A special section featuring OER insiders’ thoughts on the biggest changes, developments, and opportunities expected in 2017
The coming year may be consequential for public education generally and for open educational resources champions specifically. As education policy decision-making shifts increasingly to states and school districts – both as a result of passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the transition to nearly complete Republican control of federal policy levers – the open educational resources community must act strategically to build on existing OER-friendly federal policies and state and district trends. ESSA’s greater flexibility, and express OER provisions, offer state leaders key opportunities to make encourage OER development and use by their schools, including through direct investments, such as the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program, but also general provisions like the law’s critically important needs assessment requirements for consistently underperforming schools. These provisions offer an opportunity for OER leaders to work with state chiefs, school superintendents, principals, educators and other stakeholders to make OER a meaningful part of instruction, enrichment, and school turn around practices.
OER champions should not, however, overlook Congress and the new administration. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Foxx plan to focus their panels’ work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. HEA offers direct opportunities to further long sought relief for students burdened by text books cost, as well as a chance to ensure teacher preparation and induction programs build new educators’ capacities to develop and use OER. Longstanding OER champions, including Senator Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Polis (D-CO) will likely continue the work they started in 2016 to ensure the next Perkins Career and Technical Education Act provides support for OER initiatives. OER leaders should also be prepared to educate the U.S. Department of Education’s leadership about OER’s advantages. The new Secretary and her team will be closely involved with Congress’s work to reauthorize both the HEA and Perkins CTE, so the community needs to take steps to ensure they understand how OER can help strengthen and improve federal law for the nation’s students.
Issues around Digital Rights Management (DRM) or digital locks will become increasingly apparent this year as people become more aware of the serious consequences of allowing companies to control their devices and other products. Customers no longer own and control their purchases, because their computers and other devices are now being supervised and limited by the software vendors. For educators, with the growing acceptance of E-textbooks, this has become problematic as the students and teachers who use them are having their devices shackled by DRM. Students using E-texts are limited by DRM to use their devices only in ways that the copyright owners deem acceptable. Students and teachers may not be able to access, share, move, reformat, copy, paste etc. etc. or otherwise make use of the content in any way not sanctioned by the publishers.
With DRM, we no longer own our purchases. We cannot use our iPhones, tablets and other devices without permitting companies to intrude and control them. As David Wiley has noted “You buy but you don’t get.” This is a new concept. In the past anyone who bought a hammer would not allow the producers to control how they use it. And, as computers become ubiquitous, this control becomes more and more invasive and in fact dangerous, when we think of self-driving cars, tractors, trucks, appliances and even medical devices, any of which can be controlled not by the purchase but by the copyright owner or, can be hacked and controlled by others. DRM is one of the best reasons for educators to stop using commercial E-texts and focus on using, adapting and sharing Open Educational Resources.
In 2017 CCSSO will continue to support #GoOpen states in meeting their commitments and will continue to support all states interested in the adoption and implementation of OER. I personally predict additional interest from states beyond the current cohort of 19 states and CCSSO is working on improving the search and discovery of resources via common metadata tagging and support for the Learning Registry. In 2017 I also predict greater coordination between states and districts around OER.
Reynolds Community College was the recipient of two Virginia Community College System OER grants between 2014-2016, so the biggest challenge for our college specifically is looking for ways to continue to develop OER sections of courses and train faculty to teach these sections without the incentive of grant money that has underwritten this development in the past. In doing so, we need to revise our approach to OER training, which has been patterned after faculty training for online teaching and normally requires a multi-week training course. Online teaching has built-in incentives for faculty such as the time saved in teaching hours; these benefits mean that faculty are willing to undergo this training in exchange for the advantages of online teaching. A similar advantage does not exist for the teaching of OER sections, so any training program based on the online training model proves to be a barrier to OER faculty training. This is why Reynolds has dramatically streamlined its OER training, focusing on the creation of OER repositories for specific courses that faculty are then trained to teach in 90-minute training sessions. Working with program heads that oversee specific disciplines, we have been able to create OER repositories for approximately 20 high enrollment courses and we have begun training and credentialing full-time and adjunct faculty to teach those OER sections. This will enable us to rapidly accelerate the rate at which we offer OER sections increasing student access to OER and thus greater savings.
In addition, the definition of OER needs to be explored. Reynolds distinguishes between OER per se and an OER section, which includes OER as well as linked out copyrighted material and college library holdings. Some in the OER movement have resisted incorporating these copyrighted materials into OER sections. Without these materials, faculty would need to create course materials from scratch, a prohibitive process for many faculty, especially community college faculty who are already teaching 10 courses a year. In addition, some courses, particularly those in the humanities, incorporate artifacts that are a required component of the course – literature, music, and art – that are under copyright protection, so there needs to be a way to expand the definition of OER to permit copyrighted materials, which the librarians I have worked with in both four- and two-year colleges see as an opportunity to promote holdings colleges have already paid for but which have long been under-utilized.
Higher education is facing a period of transformation that has the potential to be unlike anything experienced in the modern era. The long held belief that college is a privilege is being questioned by a generation of young adults seeking the opportunities of previous generations. The assertion that a college education is a right, and as such should be made available and affordable to all citizens, has certainly benefitted from the open movement. Proposals for tuition free public colleges and universities and student loan forgiveness would be far less credible or possible without the growth and acceptance of OER. As the higher education picture becomes more clear in 2017, so too will the impact of openly licensed digital content on the future of teaching and learning.
I anticipate a dramatic increase in the creation, adoption, and use of open textbooks and other OER as course materials at the university level. Open textbooks and course materials have been promoted and used in individual institutions and higher education systems, but not in a ubiquitous way. In 2017, I see the use of open textbooks and course materials becoming a common and standard approach for universities, particularly public universities. Open textbooks and other open course materials will increasingly be used to support institutional goals and strategic initiatives, especially in support of student success and student retention. And their use will also be recognized as an important way to reduce student costs and increase educational affordability.
While the pedagogical advantages of using open textbooks and course materials will continue to be a large reason for faculty to use OER in their courses, the use of open textbooks and OER in the context of student affordability will become a major focus in 2017. The impact of open textbooks and course materials on affordability resonates not only with students, but also with a wide range of other important university stakeholders. Among them are Presidents, Provosts, and other campus administrators: boards of trustees; parents; legislators; higher education organizations; and alumni and donors. In the context of rising student debt, decreased public support for education, and seemingly every-increasing tuition levels, open textbooks and course materials are perceived as a positive, attractive, and eminently feasible way to make higher education more affordable.
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Digest authors.