Realizing the power of ‘open’ to transform higher education


Not surprisingly, the same entrenched attitudes and practices that have led to a “culture clash” between traditional and digital methods of research, publishing, and communications in higher education also apply to the implementation of open education resources for teaching and learning. If OER is to realize its full disruptive potential in higher education, a host of obstacles must be overcome.

A primary challenge to OER implementation is the lack of organization of the wealth of resources residing online.

The disorganized, “Wild West” nature of available content makes it impractical for all but the most tapped-in faculty to identify and use it in any practical way. Efficiently harnessing these resources requires making connections across people, groups, and communities of interest to provide a shared context. To ensure scale and sustainability, the future of OER must combine elements of intelligent content repositories enriched with organized social communities in order for effective eLearning or blended learning to occur.

Assessment and evaluation of OER materials remains another obstacle. In its current design, analysis of OER content usage and performance is a challenge. No significant research on the availability, usage, and impact of OER materials exists in the world of public education.

We consistently hear that faculty are pleased, where and when allowed, to release their treasured creations to a sea of global peer contributors, but they are reluctant to harvest and integrate valuable open resources crafted by colleagues from institutions within this growing network.

This reluctance may be owing in part to a lack of vetting from higher-education mechanisms that exist for traditional curriculum content.

Even when faculty find applications effective for learning, avenues for communication about them can be limited. OER resources are still often void of the systems for peer review and accurate evaluation rubrics commonly placed by colleague-authors in published articles, open institutional web sites, course download destination sites, or open learning object repositories (LORs).

Content silos and closed education environments also work against such analyses. The OER community believes that creating and sustaining consistent student performance in any given subject of an online or blended learning course is difficult to achieve in the closed environment of a single faculty member.

Content delivered only in individual courses makes it difficult to perform roll-up analyses across departments and institutions or to share data across a network of OER participants. If the goal of OER is to impact student learning, developing formal ways of assessing student knowledge in the open world is vital.

Lack of professional training for teaching in an OER world remains another impediment. Familiarity of OER is low among most faculties, as is an understanding of the practical applications and benefits of open materials for coursework.

The inability for mainstream faculty to easily search and find high-quality OER content is exacerbated by a lack of training in new methods for teaching course subject matter enriched with crowd-sourced materials.

Policy and perspective can be additional hurdles to a lack of progress in implementing OER. A clear institutional perspective and strategic policy towards openness and the use of OER materials is often elusive in higher-education environments, sometimes despite continued investments in the creation and use of open content with the potential to provide deep benefits.

The future: Overcoming OER challenges

Despite its challenges, OER implementation in higher education is by no means an unachievable goal. Collaboration, “smart” technology, and clear, strategic planning can help faculty institute new practices to help them maximize the use of OER.

eCampus News Staff