Thursday, March 14, 2013

OER - from resources to mainstream practice

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain
There is a vast range of open educational resources to choose from if you know where to look and how to search. For most teachers however the main barrier to using OER is the difficulty in finding the right material and assessing its quality and appropriacy. Institutions are reluctant to fully embrace OER since there are few established policies and quality guidelines and inventing these from scratch is simply too time-consuming. The move from a structured world of published textbooks based on a national or regional curriculum to an unstructured ocean of free resources of uncertain quality and with little or no pre-packaging is simply too daunting for most academic leaders to face.

For OER to really make an impact on mainstream education the resources need to be packaged together in related groups of resources or forming a learning path towards a particular learning outcome. This linkage and packaging could be achieved by classifying and tagging resources so that teachers can search for a package of related resources around a common specific theme.

Something along these lines is what newly founded Lumen Learning is offering schools and universities. Founded by open learning pioneer David Wiley of Brigham Young University and education technology strategist Kim Thanos, Lumen Learning offer to help replace expensive textbooks with open content that is specifically tailored to the learning outcomes of the school's curriculum. The new company's services are described as:
  • Finding quality content and mapping it to course learning outcomes. 
  • Incorporating OER into academic strategy and curriculum decisions. 
  • Training and supporting faculty. 
  • Improving student outcomes. 
The challenge they face is proving that OER can be trustworthy and of high quality, that they can actually replace traditional textbooks and also save the institution and its students a significant amount of money. Institutions are highly unlikely to be able to carry out the above tasks on their own and the niche for Lumen and similar companies would seem clear. If this process works out cheaper than today's textbook-based regime then all the better.

Lumen will earn money from offering these services but they promise to publish the results of their work openly and thus benefit the whole open education community. If this is the opening for OER to gain mainstream acceptance then it will be a welcome development.

Read more about Lumen in an article in Inside Higher EdCompany Sees Opening for OER

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