A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities

Daniel Atkins, John Seely Brown, , Allen Hammond, William, Flora Hewlett Foundation, Mar 26, 2007
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Only a small percentage of Hewlett money is invested outside the U.S. ($12 million out of $68 million, mostly to Europe, Africa and China) and most of it is given to large institutions (who, IMHO, don't need the money) so I haven't paid strict attention to the foundation's activities supporting open educational resources (OERs) - though, to be sure, the agencies funded, such as MIT's OpenCourseWare and Rice's Connexions, have had a far-reaching impact.


Anyhow, about half this report is devoted to summarizing the Foundation's activities. Where it gets interesting is with this: "We are advocating investments to achieve more pervasive access to OER and are advocating an initiative aimed at deeper impact on learning. We advocate an initiative, building on OER, to create a global culture of learning. A culture of learning, or what some might call a learning ecosystem, is targeted at preparing people for thriving in a rapidly evolving, knowledge-based world... We now propose that OER be leveraged within a broader initiative-an international Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure (OPLI) initiative..."


The Foundation, in other words, should embrace Web 2.0. Sort of - the authors pile everything but the kitchen sink into the concept, including rich media, Second Life, virtual organizations, mobile computing and gaming. The report also suggests creating linkages with e-science and cyberinfrastructure (a 'grassroots movement', according to the authors, though "catalyzed by a landmark 2003 report from an NSF-appointed Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel, 'Revolutionizing Science and Engineering through Cyberinfrastructure.'" - uh huh).


There is no doubt some merit in the concept of the OPLI - it is, after all, very similar to what I recommended in 2005 ("the functions of production and consumption need to be collapsed, that the distinction between producers and consumers need to be collapsed") but in the details (p. 66 ff) there needs to be some hard (and critical) thinking. Why is Globus a model but Google not? Is repurposing the good idea it is made out to be (why not a new resource for each context)? When they say 'service-oriented', do they mean SOA, REST, or JSON? Is automated interchange a good idea? And why oh why would you allow resources that are manifestly not open to be called "open" on the dubious basis that there is "a continuum of openness." And is "smartly instrumented" just a way for the evidence-based people to sneak into the mix?


Hewlett, like I say, goes for the institution-based solution, and this report plays right into that (and the authors even offer to recommend funding candidates). OERs don't yet exist, and this report recommends a move away from them. Caution is warranted. Via Graham Attwell, who offers his own comments.
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