Friday Curmudgeon – OER Edition

Peering into a cannonQuick – what percentage of your iTunes library is produced by amateurs? For that matter how many books on your eReader of choice are self-published works?

If you are like most people the answer to both questions is “slim to none.”

The point is that quality matters in any medium. Moving from analog to digital doesn’t reduce expectations of quality – in many cases it increases it.

Free music and self-published books, and teacher created lessons have always been a part of our media ecosystem. With the advent of digital distribution they can play a bigger role – but in the grand scheme they remain part of a much bigger marketplace.

There will always be a role for professionally produced content in education. The next time someone touts free OER as a panacea look to your own behavior with music and novels and ask why teachers should be any different with instructional materials.

Also, remember that you made an aesthetic choice – educators have their job on the line. Risk aversion rises with the stakes at play.

Carry on.

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2 responses to “Friday Curmudgeon – OER Edition”

  1. Doug Levin says:

    Lee, glad that the work of my organization – the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) – came to your attention. A public-private dialogue on how we make the shift to digital resources in K-12 is necessary and important. Business models need to evolve, and I personally am convinced there will be a role for OER in the long run.

    I am not sure that I agree that your summary in this post is an accurate reflection of the views of state leaders. I’d certainly challenge your confounding of digital, free, open, and quality.

    I’d encourage you to both view the webcast archive of the event and read our report in its entirety – if you have not already. Again, I am glad that our work is of relevance and came to your attention.

    Lee Responds – Doug I did enjoy the report and thought it was a solid piece of work. But I’m concerned that states like California have essentially abdicated their traditional role in insuring quality resources in the rush to save money by simply pointing to OER and walking away. People at the District level get this.

    I too am convinced that OER is an important part of the solution in the long run (even in the near run). But the advocates of OER, just like many tech advocates, present it as the solution for all teachers, all students, all the time.

    Your report did not do that and I should have been clearer about that.

  2. I feel like I have jumped into a political debate or stump speech: the land of over-simplification of a complex topic, a bit of misrepresentation, with enough of a soupcon of truth to appear possible.

    To be clear: “Out of Print” does encourage states and districts to take a close look at OER, but it neither touts OER as a panacea, nor denies quality is a key ingredient for acceptable instructional materials. Low quality may be one reason some free music, self-published books and teacher created materials are a tiny part of the market, but a marketplace limited by an out-of-date business model as well as difficult distribution processes and channels play a role as well. That is why one of the recommendations of “Out of Print” is that “…policymakers, educators, and business leaders collaborate to create alternative, flexible models for the creation, acquisition, distribution, and use of digital content.” Note, by the way, the instrumental role business (I assume that is another term for “professionally produced content”) plays. In fact, the headline for this recommendation is “Ensure a Vibrant Marketplace for Digital and Open Content.”
    As for quality, “Out of Print” recommends that “Data on effective usage should play a major role in judging the quality of instructional materials,” and, “The policies and practices that substantially narrow the materials made available for use in schools should be replaced with advisory guidance based upon clear standards.”
    As one who oversaw the textbook vetting process in Texas for a number of years, the model of judging quality called for by “Out of Print” is far superior to the one I managed.