After a two-week hiatus, I’d like to start an open-facing research project – an attempt to pull together some narratives around Open, OER, and the business of it all. I’d really encourage using the comments here – I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know many people are thinking about this – so please don’t expect anything new. This is a cry for help from an often ignorant student.
Robin DeRosa came to Davidson a couple of weeks ago and gave this marvelous presentation entitled #OpenUnbound (see it here on Vimeo). She moved powerfully from a basic definition of Creative Common’s licensing on Open Educational Resources (OER) – how her students created a textbook with her – to a theoretical framework for open pedagogy, rising out of that open textbook creation.
In her recent post on the subject, she talks about how the open textbook worked both economically and pedagogically. The creation of the textbook engendered curiosity:
The open textbook allowed for student contribution to the “master text” of the course, which seemed to change the whole dynamic of the course from a banking model (I download info from the textbook into their brains) to an inquiry-based model (they converse with me and with the text, altering both my thinking and the text itself with their contributions).
What began as a project to save money turned into a radical pedagogical act. Definitely read that post. But she finishes with a couple of key acknowledgements:
If OER is free, what hidden costs exist in using it that still hinder student access to education? For example, at my institution, 94% of students come to school with a laptop, which mostly means that my university wasn’t too worried about providing laptops for students because (as one colleague told me) “they all have them.” But all meant that in my 25-student classes, there were regularly 1-2 student(s) who didn’t have a machine…
(she expounds further)
If OER is free, what hidden costs exist in its production? Making these textbooks is taking me a chunk of time in the off-season. Thanks to my salaried position, I feel ok about putting in the overtime, but it’s a privilege my colleagues who teach under year-to-year part-time non-contracts can’t afford. Who should be funding OER creation? Institutions? Students? For-profit start-ups? How will you invest time in this project without obscuring the true costs of academic labor?
Which is to say, OER carries it’s own ideological assumptions around time, labor, and privilege. Open is available to those who can create for free. Open is available to those who have the time and money, laptop and wifi, to sit down on a Wednesday morning and crank out a blog post. What does this mean?
In that second expounding, she asks the question – “Who should be funding OER creation?” – cause that’s the real question. And she includes “for-profit start-ups.” But I’m curious about this OER creation – because it could mean a slew of different things.
If “growing your own food” (as Alan Levine posted in the comments) is the powerful pedagogical experience – you really just need the raw, disconnected “content” in order to organize it into a distinctive narrative under the guidance of a mentor. In her class, this “content” was a great collection of public domain writing. Her students then organized it into a collection that other students could then theoretically use as a traditional textbook.
So the question becomes: are the seeds/tools/fertilizer in the open? Is that the available OER – so the libraries of unpublic critical texts, the laptops/wifi’s, the other content – is that in the open? What resources need to be available for the students to create the “textbook”?
But then secondly, when students create a that textbook, that product, (however open it may be) in the classroom, what happens when a third party comes in and reuses/remixes/reconfigures for commercial purpose that don’t include the radical pedagogy?
Which brings me to Knewton and OpenStax
After Robin’s talk (which prompted all of these wonderful questions), I read about an OpenStax and Knewton Partnership. And I was curious. I didn’t know much about Knewton or anything about OpenStax.
But I’m fascinated by the way this answers the above question: who pays for OER?
What appears to be happening (and I need to get on the phone with OpenStax) is that Knewton is planning to adaptivize their OER library. See their about page:
OpenStax is a nonprofit based at Rice University, and it’s our mission to improve student access to education. Our first open source college textbook was published in 2012 and has since scaled to more than 20 books used by hundreds of thousands of students across the globe. Our adaptive learning technology, designed to improve learning outcomes through personalized educational paths, are currently being piloted for K-12 and college. The OpenStax mission is made possible through the generous support of philanthropic foundations. Through these partnerships and our alliance with other educational resource companies, OpenStax is breaking down the most common barriers to learning and empowering students and instructors to succeed.
So – Knewton (presumably) gives them money in their ‘alliance’ and then adaptivizes their OER, (presumably) using it in their own black-box platform, which has a whole array of problems. In this Chronicle Article (which I can’t access) that was for educational purposes copied into this Harvard’s Classics oddity of a post from February, George Siemens and Candace Thille offer some insights:
The proprietary “black boxes” are the algorithms that might automatically serve up, say, an extra lesson on quadratic equations when a student’s responses to a quiz indicate that she didn’t quite grasp the concept. Every algorithm, and every decision about what data it will weigh, is also ultimately a pedagogical judgment call. For the companies selling adaptive software, “that’s where the gold is,” says Ms. Thille.
Further in the piece, George Siemens speaks of Knewton’s proprietary black-box algorithm:
“They make very bold claims, but they aren’t involved in the research community at all. That means we can’t validate their algorithms. We can’t validate the results that they say they’re getting,” he says. “That’s a system that doesn’t serve the future of education well at all.”
Ok. So I don’t get the Learning Analytics field at all. Probably a next project.
But. OpenStax (with their OER) partnering with Knewton and their adaptive platform has me wondering where the connections that happen in Robin’s Open Pedagogy can occur?
Especially cause back in 2015 Knewton let slip that 90 percent of Robot Tutor in the Sky is OER.
Conclusion for now
So, does the black-box algorithm that feeds off even the student’s cc licensed open textbook mean that their labor could turn into commercial gain? And what does that mean for learners?
What happens when the product of a radical classroom turns into the content feeding an algorithm?
What happens when an entire industry is being built around volunteer and nonprofit labor?
I’ll continue this later.
- Robin’s Davidson Talk on Vimeo
- Robin’s post – Open Pedagogy and Practice
- Robin’s Go-to OER resources
- 90 percent of Robot Tutor in the Sky is OER
- OpenStax and Knewton Partner
- OER and the Future of Publishing with Jose Ferreira
- The Consensus Around “Open”
- The Future of Education Isn’t Free. It’s Open.