Sunday, February 20, 2011

Every silver lining has its cloud

Universities are making enormous amounts of leactures and learning resources freely available on the net and we often hear claims that this is making world class teachers available to all. Today you can have the best lecturers from Harvard, Oxford, MIT or Stanford right there on your mobile as you sit on the bus or in a cafe. The potential benefits to life-long learning are enormous but it's often easy to get carried away with the euphoria of the OER movement.

Tony Bates has written an excellent article on the darker side of open educational resources, OERs: the good the bad and the ugly. There's great educational content out there but we have to remember that it is just content and that you need more ingredients to promote real learning.

"I increasingly fear that the open educational resources movement is being used as a way of perpetuating inequalities in education while purporting to be democratic. Some components of OERs also smack of hypocrisy, elitism and cultural imperialism (the bad), as well as failure to apply best practices in teaching and learning (the ugly). Despite my support for the idea of sharing in education (the good), these concerns have been gnawing away at me for some time, so after 42 years of working in open learning, I feel it’s time to provide a critique of the open educational resources ‘movement’."

The main problem with OER today is that you can't just simply use it as it stands. Someone has to put it into context. A lecture recorded in California or wherever will always be loaded with cultural assumptions, contain local references and be aimed at a specific target audience. If that lecture is then used, say, in Africa someone will need to put what is said into an African context. A lot of the material available on the net today is too specific and not aimed at the wider audience. Content is information and information is not knowledge unless it is discussed, processed and refined. The abundance of OER is good but it doesn't mean that people will automatically learn from them. Mediation and contextualisation are essential.

Recorded lectures are a particular problem. The lecture may well be excellent but the lecturer's attention is on the students in the hall and the context of the university, not on the potential global audience watching on their laptops or mobiles. Bates wants to see more resources that are aimed at a web audience rather than the fly-on-the-wall lectures that are so common. Lectures should be planned for a general audience with as few local references as possible. That way they can be more easily adapted by local teachers and made more relevant tolearners. At present the majority are simply posting campus lectures and hoping they will be useful. With a little more careful planning this material can really make a difference but Bates is doubtful that the present situation is as positive as many believe.

"Open educational resources do have an important role to play in online education, but they need to be properly designed, and developed within a broader learning context that includes the critical activities needed to support learning, such as opportunities for student-instructor and peer interaction, and within a culture of sharing, such as consortia of equal partners and other frameworks that provide a context that encourages and supports sharing. In other words, OERs need skill and hard work to make them useful, and selling them as a panacea for education does more harm than good."

The moral of all this is that it stresses the vital role of the teacher to provide context and relevance and that the growth of OER stresses rather than diminishes the teacher's role.

1 comment:

  1. Finn Wiedersheim-PaulFebruary 21, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    This problem of cultural misfit is not unique for OER. A large number of textbooks build on experiencess not shared by readers.