ITOE: Motivations for Open Education

Well, it’s only the second week of class, and I’m already turning an assignment in late. (It was due yesterday.) I can’t even argue (plausibly, anyway) that the dog ate my blog post. So much for iron self-discipline.

At any rate, here is this week’s assignment:

Carefully review at least 20 pages describing motivations for the open education movement. Write a substantive post with references on the motivations of the movement.

My classmate Jared Stein has written a very good first approximation summary of the range motivations covered in the readings:

  • Philanthropic: Sharing and providing education to people all over the world, with special attention to those in third-world countries or without access to high-quality local education.
  • Strategic: Adapting educational practices to the changing world culture may increase viability of educational institutions. (Additional motivations exist here as well, but are perhaps more subtle or less overarching).
  • Pedagogic: The act of sharing may increase attention to quality; the act of adapting or remixing may increase quality; the utilization of new technologies may enhance educational engagement amongst learners.
  • Economic: Cost-savings to the institution by digitally archiving their own materials, and then sharing and reusing within the institution and amongst peers.

These four motivations can be consolidated further into two categories: values and value. Under the values heading, we have philanthropic (which I’m not sure is quite the right word for it, but close enough for our purposes) and pedagogic. We want to increase access to and quality of education. Why? Because it is right to do so. Maybe you couch the case in secular language such as “human rights” or maybe you couch it in the religious language of scripture. (One of the more interesting readings in the assignment is the Carmack piece, which is written from the perspective of Managing Director of the Perpetual Education Fund for the Church of Latter Day Saints.) Either way, the argument is a moral one. Personally, I believe strongly in the moral arguments. The moral obligation to increase access and quality of education is probably the most succinct summary I can come up with for why I choose to be in my current profession.

As a complement to this, we have the value argument, i.e., that we get something tangible such as institutional viability, cost savings, or increased profit from investing in open education. For me personally, while the values arguments go to the why of open education, the value argument goes to the how. Widespread reform rarely happens based on purely moral motivations. It is usually driven forward at least in part by some engine of self-interest—a market engine. Morality is a more admirable driver of change, but self-interest is a faster one. Those of us who want to see the enactment of major reforms, including but not limited to open education, would do well to find ways in which we can create more value through strategies that advance our values, which is probably the most succinct summary I can come up with for what I do in my current profession. I recently read a good piece making this case on a different reform topic that happened to be written by a high school classmate. Gary Rahl (who works for Booz Allen Hamilton as an environmental consultant) argues (along with his colleagues; registration required) for a methodology in which government and corporate entities look at the environment around their military base or industrial plant or corporate headquarters or whatever as a financial asset which can be maximized through preservation. Is this methodology a perfect motivator in the sense that it produces perfect alignment between value and values? No, and it is always important to be vigilent about minding the gap. But it is a powerful motivator that could produce substantial progress quickly where making the values argument of increased corporate responsibility has been very slow in producing results.

So what are some possible value motivators for open education (where, again, we primarily mean open educational resources at the moment)? Here’s a sampling:

  • Competitiveness: In the Wiley piece, David makes the case that university education in its current form is increasingly out of step with how the university’s customers prefer to work and learn. Open education, he argues, brings closer alignment and therefore increased institutional viability.
  • Consumerism: At the OPEN Forum, Brad Wheeler made a very compelling case that, across a range of product markets from academic software to textbooks to scholarly publishing, the markets are structured in ways that tend to encourage the formation of monopolies which are very costly to universities. (I’ll post a link to the slides as soon as they are up.) Open education, he argues, weakens those monopoly-inducing market forces.
  • Indirect Sales: I have argued in the past that Apple has a business model for iTunes University that aligns very well with the promotion of open education. Apple has no real way to make large amounts of money directly on iTunes U, but neither will they lose large amounts of money on it. Their costs are mostly sunk into the iTunes Music Store, with very little investment required to extend the infrastructure for use by universities. And in fact, Apple doesn’t make much money on iTunes Music Store either. They don’t have to make money selling iTunes because they make plenty of money selling iPods and iPhones, and the iTunes infrastucture helps them do that. Indirect sales can be a good model for aligning value with values.
  • Lower cost direct sales: The discount store is probably as old as retail itself. We saw Dell become a superstar because of it in the early days of the digital age. We’re seeing open source software companies succeed on it now. For example, Alfresco figured out that a good chunk of enterprise content management revenues comes from consulting. So they could give away their software for free, thus undercutting the competition, and still have something to sell at a profit (namely support and customization services). Note that this doesn’t work in all cases. I’m not aware of any major Firefox support and consulting companies, for example. So it’s an open question regarding where and how well this model can apply to OER. More on this idea later in the semester, I’m sure.

These are just a few examples; I’m sure there are more. It’s important, too, to remember that the production models for OER are complex and involve many players. We will need value arguments for the faculty who invest time in creating the content, for example. But this line of thinking is where I would like to focus much of my attention for the course.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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5 Responses to ITOE: Motivations for Open Education

  1. SaraJoy Pond says:

    The Value/Values framework seems quite useful for this context. I’d like to explore further the conflict (perceived or real) between them and the potentially synergistic interactions as well…hmmm.

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  3. Thanks! I’m working on quest 3, did a google search of open education third world and yours was the third post. gave me what i was looking for….thank you!

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