Open Education and OER is like …?

One of the interesting things about CETIS10 and OpenEd10 was seeing and hearing the different models and metaphors around Open Education and OER Initiatives. After a while though, it became clear that not only are there an abundance of metaphors and models – some of which inspire seemingly unquestioning adherence while others appear to have become clichéd already – but they are also applied a little haphazardly and there is rarely any consideration of how they do not apply, or what the limits and drawbacks of a given model or metaphor are. [edit: for a sample discussion please see Lorna’s post from CETIS10]

As the list of examples below indicates there is a great deal of confusion around the use of models and metaphors and it is often not clear if a particular model is intended to offer an business case, an analogy, or simply be inspirational. In what follows I’d like to offer some caricatures of these models and metaphors as a starting point for discussion. No criticism or critique of the potential relevancy of these models and metaphors themselves is intended – I’d like to provoke a little thought about their use… [and try to add relevant comments into the discussion and images if i get a chance (or any are suggested); i’ll note that i’ve been OSS development has a fair few issues highlighted – it’s probably one of the more developed and therefore easiest to question ]

Some models and metaphors:

  • The Music Industry
    • usually this seems to be talking about the free/ cheap music model with profits being made on concerts and swag.
    • model benefits: make money from related stuff give content away for free
    • model drawbacks: will the swag pay for the content? will they want your swag?
    • metaphor benefits: educators want to be rockstars – right?
    • metaphor drawbacks: established successful bands and internet-found wonder children only?
  • Open Source Software Development
    • via @scottbw “2 different models: for individuals as contributor to OSS (e.g. CLAs) -> little oer; open development process -> big OER” [there was a much wider discussion of this at the Open Innovation session at CETIS10 ] See also Andreas Meiszner “The Emergence of Free / Open Courses – Lessons from the Open Source
      ” [which i’ve not read yet]
    • model benefits: some highly successful software developed in this way, motivates lots of volunteer effort, community recognition and reward possible, added value services, highly distributed
    • model drawbacks: failure rate? (what this means may vary); often those who contribute time are well paid by related jobs so they’ve got the time (and time investment may help job) – this is not true for education outside of this domain; student participation may rapidly veer towards survival of the fittest; possibly intense competition and elitism?
    • metaphor benefits: appeals to ed tech developers, easy to point to success
    • metaphor drawbacks: very geeky; not obviously about education/ students
  • Open Access Initiatives
    • Open access is a relatively established way to share open content (research articles) in a university context
    • model benefits: about sharing open content, involves academics and librarians, increasingly backed by institutions
    • model drawbacks: research articles and learning materials are very different; articles have a known longevity and value to university; the systems and procedures for open access have a link to citation rates, research funding and by extension the RAE and related metrics. Success of Open Access is patchy& not yet a given.
    • metaphor benefits: supports clear message – ‘it’s good to share’ & ‘open licenses promote use/reuse’
    • metaphor drawbacks: the danger of implication that tools, process, and related issues are sufficiently similar that what has worked for OA should/ will work for OER
  • The Shop Window/ Loss Leader
    • Display and/or give away some of your content to entice students to study at your university
    • model benefits: showcase the learning experience offered through free samples; can attract more students and may support retention of them
    • model drawbacks: others might use your content or your content may put students off.
    • metaphor benefits: the ideal of public display and loss leader is demonstrably effective in other contexts so it’s may appeal
    • metaphor drawbacks: implicit focus on stuff/content not process. Commodifies education?
  • The Free Market
    • Used in a couple of ways: either in a similar manner to the ‘loss leader’ i.e.  OER provides a competitive advantage or OER providers compete and the best open content rises to the top
    • model benefits: will appeal to some institutions and organisations. reflects state of competition between  institutions
    • model drawbacks: will put many academics off. unclear if there is a OER market, and the impact of OER on wider HE market likely to only be a factor within certain limits/ in certain sections of the ‘market’
    • metaphor benefits: may be seen as realistic
    • metaphor drawbacks: may be seen as negative view; commodifies education?
  • The Commune
    • Academics would do what they do anyway; a sustainable cooperative (local or distributed) is a possibility
    • model benefits: offers sustainability through changing paradigms
    • model drawbacks: does it offer much by way of job security or the ability to get a mortgage?
    • metaphor benefits: appeals to some classic ideals about teaching and/or political structure
    • metaphor drawbacks: may be treated with suspicion; may implicitly raise questions about individual academic recognition
  • The Charity
    • A benefactor pays for the release of OER or the running of programme / institution
    • model benefits: an approach that has kickstarted a lot of OER initiatives; there are numbers of foundations interested in the area
    • model drawbacks: many funders want to move beyond the model of paying for content release; ongoing funding unreliable and only for some
    • metaphor benefits: easily understood, one approach to education should be free
    • metaphor drawbacks: underlying question is it really free/ open/ unbiased?
  • The Lifetime Members’ Plan
    • Students/ alumni pay an annual fee to an institution; get degree and ongoing access to courses/ credit/ CPD)
    • model benefits: ongoing income; fits with promotion of  lifelong learning and university involvement in professional training
    • model drawbacks: does it create enough revenue to pay for courses; does it interfere with running more lucrative professional training opportunities
    • metaphor benefits: clear, fits with alumni relations, comparable services already offered (sports club or library access etc.)
    • metaphor drawbacks: perhaps quite culturally specific, unclear value to student
  • The Cute Kitten
    • OER are like cute kittens everyone likes them
    • model benefits: makes point about costs of free
    • model drawbacks: for OER costs are before not after realease; for Open Ed is the kitten too transactional?
    • metaphor benefits: internet friendly, easy to see appeal and costs associated
    • metaphor drawbacks: they’re not, costs also likely to be more start up than ongoing
  • The Reformation
    • OER is revolutionising education like the reformation changed the church/ western society
    • model benefits: clear picture of systemic radical change with unintended consequences sparked by  a few individuals.
    • model drawbacks: not exactly clear or uncontentious outcomes; parallel somewhat arbitrary (? ok I was a church historian and it makes me grimace).
    • metaphor benefits: many people will have some familiarity with it and it conveys systemic change
    • metaphor drawbacks: will put some people off, agreement about what metaphor means unlikely (see previous comment)
    • [as an aside I think there are some interesting questions around what models of distributed education arose around in this historical context but that’s another post]
  • The Internet
    • The internet has revolutionised the world and made lots of new things possible it can revolutionise education
    • model benefits: lots of things can happen at scale and in a distributed manner, freemium possibilities, volunteerism
    • model drawbacks: danger of reducing education to content; do interaction opportunities favour the ‘strong’ and those who know what they want to do?
    • metaphor benefits: everyone know the internet has changed many of the day to day processes of life, ‘internet’ting education seems like the next logical step
    • metaphor drawbacks: the metaphor is perhaps too vague to be useful.
  • The Home Brew (ok I made this one up for DIYU)
    • a lot of talk around the DIYU type of idea, self-regualted self-taught learners picking up content, support, and assessment as they need and can afford
    • model benefits: lots of pieces loosely joined if one piece drops out it can be substituted; can be customised for specific contexts
    • model drawbacks: accreditation and assessment parts of the model are uninvented/ untried; unclear why OER would continue to be released and questions around commercial use.
    • metaphor benefits: flexible, free, independent
    • metaphor drawbacks: value unknown, what benefit to OER creator?

