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Open_Ed assignments for week 8: Economic Models of Open Education

21 Ottobre 2007


This week’s readings have clearly pointed out that social production based on commons, rather than property, has become a significant force in the economy, and that in the knowledge society an effective social production system is developing next to a market production system. New large-scale projects have been developing on the social motivation bases that have been defined "commons-based peer production" by Bentley (Common Wisdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials, page 2). Generally, people think of sustainability in terms of money, but I agree with Downes who states that money "is only one part of a larger picture" (Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources, page 29). There is no sustainability of any OER materials without peer interaction and cooperation or incentives (that can be monetary but also non monetary), which should take place at all levels:

        in the research phase;

        in the designing of educational materials;

        in the teaching tools used to transmit  the learning materials;

         in the users’ learning process;

       during the while-learning support and feedback;

•        in the assessment/evaluation phase.

There is no sustainability without cooperation also because without a constant sharing process of modification and adaptation of the courses any OER project is doomed to die after some time.

In my opinion, the reason why the production of learning objects has not fulfilled its goals yet lies on that they are not commons-created materials. When I approached the theory of LOs, I shared its aims but the use of an open source software (eXe) was rather demanding for me and I could not have any kind of support apart from the software guide. Something utterly different happened with my Wikipedia experience, because when I decided to make my very small and modest contribution  to the project, writing an article for me was absolutely easy and intuitive, done for the simple joy of creating and communicating something to others, with an immediate feedback in terms of self-esteem and motivation. The personal  impression I got was that the LO resource movement is a somewhat up-bottom  driven process, while in Wikipedia there is on the contrary  a real peer cooperation that gives it its sustainability both at the diachronic and the synchronous level. Another kind of experience that shows the importance of peer interaction in the sustainability of a project is Second Life, the multiplayer online game where "roughly 40,000 users … have developed over 99% of the objects in the game, and all the story lines" ( Bentley, Common Wisdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials, page 24). Of course, as the authors of this week’s readings point out, there is the problem of cohesion and coherence in writing something more complex than the entries of an encyclopaedia or a role-playing game as is in the case of the production of a textbook by means of cooperation, or the creation of good search engines and integration platforms to allow learners and teachers to search, use, and contribute back the educational resources.

As for the second question in this week’s assignments, I would like to highlight Stephen Downes’s observation about the importance of value and sharing in the sustainability of one’s educational resources that are freely available on non-commercial terms. More should be said about the notion of the "value" of a course if a sustainable business is to be built around giving away credentialed degrees. Koohang and Karman have underlined the importance of OERs as "a means of providing access to resources that have some educational value, particularly for those with limited or no access to educational resources" (Advancing Sustainability of Open Educational Resources, page 536). If we follow the constructivist theory of knowledge,  then OERs should consider the central importance of the support, feedback, assessment and evaluation phases as it is in any traditional workflow, otherwise the learner is left alone with his own problems and cannot develop his/her own knowledge and skills. The value of any course is "measured" and assessed on the things that its students learn through it rather than on its content, creating a learners’ community that can later develop into a community of practice, where learning is based on peer cooperation and interaction. The number of visits to a course can give an idea of its popularity, but it does not tell anything about its quality and then about its value. The value of this course lies in the posts of its members and their abilities to share their comments more than in the quality of its educational materials The decentralization and cultural or individual adaptation of the learning process as well as the building of communities of this kind improve the sustainability and the scalability of OERs, (Koohang and Karman – Advancing Sustainability of Open Educational Resources, page 540). It is important to check that the different goals of an OER project are actually fulfilled by its learners, even if at different levels and degrees. In Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources (page 41), Downes talks of a "crisis in OERs" as regards reviewing of submitted materials and quotes what Larsen & Vincent-Lancrin wrote in The impact of ICT on tertiary education: Advances and promises, 2005: "There is little doubt that the generic lack of a review process or quality assessment system is a serious issue and is hindering increased uptake and usage of OER. User commentary, branding, peer reviews or user communities evaluating the quality and usefulness of the OER might be possible ways forward." I quite agree with Wiley’s answer about the future of OERs courses that it lies on localization, I would also add the importance of tutorial support.

As regards the question if governments should fund open education, I think that it is more a question of incentives than of money, otherwise the risk of funding these projects is that it becomes just an excuse to gain the public money without doing anything really significant (I live in Italy and unfortunately these things happen in many fields…).  Governments should encourage rather than fund the engagement of the institutions in OERs initiatives. As Wiley claims, "at least lower barriers to faculty engagement may be useful" (On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education, page 18).

  1. 21 Ottobre 2007 a 20:58 | #1

    I agree that peer production is the key to ) OER sustainability. You make a good point that collaboration is also critical to the modification and adaptation process that keeps a course “alive.”

    I think that educational resources can be produced this way. I too have had a very positive experience with contributing to Wikipedia. The same experience is available for educational resources through Wikibooks. It is easy to contribute and very rewarding. The article from Benkler says that most Wikibooks have been produced mainly by individuals, but this article is out of date. In addition, I think that the main reason that Wikibooks has not been more successful than it has is that not many people know about it. When I talk to people about Wikibooks, I am always amazed at how few people have even heard about it. It is not even listed in most OER directories. (I am currently working on getting it included.)

    If you like contributing to Wikipedia, you should look at Wikibooks. (The Wikijunior section for younger children is an easy way to get started.) The more people who participate, the more everyone will benefit. (There is an Italian section here: http://it.wikibooks.org/wiki/Pagina_principale)

  2. Elisa
    22 Ottobre 2007 a 17:02 | #2

    Thx a lot for your comment and the advice Karen, I’ll surely try the Italian section.

    Good luck for the Open Ed course :-)

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