OER and Nationalism

In the definition of Open Educational Resources openness is defined as accessibility without borders, the possibility to use, re-use, remix and redistribute the resources without (extreme) limitations other than defined by Creative Commons copyrights.

Two problems, both related with nationalism, can restrict the global accessibility of OER. The first problem I encountered was when I wanted to watch a replay of a British series I missed at the BBC broadcasting. There is, however, the possibility to watch programs which had been broadcasted at the open net, the BBC iplayer. The screen-print below shows that for non-UK watchers it’s is not possible to watch replays. We encountered a similar problem when we wanted to change from one TV-provider to another. The new provider could not offer BBC1 and BBC2, a problem which was solved by raising the fees. Both problems were caused by the fact that public television

is financed by national taxation, whereby the government decided that it is only offered free to the people who paid for the production of the TV-programs. The rest of the world has to pay to see those programs.

In the case of Open Access and Open Educational Resources, it seems that the British government takes another approach. With respect to open access, the government has taken the decision that work, paid for by the British taxpayer will be free available online for universities, companies and individuals, to use for any purpose, wherever they are in the world (The Guardian, 15 July 2012 ). To make this possible, the government changes the business model of scientific publishers from being paid by the subscribers of their journals to making the authors pay an ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) around £2,000 per article. This APC is financed by the research funds of universities and research institutions (the so-called Golden approach, commission Finch; contrasting the Green approach). Note however, that the statement makes an explicit relationship between the British taxpayer and the users wherever they are in the world! Martin Weller writes about Open Access: “Ironically, openness may lead to elitism. If you need to pay to publish, then, particularly in cash-strapped times, it becomes something of a luxury”.

The European Commission seems to follow the UK’s example in proposing a similar approach for all work funded by EU programs.

Neelie Kroes invites scientific community to stimulate Open Access

Speech of Neelie Kroes for the Open Education Week Event in Delft

The two YouTube movies show the European Commissioner Neelie Kroes speaking first on Open Access, then on Open Educational Resources. In general, the UK government does support this EU-policy, in the Netherlands the government seems to slow down expenditures on OER, im Ireland and Germany there seem to be legal problems (see the OECD report)

Another problem is that national governments provide tax money to develop OER in national languages. This will lead to a fragmentation of the global available materials. For example, the amount of OER materials published in Turkish or in Chines is impressive. At the Chinese Quality Courses Project about 20.000 courses are available, whereas this is only one of the 15 mentioned OER projects. At Anadolu University in Turkey, Yunus Emre: New Generation Learning Portal (http://yunusemre.anadolu.edu.tr/) is an OER initiative to disseminate the instructional materials used in the University’s distance courses. It launched in 2008 by Open Education Faculty and the Yunus Emre portal currently there are materials related to total 153 courses in 20 subject areas. Since January 2008 total 6.792.031 different individuals, 49.054.080 times entered the portal. Next to this, Anadolu University has initiated the ANAPOD project, inspired on iTunes, providing complete course materials (text, video, audio) belong to 54 courses created by 36 faculty members. Also production of materials for 93 courses is still in progress (source: http://linc.mit.edu/linc2010/proceedings/session10Aydin.pdf).

Website of the Quality Courses Project in China

Open Education pages at Anadolu University

So, there are initiatives, small or large in RussiaPortuguese, and other languages. This opens up educational possibilities for people not in a possibility to reach good quality education; or as stated by UNESCO: “ODL approaches and ICTs present opportunities to widen access to quality education, particularly when Open Educational Resources are readily shared by many countries and higher education institutions” (UNESCO, Paris, 5-8 July 2009). However, language barriers will limit these opportunities to native speakers.

Is this a problem? It is if this means that these two restrictions again limit access to education to the better endorsed countries which are capable of  providing free educational resources for their population, excluding others either through  restricting internet access or by language barriers.