This really only a first pass at thinking this through and it’s not really meant to be too serious, but there’s something about how we throw models and metaphors around that’s worth thinking about.

5 thoughts on “Open Education and OER is like …?

  1. Pingback: Rethinking the O in OER : Information Environment Team

  2. John, nice post. I think it is very useful to look at the metaphors we use. Where I differ only very slightly is encouraging people to develop their own (cf. my “open educator as dj” talk, inspired very much by earlier talks from Gardner Campbell.) Because, implicit or explicit, we all have a metaphor, some understanding or model, that underpins our relation to openness, teaching and learning. I’m not such a big fan of thinking of metaphors as right or wrong; the ones we choose and use stem in large part from who we are and our past experiences, the contexts we find ourselves in and the histories we bring. What I do think is useful is, like you’ve done, to then make explicit our metaphor and see what it can teach us, both about the subject we’re applying it to, both in its match and its difference, and about ourselves.

    I’d also like to offer that, for me at least, I’m more interested in looking at the metaphors as they apply to the “open educator” or “open learner” rather than “OER” (and to a lesser extent “open education” or “open learning”.) Doing so helps individuals situate themselves in relation rather than try to totalize “OER” or “open education” as an entity or coherent system, which I believe it neither is nor is helpful to try to make it so.

    My $0.02. But hopefully understood as not a criticism of what you’ve written here; I do think there is a lot of useful exploration to be done in how people conceptualize both openness and the teaching and learning process and that a good deal of insight can be garnered from the metaphors they use. Cheers, Scott

  3. @David – oddly enough this is the first step in expanding on a conference proposal that us CETIS folk submitted recently (Li, Lorna, Phil, and myself) – hopefully it’ll move on form here.
    @Scott – what i’m trying to do, and we’re hoping to develop, is to take a relatively light hearted look at some of how the OER and OpenEd communities (ourselves included) talk about what they do. It builds off of the CETIS conference backchannel chat that Lorna blogged about (I’ll edit the link into the above text in a minute). I think that I increasingly feel the tension in style between the big and little OER approaches – though both have their place -they work with very different models (and I hope I’ve poked fun at both equally). I agree that individuals and institutions/ organisations need to articulate their own metaphors and models – hopefully this ‘catalogue’ may play a small part in a more thoughtful approach to this.

  4. To add to the mix…I’ve often thought of OER as folkloric. Stories we share with each other that change as they get passed on, taking with them some of the passer-onner.

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