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C2C Lantern (Fall 2014/ Winter 2015)

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Critical Considerations in the Adoption of Open Educational Resources

By Adam Holden, Fort Hays State University

At Fort Hays State University, the Department of Teacher education is piloting an innovative Open Educational Resources (OERs) project. Simply put, all courses will be taught with a variety of text and media resources, rather than a single text. And all of the resources must be OER’s. 

While the project is in its earliest stages, and the limitations of any conclusions drawn compromise any genuine validity, there are several critical considerations that can be identified from the process of the creation and development of OER’s across an entire department. Even in its infancy, the project has highlighted several factors that should be taken into account by anyone interested in adopting OER’s.

The above is a screenshot of the OER Commons.  This is one site which serves as a referatory to various open educational resources.)  

The Paradigm Shift

As with any innovation, genuine and widespread success is founded in the paradigm shift that is required of those who are being asked to use it. By its very nature, change disturbs the equilibrium of those that it impacts, and this project is no exception. Without such a paradigm shift, it is highly unlikely that the experiment will be fully successful.  There are several reasons why this is difficult, but none more prevalent that the fact that the production of good quality and relevant OER’s is in no way easy, and it takes considerable time and effort on the part of those who are preparing them.

The Importance of Copyright Law

The best OER’s developed for higher education courses involve the use of multiple sources and resources, and therefore a well defined and firmly understood grasp of copyright law is very important. Most obviously this is to protect the individual (both the individual who owns the property, and the one who seeks to use it), as well as the institution. 

Although the library of open-educational digital textbooks that are complete is growing rapidly, in being denied the ability to merely take a source and use it in a course without purchasing it, developers of OER’s are forced to blend the best of many, and in doing so expose their students to a body of work that benefits from the collective intelligence of several minds.

The Academic Integrity of Your Resources

Despite the fact that the development of courses using OER’s has the potential to have a positive impact on a students’ learning experience, there is some merit in the argument that states that there is an equal possibility that in choosing to design courses using only materials that can be found used in in “open source,” users risk greatly diminishing the quality of the resources used for the course. Indeed, the need to maintain a high level of quality control appears to be a factor that is critical in nature for a project of this nature.

The Time Requirements

What is not contended in any way, regardless of personal comfort levels with OER’s, is the fact that while the development process might not be terribly complex in terms of the abilities required of the faculty member to build the OER shell, it is very time-consuming. While this process only need take place once in this depth, as subsequent updates can be upgrades and adaptations to the original OER course shell, when considering the possibility of using an OER approach, it cannot be stressed enough the amount of quality lead time that will be required to successfully build out the courses, as well as the potential financial subsidy that might be necessary in order to adequately compensate faculty for their time.

The Need to be Comfortable With Technology

It is not just time, however, that the faculty need in order to successfully navigate courses taught using OER materials. They will also need to have at least a reasonable amount of experience with technology, and will certainly need to have a fundamental comfort with the basic programs that they are likely to use. This will almost certainly include the use of a variety of files, a firm understanding of the course management system being used, and an ability to complete normal functions such as downloading and converting files, merging and dissecting files, linking files and other resources, and similar procedures. Finding faculty who already have a high comfort level with the technologies that they will need to use makes a big difference to the potential for success.

It’s Not Easy

The truth is that there is little convenient or easy about the transition to a course taught using OER’s, and the commitment to follow through to the conclusion of the process is fraught with challenges to confidence, comfort and capability. Faculty who are more adventurous in their approach, more innovative by nature will, as always, be the early adopters, especially if they are digital natives. This will not be the majority however, and so a strategic approach must be taken by institutions who seek to nurture an environment that encourages this type of innovation.

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