There is much fear and doubt about how open educational resources (MOOCs, open textbooks, and much much more) will affect the ability of institutions of higher learning to maintain enrollment. Specifically, will the expansion of MOOCs directly impact the ability for universities to attract students? Will colleges and universities be forced to work with ever-shrinking budgets (gulp) as a result of lower enrollment in face-to-face courses? If you’re interested in this at all, it’s worth a couple minutes to glance at the comments to this blog post. Jonathan Rees (history professor at CSU) and Stephen Downes (co-inventor of the original MOOC) both offered some interesting points, but I tend to side with Downes’ views.
Essentially, the creation of open educational resources will improve the quality of education as a whole. Worried that someone with less education or authority on a subject will take prospective learners away from for-pay resources? Let them. The quality of their work will no doubt be examined and word will be spread. That’s the nature of this increased sharing of information via computer networking (Twitter much?). If there are clear flaws or issues with, people will hear about it.
What if they create a great free resource and attract a large following? That will be motivation for others to improve their own work, refining methods of content, organization, and delivery to improve on previous iterations. In the end, the learners will always win. And if there is the dedication to offer high quality work, again, people will know about it. And they will be drawn to it. There will be no issue attracting learners or participants to your for-pay resources, especially if you are targeting a niche population or market. The best resources and courses will rise to the top, regardless of price.
In addition to MOOCs, the idea of open textbooks has many publishers rethinking their business models. A patent was recently granted to a professor in Puerto Rico for his design of a college course system of wherein the textbook included an access code for an online discussion forum. Without having bought the textbook, and thus without an individual code to register in the online forum, students cannot receive full credit for the course. Really? While I concede that my own graduate degree program (M.Ed. 2012) was heavily focused on the use of technology, I was only required to buy a small handful of books throughout the entire 48-unit program. Many professors utilized open resources online, supplemented with research articles from our library’s scholarly journal subscriptions. This can be done with many subject areas.
To be clear, I do see that there is increased risk of increased copyright infringement when textbooks are in an electronic format, but the above patent is describes an archaic way of preserving textbook sales. When profits come at the expense of sound course design, you may wonder who really has control over your education: the instructors or the publishers?
In summary, these rapidly changing times in education are exciting to watch. The freedoms provided by the state of the internet are benefiting education in ways we are only just realizing. What are your thoughts on open educational resources and open courses? Comment below.