Friday, October 19, 2007

Week 8: Economic Models of Open Education

This week we read about the economic side of OER. It's already Friday evening, and no one has yet posted!!! I wish we had a formal system of posting our thoughts, and then posting our reactions to others at a later date - I think I'd get more out of the course. I know I could do this - but things are just to busy unless it is a requirement - waiting for life to slow...

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!!


Karen Fasimpaur said...

Hi, Meg. Wow... I really agree with your thoughts about the timing of posting and commenting. I find that I like to do my own post first and then go read everyone else's thoughts, reflect, and comment. With the volume of reading (not to mention our "real" jobs and other life activities), it's hard to do this all in a week. I would like a schedule that had reading and writing one week and then reading others' thoughts and responding the following week. It would also be nice to have some structured iteration back to previous course topics since it's all so related. I haven't had quite enough hours in the day to do as much of that as I'd like.

One thing this class is providing me is lots of opportunity to reflect on online course design and community building. There's been some interesting discussion of that over here if you haven't seen it.

I'd be interested in some different ideas for some group discussion...maybe a Skype chat or perhaps we could make up a group page over at the wiki. I notice that the Community Portal page is empty. Maybe we should take it over.:)

alessandro giorni said...

Hi Karen,
I've read your post right now, we had the same idea about the group page in the wiki.
I have already created it:
go to the syllabus page, click the discussion button and then at the top of the page seek and click "MEETINGPOINT".

Meg, why do you have to study German?
Do you know I'm a Teacher of German as Foreign langugage?
visit: (yeah without "wordpress"!!!!).

MegsPlanet said...

Hi Alessandro,

Re: Why I have to learn German:
It's my understanding that I, as a Canadian (i.e. not German nationality), can take university courses/degrees in Germany for free (just like German nationals), IF I have a certain level of German

V. cool that you are a German foreign language teacher - if you know of German courses online, let me know. (I will coincidentally be living in Germany for about 4 months this coming year - and my German is rather shaky).

Thanks for posting your "WeekX" - it certainly has struck a chord.

Karen Fasimpaur said...

Hi, Meg. I’m writing about your actual post and this week’s topic this time. :)

On the subject of giving away credentialed degrees, wouldn’t it be possible to structure in quality checks, perhaps through competency exams (like Western Governors University)? Society would certainly benefit greatly from increased opportunities. Some people are highly motivated and capable of learning, but are prohibited financially from doing so. If OER could provide opportunities to those people (and others) to get a degree, it would seem worthwhile.

As for the “sustainable business model” to do this, there are many possibilities. If the model is constructed with this goal in mind, the incremental costs of awarding a credentialed degree are much less than in running a brick-and-mortar university. Options for funding could include all those in the readings (endowments, government funding, greater user participation/mass collaboration, etc.) Maybe users/learners could even “pay back” the system by agreeing to contribute back after successful completion.

I think that it is fine for some universities to be in the business of making money (just as it is fine for other businesses), but I think there is also room for other models. Different learners have different learning preferences, motivations, financial means, etc. Those differences are likely to be able to sustain many models of education, hopefully resulting in a more education populous worldwide.