This post is part of a project aimed at mapping myths and obstacles around Open Educational Resources, conducted by Creative Commons Poland.
Where do myths about OERs come from?
The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement has emerged to transform and democratize access to education. Governments, companies, teachers and learners around the world are making OERs and using them in various ways. But just the fact that there is growing number of projects and people making resources available to copy, remix and share freely does not guarantee a systemic change in education.
OER projects around the world face similar barriers: from limited understanding of the idea of OER by decision makers (sometimes educators as well), to PR campaigns directed against openness (1). During many workshops and trainings with teachers and textbooks authors, we found most of the arguments brought against OER to be myths. They are born from confusing OER’s with many things that they are not, and from identifying them as radically different than educational resources produced by traditional publishers.
Without efforts to raise awarness about benefits of OER, there is a great risk that pervasive critical voices (coming mainly from commercial educational publishers) will change the attitude toward OER of teachers, learners in all ages and parents of school pupils. Such criticism is widely observed in response to the growing popularity of OERs. It is worth noting that the false alarms start especially when governments start thinking about open educational resources, and invest public funding into their production and support.
Mapping the myths
To help fight these myths and misunderstandings, we started mapping them and providing model answers. We are working on a mythbusting guide that will offer simple, easy to use guidance, in a question and answer format. This can be useful for people advocating OER, as well as educators searching for practical answers for their doubts and journalists writing about OER.
We started with a survey among OER community experts and an examination of existing media reports on OERs. It’s interesting that when you take deep dive into press articles, you will find extremely varied opinions about OERs. They are either a mainstream, successful trend in education – or a way to destroy the publishing market and reduce teaching quality. It is much more insightful to ask about OER experts and teachers.
Fig. 1. What are most typical arguments you hear against Open Educational Resources? OER community experts survey.
What do users think?
In another survey, conducted by authors of the report “An OER COUP: College Teacher and Student Perceptions of Open Educational Resources” (2), 11% of teachers and 6% of students perceived the quality of OER textbooks as being lower than the quality of traditional textbooks they had used in the past. In all cases, these users indicated technical problems or general poor text quality as reasons for giving a low rating. However, according to teachers’ definition of the problem, access to the Internet and students’ feedback and preferences were at „heart of what made the OER texts worse for these teachers”. For example, one of the teachers wrote: „Students have limited access – they want print sources [because] that is what they are used to.” The other teacher simply wrote „That it’s online.”(3)
This survey mirrors what we can easily observe during trainings for teachers and what so-called “open washing” makes even worse: a popular definition of Open Educational Resources as just free (gratis) resources online. Most of myths about OER are based on this misunderstanding. Furthermore, critique is often not specific to OERs, but to any type of content available on the Internet. For example, OER can be distributed in many formats, including print, so the argument that OER forces specific equipment investments is rather unjustified, as it applies to all digital resources.
Fig. 2. Example of OER misconception that all digital, freely available resources are open in a strict sense
In reports from Boundless (4) and EduCase (5) published in 2013, we can see significant growth of OER use in Higher Education (research at the K-12 level in this area is still limited). According to EduCase, 71% of respondents say they used freely available open educational resources (OERs) in the past year, 10% of them use OER „all the time”. Both reports covered only university students in the U.S. In other countries like Belgium, Netherlands and Norway we can observe even higher usage of OER. This is a clear effect of well-established programs for providing open digital resources for teachers, supported or even run by the government. At Belgium’s KlasCement platform, one in three teachers have registered and about 70% of Belgian teachers use it. WikiWijs from Netherlands has more than 100% per year growth of the level of remixes of open educational resources available on the platform and is expanding to higher education.
It is difficult to present a definitive report, but arguments gathered offer strong evidence of how useful and powerful OERs are. This trend will be growing as OERs are promoted by public institutions and attract users searching for resources that are not only cheaper, but also more adaptable. For these reasons, we should be prepared to answer a growing number of questions about what OERs are, and what they are not.
The perspective of authors
Many organizations wanting to create educational materials find out during negotiations with authors that most of them are ultimately willing to openly license their materials. However this often requires overcoming their personal fears about OERs. Many authors are unfamiliar with the concept of an open license and open educational resources. Even if they hear about them, Saylor.org found that “chief concerns included the loss of control of materials, commercial reproduction, and loss of traffic/ad revenue” (6).
Explanation of open licenses is a battle with false perceptions and fears regarding potential profits and losses. Authors and publishers often have preconceptions that publishing in an open model is somehow inferior to traditional publishing. And it’s not only about lowering the quality, but also about losing profits: monetary, website traffic, or the strength of an author’s brand. For efficient discussion and negotiation with educational and scientific authors, it is important to understand how the process works and how they are paid. Teachers often make a lot of resources as part of their work, while textbook authors are often paid through contracts, not based on copies sold.
It is important therefore to explain that Open Educational Resources can be produced and distributed in various models – from voluntary work (like Wikipedia) to a contracted, paid and reviewed process like California’s and Poland’s public textbook programs. Authors also tend to avoid thinking about ways of receiving more profits by taking control over their work, instead of depending on intermediaries like publishers. The new opportunities arising from open publishing are diverse and are growing each year, as more and more services and start-ups are focusing on OERs. Changes in publishing models are also a part of OER-related challenges to consider.
Criticism of Open Educational Resources has many roots. Some of them are justified and definitely require more work from the OER movement and projects involved in making OERs. More research is needed to generate clear evidence for decision makers. On the other hand, a lot of arguments against OER are based on misconceptions, which also require further explanation. We aim at mapping what problems about OER are raised by the press and the public, and how they can be practically answered. If you would like to engage and support us in doing this, feel free to write: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Black PR around Polish e-Textbooks, Michał “rysiek” Woźniak, http://rys.io/en/94
(2) Bliss, TJ, Robinson, J., Hilton, J., & Wiley, D, An OER COUP: College Teacher and Student Perceptions of Open Educational Resources, Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME), 2013 Spring Issue, availabe online jime.open.ac.uk/article/2013-04/html
(4) Boundless Report: Ushering in a Post-Textbook World, http://blog.boundless.com/2014/02/boundless-report-ushering-post-textbook-world/#more-1026
(5) ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology 2013, http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/ecar-study-undergraduate-students-and-information-technology-2013
(6) A Case Study in Obstacles to and Strategies for Negotiating the Relicensing of Third-Party Content, http://www.saylor.org/2013/04/a-case-study-in-obstacles-to-and-strategies-for-negotiating-the-relicensing-of-third-party-content/