Monday, 21 March 2011

Open Educational Resources: the Slick and the Scruffy

My colleague Gabi Witthaus (who works on another Beyond Distance project having to do with Open Educational Resources - OSTRICH) recently showed me a chart she was trying to develop, of various repositories and channels of open educational resources (OER), placing them on a scale showing whether they are focused more on marketing of the institution or focused more on being a source of learning resources.

Who's scruffy-lookin?  (Photo courtesy of ChrisM70 on Flickr)
In the case of iTunes U sites, which I am researching in the SPIDER project, this tension is even more pronounced. There is no doubt that having an iTunes U site is great for marketing an institution. The combination of "Apple gloss" and being listed with the best institutions such as Harvard, Oxbridge, and the Open University makes for a great profile. Some institutions' iTunes U offerings are extremely slick and serve as excellent marketing tools. And yet, iTunes U should benefit the current students as well. Maybe recorded lectures are not favoured by everyone, but many students find them very helpful, and they don't have to be BBC-quality in order to facilitate learning. Other kinds of recordings and publications can be very nicely downloaded and kept organised on the learner's computer or handheld device by iTunes U -- this should be exploited for current students in the institution.

Of course, slick iTunes U offerings can also be very good for learning. Slick is good. If OER is too scruffy it may not be usable. But I would argue that too much "slick consciousness" can hold back the release of OER which may very well serve a variety of learners. The learning purpose should not be lost to the marketing purpose.

Terese Bird
SCORE Fellow, Learning Technologist, and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo


  1. Excellent post! I would also add that a lot of those issues are related to academic practice more in general and the unwillingness to release materials that may not be perfect but are "good enough" - we had a lot of discussions on that issue in the context of the C-SAP pilot project (this link provides one example and this is an issue that keeps cropping up in the second phase as well.

  2. Many thanks for your comments and for the example you linked to. While I read your example, it caused me to think about Humbox which seems to be very much in the model of academics offering their stuff and being surprised and encouraged when peers appreciate and affirm it... and thus the OER cause is helped along. I think that's a very healthy model.