Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Open Educational Resources and Open Assets

The nature of information[1] has changed. Historically, it has been based on ownership; the evolving concepts of copyright and intellectual property and the like reflect this. However, it is no longer the information itself that is important but what you do with it. This ranges from the song writer who uses a sampling, to the mash up, to the use of freely available data[2]. Since the value is in the use, the protecting of information as a product and end point, as opposed to a process or foundation of thought, is a misdirection.[3] Therefore, openness is the key as it the multiple contributions of open learning can become publicly accessible.[4]

Thus, beyond Open Learning, the development and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Assets (OA) define the Open University. The movement toward OER has been motivated by a number of factors (with perhaps the largest issue being that of textbook prices and the increasing expense of higher education) culminating in the commitment expressed by the Obama administration and reflected in the recent Trade Adjustment Act. There are a number of approaches and strategies through which OER and OA can be developed. The core act of any college is to create open courseware as has occurred at many institutions with MIT often held up as the major and first such program. This availability of courseware is primarily faculty driven, as opposed to community developed materials. A successful OER repository should be a “two-way” library. Community members should be able to upload, as well as download, materials. On many campuses, the best study guides are authored by students and not by faculty. [see OPENNESS above] These materials can easily be evaluated by peer review. These repositories could/would then be publicly available.

This is one of the unique and important roles of a graduate school in an open university. In this transition, it is the role of the graduate school—its faculty as well as its students—to create freely available materials for graduate school preparation. The School for Graduate Studies at SUNY Empire State College has already begun, but still needs further development in the creation of, in its online orientation—we must remain focused on that charge and mission. Hal Plotkin (2011) noted in his keynote at the Connexions Conference that through individualized and contextualized learning, we must exceed traditional education by getting more people on the pathway. In particular, people need access to basic and remedial education. As a graduate school in an Open University our responsibility is not, and cannot be the universal acceptance of all applicants. Our responsibility, however, is to provide the opportunities for applicants who pursue a self-education preparation path the opportunity to make themselves ready for graduate school. In addition, those students who come with wonderful and unique insights and experiences who now must be rejected because of a lack of basic skills now have an alternative path to prepare to enter. By providing this pathway we fulfill our mission in creating opportunity and reify our strength by creating more diversity by creating new opportunities. Additionally, such materials benefit those students in an Open University at the undergraduate level who wish to pursue graduate study who will now be able to view the materials, see what the expectations are for entry, and work to develop their own undergraduate learning to better prepare themselves. While a great deal of focus in the Open Educational Resource movement has focused on materials which allow 'self-education' through the general education requirements through the community college level of study, the materials must also be created to assist the transition from the bachelors into post-graduate study. It has been historically assumed that the Bachelor's degree is sufficient preparation for post-graduate study. The variety of backgrounds brought to the table of post graduate success indicates that such measures are not always accurate.

A great deal of concern has been placed on associate and bachelor's degree completion. The U.S. Census Bureau's (2009) 2005-2009 data indicates that 10.1% of the over 25 population possesses a Master's degree or higher. The advancing economy, however, shows the importance of graduate education and its demand. The Council for Graduate Studies noted that: “In the last year alone, enrollment at graduate schools nationally increased 4.7 percent, with applications to grad schools rising even more quickly, at 8.3 percent” (Barker 2010). As this demand increases, a greater number of students require preparation for graduate school—both the skill sets as well as practices for success. The Graduate School of an Open University should be publicly creating and making available these resources for any and all students—not simply for students of that university. An open university has a greater mission that serves a population beyond itself.

This does not, however, mean that the Open University ignores its own students or their needs and opportunities. Rather, the OER serve as a demonstration of the intellectual resources of the open university's faculty, students, alumni and partners' work as it is all available, open, and visible. It is also a public statement to those who would potentially like to join and/or participate in those associations. In short, the OER is perhaps an effective marketing tool, in that the Open University can demonstrate what it truly has to offer.

