OER Panel gathers to assess state

There have been many attempts at [OER](http://seanmehan.globat.com/blog/?s=eresource) over the years, and technologies have always played a part in forming the basis for innovation and breakaway from currently dominant models. The Center for American Progress hosted a [panel](http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/02/oer.html) that looked at the current state and where things are going.I have been a proponent of [OER](http://seanmehan.globat.com/blog/2011/06/05/oer/) for some time, both for its immediate value in providing quality materials in front of students at affordable prices, and for the disruptive forces that it applies to existing business models. N.B., here I am referring to *quality*, not *grade*. There is no doubt that these materials can be made to be of sufficient quality, but that there may be higher grade materials elsewhere.

The panel and the associated material collected is not new in its nature, but rather a progression that has been happening since the 90s last century. Copyright infringement is still a factor, but as I have seen and campaigned personally, it is rampant in the classrooms as well and in fact, may be easier to police if materials are opened up in a digital format to peer review and inspection.

The panel did speak, seemingly, about what they label as *entrepreneurial learning*, citing that some students may even find that their best learning option is not one offered by an accredited postsecondary institution. Several sources of free instruction are available to the general public through open courseware sites such as Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative, Washington State Community College’s Open Course Library, and MIT’s OpenCourseWare. This ties into the concept of accreditation being made available in smaller chunks than a course, commonly referred to as [badging](https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges). I think that there are challenges presented by this, but that HEs should get behind this and real implementations of PLAs in order to keep the for-profits from dominating the space. I then think that grade of the accreditation will play a major factor in the market’s perception of the badges and help both the learners and the institutions better suited to offer the badging.

I have watched with interest the reactions to [Apple’s iBooks Author](http://chronicle.com/article/Apples-New-E-Textbook/130399/) announcement. There have been a few that have tried to claim that this move is fundamentally different to the move which had such an impact made by Apple when they opened iTunes and partnered with the music industry. I see no difference. There were music producers, including online distributors, before iTunes, just as there are with textbooks. What Apple is doing is leveraging an ecosystem that should raise the quality of the experience by an order of magnitude. There are some who are complaining that the production software has this or that limitation, but they are missing the point of it widening the field of producers and consumers with so little barrier to entry.

High grade production of these kinds of materials was always expensive, but with the digital technology innovations available, packaged with an infrastructure that makes controlled distribution easy, results in many more players entering the market, both as producers and consumers. Producers make lower costed products that sell at higher volumes. These principles leveraging in the educational resource space would be very welcome indeed. Someone commented that $14.99 for a book was devaluing the effort needed to produce the content; but if you can sell 100 times the number, at very low additional costs, then it means more overall reward for its production. And the ease of production and some return that correlates to both quality of output and innovation factors, has led to an explosion of apps in the ecosystem; I predict a similar effect for eresources. Finally, just because there may be inherent limitations afforded by the authoring software or platform in the first version, that does not mean that things will not advance in the future, and perhaps much more quickly than some would credit.

All in all, I am very bullish on this next wave of attention and activity in the OER domain. Institutions now need to step up the plate and start engaging in a systematic fashion, not just with pet projects but with policy changing reforms, and funding should also start to follow these changes.


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