The Cost Trap, Concluding Thoughts

Though I deeply enjoy my infrequent, often protracted conversations with Stephen – and find them deeply useful for clarifying and advancing my own thinking – I believe this one has just about run its course. Stephen has posted Four Conclusions on OERs he has drawn from our conversation. This will be my final post as well, and I’ll make only a few concluding points.

One of the things I’ve learned through this discussion is that some might benefit from the inclusion of a brief disclaimer somewhere on my writing. Something like this, perhaps:


My long term goals in advocating for OER are to (1) radically improve the quality of education as judged by learners and (2) radically improve access to education worldwide. However, the short-term goals I am currently pursuing as a step toward these longer term goals are to increase the effectiveness, affordability, and access to post-secondary education in the United States, particularly in the context of institutions that serve at-risk students. Please be aware that if your current goals with regard to OER differ from mine, one or more of the following statements may be either nonsensical or untrue in the context of your goals. Please also be aware that this does not make them nonsensical or untrue in the context of my goals.


Actually, I just added it to the bottom of the information in the right-hand column,  just below the licensing statement.

Stephen writes,

Wiley concludes,

most of the disagreement (and occasional confusion) between Stephen and me is my desire to work within the context of existing formal educational institutions and his desire to work outside / around them.

Yes. But also that really important bit about the goal of the OER movement and the other bit about endorsing a specific pedagogy.

Let me start with “the goal” of the OER movement. The assumption that all the people participating in the global OER movement have a single goal strikes me as wrong. This is why, a few posts ago, I stated that “the question we must each ask ourselves is – what is the real goal of our OER advocacy?” Our advocacy. Not ‘what do you believe the “real goal” of the global OER movement should be?’ I then tried to reinforce the idea that, for each of us, the specific goal of our advocacy will be something individual to each us (“Personally, my goal is…”).

Every time Stephen says “the goal” instead of “a goal” or “one of the goals” I find myself unable to agree. If, for example, instead of saying:

the objective of providing access for all… [is] demonstrably the goal of the vast majority, if not all, people working in OER

he would say:

the objective of providing access for all… [is] demonstrably a goal of the vast majority, if not all, people working in OER

then I could agree wholeheartedly and without reservation. Yes, increasing access is one of the goals the majority of people in the movement share. And yes, it is likely true that more people share this goal than any other. But that doesn’t make it “the goal” of the OER movement (unless you define membership in the movement as identifying “access to all” as “the goal” of the movement). People in the OER movement have many additional goals, and they aren’t always subordinate to the goal of access for all. I know many people to whom the goal of transforming teaching and learning is equally important with the goal of increasing access. Are they “outside” the movement because they don’t believe that access for all is “the goal” of the movement. I would say no. I think the movement is more inclusive than that.

Now as for “endorsing a specific pedagogy.” OER-enabled pedagogy is “the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities.” That’s not a specific pedagogy. I’ve been pretty clear about that:

As for usage, the phrase “OER-enabled pedagogy” can be used as-is to talk about how the 5R activities facilitate new kinds of teaching and learning in general. You can also put one or more additional words inside the phrase, like “OER-enabled constructionist pedagogy, when you’re trying to describe the additional learning-mediating leverage the 5R activities give you in the context of a specific model of teaching and learning. (emphasis added)

There’s no advocacy here for a specific pedagogy. The advocacy is for the idea that when we use OER in teaching and learning we should take advantage of the affordances offered by OER. Those can be creatively leveraged across a wide range of teaching and learning practices. To argue that we should reject OER-enabled pedagogy when we adopt OER is to argue that we should be careful to use OER only as if they were still fully copyrighted and very expensive. It’s not clear to me who would argue that OER adopters should never cross the line into taking advantage of the affordances of the OER they’ve adopted. But it is something that you see happen frequently and quite by accident – people adopting OER and then using them exactly like they used the proprietary textbook they were using last term. Advocating for OER-enabled pedagogy is about trying to help people understand that there’s more they can do with OER.

To illustrate this point: after most of us purchased our first smart phone, for some period of time we continued to use it like our old phone – only to make calls and send texts. We didn’t really “get” that with this new phone we could also take pictures, read and send email, watch videos, surf the web, play music, and do other things. We needed someone to point this out to us and show us how it actually works.

Part of what caused this problem was our initial insistence on continuing to call these devices “phones” (e.g., smartphones). Today many people call them mobile devices, and that new language no longer limits our thinking about their potential uses. This is one of the reasons I strongly advocate against the phrases “open textbooks” and “free textbooks,” because they similarly limit people’s thinking about the potential uses of OER to only what was possible with traditional textbooks. It’s like conceptualizing a car as a horseless carriage. We drag this old vocabulary forward at our peril.

