OEC / OER / OCW – catalysts for change?

Scott Leslie’s timely and thought provoking blog post on Planning to Share versus just Sharing has already generated considerable comment and discussion on Scott’s own blog and on other blogs including by colleague Sheila’s Work Blog and Dorothea Salo’s Caveat Lector. While I wholeheartedly agree with the issues Scott raises I’m inclined to argue with the following comment from Jim Groom.

You nail the inanity and paralysis that pervades the whole conversation around sharing at an institutional level perfectly. I wonder how many big universities are joining OCW and the like because it is a good PR move, or the thing to do currently.

I think institutions can and do have valid reasons for launching OCW / OEC / OER (pic yer acronym!) initiatives that are different from those of individuals. I also think that good PR is arguably a valid reason for institutions to invest in opening access to educational resources. Institutions are business after all, as businesses they need some form of PR and if the route taken also opens access to resources that can then be used by others surely that’s so much the better?

Or perhaps not. This point is being hotly debated over on Abject Learning where Brian Lamb asks

…higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce when we now live in an era of unprecedented information abundance.

…if we live in an era of information abundance, why is the primary drive around OERs the publication of more content?

The discussion that follows suggests to me however that there is considerable ambiguity regarding what we mean by “content.” This from Laura:

higher ed *is* so focused on content. Faculty at many places do not get tenure from providing an education for their students, but from producing content (usually for certain journals or publishing houses) and this is what we need to get away from I think. We need to shift the focus away from producing content and back to education, writ large. For that focus on content also leads to the content-based class that’s all about “covering content” rather than encouraging thoughtful discussion, even about content-rich topics like biology or physics.

Tbh I think this is a rather spurious argument. The kind of content Laura seems to be referring to is scholarly publications. The drive to publish can certainly distract from the practice of teaching but does it really lead to content driven education? Maybe I was just lucky but I never felt my higher education was just about “covering content”.

Interestingly one of the most astute comments in this discussion comes from the same Jim who I’ve already quoted above (my emphasis btw):

I think it is the discusion and interaction that is still missing from the OER/OpenEd movement.

What universities need to be thinking about is ways to use syndication and open architecture to provide mechanisms of sharing and bringing together the various resources and inquiry around such a topic

Universities and colleges can seize the opportunity to frame these spaces for they have the unbelievable intellectual resources to help manage these distributed discussions, and interrogate the information that is already out there. The value of the institution is not based in content per se, but in framing the discussion and thinking about that content, and that’s why thinking about open models of self-organization around these ideas for universities is an important next step, for they pay for the intellectual capital of scholars, and those individuals are one key way for making those resources, objects, or things animate into something special.

I also particularly liked Marion Jennsens comment:

“…higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce…”

That is because they still have the one thing that IS scarce, and that is certification.

It seems clear to me that OER / OEC / OCW is curently acting as a catalyst that is surfacing a wide range of issues relating not just to “content” but to individucal practice, institutional culture and the current paradigm of higher education in general.

Given that JISC is about to pour £5.7 million into opening access to educational resources at institutional, subject and individual level it’s going to be very interesting to see how these debates develop.

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