Wednesday, October 26, 2016

OER, Stormy Seas, Worthy Research, Sound Ideas, and Responsible Arguments

Education Next's mission statement reads,  "In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments. Bold change is needed in American K–12 education, but Education Next partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points."

That sets the stage for the piece that appeared in WINTER 2017 / VOL. 17, NO. 1 under the title, "Open Educational Resources, Is the federal government overstepping its role?" by the preeminent author Michael Q. McShane. McShane must be preeminent because he taught high school for a couple of years in a private school and he dropped a French term into both the second and third sentences - bête noire and cri de coeur. In the first sentence, he quoted Lois Griffin from Family Guy which means he's not only preeminent; he's cool.

It's too bad McShane doesn't understood open educational resources, though; he was off to such a good start. He thinks the most robust form of open educational resources is EngageNY's collection of PDFs that teachers are encouraged to print out and hand out to students to complete with pencil or pen. McShane also doesn't understand how the $17 Billion he quotes as the amount spent on textbooks could instead be paid to teachers to create the content that is used in their classrooms. He seems to think that only people paid by textbook publishers are capable of creating quality material. Here's the key to a responsible argument regarding OER - it's about license or use of the content, not about who creates the content. If a legacy textbook publisher decides to put a Creative Commons license on the book they publish in a Moodle format; it's OER. If a group of teachers get together and make a textbook and then publish it with a non-CC license; it's not OER.

I was hired last year by a venerable textbook publisher to show the publisher's software development team how to move one of their textbooks, previously a proprietary title selling for $225.00, into Moodle so that it could be eligible for California’s OER initiative. Not only did the venerable textbook publisher want to re-brand their content as OER, they wanted it available as an instance of an open source learning management system. I was happy to assist them. When I asked when they would be doing this conversion for more of their textbooks, they answered “not until the market makes us.” That, at least, is an honest answer if not a sound idea.

McShane also seems to think it's not possible to make OER that aligns with standards.  He says,  "Just how “open” can resources be if they operate within the strictures of government-regulated scope and sequences? That is, if the state sets the topics and the order in which they must be covered via prescribed standards and assessments, how much room is there for improvisation?" A scope and sequence is not the same thing as a learning activity. States prescribe standards, but they don't say what kind of learning activities or assessment, even, is required to meet a standard. The options are as many as teachers and their students can create; it's open.

I don't think McShane understands Twitter, yet, either, because he described the DoE's branding of #GoOpen as stylized. (I'd call it incorporating a Twitter hashtag.) His closing quote of McGuffey’s Third Eclectic Reader  suggests he might be stuck a century or two back.  The cold water he throws on the flames of the #GoOpen movement is justified in his mind because he thinks that proprietary textbook publishing might come back some day when OER burns out and then what would we ever do; there wouldn't be any textbook publishers to save public education by charging them $17 Billion a year. Is that a responsible argument supported by worthy research?

The folks at Stanford where Education Next is published may be hearing some stormy seas, but there's smooth paddling up here in the headwaters of open educational resources. Here, where all the women are strong and all the children are above average, OER are empowering both teachers and students and saving school districts money.

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