What is going on with open content, and what does it mean for education? A group of us discussed the topic during the latest NITLE impromptu videoconference.
The main stories in our minds concerned the emergent, apparently competition between two major companies for open content mindshare. Pearson announced the launch of a free learning management system, OpenClass. Meanwhile Blackboard, already offering their own free course management system (CourseSites), announced a partnership with Creative Commons. Blackboard users can publish some content to the open Web, under the CC Attribution (CC BY) license.
Also in our thoughts was the recent contradiction in federal policies. On the one hand, the Trade Act Assistance Community College Career Training Program will award $500 million in grants to instructors building Web resources, provided they publish them under a Creative Commons license (cf our most recent NITLE Summit report).
On the other hand, Congress is considering a bill including language which would prohibit federal support for open education resources (OER) for which commercial versions already existed, or were in development.
Our discussion moved quickly, so my summary here is a conceptual outline.
First, we discussed the political and ethical issues around governmental support for OER. Participants noted reasons for such support: equity, social justice, and helping resource-constrained American students cope with a poor economy. We also noted objections, starting with one publishers’ representative’s complaint: “We have the government competing with the private sector” . Intellectual property issues and faculty awareness were also raised as reasons for academics to not back state-supported OER.
Second, we moved on to the learning management system (LMS) world. Participants readily saw the appeal of free LMSes, especially to campus leadership, and even more so in financially tight times. We also identified three problems with the concept. Is there a contradiction in using OER to support a closed LMS – which one discussant referred to as “a window into a walled garden”? Will the functional limitations of free LMSes limit their appeal? Due diligence was recommended here. Moreover, will the business model work? i.e., will people use these things?
Next, we branched out to a more general examination of OER in education. Here are some of the key points:
- Faculty can be uncomfortable sharing their own work, or relying on the freely shared work of others, sometimes.
- Privacy worries loom large, when student contributions appear with OER.
- How to support OER on campus? We noted that established programs, such as Connexions and MERLOT, offered the appeal of stability and reputation. One participant saw the role of on-campus evangelists as important for building faculty support. We also mentioned the utility of targeting specific fields, such as math and science.
- What slows OER adoption? Some answered that working through campus processes can slow growth. The challenge of meeting inter-campus articulation agreements also loomed large.
Resources, projects, and other links mentioned during the hour:
- California Open Source Textbook Project (COSTP)
- Community College Open Textbooks Collaborative
- Bryan Alexander, “This Visible College”. EDUCAUSE Quarterly Magazine, Volume 34, Number 2, 2011.
- Hal Plotkin, Free to Learn: An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials. Creative Commons: 2010.
- David J. Wright, Stephen R. Acker, Charles W. Ginn, Elizabeth Cates and Brigitte Budion, “The State of Ohio’s Digital Bookshelf Project”
Previous NITLE impromptu videoconference discussions: