I'm following Open University's MOOC, #H817open, and one recommended article gave us a chance to get a flavour of how the whole OER movement began. An article from 2001 by Stephen Downes, Learning Objects: Resources for distance education worldwide (IRRODL Vol 2 no 1, July 2001) explained the logic behind sharing educational resources (in those days referred to as learning objects) and gave a clear financial incentive for schools and universities to start sharing. Why should hundreds/thousands of teachers all over the world spend valuable (and expensive) hours producing very similar resources when one excellent resource could be produced and then shared?
"The economics are relentless. It makes no financial sense to spend millions of dollars producing multiple versions of similar learning objects when single versions of the same objects could be shared at a much lower cost per institution. There will be sharing, because no institution producing its own materials on its own could compete with institutions sharing learning materials."
The financial incentives for sharing instead of producing expensive digital resources seem so clear in this article. So here we are twelve years later and sharing of open resources has still not become mainstream practice despite Downes' convincing financial incentives. Masses of resources have been created and are easily accessible but still most teachers prefer to create their own resources or use the prescribed textbooks from major publishers. Given the potential financial incentive to share resources why has OER not become more widespread?
- There is no real culture of sharing in education. Many teachers still feel obliged to design, manage and have full control of their courses. Many colleges base teachers' salaries on lecture hours thus perpetuating that particular form of teaching. Using other people's resources is not fully accepted and content is still closely guarded rather than shared. The key to establishing a culture of sharing is clear leadership and support to teachers.
- Too many shades of openness. There's a nice short presentation by Derek Keats called How most Open Educational Resources fail to meet the UNESCO definition of OER that demonstrates how the majority of "open" resources are actually restricted. Material from the major universities, including iTunes U and most MOOC material, is of course available and accessible but most of it is still copyright and cannot be reused or adapted. Even some Creative Commons material is restricted by the No derivatives and Non-commercial conditions. Truly open resources must be free to reuse and adapt.
- Lack of trust. Resources from credible institutions like major universities tend to be restricted whereas the truly open resources do not have a stamp of trustworthiness, often produced by individuals rather than institutions. Quality assurance needs to be developed to give credibility to OER.
- Convenience. Standard textbooks and prescribed literature are designed to fit into national curricula and are linked to learning outcomes. The same goes for online material supplied by major publishers. Putting all this together finding appropriate resources from the vast pool of OER is simply more work than many teachers can afford to take on, especially given teachers' overload of administrative duties.
- Lack of incentives. Teachers who produce good resources can win praise from other teachers in the OER community but it doesn't increase academic reputation. Careers are dependent on getting articles published in academic journals and running courses with high pass rates and good evaluations. Creating OER does not lead to any career rewards.
For more on this theme read an article by Gerd Kortemeyer in Educause Review: Ten Years Later: Why Open Educational Resources Have Not Noticeably Affected Higher Education, and Why We Should Care.