5R Open Course Design Framework

Supporting Capacity Building as OER Use Enters Mainstream

For over two years now I’ve been working full-time with the incredible folks at Lumen Learning on supporting faculty adoption of open educational resources. (Time really does fly when you’re having fun!) As indicated in the subtitle of our #OpenEd14 presentation – “still bumbling our way toward greatness” – we’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned lots of lessons along the way, and there’s no reason why others should bumble down unproductive paths we’ve already traversed.

I’m currently engaged in the process of capturing, synthesizing, and summarizing these years of lessons learned into a framework of guidelines and best practices for designing courses using OER. We’re calling it the “5R Open Course Design Framework.” The first version will be published in January 2015 and will be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (CC BY) for use and adaptation by anyone and everyone. Lumen Learning will also offer training, professional development, and a course review service associated with the framework.

I’m particularly excited about the professional development aspect of this work, as it will help individuals and organizations build capacity around the effective use of OER. No single organization or group of organizations will ever have the capacity to scale the impact of OER to its full potential. For OER to truly transform teaching and learning across primary, secondary, and postsecondary education, we have a generation of capacity building to do.

I’ve said before that the internet gives us technical capabilities unimagined in times past (zero marginal cost perfect copying, zero marginal cost distribution, extremely low cost editing and remixing, etc.), but that copyright law regulates our exercise of all these newfound capabilities – so that what is technically possible is also legally forbidden. But when educational resources are openly licensed, education suddenly gains access to the full power of the internet – everything that is technically possible becomes legally permitted. It is this future – a future in which all learners and teachers can deploy the accumulated technological advances of society in the service of learning – that hangs in the balance.

The choice by educators to continue using traditionally copyrighted educational materials is like Superman choosing to wear a ring inset with a giant kryptonite stone. Both choices deprive their respective choosers of superpowers to which they would otherwise have access.


#OpenEd14, the 11th annual Open Education Conference, has given me the opportunity to do some additional thinking about the Open Education Infrastructure. Unfortunately, thinking about infrastructure inexorably leads to creating diagrams.


Because I’m hosting the conference I don’t time to write an extensive commentary now. Let me just say that people often ask, “What would people do if an open education infrastructure existed?” The primary answer is engage in open pedagogy. OER and the other components of the open education infrastructure are means, not ends. The end goal of the infrastructure, of course, is supporting better teaching and learning.

A secondary answer is that the open education infrastructure provides people with new (and previously impossible) opportunities to create and experiment with open sustainability models or open business models.

More on this soon.

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It’s widely understood that while faculty select the textbooks their students use, faculty neither pay for nor use textbooks. The fact that faculty don’t have to pay for the books they select is reflected by the data in the recent Babson survey showing that less than 3% of faculty feel that cost is an important factor to consider when selecting instructional materials. The fact that faculty don’t use (or even read) the textbooks they assign students is reflected in the countless student comments on end of course review forms each year complaining that the content of faculty lectures are frequently unrelated to the content of assigned textbook readings. But – while faculty frequently don’t use the textbooks, they almost always use the materials that publishers give them (for free) when they adopt a textbook – test item banks, presentation slides, video clips, etc.

Although I’m not yet persuaded that this will happen, there is an interesting future possibility here. As more and more faculty adopt OER, publishers will lose their ability to subsidize the creation of free faculty materials (like test item banks) through profits from textbook sales to students. This creates the interesting possibility that, as increasing proportions of students use OER, publishers might scale back their creation of textbooks and scale up their production of supplementary materials which they sell directly to faculty. This would create a true “market” in materials where the people who are choosing the product are also the ones who are paying for and using the product. There would be competition, and market forces, and a reason for publishers to innovate. Imagine if publishers had to change from persuading faculty to make a choice, to convincing faculty to make a purchase. Ah yes, an actual market. That would be interesting indeed.

It probably won’t happen, but it’s interesting to think about.