#ocwcglobal and the state of OCW/OER 2011

This post represents my personal opinions, and not those of my employers, projects, or programmes I am or have been responsible for. This post is available under a CC-BY license.

Just coming to the end of a useful few days in the US, meeting with Ithaka S&R and attending the OCWC conference. As usual with such visits, themes and commonalities have become apparent: I want to use this post to reflect on these rather than provide a who-said-what style comprehensive account.

Fundamentally, the OER/OCW movement is aligning itself, or being aligned with, the search for a “new model” (pace Anya Kamenetz) of Higher Education, which can cope with systemic massification and user needs better than the institutional model. 

“Open” accreditation – which is to say evidence of learning which is either open or accredited (not yet both) – has been a huge topic of conversation, with everything from Kaplan Knext and the OERU/Abathasca parasite/host model to Mozilla/P2PU “Badges” and the marvellous Brazillian “certificates of completion” from FGV.

Sustainability of OER globally remains a key issue – an encouraging number of new OER/OCW funders are emerging alongside a diminished contribution from Hewlett, with a range of different reasons for their activity, and a range of different foci and/or ideology. However, most of the remaining large Hewlett grant supported projects are currently coming to a close…

The confusion between content and learning remains, with a disturbing tendency to equate the two, with the natural expectation that we should now be focusing on some kind of “learner experience of OER” as a metric (or quasi-metric) for OER quality and utility. There is generally a greater emphasis in this global forum on independent learner reuse as a path in to higher study rather than academic-setting reuse of content. More generally there has been a rush to measurement of benefits which does have the possibility to lead us into dangerous conflicts between transformational potential and incomplete data

Despite an excellent record in moving OCW support (particularly) into Africa, South America and Asia it remains a very Westernised phenomena, almost a cultural imperialism where alternate models (for example China’s “Top Courses” programme) perceived as inferior even within host countries, and OCW often seen as a component of education system refocusing on employment chances (and institutional competition).

An increasingly visible elephant in the room has been the growth of private sector initiatives (everything from Khan Academy to corporate support for traditional OER release). There’s not really a response to this… “not-for-profit” seems to cover a multitude of positions regarding “Higher Education”, some of which see initiatives as a direct competition to “outmoded” traditional institution.

Some of the language around learner OER engagement has borrowed more from marketing than educational theory… I’ve heard the consumption of learning resources idealised as “addictive” and “compelling” – there’s a real “sales” approach to OCW/OER, several people have lamented low market penetration of the term. This all seems to point to a continued “ghettoisation” of OER as discrete from other forms of content (be it open or otherwise), as following different rules and having different attributes. Of course OER does have *some* different attributes, most notably the clarity of the license and provenance, but these do not separate it entirely from a wider understanding of content reuse.

Here are some key questions I am left with, from various speakers and conversations over the week:

* what is the learner benefit from attendance at a campus rather than online study? How does this link to institutional “uniqueness” and competition?
* is the sustainability of the existing model of higher education key to the development of new models?
* why has there been so little south->north and east->west migration of content and models?
* Is OER really a new model of education? Should it try to be?
* How can we make cases for OER investment based on long-term, long-tail, wide-spectrum benefits?
* Is OER a capital or marginal investment?

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