OER beyond Lumen

As my time as guest editor in this space draws to a close, I’d wanted to write about an event, and particularly the events going on around the open educational resource initiative happening at CUNY. In fact, I attended such an event early this month with that very intention. However, this event, like many others, was run by Lumen Learning and served as an introduction, or less charitably, an advertisement, for one of their products. In fact, this has been broadly true of many of the training events around this initiative, and I find it a little troubling that CUNY is leaning on Lumen so heavily.

There are, of course, good reasons for this.  The OER initiative has run largely on short deadlines, and it is challenging to get an OER program up and running. Turning to a vendor is an expedient way to begin initiatives quickly.

However, we should be cautious about allowing our conversations to be moderated by vendors, particularly conversations about openness and service to our communities. Thus, I will avoid summarizing that webinar here and will instead use this space to point to some interesting conversations and tools around OER issues that I’ve come across recently.

OER Authoring Tools List

This list of OER Authoring Tools by Michele DeSilva (Central Oregon Community College) and Amy Hofer (Open Oregon Educational Resources) usefully compares several OER platforms. I like this list because it helps to make transparent the differences among these tools. It points out which tools are proprietary, which ones cost money to use, and which ones have formatting or licensing issues to keep in mind.

The list itself is also open to edit.

Thanks to Greg Gosselin for sharing this tool on the CUNY OER listserv.

Open Educational Resources and Digital Humanities

I attended another webinar, this time on engaging with digital humanities projects (“Reading and Engaging with Existing Digital Humanities Projects”). The presenter, Paige Morgan, discusses the role that projects like the Lost Friends Exhibition can play in providing new entry points into a field of study. Although Morgan does not specifically address openness in her talk, except to note that in some cases these projects are making materials available online for the first time, it strikes me that it may be useful to seek OER, not in OER platforms, but in disciplinary collections like NINES or 18thConnect. Is the William Blake Archive an OER? It does not advertise itself that way, but it could certainly be used as a teaching tool.

My intention is not to argue that all digital scholarship projects are OER in disguise.  Rather, I hope to suggest that the category of “things that could be useful as OER” is a more helpful one than “things that are explicitly labeled OER,” particularly as the latter tends to lead us back to digital textbooks and companies like Lumen.

Tying it all together

The two approaches I’ve mentioned in this post are very different from each other, and I am convinced there are many more ways to think about this.  Ultimately, I’m an OER neophyte and still wrapping my head around it.  My hope with this post, then, was mainly to remind myself (and maybe others) to think more broadly where open educational resources are concerned.

Helping educators determine the quality of open educational resources

Open vs. traditional textbooks

Open educational resources (OER) can save students hundreds of dollars, but are they equal in quality to high priced textbooks from traditional publishers? If a book is free, will it have undergone to the same academic or editorial review as a high priced textbook? Increasingly, the answer is yes. There are many new resources and tools designed to help faculty find high quality, peer reviewed OER.

Do you get what you pay for?

One question to consider: Do traditional textbook publishers truly produce a superior product? Publishers argue that high textbook prices are necessary to cover their costs for peer review, editorial development, and top quality production values.  However, new editions frequently come out with even higher prices but with very little new content to justify the higher cost.  Traditional publishers are driven by the bottom line and many new editions are produced simply in order to generate sales.  Instead of buying a used copy at a substantial discount, a student buys the “new” edition at full price and the publisher reaps the profit.

OER alternatives

Open Educational Resources can be a great alternative to high priced textbooks.  Read this CNN article for a great overview of new developments and how free resources really can work in the classroom.  But do free resources really meet the same quality standards as traditional textbooks? Yes! Many of them are peer reviewed and carefully developed by educators. The OER Commons includes a new tool which allows educators to rate the quality of OER with seven rubrics.  Check out this video  for a tour of the tool and the rubrics.

MERLOT II includes over 4,000 in-depth peer reviews and allows users to search for materials with peer reviews, editor reviews, and user ratings.  Other sites such as College Open Textbooks include lists of peer reviews divided by subject area.

Where to find peer reviewed OERs

Open Textbook Library at UMN

There are an overwhelming amount of open textbooks and other OER available for professors to use as-is or remix to fit the needs of their specific course. Happily, the University of Minnesota has created the Open Textbook Library, a searchable collection that include extensive reviews that help faculty determine which is the best book for their class. Want to help? Contact UMN to become a reviewer yourself.