Anyway, that’s what my advocacy for OER-enabled pedagogy is about – not arguing for a specific model of teaching and learning. You can continue using your specific connectivist or constructivist or cognitivist or behavioral or constructionist or other pedagogy or andragogy. However you prefer to think about teaching and learning in your context, that’s great. There’s no advocacy for changing your specific approach – just encouragement to look for ways that the affordances of the OER you adopt can help you do what you do, better. (And if you want to think about doing it differently, that’s great, too.)

Stephen also writes,

Wiley is free to focus on the 3%. But his efforts to limit the entire OER movement as a whole to that demographic are (to my mind) misrepresentative and damaging.

I’m not sure how I could have been clearer in my previous posts that I think it is critically important that many more people and organizations are experimenting with many more models targeting many more demographics (including, potentially, the whole world) – that we need an ecosystem supporting “ruthless massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle” with regard to competing approaches to OER advocacy. I wrote at some length about why I’m glad that Stephen is taking a different approach to his work. I wrote about how dangerous it is that there’s so little diversity in the movement’s structures and sustainability models. I don’t know how you can read that and believe that my goal is to “limit the entire movement as a whole” to any single model or demographic. We need far more work coming from far more perspectives using far more models – not less. Maybe if enough people take a first step, someone will actually succeed in taking a second.


For all the effort I spend arguing with Stephen and giving him a hard time, he’s a true blessing in my life. No one pushes my thinking like he does. We share a common long-term goal. He genuinely wants to make the world a better place. He’s incredibly bright. He’s willing to argue with me – at length and in depth. (Have you heard about the time we sat down in a courthouse and argued for eight hours?) Though I fail frequently, he helps me practice engaging in civil discourse with someone I disagree with. I’m not sure what more a person could ask for.

I hope you have a Stephen in your life. If not, you should try to find one. Happy weekend.


The Cost Trap, Part 3

In my recent post I asked us each to consider what “what is the real goal of our OER advocacy?” Stephen answers that his goal is access for all, and takes me to task for wanting more.

In my post I wrote,

My ultimate goal is this: I want to (1) radically improve the quality of education as judged by learners, and (2) radically improve access to education. And I want to do it worldwide… Personally, my goal is not to provide less expensive access to the same teaching and learning experience to more people – access and affordability have never been my end game. My goal is to facilitate radical improvements in education for everyone in the world.

Stephen’s goal is access for all. To me, access for all is a waypoint and not the end point. I don’t want to provide access to all to education as we currently do it. I want to facilitate radical improvements in education for everyone in the world. I want everyone in the world to have access to something qualitatively better.

Ismael tweeted:

This was my feeling also while reading Stephen’s post. It appears – and I invite Stephen to correct me if I’m misreading him – that Stephen feels like formal educational institutions are a hindrance to the work of extending access to all because their affordability problems extend far beyond the price of textbooks:

But even more to the point, these policies represent no cost savings at all to a person who cannot afford to pay university tuition in the first place. When OER advocates talk about “access for all” they are rarely, if ever, taking only about tuition-paying students.

Access for all means access for all.

And that, again, is why the ‘faculty persuasion’ argument is a red herring. For those people who cannot afford access to faculty – which by my count is somewhere around 97 percent of the population (225 million out of 7 billion) the decision of a faculty member one way or another is for the most part irrelevant.

That’s totally true. And it seems like there are at least two paths you can take once you reach this realization. The first, which I believe is Stephen’s path, is to reject the idea of formal institutions and begin building new models of learning that eschew colleges and universities in favor of informal networks. The second, which is my path, is to make common cause with others who are working on solving the problem of the cost of attending a post-secondary institution, like Martha Kanter, Morely Winograd, and others making slow but steady progress eliminating tuition as a barrier to students.

Another difference in our approach seems to be the size of the steps we want to take to get from here to there. Although I don’t know that I’ve ever read an explicit statement from him on the topic, I have the sense that starting anywhere smaller than the whole world feels inappropriate to Stephen. (As I’m doing a bit of mind-reading here I invite Stephen to correct me if I’m getting that wrong.) On the other hand, I’m fundamentally a “small steps” person, which has led me to try to limit the scope of my current work to the US post-secondary education system (and more specifically US community colleges). In addition to feeling like existence proofs are extremely powerful (“see, it can be done on a smaller scale – we should try to do it on a larger scale”), we are learning critically important lessons doing this work locally that will inform later attempts to do it globally. (I am fully aware that there is a good chance I won’t live to see that global work that I imagine ever get done – I feel that my responsibility is just to move the ball as far down the field as I can before handing it off.)