Making a better World: an economic view

Last week, our former colleague, Dianne Hofenk defended her PhD-thesis at the Open University. The thesis is titled “Making a Better World” and is a research into the contribution of a special carrier towards the greening of urban distribution. Large carriers deliver goods towards the borders of the city, where smaller distributors collect these goods, combine the parties in efficient batches and deliver the goods in the city, causing the pollution to decrease and give less congestion of the roads.

Besides several complex tests on factors which influence the participation of carriers, retailers and consumers, Dr Hofenk asked the question what determines the “ Willingness to pay more” of consumers for goods which have less impact on the environment? She stated that this was an especially relevant question as it influenced the sustainability of the business model, as policy makers had stated that they were prepared to subsidize the starting costs, but that the initiative has to be self-sufficient in time. The following discussion was on how the local distributors should be financed, through an increase of prices (by the costumers) or by transferring the profits of the carriers (more efficiency) and retailers (time saving) towards the distributors.

This seemed me an intriguing question, as from the point of view of welfare economics, there appears a straightforward role for the government. The government can maximize collective welfare if the negative effect of the taxes, necessary to subsidize this initiative is below the negative effects of the congestion and the pollution. Ideally, the government should divide the tax burden over both the three stakeholders, in ratio to the perceived weight or decreased costs.

However, an anonymous reviewer made a similar remark reviewing a piece on business models, sustainability and OER. In his opinion, the task of the government in providing education, and so also Open Educational Resources, is so clearly defined. It is therefore not done to ask the question how OER-initiatives can become self-providing, or less dependent on subsidizers. As stated above, the welfare economic view is that the government should redistribute income within society as long as the positive effects of more education outweigh the costs of more education.

Open Educational Resources are assumed to have a positive influence on the national level of education and so on economic growth, as on the quality and efficiency of education as a sector. Subsidizing OER is increasing social welfare as long as the added costs of this subsidy (including disturbance costs) are lower than the added benefits of more education.

However, more and more politicians see education as an individual choice; involving a trade off between individual costs and individual benefits. The student makes a choice of when, where and what he or she will study; financing this study by himself. The choice is assumed to be a rational one, based on the earnings after finishing the study versus the costs of financing it, using the family capital, bank loans or state loans (see the UK and the Netherlands). Rationality does require full information and the absence of (monetary) restrictions. Individuals have to make an estimation of the length of the study, the possibility of work after the study, income and future changes.

In this view are state subsidies for OER-courses unadvisable. Individuals will benefit of the offered courses (increase in income), but do not pay for them (Open ER). OER-systems should be self sustainable.

So it becomes more important to show how and where OER will have positive effects on quality and accessibility of education, on economic growth and on social cohesion. The individual approach to education is flawed and underestimates the positive contribution of free education by ignoring the national effects. Only by providing corroboration to this proposition, the state can be convinced to provide a continuous financial support to OER.

Moocs, cMoocs en xMoocs

During the First Unisa international Open Distance Learning conference in September 2012, George Siemens gave a workshop on ‘Designing, development, and running (Massive) Open Online Courses”. Inspiring as his workshop was, it is still a question whether Moocs are a ‘disruptive innovation’ (Guardian) , the Trojan Horse, destroying the business model of universities by themselves, or another hype caused by people who didn’t attend one?


There are different degrees of openness in the “ Open Movement”, ranging from free as in open source software towards open cooperation and open markets as in open innovation. In between those two, we find the openness of Open Universities. In general there is a submission  fee to be paid, however entry is not restricted by formal qualifications and most programs are free in time and place to study. Most Moocs are open in the sense that there are no formal qualifications for participating, no fees to pay, but they are restricted in the time that they are available online.

Secondly, in my view, there is distinction in the case of open educational resources between teacher oriented materials, which should be (re)usable and adaptable versus learner oriented materials, which should be more or less self contained. Moocs are definitely materials of the second kind.

