An Open Educational Resources movement update









For those following the OER movement, this collection of documents offers an update of current thinking and activity.

Foundations for OER Strategy Development document

OER Business Models – A Debate

David Wiley’s “iterating towards openness” blog provides the OER movement with ongoing direction about how OER must be positioned among the options available.


Draft 1.0 3/26/15

Foundations for OER Strategy Development

Drafting committee members: Nicole Allen, Delia Browne, Mary Lou Forward, Cable Green and Alek Tarkowski

Purpose of Document


For more than a decade the movement for Open Educational Resources (OER) has evolved from a collection of small, localized efforts to a broad international network of institutions, organizations, practitioners, advocates and funders. While significant progress has been made on both expanding the availability of OER content and expanding its use, OER has not reached its full potential of entering the mainstream on a global scale.


The goals and broader vision for OER are outlined in foundational documents including the Cape Town Declaration and Paris Declaration. These documents are critical for communicating the case for OER to the outside world and providing a unifying voice for the movement. But while the goals for OER are clear and broadly agreed upon by the movement, the means and strategies for achieving them are not. To actualize the full vision of OER, a need has emerged for a document that looks inward and addresses strategic questions about how we, as the global OER movement, can reach our goals.


The purpose of this document is to provide a concise analysis of where the global OER movement currently stands: what the common threads are, where the greatest opportunities and challenges lie, and how we can more effectively work together as a community. The first draft was born from a meeting of 26 OER leaders in February 2015. Our hope is that this document will serve as a starting point for conversations about strategies for mainstreaming OER and extending the reach and impact globally. We also hope that this document, and the strategies within it, will evolve as the conversation evolves to provide useful insight for both global coordination and local action.


State of the Movement


The OER movement consists of diverse organizations spanning educational institutions, IGOs, NGOs, and activities at all levels, from teaching infants to seniors; and a diversity of countries around the globe, with varied educational systems and social, economic or cultural contexts. The diversity of our perspectives, resources, and capacities is one of our movement’s great strengths, but it can also make strategy conversations challenging, as these discussions must start with a shared sense of what the strategy hopes to achieve. While the movement generally can agree upon the goals and vision outlined in the Cape Town and Paris Declarations, the specific missions and priorities of community members vary widely.


The common thread that seems to unite the movement is a belief in expanding the adoption of OER. While there are different visions for the impact and audience that expansion of OER will serve, we can all agree on what OER is, and that widespread OER adoption is a positive and necessary change in education. Given this common understanding, strategies can grow out of identifying the common challenges and opportunities around OER, and developing a shared sense of priority about what kind of actions will help advance the proliferation of OER development and use.


We Have Similar Perspectives On



  • Definition of OER: The movement broadly agrees on the definition of OER as put forth by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation or UNESCO, noting that there may be some differences around which specific licenses qualify as OER (such as those restricting commercial use).  However, the general understanding that OER must be both free to access and to legally modify is widely accepted.
  • Overall Vision: The Cape Town and Paris Declarations each outline aspirational visions and goals for actualizing the potential of OER. While community members may place more emphasis or priority on some elements over others, in general the movement agrees that these documents form the basis for what we are hoping to accomplish.
  • Necessity of OER Adoption: While members of the community hold different goals for OER use, and different perspectives on the aspects of OER that are most important, we are united in asserting that OER adoption is necessary to actualize its potential. We understand adoption as a two-step process: people adopting OERs instead of non-open resources, and people taking advantage of the rights and permissions granted by OERs, to use and reuse content.
  • OER Ecosystem: We also agree that as preconditions of OER adoption, three elements are necessary:


    • Demand: Awareness of OER and the motivation to use it.
    • Supply: Infrastructure in terms of OER content and the tools to find, use, and adapt it.
    • Capacity: Community and systemic support that will sustain OER.
  • General Value Proposition: OER makes education accessible and expands the universe of what’s possible in education by allowing the 5Rs (reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, retain), and amplifying educator’s agency by increasing choices around content usage.


We Have Various Perspectives On


Most Important Strategic Goal of OER


There are many strategic goals of OER, and while we generally agree that all of them are important, members of the movement place priority on different aspects. Some of the most typical strategic goals of OER are:


  • Reducing barriers to education, including access, cost, language and format.
  • Transforming teaching and learning and enabling modern pedagogy.
  • Enabling the free access to and reuse of human knowledge, in all of its forms.
  • Enhancing educational opportunities to foster development and more productive, free societies.
  • Re-professionalizing teaching.
  • Connecting communities of educators around openly licensed content.
  • Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of public funds spent on education.
  • Introducing internet and digital technologies into education.


