One of the elements of the C-SAP OER pilot project we decided to take forward to the cascade project is a collaborative method of working with our partners, with an emphasis on reflection in the process of learning about OERs. Thus, on a number of occasions, we have invited the project partners (both in the pilot and in the current project)to respond to reflexive prompts on issues pertinent to OERs – including, but not limited to their understandings of OERs, experiences of discovering resources as well as ways in which their own teaching materials could move towards being open and shareable. Overall, we found that this reflexive approach helped us “think aloud” about OERs and articulate issues of crucial relevance to the social sciences community and beyond. One of these issues is “the fear factor”, which incidentally seems to be an underlying theme of a number of OER-related blogs, discussion fora and tweets.
So, what seems to keep the OER community awake at night (in no particular order of importance or provenance)? For starters, quality of reusable materials seems to be a major concern for a lot of participants on the international discussion forum running as part of Commonwealth of Learning – UNESCO Initiative Taking OER beyond the OER community: Policy and Capacity. What if lack of adequate quality control mechanisms (that is, if we ever manage to agree on what these mechanisms should involve!) means that the end product – a released teaching resource – is unreliable, poor quality and even potentially embarrassing? Within the OER pilot programme, some worried about the adverse impact on personal reputation if materials are poorly repurposed, especially if the resource is used without proper credit or permission. Many feared that their resources are not good enough to be shared openly and that by releasing teaching materials they are making themselves vulnerable to receiving overly critical feedback from their colleagues.
On the other hand, what if there is no feedback, or worse, nobody repurposes the resource and it dies a slow, digital death (after all, as research on the patterns of reuse within the Rice University Connexions repository demonstrates, this was the fate of about one third of the resources)? On a related note, what if there is no recognition for all the hard work which went into creating the resource – after all, personal satisfaction doesn’t quite make up for lack of institutional mechanisms of reward and recognition? What if the intended target audience (aka students) chooses not to engage with OERs, even though student engagement is one of the crucial elements of the cascade framework? Last but not least, what if we are all doing it wrong (attention all readers, random cat picture alert!)?
Peter Sefton at the Australian Digital Futures Institute addresses the above fears (and some more) in his post on “fave two reasons not to release OpenCourseware”. He points out that despite all these fears being possibly legitimate and understandable, the sky hasn’t fallen down yet and what we have to lose are above all missed opportunities. He also notes that the lessons learnt from OER programmes world-wide show that once the process of sharing and repurposing got underway, lots of objections and fears melted away. Hopefully, that’s what our conversations with the project partners will help us to achieve – here’s to cascading positive approaches to OER and dispelling fears one academic at a time!