the author is interested in receiving royalties). And of course the content is also
available for free on the Connexions
Web site, which will keep the commercial costs from rising above what the
value added justifies.
Roadblocks on the horizon?
While the OER movement is rapidly
gaining speed, there are a number of
potential roadblocks that must be carefully navigated for it to prosper.
Technology fragmentation. If the OER
community does not adopt common
or compatible content and repository
standards, then it risks fragmenting the
movement into a number of isolated islands of incompatible content. This will
unfortunately discourage global collaboration, reduce the overall economy of
scale of the enterprise, and thus devalue
any financial sustaining opportunities.
We must pay attention to the lessons
learned by groups like the World Wide
Web Consortium and its standardization and maintenance of the HTML and
Intellectual property fragmentation.
Just as with open source software, there
are a number of copyright licenses that
can be applied to OERs. These various
licenses present a number of compatibility issues. For instance, there is currently a debate regarding whether open
materials should or should not be commercially usable. Licensing that renders
open materials only noncommercially
useable promises to protect contributors from potentially unfair commercial
exploitation. A noncommercial license,
however, not only limits the spread of
knowledge by complicating the production of paper books, e-books, CDs and
DVDs, but also cuts off potential future
revenues that might sustain non-profit
OER enterprises in the future. Interestingly, such an anticommercial stance
is contrary to that of the more established open source software world,
which greatly benefits from commercial
involvement. Where would Linux and
Apache be without the value-adding
contributions of for-profit companies
like Red Hat and IBM, for instance?
Quality control. How can OERs produced in a grass-roots fashion, by people
with varying skill levels and degrees, for
widely varied reasons, be adequately vetted for quality? The anxieties frequently
aired about projects like Wikipedia
oeRs have the
potential to aid in
of the world of
and other open-authorship projects
suggest they are threatened by the proliferation of massive amounts of low-quality material that might swamp the
information environment and prove
impossible to navigate. Traditional
publishers, as well as institution-based
OER projects like MIT OpenCourse-Ware, employ a careful internal review
process before their content is made
publicly available. However, such a prepublication review cannot scale to keep
up with the fast pace of community-based OER development, where materials may change daily or even hourly.
Accept/reject decisions also create an
exclusive rather than inclusive community culture. And finally, prereview does
not support evaluation of modules and
courses based on actual student learning outcomes. Some promising steps
are being made in this direction. In
one, Connexions recently rolled out
a system of post-publication “lenses”
that are open to an arbitrary number of
third-party reviewers and editorial bodies. Several universities, companies,
and professional societies are currently
reviewing content for their lenses (see
Success models. While the advantages
of remixing and reusing educational
content are readily apparent (and while
authors already consciously and unconsciously remix ideas from myriad
different sources as they compose), we
need more OER success models to build
upon. We surmise that the lack of a
large number of models is due in a large
part to technological barriers (which
are gradually being overcome) and in a
lesser part to several hundred years of
academic community dynamics (which
are being addressed by community-organized OER projects like the IEEE’s
Our experience with OERs over the past
eight years has convinced us that the
movement has real potential to enable
a revolutionary advancement of the
world’s standard of education at all levels. Moreover, as it grows and spreads,
the movement will have a large impact
on the academic world itself. It promises to disintermediate the scholarly
publishing industry, in the process rendering some current business models
unviable and inventing new viable ones.
It will also change the way we conceive
of and pursue authorship, teaching,
peer review, promotion, and tenure.
And by encouraging contributions from
anyone, anywhere, OERs have the potential to aid in the democratization of
the world of knowledge.
A concerted effort from the community of authors, instructors, students,
and software developers (that is, by
you) will enable the OER movement to
surmount the challenges on the road
to these goals. Fortunately, it’s easy to
get involved: become an author for an
OER project on your favorite topic; contribute your out-of-print work so others
can build on it and keep it alive; adopt
or remix an open textbook for your next
course; start or participate in an OER
quality review program; or translate an
OER into a new language. Together, we
can change the way the world develops,
disseminates, and uses knowledge.
1. Baraniuk, R.G. Challenges and opportunities for the
open education movement: A Connexions case study.
Chapter in Opening Up Education: The Collective
Advancement of Education through Open Technology,
Open Content, and Open Knowledge, MIT Press, 2008.
2. “‘Bookless’ textbook study launched at Foothill,” Palo
Alto Online (May 5, 2008).
3. Breck, J. Editor of the special edition on open
education in Educational Technology 47 (Nov.–Dec.
2007), 3–5; C. Sidney Burrus, “Connexions: An Open
Educational Resource for the 21st Century,” 19–23;
Stephen Carson, “The OpenCourse Ware Model: High-Impact Open Educational Content,” 23–26.
4. Kelty, C. M. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free
Software. Duke University Press, 2008.
5. Kelty, C.M., Burrus, C.S., and Baraniuk, R.G. Peer
review anew: Three principles and a case study in
postpublication quality assurance. In Proceedings of
the IEEE 96, 6 (June 2008).
Richard Baraniuk ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Victor E.
Cameron Professor in the Electrical and Computer
Engineering department at Rice University in Houston, TX.
C. Sidney Burrus ( email@example.com) is the Maxfield &
Oshman Professor Emeritus of Engineering in the
Electrical and Computer Engineering department at Rice
University in Houston, TX.
The authors and Connexions are supported by the William
and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the U.S. National Science
Foundation, and Rice University.