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Honestly, what is the business case for OERs?

July 28, 2011

Via Scoop.itOpen learning news

David Wiley was with us at a meeting of SCORE fellows at the Open University this morning, talking about the role of Creative Commons licences in education. He started by asking us to brainstorm the main differences between book-based publishing and internet-based publishing. From the list we generated, he highlighted these advantages to the latter: – No cost to make copies – No cost to distribute materials – Materials are editable – Copies made electronically are perfect – Distribution is instantaneous All these affordances could revolutionise education; however, they fly in the face of copyright law, thereby preventing us from giving our students the best possible learning experiences. There was general agreement in the room on this point. Then the conversation turned to the trickier question that Amber from JISC recently asked: what is (really) the business case for open educational resources? The benefits of openness may be obvious to us as educators, but what are the grounds for institutions to “buy in” (literally) to the whole idea? This question generated some animated discussion, and some persuasive arguments, the main points of which are summarised below:

1) David told us about an experiment at Brigham Young University where they made the complete set of learning materials openly available for a handful of programmes, in order to test whether enrolment of fee-paying students would drop, as is widely hypothesised. In fact, the findings showed that there was no significant impact on paid enrolment. Actually there was a slight, but statistically insignificant, increase in enrolment in these courses. (Link to David’s paper on this to be added asap.)

2) David also presented a moral argument for publishing learning/ teaching materials as OERs, on the grounds that HE institutions are operating on State funds. (I’m not so sure about that though: while we may be receiving State funds for much of our research, the same can’t always be said for teaching and related activities.)

3) Andy Lane, from the Open University, pointed out that as the OER movement gains momentum, if our institutions don’t openly publish their teaching materials as OERs, someone else will. (The implication being that the “someone else” will benefit from the increased web presence and promotion of their expertise.)

4) Andy also noted that the cost of materials production for large universities in the UK is in the hundreds of millions of pounds, although most universities have not attempted to measure the staff time that is spent on producing materials. Sharing resources between institutions is the obvious way to free staff from the time-consuming work of producing PowerPoint slides, PDFs and other materials, thereby enabling them to spend more time supporting students.

5) One more argument was offered by Antonio Martinez from Leeds, who pointed out that one aspect of added value for fee-paying students is the “student experience”, which includes having the opportunity to meet and communicate with the authors of openly published resources.

And so… it turns out there are some very good reasons for institutions to invest in openness.

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