As most Moocs are only available for a short defined period of time, and the materials not free for (re-)use in another educational setting, it is hard to see how these kind of courses fit into the definition of Open Educational Resources, other than being free to attend. During the course, sometimes teachers will chat with the non-paying students, sometimes there will be only a discussion group, depending on peer review and peer assessment. This lead Jeff Borden to remark: “It was a study group of sorts.  However, after asynchronous discussions with about 10 peers, I soon realized that I was likely the most knowledgeable person in our group when it came to statistics.  (My mother and father are giggling right now…)  In other words, nobody had anything of value to bring to the table.  Social learning is indeed a powerful thing, but without what Vygotsky would call the “More Knowledgeable Other” in the group, it starts to break down quickly.”

A third question which I have with respect to Moocs is the fact that they are labeled massive by those who supply the open online course. The fact is that several have attracted a massive amount of participants, whereas others have been interested to twenty to fifty people. Massive is a depending on the decision of (potential) participants, not of the suppliers of the course. Yet another problem seems to be the completion rates, which seem to be very low. I haven’t seen any figures, but verbal communication with several people indicated at figures below 20%. This was explained partly by assuming that the participants were only interested in a fraction of the course; they register for the whole course, but after ‘taking’ the relevant part, they dropped out. However, if this is so, the term ‘massive’ is even worse chosen; if the course was split up into those parts which people found interesting, and these parts were offered as separate courses, each of the smaller courses would do worse than the Mooc, combining all these parts together.

Young asked several people for comment on the contracts made between Coursera and the participating universities. One of them commented: “that the plan relies heavily on all of the money colleges are already spending on professors and facilities. “It’s a way to carve out some extra money on the top of the existing program, but it’s not an alternative system that is going to solve the cost crisis of higher education,” he says. “It’s being subsidized by incredibly high-priced education.”

Lane and Kinser had another kind of comment on Moocs: ´But, let’s be clear what this means: thousands of students across the world taking the same course, with the same content, from the same instructor. And that is the problem. MOOC’s are now at the forefront of the McDonaldization of higher education. [..]  MOOC’s play the center against the periphery. They strengthen the ivory towers by enabling a few elite institutions to broadcast their star courses to the masses from the comfort of their protected perches. [..] Yes, the model expands access to many who cannot or do not want to pay for the regular costs, and that certainly has its benefits. [..] A multinational university can’t simply be a broadcasting service to recipients in other countries; it must engage with and learn from other cultures. The “massive” element of MOOC’s and most other technological initiatives has a homogenizing effect that makes this sort of engagement unlikely”.

An interesting observation by Forbes is that Moocs wouldn’t exist is not supported by major traditional universities. Although many people associate Moocs with the persons starting this movement around 2008, as the so-called cMoocs of Siemens and Down, xMoocs of Ng and Koller (Coursera) or Thrun (Udacity) and others, it is often the universities as Stanford, MIT, the Open University of Canada and the UK which supported the initial Moocs, sometimes resulting in independent undertakings, sometime in a cooperation between universities (EdX, Open Courseware Consortium). So the question is whether these universities will drive out other institutes of higher education, will make themselves obsolete or will regret their investments in five years time?

Trojan Horse; Artist: Dariusz Grajek,

Jeff Haywood, who has been working on the design of Moocs which the University of Edinburgh will offer through Coursera, wrote a blog with the title: No such thing as a free MOOC. Besides this obvious observation, he makes two interesting observations in one paragraph: “As with all online courses, the costs are front-loaded but even more so for MOOCs of this type, where the delivery cost (especially teaching) is low. We will spend effort and money on all our courses to get them to the right quality. We didn’t find that we had most of what we needed to hand to ‘re-arrange the pieces’ to form MOOCs, so we are going back to the design stage and creating new where necessary”.

Firstly, making good distance education is expensive, even when you are able to make it teacher independent. Secondly, although he starts his blog with positive remarks on OER, he states that when designing their Moocs, there is not enough open material available to keep the development costs down.

