Open Educational Resources (OERs) can be the key to unlocking deeper learning and higher levels of educational attainment in resource poor, economically disadvantaged regions. The key however, lies in our reconceptualisation of access and equity as well as a reinterpretation of the concept of quality in education.
As an adult learner, my academic career has spanned several decades. This career however, has consistently been marked by inaccessible, institution-bound repositories and exorbitant costs associated with textbooks and other resource material. I therefore believed for a very long time that higher education was reserved for a “select few ” - those wealthy and set apart. Set apart because they are able to leverage cutting edge, untapped, and perhaps “secret” stores of information. Set apart because only they could afford access to a certain institutions and therefore a certain quality of information. So while I have always pursued various avenues for academic advancement, there was admittedly, an elitist perception of this kind of personal and professional path.
I believe that successful completion of my EdD has the potential to position me as a change agent in my field. My doctoral programme is an awesome opportunity to expand my horizons as both a student and as a practitioner. I expect that at the end of it I will be well-positioned to implement meaningful change. One such change, would be a shift in mindset regarding access to educational resources.
As I progress through my current course of study, perhaps one of the most amazing concepts which I have encountered is that of Open Educational Resources (OERs). My exposure to OER has been extremely exciting but also quite sobering. OERs are fundamentally juxtaposed to my admittedly elitist conception of doctoral studies. This unfolding world of OER is truly expanding my horizons as it calls on me to re-vision, in the first instance - my narrow conceptions of rigour; and secondly, my professional and personal philosophies.
Firstly, I am now more keenly aware that free does not equate to sub-standard. As I am making my maiden explorations into the shared intellectual common and resource pools such as MERLOT, OER Commons, Lumen Learning and others, I am recognising that these “teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain…” (Bliss & Smith, 2017, p.12) can in fact be used extensively to support teacher training and my own professional practice of curriculum monitoring.
So as OERs enter their 18th year of (formalised) existence, perhaps I too am now entering my professional adulthood. I am maturing more significantly in my conceptions of what rigorous academic materials can look like and where they can be found. OERs are now indispensable tools in my arsenal as I seek to impact meaningful change as an educational leader.
Additionally, while I am still a bit skeptical about potential copyright infringements, these resources have been shown to have a positive impact on teachers and students alike. They have been proven to be more readily updateable and therefore more contemporary; peer reviewed and therefore of high academic quality and customisable so therefore more relevant to diverse teaching and learning contexts (NurseKillam, 2017 & Gosa, 2019). Further to which, Hilton (2016) in his meta analysis has substantiated that “students and faculty members generally find that OER are comparable in quality to traditional learning resources, and that the use of OER does not appear to negatively influence student learning” (p. 588). The in-service teachers with whom I interact, can therefore be exposed to relevant, high-quality material at no cost. These resources can be readily implemented in their classroom practice to quickly improve student outcomes.
The Road to Recovery
At no point in my professional or academic career has the human rights themes of equity, access and transparency been brought so sharply into practical focus as they have now. I can see how my cultural context is one which has indoctrinated me into a traditionalist and quite elitist approach to education. The duplicitous power construct within which my professional career evolved said to me on the one hand, that yes - education is for all, but on the other hand, the reality was (and perhaps still is) that our educational structures are designed to systematically ‘sift’ out the brightest and the best to advance them through the educational hierarchy.
I see now where, as a classroom teacher for example, I was guilty of demanding that students purchase several required textbooks (especially when schemes like government-assisted book rental systems failed). At the time I believed this demand was reasonable since it was necessary to expose my students to ‘scholarly work’ rather than the ‘pedestrian’ internet sources to which they gravitated. Later on in my career I would also not be inclined to share my powerpoint presentations at workshops for fear that the material, which I worked so hard to produce (and sometimes had to pay for), would be copied or reproduced without my permission. All of this now begs the question - was I being more of a “barrier to education” (Biswas-Denier & Jhangiani, 2017, p.4) than I was a support for all learners?
Ultimately, I am now forced to think even more carefully and seriously about my post-colonial, capitalist/Marxist, sage-on-the-stage predispositions. As I too become more exposed, I have an ethical and moral responsibility to expose those with whom I work. OERs are available for all. It is not my secret to keep. I am therefore championing the cause of equity and access. I am constantly seeking new sources to access quality OER; incorporate more OER into my professional presentations, and share them with teachers so that they and all students in my educational district (and beyond) can benefit. I now stand ready to embrace my roles as content-creator, reviser, remixer and ultimately redistributor so that education is truly for all!
Bliss, T J and Smith, M. (2017). A Brief History of Open Educational Resources. In: Jhangiani, R S and Biswas-Diener, R. (eds.) Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. Pp. 9–27. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bbc.b. License: CC-BY 4.0
Biswas-Diener, R and Jhangiani, R S. (2017). Introduction to Open. In: Jhangiani, R S and Biswas-Diener, R. (eds.) Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. Pp. 3–7. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bbc.a. License: CC-BY 4.0
Gosa, K. (2019, February 10). OER | Katie Gosa | TEDxUTA. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUgqdSOD9bg&list=PL5pMgHL06vdyWoWVNXFnIwWA0Zsnz4It-&index=4
Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4), 573–590. doi: 10.1007/s11423-016-9434-9
NurseKillam. (2017, November 6). How Open Educational Resources OER can change education forever! Why I love OER.[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FBkJ09whE4&list=PL5pMgHL06vdyWoWVNXFnIwWA0Zsnz4It-&index=2