Stephen continues:

Wiley says “Cost is no longer the most effective argument for adopting OER.” But he has utterly no evidence to prove that. If anything, the evidence says the opposite, as I have shown.

Here I fear we are talking past each other due to our different foci. In my mind, the only people who “adopt” educational materials are faculty. People certainly locate and learn from a wide range of resources in a wide range of informal settings in public libraries and online, but that’s not what I would call “adoption.” When I use the words “adopt OER,” I mean a faculty member choosing to replace whatever appeared in the Required Materials section of their syllabus last term with OER this term. Because “adopting OER” must by definition mean something else to Stephen, I can understand why he feels like there is no evidence for such a claim. But there is plentiful evidence that this is true in the context of post-secondary faculty choosing required materials for their courses. I personally have dozens if not hundreds of these conversations each year, and my colleagues at Lumen have hundreds more. And we spend a lot of time sharing stories and talking about this topic.

Stephen then explores the market dynamics of textbooks:

In fact, I can buy Campbell’s Biology right now for about $CAD 97 (about $US 70) on Amazon. It will be used, of course. 10th edition. I can buy the 3rd edition for about $CAD 18. This brings us close to Pride and Prejudice territory. Campbell’s Biology is still fully copyrighted (and will be until 2099). Pride and Prejudice, as noted, is a public domain work. These numbers strongly suggest that there is a lot more to textbook prices than licensing.

Price is based on willingness to pay. Exclusive rights over something nobody wants is worth nothing. The publisher (in cooperation with the universities) creates demand for the work by making it a required text (and then releasing edition after edition after edition of the work to discourage used book sales).

Yes, there is far more than licensing at work here. For example, Stephen talks about willingness to pay. It is not that difficult to draw the line from a desire to live a financially stable life, to a desire for employment, to a desire to earn a degree required by an employer, to a desire to take a course required for that degree, and finally to a desire to purchase the textbook required for that course. The willingness to pay for education – and everything it includes, like textbooks – is very high indeed, as we see by the incredible rates at which students gamble with their futures by taking on loans to fund their education.

But Stephen gets the description of the dynamics around textbook pricing wrong in some genuinely intriguing ways. Publishers don’t create demand for textbooks (though they absolutely manipulate supply in ingenious ways, which, through its relationship with demand, allows them to manipulate prices). Universities don’t create demand for textbooks (except indirectly, by existing). It is faculty who choose whether or not a textbook is used in a course, it is faculty who choose the specific textbook(s) used in a course, it is faculty who assign specific homework problems from specific pages of a specific edition of a textbook in a course, and it is faculty who create the demand for educational materials in formal education. If you don’t believe it, consider the argument from the other perspective – when faculty don’t require a textbook for their courses, what would you imagine happens to the rate at which students in that course purchase textbooks? Yes, it is faculty who create demand for textbooks.

In fact, the relationship between textbooks, faculty, and students is best understood by thinking about the relationship between prescription drugs, doctors, and patients. Once a doctor prescribes a certain medication, the patient has no power beyond the decision “to purchase, or not to purchase.” They can’t decide they wish they’d been given a different prescription by their doctor and buy that medicine instead. That can’t comparison shop. They have only the one choice before them.

Almost no other part of life works this way where money is concerned. In almost every other case, the person choosing the item to be purchased is the person who has to pay for that item. This tends to encourage people to be cost conscious in their choices since they have to bear the financial consequences of their choices. However, doctors don’t have to purchase the drugs they prescribe for patients any more than faculty have to bear the financial consequences of the textbooks they choose for their students. Once you cleanly separate the act of choosing from the financial consequences of that choice, you destroy traditional “market forces” and things don’t work “as they should.”

But I’m not really sure why I’m explaining all this – because it seems like Stephen genuinely isn’t concerned about the the formal education context in the larger scheme of things:

But none of this matters a whole lot, except to university students.

He is clearly more focused on enabling learning outside the institution. And as I said before, good for him. I’m glad he is. Someone needs to be.

He continues:

The real barrier here is the $8 cost per copy of Pride and Prejudice. Even at $8 per book, most people in the would cannot afford even a small fraction of the world’s literature. That’s why we (still) need libraries, and cost-free digital copies, and the rest of it. That’s why access, over and above mere licensing, remains an issue.

Why is it that cost-free digital copies of Pride and Prejudice exist and cost-free digital copies of Biology don’t? Because the copyright has expired on Pride and Prejudice – that is, it’s because people have permission to copy, edit, and redistribute it however they like.

