Open educational resources (OER) are playing a growing role in teaching and learning.
A 2014 US study shows the majority of faculty members in colleges and universities use such resources to supplement their teaching – videos from You Tube or iTunes University, materials from a massive open online course (MOOC), OERu and OER Commons, a science simulation they found online – and some even teach from OER courses, such as those from MIT or the United Kingdom Open University. OERs are now part of the fabric of the higher education system and will grow over the next several years.
But what is the other side of the OER story? Are there some myths and legends that need to be exposed. Following a dialogue with practitioners, we identified five myths and legends.
Just because it comes from a leading institution, it doesn’t mean the OER is good
Look through the materials free to use from iTunes University from highly regarded institutions such as Oxford, Princeton, Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, Yale. You may be surprised at the quality. Some are outstanding, but others are videos of lectures by professors who, though knowledgeable, have not adapted to the reality of video or to the fact these will be seen by people not present in their classroom. They are, to be blunt, dull and boring. Not a moment of instructional design time went in to their production. Sage on stage (with and without PowerPoint) does not make for good OER unless it has been designed for OER.
OERs are quality assured
The previous observation makes clear not all OER went through a quality assurance process. Quality assured OER has evidence of efficacy, a statement of the conditions under which its use would be effective and an indication of the limitations of use which should be borne in mind by anyone seeking to use it – e.g. cultural barriers, language issues, gender sensitivities and so on. Few OER materials have these features. While quality is an issue being addressed in the OER community – see here for an example – there is much yet to do.
OERs Speed Course Development
Clearly they can speed course development, especially where the “new” course takes an existing OER course developed elsewhere and adapts it for culture, context and relevance.
This is the idea behind the Open University’s Open Learn resource with over 800 free courses. Full courses are available for anyone to adopt and adapt, with the request the adapted course be shared back with the open learning community. This assumes faculty will readily adopt the course design and teaching strategy of others and adapting such courses will be faster than writing a course from scratch or the needed cultural and other adaptations are small.
In some business courses, for example, every case needs to be changed to be local and current and references to legal contexts, markets and other assumptions need adjusting – a lot of work. Sometimes, it is quicker to use the “shell” of an existing course – the structure and instructional design model – and write a new course with that structure.
OERs are abundant and easy to find
OERs are abundant – there are literally over 1 billion OER items - and therein lies the problem. There is so much that faculty members complain finding useful, effective, quality, relevant and current OER is tough. There are challenges of currency and relevance. The most common complaint from faculty in the 2014 survey in the US is access to OER – finding useful material.
OER will transform higher education
OERs are part of a “hoped for” world in which higher education is unbundled and students learn through open access to information, designed learning and peer networks, with institutions offering support, assessment and accreditation. While some elements of this are present in the higher education systems of the world, they are not mainstreamed and not part of the policy agenda for most jurisdictions in the world. While some are experimenting with OER textbooks, unbundling is not on the cards anytime soon anywhere in Canada, the US or Europe.
These observations do not reduce the value of OER to faculty or to learners – OERs can be significant resources, can lower the costs of education (especially OER textbooks) and can provide insights into instructional practice improvement and new ways of delivering learning. But there is a long journey ahead for the advocates of OER.
But there is good news. In the same 2014 survey cited above, 31% of faculty indicated they would definitely be using OERs in their teaching and a further 47% said that they “might do so”. Only 6% indicated they “weren’t interested”. Given OER has been around for some time and there are growing volumes of resources available (see here for a comprehensive guide to available OER), the challenge is to encourage more faculty members and instructor to adopt OER as part of their approach to the work of designing their teaching.
As Gandhi is reputed to have said: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. The OER journey has this kind of feel about it.