Friday, December 30, 2011

Tough Questions on OER

Here is an interesting OER article that examines a recent U-Mass initiative that offers UMass instructors a $1,000 stipend for producing instructional materials that are free to UMass students.   The author asks whether models such as the U-Mass initiative produce quality products and whether it can be sustained over time because of funding issues.  What is needed, according to the article, is a sustainable business model for OER that does not transfer costs from one source to another, or reduce the quality of the material for students.

The article does not think a higher education institution can produce quality material because the institutions “do not have the systems, incentives, processes, and skill sets and so forth of publishers.”  Basically, you can’t compare a $1,000 book to a $150,000- $1million dollar book.   Further, the author does not expect faculty to do work for little or no pay forever and if we have to rely on the schools we will only see increase in tuition to compensate for OER initiatives.  Also, relying on philanthropists is never a guarantee and the ability to produce curriculum would be dependent on attracting donors.

The OER movement does have some good examples out there -- Connexions comes to mind as one of those models moving in the right direction.  However, there seem to be more poor examples than good ones -- and beyond quality, there are accessibility issues to consider as well.  In addition, if the future of course materials is digital, interactive, linked to student learning outcomes, etc., then is paying faculty to reproduce traditional print textbooks without the editing, vetting, and other elements that go into creating many of today's course materials really going to have the expected impact?  Cheap textbooks -- but at what educational cost?   Are there better ways to spend our innnovation dollars that reduce course material costs while maintaining or even improving student learning outcomes?  That is the solution we should be looking for rather than reinventing stone wheels. 

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