Extent of Market Penetration Necessary to Consider OER a “Success”


There are varied opinions about what extent of OER adoption is necessary for our model to achieve success:


  • Disrupting the educational materials and services market so that it flips to OER as the primary model for resource production.
  • Shifting public funding models to pay for publishing services, rather than paying for individual copies of textbooks.
  • Mainstreaming OER among educators so it competes with the traditional publishing model in terms of reach and use.
  • Sufficient quantity of high quality OER necessary to provide choice.


Top Strategic Priorities for OER


Taking into account the strategic goals listed above, we can define several leading actions to achieve them. While the movement can agree that all of these actions are important, there is not consensus on which one is the top priority. Some of the top priorities are:


  • Build OER content to fill gaps or enable productive reuse.
  • Develop open policies that require public and foundation funded educational resources are openly licensed (CC BY preferred) by default.
  • Create communities that support, in a grassroots manner, the development and mainstreaming of OER.
  • Develop national OER models or strategies that can be replicated in other countries.
  • Build key tools that enable more effective discovery and reuse.
  • Moving beyond content-related issues and focusing on the practices of educators that can be achieved with a shift to open resources, i.e. “open pedagogy”.
  • Better communications about the value of OER.
  • Scale OER in a specific sector, i.e. K-12, higher education, workforce development, lifelong learning, etc.


Movement Strengths


The OER movement has achieved multiple victories and successes. Among the most important ones are:


  • Breadth of Content: Over years, different projects have tested and developed a wide range of open resources that prove to be high quality, cost-effective, useful and sustainable. The types of resources include content repositories, textbooks, and curricula. Resources span all levels of education from early childhood to adult, and cover manifold topics and subject areas.
  • Strong Policy Models: Successful OER advocacy has led to the design and deployment of policies supporting OER production and use, at different levels: school, city, national and international. Policies have also been developed by private educational foundations and private companies. Together, they provide a broad template that can be adapted and reused.
  • Collective Impact: Coalitions have been proven to be successful in promoting OER, advocating for policies and achieving change. They provide for a strong legitimization by a collective voice of varied actors with interest in education: non-governmental organisations, public institutions and individual activists.
  • Growing Ties with the Open Movement: OER activism is part of a broader open movement and can benefit from building ties and creating synergies with advocates of open science, open data, free and open source software, open culture or open government. For example, students and young researchers think about OER and Open Access (OA) together; librarians with good understanding of OA are a growing force supporting OER; and OER policies are strengthened by including them in broader open government policies.
  • Individual Champions: Significant successes in OER are often attributed to passionate, persevering champions, particularly in the policy arena. Such individuals are able to achieve significant change almost single-handedly. They’re especially important when their experience and knowledge can be multiplied, by building collaborations, mentorship models, and networks with other activists.
  • Global Reach and Significance: OER has been recognised by key international organizations active in education, and has support at institutions across the globe.
  • Supportive Research: Key projects and scholars have been conducting research on OER and its impacts, and the breadth and depth of this research continues to grow.


Movement Challenges


Challenges include both external (conditions in greater educational environment) and internal

(issues within the OER movement). Not all challenges are present in every national or local context, but many themes arise frequently in strategy conversations, including:


  • Linear Rate of Growth: Momentum is building, but adoptions are still primarily happening on a one-by-one basis, and we’re still piloting and proving one example at a time. While pilots often prove successful, the models rarely end up being replicated or brought to scale. For full impact to be realized, growth needs to be exponential rather than linear, both within national contexts and internationally.
  • Absence of Standards: Other segments of the open movement have standardized models, such as the “green” and “gold” routes for Open Access or the 5 Star Open Data standard. The OER movement employs standardized open licenses, yet we lack still lack a single standard or unified message that is applicable around the globe. This is in part due to the diversity of the educational sector, which spans education from infants to the elderly, and employs a variety of resources and tools. This is also due to a large variance between local and national autonomy of education, especially at primary and secondary level, and variations in systems from country to country. Finally, use and reuse practices are crucial in education, as well as personalised approaches to learning – these don’t standardize easily. However, in order for OER to scale, some standards or standard pathways are needed.
  • Insufficient Awareness: Awareness of OER is an essential precondition to expanding adoption, but generally is still very low. This is true both in terms of understanding that OER exists as an alternative to currently used materials, and a deeper understanding of the benefits, quality, and potential innovations that can happen when it is adopted.
  • Difficulty of Discovery and Use: OER discovery, curation and re-use are often laborious and complicated. This is a consistent challenge across the commons. Repositories are varied and do not have shared search terms and metadata. Materials are presented in a wide variety of formats. Tools to assist with remix, curation and reuse are insufficient, not well known, and/or are not themselves open.
  • Inconsistent Breadth and Depth: OER supply is uneven across subject areas and disciplines. Some OER is very complete, while others are little more than links or shells. This can undermine the impacts of awareness raising and slow down momentum if people who want to adopt OER don’t have OER to adopt.
  • Lack of Evidence: A persistent area of frustration for OER supporters is the lack of compelling, locally-relevant evidence for the impact of OER. This includes research demonstrating efficacy and illustrative case studies. Just as important is a better understanding of contextual variables that affect OER adoption and impact, such as educator practices, and the ways resources and IT are employed in education.
  • Questions About Sustainability: Business models and public funding models for supporting OER continue to develop, with numerous case studies of each. However, there are still questions surrounding long-term sustainability and the ability for OER to “stick” in the marketplace without philanthropic support.
  • Unfulfilled Promise of Reuse: Potential for reuse is one of the key arguments OER advocates use to promote their model; OER policies can make teachers into active creators and collaborators, while resources become dynamic and improve over time. Yet we don’t have enough compelling testimonials, case studies or evidence that this is taking place, nor have we connected this advantage to a broader problem that stakeholders care about.
  • Poor Branding: In recent years, the term “open” is used in education ever more widely, with a variety of meanings. It gives opportunity to bring OER into a broader educational debate – but with several definitions of “open”, educators and learners are understandably confused. We are at risk of others “openwashing” OER. At the same time, paradoxically, the term OER is little known, difficult and technical – not a perfect educational “buzzword”.
  • Perfect as an Enemy of the Good: It is critical to maintain a strong definition of OER to avoid “openwashing,” but this can also create a dynamic where efforts that take a step in the right direction, but do not meet our definition, are excluded and not given recognition.
  • Lack of OER heroes: Mainstreaming OER requires stories that make people pay attention – exciting and engaging enough to make them interested in a relatively challenging subject that combines pedagogy, technology and law. We have good stories, but not great ones. Some of the really big stories in modern, digital education, such as Khan Academy and MOOCs, are at best ambivalent about open.




Many opportunities exist for advancing OER, both in new ways and by expanding on opportunities that have already proven successful. We have organized the opportunities below based on the three components necessary for OER adoption: demand (awareness and motivation to use OER), supply (content and tools to use it), and capacity (community and systemic support for sustainability). These opportunities identify key places where the OER movement can intervene to help advance OER, and are intended to provide a useful starting point for developing strategies.



    • Build Evidence Base:  Improve the body of evidence showing the positive impacts of OER, focusing on contexts where OER presents an especially critical solution to a problem. This includes efficacy research that looks at key areas such as improved learning outcomes, business models, innovative reuse, improving equity, and cost savings.  It also includes compelling case studies and stories that illustrate the impacts.
    • Improve Communications: Build a stronger case for OER to strengthen its branding and value proposition. Be more active in communicating by developing resources, coordinating messages, and working with other segments of the open movement. Consider the key target audiences of OER, and tailor resources to reach those audiences. Assets such as compelling human stories, infographics, and plain language resources will be key.


  • Embed OER In the Teaching Profession: Take advantage of ready-made pathways for instructors to become aware of and learn to effectively use OER. In the short term, this could be linking OER with professional development activities that educational systems already conduct. In the long term, this would be integrating OER into teacher training and teacher prep programs.


    • Engage Key Constituencies: OER adoption is not just about engaging the teachers, schools and policymakers who make resource decisions. Other constituencies, particularly librarians and students, can play a key role in helping to catalyze and support these decision makers. Librarians are experts at finding, curating and sharing resources. This community wasn’t originally deeply engaged in OER, but has increasingly become involved. Students are also key as the beneficiaries of education, and also the largest constituency in terms of numbers. Students can offer a compelling voice and people-power to catalyze action.
    • Empower the grassroots: Without grassroots support from educators, OER policies will never fulfill their potential. In particular, the promise of re-use cannot be met without the engagement of users with open resources.


  • Coordinate Demand With Supply: Focus on building demand in areas where supply exists.





    • Focus on Productization: OER is easier to adopt when it is presented as a “turnkey” solution that is ready to use immediately without extra work. Meeting the expectation of convenience that teachers and faculty in many places have come to expect from traditional materials can help OER adoption spread on a faster and wider scale. Once practitioners are using OER in a familiar form, more work can be done to support their exploration of innovative remixing and use.
    • Tools for Discoverability and Reuse: While building tools alone is not enough to solve problems, there are some central challenges that can be removed through strategic tools. Most important is discoverability of OER, but also tools that enable users to fulfill the promise of OER in terms of creation, licensing, reuse and remix for teachers and students.


  • Build Supply to Meet Demand: The movement has learned that the “build it and they will come” philosophy is not successful for OER. It is more effective to prioritize building OER in areas where there is high potential for large scale adoptions, both in terms of the number of students served and the potential for institutional commitment and resources to support OER development and use.
  • Accessibility: The flexibility offered by the 5Rs offers significant benefits over traditional materials in terms of Accessibility for students with disabilities. This benefit can be leveraged when creating supply, to demonstrate the benefits in contexts where Accessibility is important.


  • Open Up Existing Platforms and Resources: Evangelizing open can help turn existing services and resources into OER. This is a key, alternative tactic to creating new, open resources. This allows our movement to benefit from already existing resources, networks and communities, once they are made open.




  • International Growth: Successful OER projects tend to have a relatively small scale and have not widely spread to other institutions, regions, countries. Using key projects as models for scaling is a major opportunity for our movement. At the international level, it is important to build foundations of the OER movement by examining local needs and priorities, and then using and adapting best practices, advice and tools from existing projects and experiences. What cannot be copied is a strong community to support OER locally, though lessons learned from creating movements in countries around the world can serve as a starting point.
  • National Mainstreaming: Multiple projects prove sustainability and benefits of OER, but OER has still not entered the mainstream at a global scale. In countries with relatively developed OER activities, we need to shift from a narrow OER community to the broad educational community, by addressing broader values and needs of educators. It is crucial to develop, at national level, an integrated set of activities that combines policy work, content production, community building, etc. into a holistic model for OER growth.
    • Open as an Aspect of Digital in Education: The Paris Declaration sees OER as an aspect and key element of digital education. OER can be successfully introduced if merged with IT in education initiatives – and vice-versa, digital education strategies are more sound, effective and sustainable if they include the OER model.


  • Government Funding: Governments are the largest potential source for funding that can bring OER to scale. In many cases they are already spending money directly on course materials, or on programs that create course materials. We need strategies such as open license funding requirements that will redirect some or all of that money to OER.
  • Improve Movement-Wide Coordination: Members of the movement are doing effective, impactful work, but there is a lack of coordination between segments of the movement that may have similar or complementary aims. Increasing communication and coordination among groups within the movement can help accelerate progress through shared best practices, improve efficiency by avoiding duplication of efforts, and amplify impact by identifying areas of synergy and common messages. This could take the shape of a lateral network that connects various nodes, not a top-down or time-intensive requirement. The goal is not to stop people from doing good work, but rather to insure that the work being done is amplified and built upon for better service to the movement as a whole.
  • Connect With Other Open Movements: Movements for openness in research publishing, science, data, software, and other areas are pursuing similar goals and face similar challenges. While some areas of OER are beginning to forge ties, a more deliberate effort to coordinate messages and actions will help build a stronger and broader open movement that benefits us all.



Next Steps


This document is a synthesis of discussions held during the initial strategy meeting in Washington, DC. We invite the global OER community to share their feedback on any aspect of the document, and particularly welcome feedback on our assessment of the state of OER and the broad priorities of the open education movement. Our aim is to create a document and related activities that support the community to engage in conversations about effective strategies for the adoption of OER, and to promote better coordination between different segments of the community so that we can better support each other.


For the immediate future, we would like to focus the conversations within the OER community. We encourage you to share this document and hold conversations in your OER networks, conferences, seminars and meet-ups. Our goals is to end with a document that is a useful foundation for effective strategy development.





 OER Business Models – A Debate

Posted by Stephen Downes – Half an Hour Blog – Wednesday, March 25, 2015

[note the copy below differs from the original, it was spell-checked in Word]

OER Business Models – A Debate

This is a summary of a debate including four participants, listed below, at OER2015.
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 & sons. We work 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 Learning

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, which supports both goals.

Reactions: To Gary: if you’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 continue 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 didn’t come 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 brings up is interesting; historically 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 to 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 talking about. Eg. open pedagogy is different from OER.

Lisa: our open speaker used the work ‘ecosystem’. You can’t just have the seed: you need the market, and the water. It has to be inclusive of the whole piece. Otherwise you have something disjointed and not sustainable. Eg. if you have content 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 ecosystem 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 think 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 learning 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 support 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 the impact is, any license will limit the range 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 teachers 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.

David Harris: I agree, you need a common set of licenses so you have a common language. Gary’s system would create a proliferation of licenses, you meet business needs, but not learning needs. people were concerned 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 models 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 more 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 foresee your business models disrupting existing business models?

David Harris: we’ve disrupted the higher ed publishing industry in the following 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 effect of lower costs; and third we are leveling the playing field of non-standard producers. We are breaking barriers down. Forth, OER can be blended now, because of OpenStax materials – people take small pieces and embed them in online learning environments. 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 to 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 out 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 research 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, Utah, 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 unprecedented 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 publishers. 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 after 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 only are we displaying high-stakes texts, we’re creating pathways. We find ourselves being adopted by a college, and then being adapted by their feeder systems. The uptake by feeders systems has been breathtaking.

Lisa: I love and applauded these efforts, eg., the high stakes test alternatives. But what does it mean to have the market. We’re still doing education 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 support personal learning. We’re coming up against some of the real tenets of public education which is not working.

Closing Statements Closing Statements

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: on 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.

David Wiley. So, amen and hallelujah 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.

Closing points:

– over the next year or so, there will be ways to continue this conversation – eg.Creative Commons business model project (Lumen learning – )
– 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
Posted by Stephen Downes at 6:45 pm




David Wiley


Stop Saying “High Quality”

The Open Business Models conversation at the Hewlett Foundation grantees meeting (#oer2015) was a lot of fun. The biggest surprises to me were the number of times the phrase “high quality” came up, and what a strong, negative reaction I had each time I heard the word.

After some reflection I think the reason the phrase gets my goat is that “high quality” sounds like it’s dealing with a core issue, while actually dodging the core issue. The phrase is sneaky and deceptive. (Now I don’t mean that the people who were using it were trying to be deceptive; they weren’t. But the phrase itself tends to blind people.) And by “core issue” I mean this – the core issue in determining the quality of any educational resource is the degree to which it supports learning. But confusingly, that’s not what people mean when they say that a textbook or other educational resource is “high quality.”

It’s very easy to demonstrate that “the degree to which it supports learning” is the only characteristic of an educational resource that matters. If an educational resource is written by experts, copyedited by professionals, reviewed by peers, laid out by graphic designers, contains beautiful imagery, and is provided in multiple formats, but fails to support learning, is it appropriate for us to call it “high quality”? No. No, no, no. A thousand times no. Despite this fact, which is intuitively obvious, when people say “high quality” they actually mean all these things (author credentials, review by faculty, copyediting, etc.) except effectiveness. In the world of textbooks and other educational materials, “high quality” describes the authoring and editorial process, and is literally unrelated to whether or not the educational resource supports learning.

In this way, saying “high quality” obscures the issue we should care about most. Instead of letting people and companies off the hook by checking boxes during the pre-publication process, we should care about whether or not a particular resource supports learning for each of our particular students. Seen this way, the true desideratum of educational materials is “effective.” I really don’t care what the pre-publication processes was like as long as my students are learning (unless the process was unethical in some way).

So please – let’s stop saying “high quality.” We don’t want “high quality” educational materials – we want “effective” educational materials. In the future, when you catch yourself saying “high quality,” stop and correct yourself. When you hear others say “high quality,” take that teachable moment to help them understand that the phrase is a ruse. If we can change this one element of the education conversation, we’ll have done something powerful.

(And don’t forget – when materials are so expensive that students can’t afford them, they are perfectly ineffective.)




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