The repository creates a metaphorical signifier of what the university is about—this is a near miraculous feat in that it overcomes the great marketing challenge with institutions of Higher Education face. As Eric Anctil (2008) notes: “Much of what is 'for sale' in higher education are the intangibles such as learning and lived experiences. It is impossible to show a prospective student what a college education is, so colleges and universities often show the evidence of what a college education experience will look like” (6). Advertising today focuses on photos of students enjoying life, photos of expectations such as lectures, etc. Anything referring to the quality of education must be made as a marketing claim. In the days of web marketing, this is counter-productive. Jakob Nielsen (2007), notes that when one uses “marketese” (which he defines as “promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims”) rather than objective language, usability scores fall 27%. Thus as traditional institutions are placed in a peculiar position: they can make claims of the best education, and decrease the reaction by 27%, or they can state objective facts such as the number of volumes in the library, faculty to student ratio, which give no real clear basis for students to assess the type of education which they will receive. This dilemma is what has lead to the popularity of U.S. News and World Report ratings; it creates the illusion of an endorsement by an outside entity. With such an endorsement, the campus is not involved in marketese claims. It also serves as an endorsement from an entity commonly available to the larger market—as opposed to accrediting agencies which to the student shopping for a first degree have no meaning. For a campus which puts forth a repository, there is a clear demonstration of faculty work, student work, available learning resources, in short, the academic soul of the campus. The college has nothing to hide. [see MARKETING below]

Open Assets are similar; however, they extend beyond courseware and include faculty work and publications. Increasing numbers of faculty are beginning to publish using social media. The trends are indeed changing—not only in the way that scholars use social media for research, but are increasingly turning to social media and new forms of publication to put their work forward (Howard 2011; Parry 2011). Organizations such as IEEE are placing peer review on the front end of the creation of OER and OA to allow these into the process of tenure and promotion. Some scholars have even begun publishing their own journals for minimal cost. The price of academic journals, like their textbook counter-parts, are forcing the issue and becoming the strongest argument for OA, especially as increasing budget cuts make journals more difficult for campuses to afford.

Success here also depends on the use of common platforms and standards. The materials must not only be available, but it must be available in a framework which is freely available, such as XML. The content itself also should be made available under a Creative Commons license. In this way content can be remixed and can be restructured to meet the needs of learners as well as teachers. The materials should also be available in forms such as pdf and EPUB and others so they are also not hardware dependent. This would also allow collaboration. A model of such is that of Connexions (Connexions 2011). The old models of Intellectual Property are not relevant, nor are they helpful in an environment designed for the learner.

Through open resources, assets and science, the open university contributes and participate sin what Clay Shirky (2008) calls the Global Talent Pool. An open conversation and resources increase the value wherein public sharing increases the quality and the sustainability of the project with Linux being a primary example. [add Cathedral and the Bazaar notes—see Nook]

On the converse side, an open university inherits five major responsibilities in regard to open content. First, it has to overcome old paradigms—it needs not only to accept open resources toward tenure and promotion but encourage it. One strategy to do this would be to institute a set of front end peer review for faculty assets. Second, it inherits the responsibility of enduring quality. In this role faculty become editors and reviewers as much as authors. The difference between this and current models is that it is done in service to the university and learners as opposed to the private interest a prestigious journal which prices itself out of reach of some libraries and restricts access so that libraries cannot open their resources to all learners. Third there is the responsibility of managing content—this includes establishing systems for peer review and rating as well as tagging (and in many instances establishing the appropriate rubrics for tagging). Fourth, there is the interacting with the content in bringing it into the learning environment, and finally for areas of need, there is the building of content in areas of need.

[1] In this text, I am defining information as all humanly created objects whose function is representational as opposed to objective. In keeping with Peirce, this depends upon the interpretant.

[2] It amazes me that groups like the RIAA insist on fighting every re-use of their work. If Dante were alive and still held “copyright” could you imagine him suing T.S.Eliot and preventing publication of The Wasteland? I believe that the world and our culture are better places for Eliot’s work. In the same way, I wonder what cultural contributions the world is missing a greed and profit overrule cultural development.

[3] At some point, I have to restate the fact that I am not using a common bibliographic format, or even a consisten one for three reasons. First, it illustrates the absurdity of a system which values the product of the edition over the thoughts of the author (see the dates of Heraclitus). Second, I refuse to participate in a system which seeks to validate traditional ownership models—I am certainly willing to give credit to authors, they deserve it, but I will not concede to present structures. Finally, I don’t feel like it, and since this is my text, I get to choose. Welcome to the world of open!

[4] Made you look! I know there are some who are complaining that my foot notes are rants instead of academic citations. See the previous footnote. Let me emphasize: so what?

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