Sunday, March 28, 2021

Drowning in content but what we need is community

CC0 Image created by Catherine Cordasco by @unitednations on Unsplash

Over the past year teachers all over the world have recorded and stored millions of videos, from short instructions to long lectures. Most of them can only be used once but are seldom deleted and as a result many institutions' servers are bursting with terabytes of video content. Storage is not as cheap as many think and as servers fill up we need to think of ways to free up space for more valuable content. Many institutions including my own compress and save seldom used content in archives but as production levels continue to mushroom we need to start asking why we need to produce all this. Why do teachers put so much time and effort into content production? 

One obvious solution is sharing such material as OER (open educational resources) and allowing others to reuse and adapt the material. Why record a lecture when there are hundreds of similar lectures already freely available? I'm sure you can be a good teacher without ever recording a lecture of your own and spending time focusing on facilitation, tutorials and feedback. But sadly OER has still not become mainstream despite greater awareness, according to a American recent survey reported by Campus technologyFaculty Awareness of OER Has Increased for 5 Years Straight, Yet Adoption Is Flat.

While OER awareness went up, for the first time in the past decade, adoption of OER as required course materials did not increase. Why? The researchers hypothesized that with last year's pandemic-induced shift from face-to-face to online instruction, faculty time was monopolized by pedagogical concerns. "[Flat OER adoption rates] may have been the result of the considerable amounts of time faculty had to put into converting their courses, leaving them no time to invest in the exploration and evaluation of new materials,"

Teachers feel bound by tradition to deliver content and the students expect the teacher to deliver content and it's very hard to escape from this mindset. Even if we know there is open content available we feel that we are not doing our job if we use other's material. If it's fine to recommend other people's books and articles it should be okay to recommend their recorded lectures.

This is reinforced in a recent article by David Kellermann in Times Higher EducationAcademics aren’t content creators, and it’s regressive to make them so. The pandemic has forced everyone to become video editors and generally not very good ones.

Suddenly academics became video editors – mostly bad ones – and our students turned to YouTube, because on YouTube you can get a better explanation of the same thing (for free I might add). Universities turned from communities of learning and collaboration into B-grade content providers. This is the death march of higher education. Universities are not content providers. Somewhere along this unplanned journey we lost our way.

The main point of this article is that instead of producing vast volumes of content that already exist the university should focus on creating communities, providing context rather than content. The campus itself creates a sense of belonging with spaces that facilitate meetings, discussions and networking as well as having a strong identity in its architecture and setting. The article quotes Eli Noam: the strength of the future physical university lies less in pure information and more in college as a community. 

Today's online spaces lack these advantages and tend to be a collection of closed silos. The lessons of the pandemic must include the need to develop more social, interactive and engaging digital spaces that can complement the campus spaces. The endless production of video content is a distraction from this crucial challenge.


  1. Right on time Alastair! This is extremely important to consider for future learning environments and cultures that need to be informed communities rather than open pantries. Linda

  2. Guidning the teachers and students about OER is important: