What is the most “successful” “formal” “OER” project?

Simple question, right – what is the most “successful” “formal” “OER” project? Except, not so simple, which is why the scare quotes. I asked the question on twitter, and got some interesting answers so far:

I don’t think there is one “right” answer, but I do think it is a useful question to ask; firstly because it asks us to dig into the assumptions behind each of the terms I scare-quoted. By “successful” do you mean: most accessed/viewed? most re-used? increased the profile of the institution the most? provided the best return on investment? improved student learning the most? decreased some of the crises facing the world the most? All of the above? (good luck with that!) And what’s meant by “formal”? Or “OER” for that matter?

I’m not hoping to spark a definitional skirmish – lord knows we’ve all seen enough of those. But I am sincere in wanting examples, however you choose to define the terms. Because from where I’m sitting, the projects that fulfill the criteria of “successful” “formal” “OER” projects are few and far between, yet I remain absolutely personally committed to the causes of education and open sharing. The tension between these two seemingly contradictory statements (plus the fact that I derive my livelihood working on “formal” “OER” projects) should be plain, and seeking some examples is in a way asking for help both in how I’m approaching my work but also where I am choosing to put my efforts in this life. As The Reverend constantly reminds me, “you can’t live wrong rightly,” and I’m feeling pretty tired of struggling with round holes and square pegs, trying to convince people to let go of The Fear. – SWL

15 thoughts on “What is the most “successful” “formal” “OER” project?”

  1. Hmmm. It seems to me now is a good time to dig deeper into those reasons. A lot of schools, at least in the U.S., seem to be thinking about online for their traditional residential students. Summer programs are the natural first step. Some stories in the Chronicle about that as of late. Might they do these things in an open way? I fear that the vast majority will keep their online course closed. Maybe some heads can be turned before this next wave has gone by.

    Personally, I’m more interested in the openness of response than in openness about the original presentations (which should be open too, but the emphasis is too much on that). So I really wish you would drop the “R” and just talk about “OE.” Also, on “formal,” that conjures up “peer reviewed.” In some ways, that is desirable, a certain check on the correctness of what is asserted. But in some other ways it is pernicious. Pleasing the experts can very well lead to making the content opaque for the novice. Barring a “student seal of approval” that the content really helped them with their understanding, and I’m far from being sure how that would be generated, I’m quite ok with informal that makes an honest effort at being accessible on an intellectual level.

  2. “You can’t live a wrong life rightly.”

    And I do have to say that your question is an excellent one, and I struggle with it as well. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the idea of OERs as a kind of movement and I have to say too much of it has gotten caught up in questions of licensing, legality, and infrastructure for other cultures. That is not to say all these elements aren’t relevant and important, but what seems more important to me is the idea of keeping resources free and open without beating people over the head with policy and structures. I’m really t sure if UMW Blogs is that good an example of “formal” OER, but if it has value it might be rooted in the fact that people use it, and sharing has become a cultural value at UMW, and no one is dictating terms or policy to the community—that stuff is emerging as it needs to.

    That may sound pollyanna, but the fact is the scale of that community is small enough, and the community is manageable—and that makes all the difference. Whereas, the larger problem with OER is it’s trying to formalize a movement on a global scale, and that brings up so many issues. The ideas are important, but localities need to devise and work through their own idea and definition of the OER. The more it becomes an overarching policy and process, the less useful it becomes to everyone. Why do we need to formalize the movement globally? I’m all for promoting examples like you are doing here, but the more we push for people to engage the radical practice of sharing openly (and it is radical for people to increasingly share their stuff like this)—the more we have to understand that this works against all impulses currently promoted by our culture. As you have already noted in previous posts, we have to avoid turning this into a learning objects nightmare, and one of the ways at that is not formalizing the process too much. Allow for incomplete metadata, less than perfect resources, and students and faculty sharing as open practice, as Lanny suggest above. Drop the R, open practice modeled for communities will prove far more effective and scalable than the push for larger policies and laws that make the OER part of the machine. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but the more I think about it the more I think less is more when it comes to Open Ed. Less policy, less definitions, and less rules and regulations guiding licenses, practies, and the like. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez said in The General in His Labryinth: “Damn it, please let us have our Dark Ages in peace.” I wonder if that isn’t an important thing to keep in mind as we trying and formalize practices and policy around this movement, which is definitely gaining momentum and political clout.