Yet, from the different publications there emerge three new business models, which can be useful for the sustainability of Open Educational Resources.

-1- Haywood and others mention the sales of certificates and other services which could be offered to the participants in the Mooc.

-2-  Another major source of funding is offering the course in two ways. One way is to follow the course, including extensive tutoring, graded assignments and getting a certificate; in addition the course can be made available as a Mooc to non-paying participants, receiving no tutoring, peer assessment and a certificate of participation. For example, in the Coursera contract there is the possibility to offer the courses on your own campus, charging for tuition and paying Coursera for the platform.

-3- It will also be possible to sell the Mooc-courses to third parties, companies or other institutions, for their own training purposes. This is very much in line with the marketing motive as I mentioned elsewhere.

These three ‘earning models’ are interesting extensions to the existing descriptions of business models (subsidizing, marketing, efficiency).

Will Moocs revolutionize education as some expect? Personally, I think the role of certification and formal degrees still plays a major role as evidence that a person has participated and mastered some course. For employers, formal degrees and certificates will not be replaced by document of participation in a Mooc or a portfolio (at least in developed countries). If it makes education and knowledge available in places otherwise without, this can only be stimulated even if it has the danger of the McDonaldization of higher education.

Yet, it will have a positive influence on teaching in the sense that a traditional teacher has to compete with his electronic counterpart. You should doubt your teaching capabilities if your students decide to take a Mooc over your lessons.





Promises of Open Educational Resources

Paul Prinsloo reflects in his blog on the question if open educational resources have brought about their initial promises, has the kitten grown into a lion?

Let us try to list potential advantages which could be brought about by the supply of open educational resources (OER). Firstly, on an organizational level, OER can be used as both an marketing instrument and an intake-instrument. Experiences of MIT and the British Open University show that (potential) students do use OER to orientate themselves at the subject of the study and at the organization. Furthermore, in some cases the study advisors at these institutes advise potential students to follow a free course to see if the level of education fits the student.

Secondly, on the level of the educational sector OER can be used to reduce development costs and increase the quality of education. Assuming that most OERs are available online for teachers and students, students can compare the quality of their teachers with the lessons found online. Next, teachers can use the materials to facilitate different learning styles without having to develop materials for all styles themselves. For example, the derivation of the supply curve can be shown in four ways, using two graphical methods; a mathematical method and a verbal method. The fact that three of the four methods were taken from other institutions can make it cheaper for the sector as a whole.

Lastly, on a (inter)national level the presence of OER can have a contribution to the level of education of a country or even across borders. The assumption is that a higher level of education will result in a higher (labor) productivity, again resulting in a higher national income and more economic growth. Although this is not the place to discuss all the assumptions underlying this hypothesis, it will be clear that the practical realization of this reasoning is not as simple as it seems. We have seen, for example, in Spain that an accumulation of academic degrees is not a guarantee for work when the economy is at an all time low due to the credit- and euro-crisis. On the other side it is shown that just in time and just in case courses in entrepreneurship in several African countries will foster economic growth.

The influence of free available courses on the different levels will depend on several factors. Primarily it will depend on accessibility. Computers, internet access and software are crucial; broadband could be an advantage.  However, these are solvable technical factors. However, there are possible social and technological impediments. Freedom to share views, discuss opinions, contribute to an academic concourse are perhaps even more important conditions for a learning process. So when participating in an open course means make public contributions to the course, a safe environment is essential.

Lastly, the conditions for the transformation between education and (economic) growth have to be right.  As seen in the recent crisis, the relationship between growth – education – employment – more growth, is not self-evident. More research has to be done in this field to assure that education will have a positive contribution towards economic growth.

