OER Funding: Ask the Right Questions

David Wiley writes:

You have to admit that some of the things the publishers are working on are both cooler and better than almost everything that currently exists in the OER space. Can you name a single OER project that does assessment at all (and I don’t mean PDFs of quizzes)? Can you name one that does diagnostic assessment or handles mastery in any meaningful way? We’ve narrowed the entire field of OER down to CMU OLI, Khan Academy, and possibly Thrun’s new stuff. Now, can you think of one of these three that openly licenses their assessments and the engines they run them on? No.

Open education currently has no response to the coming wave of diagnostic, adaptive products coming from the publishers. To the best of my knowledge there is no one really working on next gen OER – OER that are interactive, simulative, really rich with multimedia AND combined with OAR that drive diagnosis, remediation, and adaptation. There’s certainly no one funding next gen OER. And believe me – if it took $100M to get the field to where it currently stands in terms of relatively static openly licensed content, it will take at least that much investment again over the next decade for the field to do something truly next gen.

Because this stuff costs so much to do, if no one steps up to the funding plate the entire field is at serious risk. Much has been written about 2012 being “the year of OER.” Let’s hope it’s not the year OER peaks. We need brains, energy, and funding on the next gen OER/OAR problem NOW. [Emphasis added.]

I have long argued that for-profit companies are neither the mortal enemies nor the white knights of education. In this particular case, given the heavy lift involved in funding this sort of effort relative to the resources available in the academic and philanthropic communities—and David is in a position to know—I think it is important to think about for-profit entities in roles that are potentially cooperative with rather than in opposition to OERs. We should be asking the following questions:

  • What sort of commercial ventures could prosper in an ecosystem where quality educational resources are abundant and free rather than scarce and expensive?
  • Specifically, what sorts of ventures could make money ethically by adding real value in the context of abundant and free educational resources?
  • What are the barriers preventing those ventures (either existing or yet-to-be-formed) from helping to create such an ecosystem?
  • Who are the right people and what are the right institutions to forge the relationships that could foster such an ecosystem?
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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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3 Responses to OER Funding: Ask the Right Questions

  1. Michael, these are great questions and frankly a pure-open approach to OER is less attractive than a hybrid approach where content can move smoothly between free, pay, open and closed. We will find that this is all just a bunch of slider bars. But a lot of things will need to change on the part of which ever publisher decides to help us authors be more effective with a combination of tools and services. I would say that the closest to ideal in terms of business model is things like Amazon CreateSpace or SmashWords. Both do not depend on owning the copyright to materials nor do they depend on exclusive distribution arrangements (heresy for a normal publisher). But there is much to be improved on these models. First he authoring tools are DISMAL. Word templates are terrible. Re-pasting the same text into multiple environments is insane – especially if we want value add materials beyond flat text and images. There is no support for collaborative authoring and no way to automatically publish to lots of formats. There need to be ways to sell hosted HTML5 content – and build dynamic learning cohorts around hybrid material… Aargh – the mind races thinking of the potential that suggests that Apple and Amazon are only scratching the surface of what we really need. But even small innovative startups that I talk to are so frightened of doing anything even remotely bold, that likely nothing will happen, and Apple will slowly add the features that are simply obvious today – but the market will sit hypnotized and motionless as Apple first strangles it and then swallows it with Python-like efficiency.

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