Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Dr. Wiley makes the point in his video that knowledge is nonrivalrous and that technology makes the dispensing of knowledge relatively inexpensive compared to what such distribution took in the past.  We can give someone knowledge without losing the knowledge that we gave them.  In terms of nonriovalrous distribution he pointed out that if a student wanted to read a book in the library he could only read it if someone else (a rival) had not checked it out already.  But with the advances in technology Dr. Wiley said:
This is the first time in human history that we find that both expertise, and the expressions of expertise, are able to be given without being given away.  So this gives a really unprecedented capacity to share.  At a scale that we have never been able to share before.  And we can substitute the word educate in there as well.
In his video presentation Dr. Wiley makes reference to the lag between technological change and the policies that society create to deal with that change.  He cited the Gutenberg Bible and the laws against scripture in the vernacular.  These laws were largely to address the threat to the ruling class (social and religious) that the widespread reading and understanding of the scriptures would be to their status, wealth, and positions of authority.  He asks if we are not pursuing that same course today about the significant change in technology that allows education to be given away more freely.  Our current culture, dominated by intellectual property concerns, seems to me to have the same motives as the leaders in the 15th century had when they created their policies.  Protection of status and wealth.  While ownership of developed intellectual property is important, policies that prohibit sharing by those owners who desire to do so are a way of withholding knowledge and learning.  In another interesting quote from Dr. Wiley in the video presentation he says
. . . the only proper role for technology in education is to increase our capacity to be generous.  Whether that's with giving feedback.  Whether that's with sharing materials.  Whether its with the whole host of things that get away from those kind of static artifacts and get more into discourse and discussion and argument and debate and conversation and collaboration. 
Another reading that I thought was informative and meaningful was the Benkler article in the readings list.  I liked his definition of "commons-based" production.  He had previously outlined that information, once published or made available, has zero marginal cost to the creator.  He used the example that it cost Tolstoy no more for the 100 millionth reader of War and Peace than it cost him for the first reader.  In a way there is the argument that charging more than the marginal cost for information may stifle its use.  But allowing only the charge of marginal cost will eliminate the desire of creators to create.  There is a balance that must be struck where information is available with a return that motivates creators, and provides users of that information a chance to accept it as inputs into their creative process.  Benkler defines "commons-based production" as
that uses inputs from a commons over which no one has exclusive rights, and that releases its outputs back into the commons, to enrich both its creators and anyone else who, like them, follows the same patterns of production.
Borrowing from the world of open source software I believe that this concept accelerates the creation of new knowledge as well as the increasing quality of dissemination, with the possibility of decreasing its cost.  He discussed the problem of expense in acquiring texts in developing countries, and the increasing problems that consolidation in publishers and the power of three states are creating in both price and quality of texts in the U.S.  Benkler then describes the possibility of applying the commons-based production approach,  Wikipedia and the text efforts in the South Africa show that there are challenges to managing production of texts with that process.  But as recent experience here in Utah, and the announcement of the open textbook initiative in the past month shows, the creation of higher order artifacts for education can be managed and produce high quality educational materials.

The recent iBooks and iAuthor announcements by Apple show that there is an awareness by the publishing community that costs have expanded beyond the point of pain for many schools and students.  The low cost alternative and interactive texts, priced at a mass-market cost, may be a first attempt at dealing with the application of technology to providing the "expressions of expertise" at a fractional price above the marginal costs identified by Benkler.  But the movement will continue developing "commons-based" production options that will drive the cost of purchasing texts and other resources for education closer to their marginal costs.  Even though the resources included in OER may pertain to texts, learning objects, games, etc. there is no doubt that even the concepts of schools and Universities as educational resources may soon face the challenges that textbook publishers are now facing.

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