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Why Fully Open Educational Resources Terrify Me

2013 October 16

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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  1. October 16, 2013


    Thanks for coming to OpenVA (both days!) and I’m sorry we didn’t get to talk. For me, I don;t really find a create open education resources per se. I tend to narrate my work, share my approach, but with things like the class I teach it seems to be more an open flow of discussion that erally can;t be reproduced in a decontextualized resource outside the human connections that make it meaningful.

    I’d like to see us push more towards open communities of folks that share our process and ideas (at least those we feel comfritable with sharing) so that we can start pooling human resources in new ways. The individidual scales a lot better online than the resources, and at the end of the day, like you said, not all that many people are using the human resources anyway. But millions of people are socializing, collaborating, and creating—that’s the real exciting part to me. For me the open can be understood in a lot of ways, and I am not sure necessarily opening up all your resources has to be the only route. We can share the vetted work we do more openly in a space it can be found around the state. We can openly share ideas for our work, research etc. Maybe there is a chance it can be missused or stolen, but I have to believe there is also the chance it can ignite amazing collaborations.

    I think the questions around open and what we want from it are exactly what we should continue trying to figure out. There can’t be any one way that would work for Virginia’s universities and colleges, and that’s actually why it appeals to me.

    • October 16, 2013

      Thanks Jim. I certainly agree with what you’re describing, but that seems like a far cry from the “everything should be open!” attitude that I heard from some at OpenVA – at Minding the Future, someone even said, “I don’t believe in intellectual property.” That kind of extremism is what I associate with the “open” movement, for better or worse.

      If the middle ground you describe is still “open”, isn’t that what we’re already doing by having both some free online resources and innovation/teaching conferences like OpenVA and ODU’s innovative teaching conferences? Is the open movement just about encouraging more people to participate in these activities? Or is there something more to it than that?

  2. October 16, 2013

    David Wiley said he doesn’t believe in IP, and I think he has a pretty solid argument as to why. Fact is, I personally think the more that is open the better, but that is based on my experience and I understand that’s not applicable to everyone. I don;t see any reason to dictate the terms of open as an overarching, normalizing approach to open, which is my own issue with OERs and licensing. I think OpenVA is about trying to galvanzie a discussion. I’m not sure we all have to agree on a middle ground, but I don’t want to preclude it either. Fact is, I think an open movement is about encouraging people to share, much like what you mentioned in your post. I want to think about why they aren’t sharing and what we might be able to do to potentially change that. There may be some folks that have different visions of open, but I imagine that’s why they’re at a university. The whole idea is we don’t have to be lock-step in our philosophies, but we can do a few practical things like enable people to share their work and thoughts in some easy, centrally aggregated, state-wide space that others can discover and hopefully enagage with. That for me is just the little bit of open I am hoping to see.

    • October 16, 2013

      Thanks so much for this – this is really highlighting for me just how much variability in opinion there is within those supporting “open.” Perhaps that is both a strength and a weakness – a strength in that the open movement embraces so many different perspectives but a weakness in that it means the open “message” is not a single cohesive viewpoint – harder to convince people when you all believe slightly different things!

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