OER Business Models - A Debate
Half an Hour
This is a summary of a debate including four participants, listed below, at OER2014. Errors and omissions are still my own.
What is your mission in OER and what is your business model?
David Harris - OpenStax
It's really about access, providing access to the highest quality OERs possible. A whole suite of products beyond the textbook. We've created an ecosystem around learning materials. This ecosystem is the core of our business. Eg. we might partner with John Wiley & sones. We works with multiple partners to provide more options and choice for our partners.
Lisa Petrides - IKSME
Our mission is about maximizing all of these open access tools that enable breakthroughs in teaching and learning. We build tools, develop capacity, support the OER Commons library, etc. There are two main components to the business model: first, the R&D side, and second, the service department, that offers services around the capacity-building piece, showing people how to organize and use their content. The core is, how does it impact the learner?
David Wiley - Lumen
Two-fold mission: save students money and improve student success. We have a particular focus on at-risk students, so especially the community college. The business model is based on helping faculty make the transition from commercial to open textbooks. Any course that we provide support for we charge a per-enrollment fee. All the content is CC-licensed content, and the platform is open source as well.
Gary Lopez - MITE / Ed-Ready
Our mission is to improve access to everyone. The goal of the inrov project is to make sure online K-12 content is available to every person at no cost. The business model supports business and mission goals. In addition tot he content, there is a membership component, whgich supports both goals.
Reactions: To Gary: if your're not a member of the community, what are your rights of access? Gary: if you're an individual you have full rights to use and re-use. We focus on institutions - if you're an institution, we ask that you join our membership.
What does it mean to be sustainable?
Lisa - ISKME is a non-profit. It's very much of a Linux model - the content itself should forever be free and open. Access is always available. It's different from what Gary talked about - it means that any wrap-around services are going to be another type of service, eg., we might to an LTI or API integration, or a workflow process - some such thing. The key to being sustainable is to always ask, how do we keep that part (the core part) free?
Gary - there a fundamental difference between for-profits and non-profits in their goals. In for-profits the business goals are financials, and officers have a responsibility to achieving financial goals. Unless there's a special arrangements to make supporting OERs the goal, the financial responsibility always rises to the top. When a non-profit is set up, the mission is the goal.
David - sustainability is critical to us, especially if you are on the producing side of OER, and especially if you think it has to be a market-based solution, which means it has to be of high quality. I think it is irresponsible of a non-profit to assume you will be given philanthropy. As you move toward sustainability you get greater independence and greater opportunity to pursue strategies that support the mission. As a non-profit we don't have the overhead that for-profits need to generate, so we can produce at a lower cost.
David Wiley - what's my ongoing ability to continue to meet my goals? For Lumen it means being able to continute to partner with institutions and continue to drop the price to zero, and be able to look beyond the grant.
Reactions: Lisa - the two people beside me came from the publishing side. What was that like?
Gary: I dodn't copme from publishing; I was faculty. My company got purchased by Harcourt. You don't have a cost of money. You can go into markets more aggressively. Davis Harris: we started out pro-market, but then it became just about the shareholders, which I didn't like. To provide the greatest access, we have to think about marketplace solutions.
Lisa: let's look at this. What's been working in open food has been from the bottom-up. But we are still working from a top-down perspective (eg., responding to concerns raised by publishers).
David Wiley: we became for-profit to maximize our ability to succeed, eg., we can partner with institutions, and we can get more traditional investment as well, so we don't have to rely on grants. The quality issue Dave prings up is interesting; hostorically nobody talked about quality - it was always some proxy for quality. What's the only actual condition? Whether kids learn from it. So we don't get distracted by how glossy it is.
David Harris: you are misinterpreting what really counts as quality. Eg. there are review boards, etc.
Gary: we're gathering data, that data has to do with efficacy, whether people succeed. It was before that the issue of whether people were actually learning never came into the equation (with commercial publishers).
Lisa: so 'sustainability' in OERs is about learning.
Ho do you define OER, and why do your think your business is OER?
Gary: we don't think about the definition of OER. We're focused on our mission to provide access to quality education for everyone. Whether or not something falls within the definition is secondary.
David Harris: I don't think it matters what I think it is, that's defined by the license we use. We use the CC-by license, which is critically important, because it provides freedom to the end user. We use this to sell the concept to academics. They realize they can publish derivative versions, for example.
David Wiley: I'm on the other end of the scale; I obsess about it. There's a two-part - there has to be free and unfettered access to the resource; and I have to have free and perpetual ability to engage in the 5R activities. As a matter of contract, any school we work with, the license says the work we produce has tp be OER.
