Another “Merger” in the OER World

First, Mike and Cathy left the Hewlett Foundation, where they had provided incredible vision and incubation support for early OER efforts. (While Hewlett is still running its OER program there didn’t seem to be many OER-related grants made in 2009.) Then, a few weeks ago, I blogged about the departure of Ira and Chris from the Mellon Foundation, caused by the RIT program being merged into another program, where they had also provided vision and support for open educational software.

Today, we read of another “merger” of programs – and top leadership exit – at Creative Commons:

We’ve decided that we can best support the open education and OER communities by focusing our resources and support where we are strongest and provide the most unique value… Such changes mean that some of the activities and, sadly, personnel cannot be integrated successfully with the new structure… In this current transition, Ahrash Bissell, the Executive Director of CC Learn, has left the organization.

Has left – past tense. Apparently, surpassing their year end public fundraising goal (with $533,898) wasn’t enough resource to keep ccLearn going.

I know some well-known ed tech bloggers will comment “good riddance,” claiming that organizations are inherently evil anyway, and that the space is better off without them “investing in” and “supporting” the work of open education (which is best done by a lone individual living off-grid on a rural Appalachian subsistence farm). But does no one else see an “interesting” pattern here?

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  • http://creativecommons.org Mike Linksvayer

    Hi David,

    I don’t expect this change to make a short term financial difference. In the longer term mission focus is crucial to the sustainability of any nonprofit, in terms of both money and execution. That’s one reason we’re making the change now, to focus our role in OER on one that is leveraged and sustainable in both senses.

    The other reason is highlighted by your post — ccLearn was never a separate organization and having it appear to operate quasi-independently incurred a large opportunity cost — OER was not a core part of CC’s messaging, and it should be. One way to look at this is traffic to creativecommons.org vs learn.creativecommmons.org — approximately a 100x difference, or 1000x if the license pages are included.

    You’re right of course to bang on the sustainability drum, and moreso your active experiments in sustaining projects. Funding public goods is hard, and CC and OER are no exceptions.

    Mike (CC)

  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    > I know some well-known ed tech bloggers will comment “good riddance,” claiming that organizations are inherently evil anyway, and that the space is better off without them “investing in” and “supporting” the work of open education …. But does no one else see an “interesting” pattern here?

    This may mean me so I should reply…

    There is a pattern, which is why I warn of the danger of relying on institution-funded OER.

    I don’t celebrate the departure of anyone from their employment (especially when they have been so obviously pushed).

    The think is, institutional funding is fickle, and especially fickle when you rub certain agencies the wrong way. Look behind the scenes and we’d probably see the same hand at work behind the changes at Hewlett, Mellon and CC.

    “The master’s tools will never be used to dismantle the master’s house.” http://ow.ly/10o23 Powerful people get what they want, which is why you cannot rely on their largess to unseat them.

    I take no joy in this. I know these people worked hard and were dedicated. I regret that they were not allowed to continue. It suggests how close they were to achieve success.

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  • Vic

    David, just to correct some of your “facts”. The link to the Hewlett Education grants page actually shows over $16 million in OER related grants (including CFAT, OLI, MITE, SAIDE, UMich…etc) in 2009 – I’m not sure what you were reading. This includes over $5 million to new OER projects or even launching new organizations. Hewlett made over $16 million in grants last year that were 100% OER focused. Also, one of the ways to judge the health of a field is by the amount of fiscal resources it has and the diversity of those resources. 2009 actually had the greatest amount of funding for OER field-wide and it was the greatest diversity of funders and revenue yet. In 2009 alone, foundations such as Gates, Lumina, MacArthur and many others pumped over $10 million of investments into OER focused projects. VCs made a couple of forays into OER (you should know something about that). And a number of governments made their first investments in OER. In all 2009 was a record year both in the amount and diversity of OER funding, which is amazing considering most other things in the world collapse financially.

    Just to put a a stop to the rumors, Hewlett is not shutting down OER, and it is very much a part of what the education program is doing moving forward. To put this in context, Hewlett’s endowment (along with all foundations and business revenues) have dropped 40%, so yes Hewlett’s OER budget is smaller and it may appear like Hewlett is shutting down OER from the outside. This is just not the case though, OER is the same percentage of the Education program’s budget as it ever was and the same percentage of Hewlett’s overall spend out. Barring another fiscal collapse, Hewlett will be making investments in OER in 2010 that are in line with previous years, and I can say my call volume from investors who want to get into OER is still growing rapidly including VCs, Philanthropy and governments.

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