Wednesday, April 19, 2017

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 6

The business models of providing open educational resources are evolving. Now we have an example of two for-profit companies taking profits from the process of providing 'free' OER learning materials to students. This week Follett joined Lumen as a 'distributor' of 'free' OER learning materials. I've had an ongoing debate with David Wiley on this topic. Here's a link to previous posts, David is the open-education visionary who along with education-technology strategist, Kim Thanos, founded Lumen Learning. Lumen Learning is a for-profit company so it needs to make money in order to continue to exist. Open educational resources (OER) are by definition free, so that's a problem for a company that needs to make money and wants to be involved with OER.

David and Lumen solved this problem by creating some stuff to sell 'around' (that's the preposition David used on Twitter yesterday) the OER content they provide for free. They sell stuff wrapped around the free OER; it's like a package. The words on the page are free, you just need to pay for the paper that the words are printed on. Or, the OER stories are free, you just need to pay for the quiz at the end of the story. Or, all of the math problems are free, you just need to pay if you want the software to score the quiz. If a teacher wants to know how students are doing in this course, students are required to pay a fee, but the content is free.

It's 2017;  we have learning management systems that can house that free OER and provide all of the things described as added values in the Lumen model. A learning management system (LMS) allows faculty to create any kind of in situ assessment they want to create. An LMS has analytics to gauge where students are in the learning journey. All of the 'packaging' is available in an LMS. All of the 'added value' for which Lumen is charging recurring fees could be included in the free OER license if Lumen and now Follett, too, didn't need to make a profit.

 Most institutions are finding it impractical to host their own learning management systems these days, and many of even the larger institutions are choosing to hire out the management of their learning management systems. But, the $10-$25 per course per student that Lumen-Follett is collecting to provide the 'packaging' for free OER courses is a steep price.  Students at institutions that aren't ready to have their faculties manage the 'packaging' of the OER still save money, but it's doubtful that faculty that might want to manage even some of the things for which Lumen-Follet are collecting fees understand that it's Lumen-Follett's choice to not include more of the 'packaging' with the free OER license. The 'packaging,' however, is essential to good open educational practice and not really 'packaging' or 'added value;' it's essential value.

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