OpenEd: Weeks 2-3-4

Hard assignments for these weeks..

Lot of pages to read, lot of concepts, approaches, issues to consider and, of course, so little time…

So, I decided to start from a point that I feel as very important: the definition of OER.

Yes, I strongly need to get a precise idea of what OER definitely are. Is OER a new term for “learning object” or is it referred to pieces of content, although not technically structured as LOs? Is it related to only content? It seems to me that the word resource is wide enough to replicate the “elephant syndrome” that afflicts learning objects!

We risk, one more time, of speaking about something not (yet) well defined….

Then I tried to start from definitions and considerations offered by our readings.

For OECD, OER are:

“..digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research”. OER includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licences. This report suggests that “open educational resources” refers to accumulated digital assets that can be adjusted and which provide benefits without restricting the possibilities for others to
enjoy them..”

For Atkins et al:

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the
public domain or have been released under an intellectual property
license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open
educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules,
textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools,
materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

The OLCOS position is more problematic, they say:

OLCOS has gathered expert opinions and suggestions on open digital educational content […] but does not attempt to provide its own fully-fledged definition of Open Educational Resources.

At a glance, I sympathize with OLCOS: recognizing that defining OER is a difficult task is a very good starting point, but in fact this is a dead end!

It seems to me that OECD point of view is quite traditional, they are speaking about “accumulation of digital assets”: is the “silo model” of knowledge that strikes back?

The Hewlett report, by Atkins et al. offers a more articulated definition where the words “public domain” and “intellectual property” show up and make immediately think to the legal issues. I appreciate the attempt to include in OER a wider range of resources, with an important distinction between “full courses” and “course material”. I argue this is a key point: for instance, we can consider this course as an open resource that …includes the instructor (thank you David 🙂 while MIT-OCW courses are limited to materials. Of course there are many differences between these two examples, for example in terms of reusability…

We can conclude that perhaps only combining these definition we can obtain, if not a precise definition, an idea of the areas to be considered to understand the OER movement. To me, it is particularly important not considering OER uniquely as materials. An OER can be an experience, too.

But I cannot escape from the other questions! 🙂

However, I found the comparative reading of the three documents absolutely not easy, so I hereafter write some ..frewheeling impressions:

  • The OECD document is, as usual for this organization, partially committed to statistical comparison between countries, related to OER (no surprise for the absence of Italy from the main group of respondents…).
  • The OLCOS paper covers a wider range topics: it can be read as a compendium of the state of the art in educational technology. From e-learning standards to Web 2.0, from metadata to Creative Commons, they offer a 360° view on OER and not only…
  • OLCOS and OECD documents share some “drivers vs. inhibitors” overviews on the main factors involved in OER development. OLCOS offers also useful synthesis tables of them.
  • Reccomendations from OLCOS report are interesting, even if few are too generic (“foster the development of OER”…). I appreciated the reccomendations for students: I think it is important that they assume a more active role, also for OER development and use. After all, students are the “final customers”, aren’t they?
  • Atkins et al. emphasize the various experiences activated worldwide (again, no trace of Italy..).
  • One special topic from Atkins et al. is the proposal of the OPLI iniative and the vision of an ecosystem able to foster the OER diffusion. It’s not very clear but a fascinating view…
  • Atkins et al. is originated from the Hewlett Foundation, that is a big player in the OER field, while the other two papers are produced by important international organizations: a “special attention” for OCW and other Hewlett projects is, of course, intelligible. Neverthless, we must admit that OCW is at present a milestone, a reference point for OER in HE!

David is also asking us which is our “preferred” report, the most clear. I have to confess that I had no preference and that to a certain extent I think that the reports are not directly comparable. I can only remark the “encyclopedical approach” found in the OLCOS report.

The overall sensation is somehow confusing and I find difficult also the last question: basically I’m more involved in technical issues (for example I appreciate the criticism about using PDF in early OCW, from Atkins et al.) but I feel that, perhaps, OER have to be considered in a more holistic way. Technical, economical, legal, ethical, pedagogical, political issues are too much connected with one another: this is a big difficulty in this field.

Suffice it to think to this phrase, from the OLCOS report:

“It is important to note that current educational practices are decisive in determining whether – and how – digital educational content, tools and services will be deployed and utilised. If the prevailing practice of teacher-centred knowledge transfer remains intact, then OER will have little effect on making a difference in teaching and learning.

I think that if we reverse the reasoning, we can also think to OER as a powerful driver for innovation in education!

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