  3. Exactly right, Rev. This is why I specifically was asking about “formal” projects, because these do seem to be about so much “planning to share” at one level without actually considering that people need to want to share, and that if all the other cultural/technical/institutional aspects point directly against this, it is doomed to fail.

    I do think of UMW Blogs as “formal” in the sense that it is institutionally-backed, but that seems like where the similarities stop (and while I left the term “formal” purposefully ambiguous for this post, it does need to be broken out into more discrete parts, as this discussion shows.) In providing free and easy to use infrastructure that by default is simply open, I believe it strikes the right balance between leading the horse to water, so to speak, but not trying to force them to drink.

    But I’m also asking because within the contexts of “formal” projects, I am willing to accept that some people are maybe having more success, and I want to know how they are doing that. Because I think the truth lies somewhere in between, that it is possible to “lead” without “ruling,” and that simply standing back and saying “share if you will, don’t if you won’t” is too simplistic (I’m not accusing you of that Jim) and leaves “open” and “free” far to available for co-option by forces that will use them to mean the exact opposite. I think, in openness, which at base I take to mean “enabling possibilities, not restricting them,” progressives may have found a platform we can get behind that doesn’t fall prey to our constant desire to praise diversity faintly (faintly because praising any *single* approach would not be, well, diverse.) We need to engage, “formally,” so that it doesn’t get packaged, bought and sold, instantiated in one (limiting) way. A tall challenge, but worth it, I think.

  4. Let’s play the quote game too, “Open is as open does.”

    We are bogged down with the stuff- “Look at allt he fre lectures” “People will steal my content”. Isn;t an OER really just about anything on the web with a URL that is publicly linkable? Or does it have to be something you can purloin, grab, sprinkle SCORM, and string together?

    UMW Blogs is truly a shining example of open-ness, but are people going to go in and grab little bits, push through the easy bake oven, and come out with a course? No, they will link, they will borrow ideas, maybe grab some media.

    It’s not about the stuff, the metadata its about making it available.

    I’m more interested in Open Educators than their resources. Good teaching is still an art, a craft, not something you get by stringing together some lectures and PDF notes.

  5. Although you guys have mostly already said it, I’ll humbly offer why I suggested UMW blogs as ‘formal’ and ‘successful’; and most importantly ‘open’.
    I’ll admit up front to being the later comer to this conversation (about openness and all). And, my ideas are not that well-formed as some of you who have been at it for a while. But, I have had occasion recently for a project to look more closely at the idea – and some of the resources – and I think the crux is NOT the resources, it is the CULTURE/SPIRIT/MINDSET/MOVEMENT or whatever you choose to call it…that is at the heart. It is the ‘why’ not the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ necessarily that makes ‘open’ important.

    And, UMW IS doing that well…LIVING in the open (Yes, Alan, ‘open is as open does’…absolutely!)…Yes Scott, UMW is ‘formal’ because institutionally backed…and successful (imho) precisely because of the way they ‘live’ quietly and mostly without fanfare in the open. The focus (at least it seems to me) is on the community (the culture of openness) – theirs locally in the respective courses – and more broadly as they invite others to consider their approaches….made all the more powerful by the sharing of it. (A side note: I shared UMW blogs here a year or so ago and colleagues questioned me pointedly: “Do they know we are looking at their stuff? Do you have their permission?” Yep, there is still fear here.

    My question is…where should an individual (or campus for that matter) start if new to the whole idea of freely sharing ideas….How do you help people see that everything does not have to be open….but we all learn more if we share stuff?

    I am rambling and I’ll stop.
    You guys interested in taking some of this to the #DIYU conversation going on in Twitter (I know, not the best place…but lots of similar ideas)…

    Scott, thanks for asking.

