The OER spin doctor on the wheels of steel.

These are my views and not those of my employer, or of projects and programmes I am responsible for. This post is available under a creative commons CC-BY license.

As @josswinn frequently reminds me, OER is political, in terms in how it stands both within and against the prevailing ethos of marketised education, and in the way it is (at heart) a personal choice with wider political ramifications, taking in debates about work and labour, intellectual property and ownership, and the nature and purpose of the institution of academia. 

As an essentially transformative political idea, it needs help to gain ground in areas where diametrically opposed opinions have long held sway. I’ve been wondering if we couldn’t be doing a better job of getting our key messages across using a well chosen metaphor in the grand political spin-doctor style.

Our Coalition overlords provide an awesome example of what I am looking for – how many times have you heard, in the context of the national debt, the UK compared to a poorly managed household budget, where belts have to be tightened? Hundreds, thousands? It works because it connects something theoretical and abstract with something real and concrete which many of us will have experienced.

It models a response in a new situation from a response to an old one.

However metaphors work both ways. You could argue that this choice of metaphor tells us more about the background of Gideon Osborne and colleagues, multi-millionaires who have never had a mortgage, much less a personal cash-flow problem. And you’d maybe suggest that a family having difficulty paying a debt may look to earn more money, or restructure their loan, rather than going without food and clothes.

There’s a whole other blog post to be written about how wrongheaded and dangerous this concept is as applied to this situation. But despite this, a cursory glance at any set of comments on a Guardian editorial, or at Gideon’s dire opening to his CSR statement suggest that it has had and continues to have a huge effect in shaping public opinion, and public responses.

The situation around the (re)use of OER in formal is slightly more obscure. What common experience do we have which models a useful response to OER by a teacher or lecturer?

Breaking it down, do we need to demonstrate that:

* reuse is preferable to the creation of new content?, or
* reuse is a part of the creation of new content?
* reuse is valuable because of the nature of the content, not the cultural frame of references?
* reuse saves time and/or money?
* reuse adds value to existing practice?

The CSAP OER team compared sharing and using OER to sharing and using recipes in cooking in a recent blog post, other responses to a request I made on twitter last week have included:

The Roman Catholic Church(?), ebay ; freecycle; comedy (parody / mimicry), music/theatre/dance, the use of the reference break in hip hop (the funky drummer), environment/energy areas, cooking, museums/ libraries (providing access to limited/rare things); (unhelpfully) teaching, mash ups (both in the hip-hop and web app senses), coding, books, crosswords,  videogames (in jokes / references), boardgame design….
(hat-tips to the PatLockely/xpert_project mindmeld, deburca, BasCordewener and especially KavuBob)

There’s some great (and very off-the-wall!) suggestions in there, but – to me – nothing that really captures what we hope OER reuse could be. Coding, the idea of code reuse being better than starting from scratch and the existence of stuff like Google Code, perhaps came closest – but is hardly mainstream to most academic staff. Music is another interesting idea, especially the use of famous sounds and loops (gratuitous link to what may well be my favourite website ever, mid-nineties HTML tables and all) – but how much of this is the musician remembering how a particular sound or style makes them feel in another context. 

So much of cultural reuse is about the associations and resonances that a particular artefact has within popular imagination. I remember being in equal parts distressed and cynically impressed when I first came across DJ Yoda, cutting and pasting enough of any given genre or meme to allow an audience to recognise and respond to it, but without ever being anything other than a stream of references without a meaning. But OER isn’t about the greatest hits of teachers, I see it more as an educational pandora, where (unexpectedly) you find just the right thing

The idea of “teacher as DJ” has been popular for a while, using images of bringing in materials from various sources to keep a thematic flow going. It’s perhaps the closest we have come, but it may take a few more years in western culture before the DJ and the musician are seen as equally creative (though I’d argue the case for people like DJ Shadow as being worth several thousand limp-wristed indie kids in the creativity stakes).  And are DJs not more concerned with entertaining their audience than in getting them to “understand” what they are playing?

“Teacher as DJ” says a lot about us too – the DJ is (very much) the “sage on the stage”, setting the mood, introducing themes, calling for responses. The audience have little control over the experience, except to walk out in disgust. And the DJ (in popular imagination) has that insouciant air of unstudied cool that commands attention and respect without attempting to earn it. Is this how we see ourselves?

But somewhere out there is *the* killer OER metaphor, which would allow us to explain to people that “it’s just like x”, where x is a situation that prompts desirable outcome “y”: which is a close analog to our desirable OER outcome reaction. Thoughts?

3 thoughts on “The OER spin doctor on the wheels of steel.”

  1. I thought a bit about this recently, and i think the OER reuse is akin to peer review and quotation as a combined process #ukoer

  2. David, I am guilty as anyone for promoting the metaphor of “open educator as DJ” so I thought I’d chime in. In the talk I do on this, I actually very much agree with you; people seem to skip over my conclusion, which is that what is important is not that you adopt *that* specific metaphor/workflow, but that you recognize that, whether conscious of it or not, you already have one that you work under, and that the process of becoming conscious of it, and then potentially playing with it/adopting others is a critical piece of what it means to be an educator, as it forces you to look at how you conceive of your relationship to learners and to knowledge.When I did that talk, it was aimed at educators, and so could be seen as promulgating the “sage on the stage” model, but I’d suggest that increasingly DJs (and by DJs I have always meant the combination of DJ as producer/performer, not simply playing track after track but actively engaged with dismantling & editing tracks to then be remixed) are to be found in bedroom studios everywhere, remixing tracks and releasing them for themselves and others, and that it is possible to include learners in that role/metaphor too.Ultimately, I don’t think there is *one* metaphor that will apply, nor should there be, just as “open education” and OER need not mean/be just one type of thing/approach. What is critical though, and what I appreciate about your post, is to become aware, otherwise we run the risk of simply adopting it like we’ve adopted so much other educational technology and practice, to keep up with the Jones. Cheers, Scott

  3. @sleslie thanks for that response. I agree that there probably is never going to be one metaphor… I think one of the strengths of the OER movement is that it is different things to different people, both in terms of release and use. I was hoping to share what metaphors people are using in making the OER argument, and maybe indulge in a little bit of critique.I agree, recognition of how we see ourselves is key, and you win the cake for spotting the subtext! Have a great opened/drumbeat!

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