Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What should open educational resources (aka #FOAMed) 'replace' in university education?

I thought that all of us agreed on the answer to this question. Surely... surely... it must be acceptable for Open Educational Resources (OER)  to be incorporated into university education? But this tweet produced a lot of discussion. You can see many of the tweets here but some of the issues raised were :

1. Is it acceptable for students to pay for a course where free content is used?  My first thought was why wouldn't it be? But I suppose this question is hinting at a similar distinction to a creative commons license which allows reuse for commercial purposes and one which does not. It used to be that we thought of OER as coming primarily from institutions (and possibly being re-used by them too) whilst social media tools have allowed more and more OER to be produced by individuals and disseminated through networks. Some of this is #FOAMed and it is maybe not surprising if the individuals producing it don't feel so happy about institutional re-use.

2. Can we identify the best lecture on congestive heart failure (CHF) in the world?  This supposes that across the world we have shared concepts of what is the best lecture? Treatments and management might vary throughout the world but maybe we could find the best 'lecture' on pathophysiology? Maybe it is this 13 min long video from Vanderbilt University?

Maybe the students and teachers on your course could get together to try and identify some of the best resources for their course as we are doing here with our curation project.

3. Is the reuse of materials like the lecture above a threat to local pedagogical practice? I struggled most with this question. I happen to think that reuse of materials like the short video above opens up so many possibilities for local pedagogical practice. The video could be remixed using TedEd  with questions relevant to local practice, and links to local guidelines or formularies. It could be remixed using Mozilla Popcorn maker in an infinte number of ways. And the remix could be remixed again by other local colleges or by students. We are not talking here about people sharing content through MOOCs which  often aren't really very open at all, though of course there are exceptions! .

4. What can OER replace? If lectures (like textbooks) were about information transmission then OER selected (and remixed) for local relevance might replace them. And do a better job. But I can't see why teachers will be replaced.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion so far. What other questions should be be asking about OER and do you have any different answers to those I have asked above?


  1. Hi Anne Marie, I think we established that the word "replace" is a bit controversial here, hence why all the twittering :D

    The first tweet in the thread asked if FOAMEd should be incorporated into uni degrees, then, if I'm not mistaking, there were at least two main concerns - either of them suggesting that we should not use OERs but making quite fair observations - with which I agree.

    1) The use of free resources shouldn't prevent teachers to create *personal* resources, teaching material that is embedded in the particular curriculum and context, and created for a particular group of students. So I guess the difference here is similar to that between meaningful content curation and a sterile curation, not adding any value to the content.

    2) Free, open access resources will never replace other content or teachers - rather, they can be used to add value, to help repurposing or redeveloping existing resources, to signpost educators towards a fresh look into topics they already master, so that they can hopefully introduce new, alternative ways to teach them.

    I see the use of FOAMEd - by educators and students - as embedded in an iterative, creative cycle driven by good pedagogy and signposted by learning goals. It shouldn't be a threat to local practice if used in this way, but I guess this is up to the educators' personal and professional ethic.

  2. Hi Anne Marie,

    Interesting questions. My thoughts on the payment issue are pretty pragmatic (philosophically I live in a dream world where all education is and should be free of all costs for students). But since that isn't happening anytime soon, we can use OER to reduce the cost of course materials to $0 for students, which is a perfectly achievable goal. As to whether or not it is acceptable for students to pay for a course built on OER, this assumes that a course is nothing but content when, in fact, a course is made up of much more than just the content. There is work done in scaffolding the content, presenting it in a way that makes sense to the learner, creating assesments, designing the entire experience. A course is more than a collection of resources (OER or not), so when the course is framed like that, you can build a justification for charging students for courses built on OER. The perspective of the person who built the content is a bit more of a nuanced discussion as (in my experience) ecery person who creates and releases OER material has a vision or an expectation of how that material would be used. The problems arise when the material is not used in the manner that have built up in their mental model of how their content would be used, and then the discomfort. Part of this could be addressed by better understanding of the different flavours of open licenses before releasing your content openly as the restrictions on reuse can be granularity adjusted (and there are open license options beyond Creative Commons that may be more acceptable or suitable for some).

    For question #2 - very unlikely that we will find "the best" anything because "the best" is subjective and fluid, which is why open licenses are so important. If we find "good" or even "ok, but needs work", is there a license (and increasingly a technical format that can be reworked) to make it "best for me and my teaching circumstance".

    #3 a threat to local pedagogical practice. I agree with you that it is a local threat since content always needs context to make it a learning object, and very often that context is provided locally.

    #4 what can OER replace? Any resource in a course that costs money or cannot be modified is the clinical answer. A lecture being replaced by an OER could happen if, say, a lecturer decides to replace his lecture with a chapter reading from an open textbook. But that implies that a lecture is *only* for the transmission of information from lecturer to learner, and with a good lecturer that is not the case. A good lecturer also delivers passion and enthusiasm for their subject and often times this is really at the heart of a good lecture - some kind of emotional connection to the content. So, lecture a content delivery could easily be replaced by OER. Lecture a pedagogical device - well, not so easy to replace the passion of a live person in front of you with a book reading.

  3. Patrick Naughton-Doe23 September 2014 at 21:18

    I think a creative commons approach in which authors of free content enable their work to be reused within a sensible framework seems to make sense. The open access element of #FOAMed is vulnerable to exploitation but this makes an ideal opportunity for commercial organisations to model good practice to their students when using such material in their teaching.

  4. Ps: I meant to write "neither of them", not "either"!

  5. "Complement" rather than "replace". The framework for knowledge and the analytical skills of medical students need to be be built first and then a whole range of "OERs" could be used.

    In the old days we used to call "open educational resources" the marvellous, and willing patients on the wards. OERs would do best to focus on making the most of patients willing to give their consent for others to learn (such as the heart failure example you gave Anne Marie). They can also take advantage of those highly skilled tutors that can explain concepts with a couple of pictures or words. This would accelerate 'experience'.

    I suppose this touches on what we've tried to do with BMJ Case Reports. http://blogs.bmj.com/case-reports/2008/11/14/what-shall-we-do-with-case-reports/

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