Some Q's of import:
How can you build a sustainable business around giving away educational materials?
I think the first thing to consider is that "sustainable" can have a lot of different meanings in the educational context. It can mean: a) not going into the red financially b) continually having people visit and learn from your ed materials c) continually building materials on your site for yourself d) continually having others contribute new material to your site. Wiley's definition of sustainability encompasses all three of these meanings individually and in combination:
sustainability will be defined as an open educational resource project’s ongoing ability to meet its goals.The articles for this week show that the purpose of Open Education Resources can vary on these definitions - just as they vary in the purpose of their educational materials. For Carnegie Mellon U, which has very costly development, the purpose seems to be to educate its own 1st year University students in a better manner - and avoid the large "101" lectures. For them, sustainability might mean continually having their own students learn - and whoever else learns from them is just public good. Wiley compared three different OER sites that were premised on very different ideas. MIT, being costly, centrally controlled with all courses online to varying degrees; USU at half the cost, with little control, but lots of courses; and Rice Connexions, with almost no control and almost no direct costs, but the possibilty of lots of other people inputing into the courses/creating modules, etc. He points out that sustainability will mean different things to each group, as their goals are different!
One of the key components of being sustainable financially, however, is being able to harness the vast amount of "spare time" that people have. Benkler makes a great point about how this has been harnessed successfully by breaking tasks into smaller pieces - so one person is only responsible for one page, or one lesson, instead of the whole course/book/textbook/novel. This works better in some areas than in others - so it is likely easier to piece together a translation and an encyclopedia than it is a textbook. Of course, if you had a "Master" develop the template for the textbook, and then break it into smaller pieces for others to do in their spare time, it might be more successful.
Downes and Wiley both offer several suggestions of funding models etc. for OER. I can see how each model could be useful depending on the goals of the organizaiton - but that there is likely not one strict model. I'd like to know if others think that one model is better or worse than the others.
How can you build a sustainable business model around giving away credentialed degrees?
Why would we want to offer free credentialized degrees, unless those free degrees were essentially paid for by the taxpayers funding a public university? What are the benefits of this? How does "giving away degrees" interact with notions of quality? I mean, we have a hard enough time getting quality OER that aren't accredited. How much harder would it be to ensure the quality of a credentialized degree? Without such quality checks, would our degrees become meaningless??
As a student in debt, I really would love paying less for a quality degree. But then again, this already exists - I just have to learn German and move to Germany and I'd get not only a credentialed degree for free, I'd also get access to profs.
And if one argues that Uni's wouldn't make any money using the German model (even though society benefits hugely, including the German economy on the whole) - I think it's only fair to question why should Universities be in the business of making money?!?! Why have we chosen this social model, given how important education facilities are in our societies. As far as I know, this is a more recent trend - as compared to the past. If we are so concerned in OER about contributing to the common good, then one really should think about the common good in other areas, such as through traditional educaiton facilities.
Should governments fund open education?
Yes, governments should!! It is a public good!! Just as they should fund K-12 schools and universities. Really, it is the taxpayer that is funding these things. Education is well known as the "great equalizer" - i.e. a way to give all people in society an equal footing. Although this often doesn't happen in practice, given that richer areas always find ways to subsidize their schools, and richer people can send their kids to private schools, or after school tutoring, or piano/dance/art lessons which expand their creativity and knowledge and confidence. However, countries that do a better job of publicly funding their education seem to do a better job of reducing the rich and poor gap.
I think that this potential for equalization is even greater for open education, as our societies become more technologically savvy (Many poor kids in Canada still don't have frequent access to a computer, meaning that even if OER are available, they can't access them. But 100 years ago only rich houses had telephones, which are now ubiquitous, so I can hope the same will happen for computer access.)
Do governments already fund OER?
Well, Canada's SchoolNet and some United Nations programmes, described by Downes is one example of a government funded open education project - but how much it really is a OER? I don't know. And what other government initiatives are there? If you know of others, enlighten me!!