Lisa: how we define OER is that it isn't a thing, it is a practice; it includes content and curation and quality and rigor and standards and change in teaching practice. When we say we are in the business of OErs it is about free and open access to the world's knowledge. It's in the last few years we've really understood our role as a public library; we're not serving an institution. The other thing about OER Commons is we aggregate all of the licenses into four buckets.
David Harris: we have to be careful as a community because over the next 12-18 months we will see more and more 'openwashing' by major publishers, because OER is establishing a brand identity. And questions about who should be producing it?
Gary: anyone who want to. Who shouldn't?
David Wiley: to Lisa, if the category becomes so broad, it's difficult to know what we're ftalking about. Eg. open pedagogy is different from OER.
Lisa: our open speaker used the work 'ecosystem'. You cna't just have the seed: you need the market, and the water. It has to be inclusive of the whole piece. Otherwise you have ssomething disjointed and not sustainable. Eg. if you have contenbt and nobody uses it, how is it that we have OER? It can't just be about this thing.
David Wiley: but each of the parts of the econsystem has a name, the ecosystem is 'open education'.
Gary: but it does show that just creating them and putting them out there has no value. You have to maintain them, have version control, etc. That's hard.
Q3. What does it mean to say we're giving the seeds away for free, but not the water, etc?
Lisa: well that'\s why we say it's a whole ecosystem. As opposed to the strategy of building this part, then that part, etc. If you build the whole thing at once, that's sustainable.
David Harris: yes, but we thionk we don't have to build the whole ecosystem ourselves. If you are going to build the whole system, you can't have everything free, all the time. You are going to need revenue.
Gary: lets get back to access and equity. Free access doesn't mean anything if you don't get back to the mission, which is to help people succeed. So there need to be measures you can measure to show that you can attain that. We should all be thinking about the mission. We don't have to build it all ourselves. We're all working in different ways, but united in purpose.
David Wiley: it's like the whole approach to OERs in the early days was like we set up a table with seeds, and said, here are free seeds, we've solved world hunger. Then we argued a lot about what the boxes look like, And we're learninging we have to add more support.
David Harris: but we're also learned that equity doesn't mean it always has to be free.
Gary: books are expensive because they're expensive to create. That's not free, and we have to find ways to pay for it, to bring the price down but not scrimp on the value we create.
David Wiley: it would be interesting to see what are all the steps involved in producing high quality materials. It would be interesting what happens when we pull out some of the steps and see whether there is a difference in equity.
David Harris: faculty would demand full evidence. That gets into scale. How many of those conversations could we have?
Gary: I think we can always come back to an economic argument to suppoort it.
Lisa: I think we should have an equivalent of true cost accounting for this.
David Harris: I don't think it will be looking at the efficacy of learning systems. But learning systems are not inexpensive to develop.
What is the impact of an open license on a sustainable business model?
David Wiley: two different ways: open licenses completely enable everything we do, because the licenses create the infracture that supports everything we do. On the other hand, because we have this licensing requirement, then putting that license in a contract (and being willing to walk away when it's not there) helps us snowball the value we can provide every time we work with somebody.
Gary: David is sport on. But th impact is, any license will limit therange of business models that are possible. So a business model limited by an open license means not restricting usage of the system to people with buying power. And if usage is not so limited, then it opens up other models - by selling services, by selling secondary materials such as advertising, etc. You need to build the business model first, then craft the license.
Lisa: our business model depends on having etachers and institutions, etc., to actually work with on these projects. The license acts as a conduit to make this happen. Because without the license we wouldn't have the users. As nice as it is to have big government initiatives, the majority of people have actually created their own kind of license that meets their needs. That's why we've created this mapping into four buckets. One is a free-for-all, another is a remix-and-share, another is share, and another is read-the-fine-print.
Davoid Harris: i agree, you need a common set of licenses sso you have a common language. Gary's system would create a proliferation of licenses, you meet business needs, but not learning needs. people were concered about CC-by licenses, because you lose control. But these concerns were misplaced. I have seen very little profiteering from it. And on the positive side we have 30 ecosystem partners. It may be called an open license, I call it an innovation license.
Gary: yes, there would be a lot of versions. But the question is, how it impacts sustainability. If there are limited numbers of license, there are limited ways to create sustainability. That's what we're doing. A lot of what we have is CC-by, but other stuff has a different license. This was never going to be a debate. Business modles speak for themselves, they either work or they don't.
David Wiley: on license proliferation, even within Creative Commons, we have some Legos, we have some Duplos, we have some knockoffs that don't fit either. At the end of the day we have some questions about whether the different licenses actually fit. There's a finite amount of time and effort we can undertake to make them fit together.
David Harris: David is correct. If there were mnore standardization around a common license, there would be more activity, more remixing.