  6. Thanks Cindy and Alan. I feel like I’m hearing from the “converted” already; was really hoping to hear someone pipe up with one of the canonical examples of OER projects (MIT OCW, Connexions, etc) and convince me of its success and show me how they did it. *I’m* not necessarily convinced any of these *are* “successful” (the way I’d define it) but I’m looking to be proved wrong. I really do want to be convinced that it’s me that’s the problem, that if I just had the secret sauce, then the formal projects I work on would all jump into action.

  7. I’ll bite, but I’ll expand it to two projects.

    1. MIT OCW. Whatever its faults, it helped openness get noticed in a way that no other project beforehand did (even if those previous projects were worthy of notice). You and others may call it a lack of imagination, but for many people MIT OCW expanded what they considered was possible. In the end, isn’t that what education is about?

    A very wise person once told me that MIT OCW was the Marconi radio of open education. People respect the invention for what it did, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t innovate beyond it.

    2. WikiEducator. If you dig into the history of WikiEducator and how it came about, it showed that the best response to frustration with a system is not vainglorious demagoguery, but careful creation of something that people find value in. Whether the wiki is your thing or not, WikiEducator shows that people can make their own difference (even within the much maligned “system”).

  8. Seth, thanks for both of these. Like I said, there is no “right” answer, and I appreciate the rationales you provide, though in my mind the example of MIT’s OCW is more a case of “important” than “successful” – the former without a doubt, the later possibly debatable. I like the example of wikieducator, and similar to the example of UMW Blogs, it seems to focus on leading by providing a space for people to learn openly, the “resources” being a result and not just an end in itself.

  9. You’re right in that there is no “right” answer. Consider this – I’ve used MIT OCW just this semester for comparison purposes. I have people in my personal network that have used MIT OCW to brush up on topics prior to taking classes. And everyday I read about people on Twitter who enthusiastically discover MIT OCW for the first time. SEO and PR can only get a website so far – some of the many hits MIT OCW is receiving is from people who find real value in it.

    You know I’m not on MIT payroll. I have no vested interest in promoting MIT OCW, except when I think it genuinely helps.

    If we were to put two OERs in front of you, one from an institution and one pure DIY U, that were stripped of identifying information, I wonder if you would be so hard on the institutional OER. Sometimes this debate seems to be more political than about assisting learning.

  10. Seth, I’m probably to blame for you thinking I am being “hard” on the formal OER projects and looking to criticize them, but that was not my goal. If you look at my question, I am really sincere in wanting to know how those formal ones that *are* considered successful *actually succeeded*. In the case of MIT’s OCW, the answer does seem to me to have something to do with massive budgets, PR, institutional backing and existing “brand.” None of these are to sit in judgement of it. But if those are accurate assessments, I’d also warrant that there isn’t a ton to learn from it as an example, as the conditions of its success are not present for most other “formal” projects.

    Seth, I *work* on “formal” OER projects. I *want* them to succeed. I don’t particularly feel like mine are, nor many many others that I see. But if there are some that do (which was what my question was looking for) then I am interested in digging into what they’ve done that others like myself can learn from. It’s not about criticizing, and I apologize if, like so often, my tone came off like it was.

  11. I think I have the most sucessful formal OER project in Turkey.
    I promote , for time being , only academicearth.org courses in Turkey . Local universities assign a professor for the selected course. That professor acts as a facilitator for that course. he does exactlt the ONLINE Instructor does in USA.
    At the end professor gives credit after the face to face final exam. After student gets online and offline courses enough he gets his degree.
    I suggest that everybody in the world should do it.
    I know that some colleges in Pennsylvania are sharing the online courses of Carnegie Mellon.
    ONLINE should be credit oriented, degree oriented. That is the only motivation for students. Then online course is a part of a formal education, a part of a formal degree program.
    I say online courses are for millions. If a course is taken by millions it becomes almost free anyhow.

  12. WikiEducator
    Art of Problem Solving
    Geogebra (and GeoGebra Institutes)
    Science Blogs
    Classroom 2.0 (and their child projects – Future of Education, LearnCentral, Student 2.0)

Comments are closed.