Leif Anderson remarks: Intellectual discourse on the development of OER and its role in modern society have routinely highlighted OER as a socially produced intellectual product of modern, open, liberal democratic societies. Although academia would like to apply the OE concept as part of some worldwide dream of equal access and opportunity for education, few have taken into account the reality that their vision would include granting OE access to political entities whose ideologies run counter to their notion of openness.

When confronted with a concise version of this blog, Paul Prinsloo reacted: “In following Gray (2004), I believe that there is no basis for the wide-spread belief that progress in knowledge and science will necessarily result in a more just and compassionate society. Gray (2004, p. 70) warns that knowledge and science cannot (and will not) end the conflicts in history. It is an instrument that humans use to achieve their goals, whether winning wars or curing the sick, alleviating poverty or committing genocide.”

If Francis Bacon is right and knowledge is power (Religious Meditations, Of Heresies, 1597), then OER can have a positive contribution towards a Civil Society. However, knowing what is right and what is wrong is just the start; acting on this information is yet another thing.

Innovating at the bottom of the Pyramid

When thinking about what to write in my first blog, I decided to write about a person whose views have did inspire me the most in recent years. This was C. K. (Coimbatore Krishnarao) Prahalad (1941 – 2010). Especially two publications, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (2002). Eradicating Poverty through Profits and The New Age of Innovation: Driving Cocreated Value Through Global Networks, (2008, met M.S. Krishnan).

In a series of short video’ s,  Prahalad @ MSM Opportunities at Bottom of the Pyramid , this approach is explained by Prahalad, at a visit to the Maastricht School of Management. Prahalad pointed out that a lot of ‘poor’ people, in Roosevelt’ s terms the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid, either have money or the earning potential. He therefore, suggests to reverse the common pricing policy. Instead of determining the price by adding a margin to the costs, he asks what price-quality ratio will be acceptable for these people at the bottom of the pyramid. His example was the development of a rubber foot which was affordable for much more people than the sophisticated mechanical version of Western hospitals (as the loss of a foot is more common in developing countries). Of course, the functionality of this rubber version are less than the mechanical foot, but it satisfied the basic requirements (walking, running climbing) and it’s life expectancy in bad circumstances was longer. The profit is then in the amount of products sold, or selling a 10 dollar product at a 1 dollar margin to 1000 people earns you a larger profit than selling a 1000 dollar product at a 100 dollar margin to 9 people.

Another example is the Tata Nano, a car developed to make driving affordable for all, based on two principles: -1- the engineers worked to do more with less; -2- open innovation through collaboration (Business Week Feb 2008). A project which was not completely successful was the “100dollar laptop” of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)-project (http://one.laptop.org/). Although there is a cheap computer available, the price still is around the $200.- , but the design philosophy is similar to that of the Tata Nano.

In the New Age of Innovation, Prahalad also talks about innovation through collaboration, but now because he thinks that it will not be possible to maintain an advantage without working together in satisfying the consumer demands. It is access to resources what counts, not ownership. This is the r=g part of innovation. On the consumer side, he states that the firm has to see every consumer as unique, setting n=1 . Value is based on unique, personalized experiences of consumers, where the individual is central.

What has this to do with education and especially online distance learning. Well, Prahalad himself takes the example of TutorVista, an organization who teaches American children using qualified but cheap tutors from all over the world. The fast changes in both the supply of technology as the usage of the possibilities transform the present day business models. MOOCs, xMOOCs and other kinds of free online education (http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/, http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses, http://www.saylor.org/ ) will influence the way education is given. If an educational organization will not participate in the Open Educational Resources-movement, its students will compare the courses given with the courses available at different places at the internet: “I did not understand accounting when it was teached at our university, but then I found this course at http://www.accountingcoach.com/ or Coursera. Even educational organizations who act in ‘splendid isolation’ will be influenced by the existence of ODL-courses.


See for an interesting blog on affordable tablets:how-a-20-tablet-from-india-could-finish-off-pc-makers-educate-billions-and-transform-computing-as-we-know-it