for each topic in many courses don’t exist. Even the massive open online courses available today are open only in terms of enrollment, not in provided resources. In my field, the number of resources in our biggest teaching repository, which has been around for a few years now, is maybe around 40, many of which are just links to pre-existing YouTube videos. Folks are thrilled to use others’ open resources but reluctant to share their own. So what’s happening? Perhaps it is more useful to think about why people aren’t producing such resources rather than why they are.
Let’s start simple. How many faculty have posted all of their lecture materials to YouTube? All of their slides to Slideshare? I’m guessing that as a proportion of the number of faculty creating such resources, that number is extremely low. I use this example specifically because this would be the easiest content to share – content that has already been created for a course and could be shared with just a few clicks. Although I believe in the value of open educational resources, I don’t post my own either.
Why not? Loss of ownership. This is not in the sense that I want to make money off of my teaching techniques. Instead, I worry that if I were to post such resources, how would they be used? What would stop a University of Phoenix from charging students to take a class using content that I have provided for free? What would stop a University of Walmart from taking my content on unfair treatment of employees in the workplace, replacing a few slides, using it to train its employees on why Walmart is the most fair and equitable employer around, and claiming the ideas were originally mine?
It is this unknown that terrifies me about fully open educational resources. Although I feel comfortable and enthusiastic about sharing resources that I have carefully prepared, vetted, double-checked, and delivered unto the world, I feel much less comfortable sharing everything because I have zero control over what happens to that content once it leaves my computer.
And before you shout “luddite,” I’ll point out that I’m a digital native and a Millennial, at the front of a wave of incoming Millennial faculty. I wrote my first computer program when I was five years old. This is not necessarily an issue of age or tech-savvy. It is deeper than that, and it will not be solved by faculty retirements alone.
I imagine (and hope) there’s a solution to such concerns, but these are the sorts of issues that must be addressed before open resources will be the powerful movement in education that so many desire it to be. If you have a solution, I invite you to share it!
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