Saturday, September 8, 2007

Week 2: OECD - Getting Knowledge for Free - just some thoughts

Reading over this week's blog, I keep coming back to the idea of WHO is OER currently focused on - and it seems to be more about the creators than the end-users/learners (but then again, it could be just this article)...For those who happened upon this site, this is a response to the article, the OECD's : Giving Knowledge for Free - the Emergence of Open Ed Resources. It had never occurred to me the liberating possibilities of Open Education...and I'm now more glad to have 'opened' up this field a bit.

The article appears to be biased towards an economic perspective of the possibilities of Open Education Resources (OER) - this is only to be expected by an organization like the OECD, as it is part of its mandate. Copyright, in particular, seemed to be a focus - although this may be just because I don't know much about the field yet. Perhaps copyright is the biggest issue out there on OER? It certainly would be the biggest for the creators of OER.

What I find fascinating about the OECD article is the connection that they implicitly draw between free and accessible OER and the possibility of future growth. I agree with my colleague, Jessie that OER focuses generally on the English speaking richer countries (particularly OECD countries), even though the OECD article documents that some other countries are trying OER initiatives). I had addressed this geographic at the end of my last blog.

The article mentions “The 4 A’s – accessible, appropriate, accredited, affordable” (Daniel, 2006, in OECD). These are great ideas, but it must be questioned, the 4 A's for WHOM??? The article mentions (p. 47) that not much is known about the end user. I think that without actively trying to create more equity for OER access in other countries, OER is more likely to be used as a tool to further the digital divide, than to help address it. As well, until the end user is taken into account, the issues that OER revolves around will be around its creators (profs, businesses, etc.), such as copyright. How can one focus on "learning", not "education", as the article suggests, if one does not know anything about the learner?

I was happy that the OECD article pointed out that OER can lead to a greater access of informal knowledge. Academia has tended to play down these other sources of knowledge (including experiential knowledge, which OECD does not mention), as if they aren't important or valid. Perhaps Open Ed, by freeing up formal knowledge, will more closely align formal and informal knowledge - legitimating both, and bringing some areas of academia closer in line with everyday challenges and issues.

Perhaps OER also offers a way to bring some responsibility for learning back into the education system. At a recent PhD graduation party, one friend commented, "Profs have tenure on the basis of their expertise - assuming that being an expert gives you the right to know better than your students." And for this reason, profs can get away with a heck of a lot.

In the striving to become an expert, the very act also privileges one's knowledge - and there's a heck of a lot of power that comes with that privileging (I think Foucault has said this) . In a sense, it can de-legitimate others' views, such as where students feel silenced. Open Ed, in contrast, maybe allows the possibility of giving a little more voice to those with less power. It was difficult, last week, for me to post the first week's response, because it was the first time I'd ever openly shared a work in progress - not the final product of a published material, but thoughts in the making. And yet, this is what profs do all the time - in their lectures, talks with students, open debates. Open Ed certainly offers the possibility of having your voice heard - and it seems to be an iterative process - the more you have your voice heard, the more you feel okay making your voice heard. Very empowering.

I hand in my final Masters Thesis this coming Friday, so I'll stop here, to go do revisions there. I'll address this article more fully next week, when I have another to compare it to - to get more of a sense of what is truly being written in the field. Wish me luck on my final push for this thesis!

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