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.

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