Open and shut

neon sign saying "Sorry, we're open."

Sorry, we’re open CC BY-SA 2009 tara hunt

When we talk about open in terms of OER, we usually define it by the 5 Rs. That works well enough, but I think there are nuances of open that are worth considering. I tend to use a door metaphor, as in it can be open just a crack or wide open. But even a closed door may be penetrable by an ant or a spider, and a wide-open door can still present a barrier to an elephant. The point is there is a spectrum of openness, and it’s never really perfect on either end.

from UNESCO’s Open educational resources competency framework OER

That’s worth thinking about when it comes to creating OER. How open do we want it to be? The CC license confers a level of legal openness, but if we want something to be reusable and remixable, a technical level of openness is necessary too. An Articulate Storyline presentation with a CC license might be free, but someone would need access to source files, an expensive software license and some esoteric skills to adapt or modify it. The UNESCO framework above hints at the issue.  It also mention the resource lifecycle. Who keeps an OER up-to-date? Who is empowered to?

Adaptability was something we discussed when I was on the ACRL PRIMO committee. We considered it ideal for instructional materials to be adaptable, but in many cases there were technical barriers that meant one would have to rebuild a project from the ground up in order to make any changes.

I thought of this as I read Dr. Tannis Morgan’s blog post, Open infrastructure and open education practices. Do we have and use systems and infrastructure that supports openness? Also, what trade-offs do we make? When we were adapting the Copyright Card Game, we briefly considered using open source software, so the cards could be modified with no monetary cost. But that would create barriers too. You’d need to download, install, and learn how to use the software. We decided to use MS Publisher instead, figuring the tool was readily available and fairly intuitive to most of our target audience, even if it is proprietary software.

Morgan notes that Pressbooks gives BCCampus the infrastructure to create open textbooks, which is great. A few years back I was interested in adapting a Pressbooks text for local use, and found that there was an annual license fee, which an institution might afford but not an individual like me. Fortunately the text was short enough that I could copy and paste and reformat in LibGuides. But now its existence is dependent on us maintaining our subscription.

This has been a bit of a ramble. I think the point I’m trying to make is that even though free and open textbooks have an appeal, they’re not really free and open is not as simple as it may seem.

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