Gary: Let's get back to mission. If our mission is to help people learn, we can get stuck in a rut on this. There are many ways to help people.
How do you forsee your business models disrupting existing business models?
David Harris: we've disrupted the higher ed publishing industry in the folloing ways: from day one, all students have access to the learning materials; second, we have lowered costs even when open licenses are not used, because there is a ripple effectof lower costs; and third we are leveling the plaaying field of non-standard producers. We are breaking barriers down. Forth, OER can be blended now, because of OpenStax materialss - people take small pieces and embed them in online learning envrionments. We are supporters of open data; publishers were previously very closed with their data.
Lisa: aside from the cost, etc., the role of what you teach and how you teach is often determined in a top-down way, especially in K-12, but we are actually empowering teachers to take back control of the professionalism of their own practice; they leave and take the practices back to their classrooms and we get calls from boards saying "what's going on?" Also, in some ways as a field, we went to far too quickly gto try to define what sustainability was.
David Wiley: i don't like to use the 'd' word. I don't think we're there yet. I think in some ways we're starting to be annoying to publishers. But I don't think we've broken open the market yet. Once we take a billion dollars oout of the market then we'll be there. Where there has been some stuff going on is this intuition that 'you get what you pay for' - this is opening up some efficacy reserach conversations. I would cite John Hilton's work is more exhaustive on OERs than all the peer-reviewed work on the efficacy of pearson's work.
Gary: we actually may have crossed over this year, and disruption many have happened. Eg. math product - the system has been adopted by states like Montana, Utaha, Hawaii, nd more. And we've been adopted by hundreds of schools. So what does Ed-Ready disrupt? It eliminates texts, tuitions and time involved in math remediation. And the efficacy is bringing people from secondary to post-secondary at an unrepcedented rate. And those who are using Ed-Ready are remixing it. In Montana there are some 400 versions of it. And we are really upsetting Pearson.
David Harris: it doesn't take 30-40% market share to impact publihers. 10% works.
Gary: that depends on the market. It is true in the book market, but not the assessment market.
David Wiley: one strategy we've had is not to go after individual courses, but to go aafter entire degree programs. When you can flip the entire degree program, now as a student I can actually budget for it. We've now pulled a third of the cost out of a degree program.
Gary: what we're seeing is not opnly are we displaying high-stakes texts, we're creating pathways. We find ourselves being adopted by a college, and then being adpated by their feeder systems. The uptake by feeders systems has been breathtaking.
Lisa: I love and applaude these efforts, eg., the high stakes test alteratives. But what does it mean to ahve the market. We're still doing ecucation pretty much the way we were. It still costs money. I'm still looking to see what's possible in this market. What does it look like to have the corner store? What does it look like to have the seed exchange? We need a way to see what it could look like the other way.
Gary: we're beginning to see this. We're beginning to see what it looks like when people build things that meet their own needs. We're not just seeing people build more stuff. We're seeing people build stuff that works better. Eg. to supporrt personal learning. We're coming up against some of the real tenets of pub,lic education which is not working.
Gary: I'm delighted we're analyzing and re-examining our mission. Also, though, we should be looking at how to rebuild the connectedness in the community. Perhaps that's because it seems like we're competing with each other. But we don't see that this is so; we're competing with pearson and the commercial publishers. So I hope this will be the start of a clear commitment to OER and to one another.
Lisa: pne one hand we're not competing in a traditional way, but at the same time I think some of our ideas and how we're going about them might be in conflict with others, but that's still OK, but we suffer from the milquetoast that we're all one big happy family - let's have more disagreement. Some people day "don't put a crack in what we're doing" but i think we should be innovative, have arguments - competition does push us forward.
David Harris. First, please recommend OpenStax to others. Now, there was a Gates report - there is great opportunity for OERs. But our market size is 3-4%. So we are an irritant. There is a debate of whether we focus on supply or demand. But of course we need to do both. Yes we need supply. But just building it is not enough. We need to build the tools. The goal is to get to 10% of the market - if we do, we can win the market. If we work together we can do it.
DavidWiley. So, amen and hallaluja to everything else that has been said. Don't make seeds and put them on the table. Pick a problem and go try to solve that problem. Pick developmental math and go try to solve that problem. Pick something concrete and go fix it. If it's concrete enough you'll know that you've fixed it. Everyone on this panel - we've picked a problem. Who is feeling pain, how can we fix this pain, then we went and solved it.
- over the next year or so, there will be ways to continue this conversation - eg.Creative Commons business model project (Lumen learning - http://bit.ly/lumencanvas )
- we don't all have to agree on things, it's good to have polite disagreements (Oscar Wilde - "friends stab you in the front")
- applause please
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