Pushing OER Further
via Google Dictionary
Recently, a friend shared a list titled “1000+ Open Textbooks and Resources for All Subjects.” The authors offer up these resources as alternatives to the ever-increasing price of traditional textbooks, which is a very real cause that leads some instructors, programs and departments to the decision to adopt OER in the first place.
I was glad to see such a great compilation of resources and I’m certain it took someone a lot of effort to organize the curation and presentation of the materials that made it into the article. But this article illustrates one of the largest hurdles the OER movement must clear before the use of open materials can truly take off. From the viewpoint of a professional in the instructional technology field, I look at this list and I think immediately about the thousands of other great resources that have likely been omitted. And that’s at no fault of the curators. There are literally hundreds of thousands, if not billions, of resources that are freely available under Creative Commons licenses. But they’re scattered all over the internet, stored in repositories that require login credentials to access, and in file formats that are as diverse as the resources themselves.
The heart of this issue is that there is no standardized way of sharing, cataloging, reviewing, and remixing OER content in today’s web. This three-column list is a great starting point for an instructor who is working alone and trying to find resources for a course that falls into one of the listed categories, but it’s by no means all-encompassing. After clicking around a few resources, every link takes me to a different organization’s dedicated OER page where the resource can be downloaded in some way — .pdf in some places, html in others, the list goes on. There’s no consistency.
Another problem: I have no idea what I’m getting when I click on these links. What’s the quality like? How long is it? Is it for beginners or does it cover advanced concepts? How much research went into selecting these resources? Is anyone else using them? How have they used them? Professionals in the industry know how difficult it is to effect change in education, and instilling confidence is key. How do I know whether clicking on this link and downloading the file on the other end is going to give me something I can actually use, as opposed to simply one more file that will go into my machine’s recycle bin?
A good OER platform that allows for logical cataloging, easy previewing, and a method for users to vet the resource (such as with ratings or comments), and user-friendly options for remixing it into custom content will increase the adoption of OER throughout education. Our teachers and instructors are only experts in their fields, and we ask a lot of them already. The time investment in finding quality OER resources does not align with the return on that time investment, especially when OER content could be gone forever in a matter of days, such as in cases where repositories decide to retire old content — such as Coursera — or stop providing services altogether.
In fact, I would argue that the need for these list articles compiling OER content for us are a symptom of the larger problem. And this is no knock against those who put these things together. There are undoubtedly hundreds of folks who are very appreciative and save a lot of time by references these lists — but the model isn’t sustainable. If we want to encourage widespread use of OER, it needs to be truly open. That means it’s easy to find, easy to use, and easy to share. We can do better. We need to do better.
Any ideas on overcoming these barriers? Leave them in the comments. Have a great resource that’s doing a fantastic job of cataloging and evaluating OER content? Share that too!