Activity 7 in the h817open mooc on Open Learning from the Open University asks us to read three articles from a suggested reading list and identify three key issues in Open Educational Resources (OER) and how these are being addressed. This post is my response to that task.
The three readings I have chosen from the list are:
- Wilson and McAndrew’s Evaluating how ﬁve Higher Education Institutions worldwide plan to use and adapt Open Educational Resources (2009)
- Harley et al, Use and Users of Digital Resources: A Focus on Undergraduate Education in the Humanities and Social Sciences (2006)
- Caswell et al, Open Educational Resources: Enabling universal education (2008)
I selected these because they are fairly recent and seemed to address a range of issues around the use of OER in Higher Education. Because time is quite short, and I am already falling behind with this mooc, I have used the readings to prompt and inform my own thinking about what the issues are with OER so as to identify three issues based on my own experience both as a consumer and provider of OER.
Issue 1: Differentiation
If open resources are used by educators as part of, or to provide additional support for, their own teaching, there is no direct way to know how effectively students have engaged with them. As a consequence of this, the educator has to try to create or select materials for his or her OER which suit the majority of the cohort, perhaps by pitching to the median ability. OER used this way are therefore undifferentiated. More able students may feel patronised whilst students of a lower ability might struggle to realise the benefit.
There are plenty of examples of this, including the present mooc, which has an international student body and yet the readings are presented in English. Not only that but the language of the readings is substantially academic, restricting the richest understanding to those who already are fluent in this dialect.
The mitigation for this issue lies in the community of students following the course. Forums and the unofficial social groups which spring up like camp followers around the course, offer a place for questions to be asked, shared understanding and peer support to be provided.
Issue 2: Cost of production
Good resources, specifically resources which are of a professional-looking production quality, are expected as people get used to the quality of the average YouTube post, for example. Nobody seriously expects the incredible quality of recent BBC science programmes but if OER are to be taken seriously and thereby to be effective as a learning resource, they have to be produced to a reasonably high standard. This costs money and time. The credibility of OER can be weakened by poor or outdated production. I remember roaring with laughter at some of the Open University TV programmes which were used in my degree studies. I had an even harder job of keeping a straight face when I met the presenters in person at summer school.
Fortunately, there are tools increasingly available which make the production of high-quality resources possible, such as VideoScribe, which puts professional-quality video scribing in the hands of just about everyone, or the ubiquitous smartphone with its array of media publishing apps.
Issue 3: Cultural dominance and localisation
I didn’t see this mentioned in the readings I picked for this task but one issue with OER that worries me is the dominance of cultural influence (or worse, bias) in resources that are produced in cultures which are dominant in the production of OER. I see this influence when inexperienced teachers (I teach teachers) use resources within their lesson planning which contain American spellings, phrases or terminology. It’s equally bad when student teachers in Scotland try to use lesson plans from England, which has a different curriculum (and therefore different contexts and assumptions). Without challenge or adaptation, these resources would find their way into the classrooms of Scotland and the important cultural and local distinctions might be eroded or eventually lost. This is no nationalist mantra: there are important and significant differences which must be taken into account – the direction of electric current flow, for example. Scotland uses electron current direction by default, the rest of the world does the other thing.
This issue mitigates against OER’s usefulness in the global sense. There is a limit to the extent that an OER can be globally applicable and localisation will be necessary in almost every case. For video resources for example, this might be by way of captioning (for which, software is fairly readily available) or overdubbing, but the re-usability of OER has at least this as an associated cost if localisation or the avoidance of cultural infiltration is important.