Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ OERs - Moving On

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 29, 2009

Originally posted on Half an Hour, April 29, 2009.

Some commentary to the UNESCO OER discussion list (unesco-oer-access).

I won't linger too much on this, but just to comment on Tom's thoughts...

First, the basic premise appears to me to be correct. We need to think of the structure of open educational resources as evolving to something beyone the current 'virtual textbook' or even the 'virtual learning package' model now being employed. Yes, I understand, that learning materials are being produced in some sort of packagaed format in order to adapt to lower bandwidth environments, where they will have to be distributed, not by internet, but by CD or even paper. But at the same time, it would be wise to plan for a world in which better bandwidth is becoming more widely available. And this means planning for a time when learning materials are not merely content packages, but rather, points in learning enviromnents that can be manipulated and exchanged.

Second, and in particular, when planning for a broader bandwidth environment, we need I think to consider the desirability and effectiveness of community-based resources. I have addressed this in previous work. The current model, where academic content is produced and packaged (at great expense) by universities and publishers in developed countries, and then distributed (as a gift) to people in other nations, is a model that has several weaknesses. First, it directs funding for learning resources to the institutions that least need additional funding. Second, it does not support the development and sustainability of similar institutions in the other countries. Third, the materials produiced either reflect the culture and values of those that produced them, o4r must be (and additional time and expense) be 'localized' for wide use. And fourth, the production of large and static learning materials is at odds with an information environment favouring smaller and much more dynamic units of learning. Consequently, I have argued that we shoudl address ourt attendtion to the development of skills and capacities to enable locally-based learning communities to produce their own learning resources, contributing as equal partners in a worldwide knowledge exchange.

Third, while it is true that we need to be looking beyond current (computer) technologies, we should not be lulled into beliegving that mobile phones, no matter how widespread the devices, are a suitable alternative for the delivery of online learning. First of all, mobile phones have significant bandwidth limitations, and even phones with good 3G access will have difficulty playing videos or downloading larger content. Second, small mobile devices pose significant usability challenges, so much so that sites offering mobile content are encouraged to synch these accounts with web accounts in order to enable users to enter data and upload photos. Mobile devices are not suitable for the creation or consumption of large and complex information entities. And third, mobile devices, unlike computer systems, are controlled by the access providers, which increases costs and places barriers in the way of the use of open source applications and free content. This explains why they are being relentlessly promoted as an alternative to genuinely free and open access to information, but also why they should not be acceped as such.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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