I don’t think Stephen really believes that the solution to the worldwide access problem lies in building more physical libraries and filling them with more printed books, but again I invite him to correct me if I’m wrong.

The price matters, and for most people in the world the price matters more than the license. A free fully-copyrighted book in the hand is worth much more than an unaffordable open-licensed book any day. Unless, of course, the real benefit of open licenses is that the resources are free.

This language implies that there can only be one real benefit of open licenses. I disagree. There are many benefits of OER, and I was clear in my last post that “increased access and affordability are one of many ways students benefit when their faculty adopt OER.” Though it has drifted somewhat, this entire conversation started when I proposed that talking about access and affordability was no longer the best way to persuade faculty to adopt OER – it was never about which of the many purported benefits of OER is the “real” one. There are several benefits, and by definition all benefits are beneficial. (I have argued that the many benefits of OER stem from their open licensing (permissions), but that is an altogether different argument from which benefit is the “real” one.)

I will repeat something I’ve said many times to David Wiley around the issues of business models and licensing: you can do whatever you want with your work and your content. I don’t care. But don’t tell us what to do with ours.

I can’t tell Stephen what to do any more than he can tell me what to do. I’ve been advocating for CC BY for years. Has he changed his approach to licensing? Of course not, because I can’t tell anyone what to do. All I can do is advocate for what I think is the best approach, just like Stephen can. I’m not sure what I’m being asked to do here – stop advocating for the approach I think is best? I certainly wouldn’t ask others to do so. Yes, I would try to persuade them to think differently about things (as exemplified by this series of blog posts), but I would never suggest Stephen stop writing or advocating for the approach he believes in.

Stephen then makes a comment on my desire to work within formal educational institutions:

Wiley is clear that he wants to focus on the three percent.

This one leaves me a little speechless. For many years now my work has focused quite deliberately on US community colleges. I understand from the tone of Stephen’s comment that he believes the members of this “three percent” who attend formal educational institutions to be affluent and privileged. Maybe he doesn’t know that 14% of these students have been homeless in the last 12 months and 33% of them have experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days. Yes, there is definitely work that needs doing here, and yes, I intend to continue doing it.

Stephen then recounts a little of the history of my relationship with the term “open pedagogy.” I was a big fan of the term until it became so contested that there was no agreement about what it meant. Once that became clear, I searched for a different phrase that had never been used before (i.e., I did Google searches looking for phrases that turned up literally no results). I settled on OER-enabled pedagogy. Not only did it not have a contested definition, it didn’t look like anyone had ever written the words together in that order before. This seemed like safe territory, imbuing a heretofore unused phrase with a clear definition. But it hasn’t turned out that way.


He writes, “Exploring and leveraging the new ways of learning enabled by open licenses is the core of what OER-enabled pedagogy is all about.” Most people would read that as meaning “exploring and leveraging the new ways of learning generated though access to all.” I think it’s pretty clear that Wiley means something different.

Yes, I mean something very different – as I described very clearly in the post where I introduced the phrase to the world late this spring. And actually, thousands of people have heard me use this phrase since I coined it, in settings from large keynotes with a question and answer period to small roundtable conversations. No one has ever indicated that they misunderstand the phrase in the way Stephen predicts that most people will.

In the final section of his post,  Stephen goes on the record declaring that he has no problem with Lumen charging a fee to be responsible for running, managing, and supporting an institution’s OER-related infrastructure. That’s terrific. But then he continues,

While it is being made to look like Lumen is charging only for running and managing an OER infrastructure, students are actually paying for the textbooks.

As I said before, the OER (or “the textbooks”) are all available to the public for free under open licenses on our site – Stephen even includes the link to the collection in his post. If what a faculty member wanted was a free textbook, they would just link their students to our site and be done with it. In fact, many faculty and students use our site (and others’ sites, like OpenStax’s PDFs) in this way.

We charge a fee when we manage and support an institution’s OER-related infrastructure. So what is that? Today, it’s an array of tools for authentication via single sign on; revising, remixing, managing, and attributing OER; aligning OER and assessments to learning outcomes; services for creating, editing, delivering, scoring, and reporting assessments back to the LMS; and analytics and messaging capabilities integrated with these other tools. All integrated cohesively within the LMS.

And to be clear, that infrastructure isn’t empty of content (though you can, of course, bring all the open content you like into the space). All the OER available to the public for free under open licenses on our site is also available within the hosted infrastructure – ready to be adopted and adapted by faculty and used by their students, with interesting and useful capabilities the LMS doesn’t provide. Michael Feldstein has done some great writing over the years in which he characterizes the intersection of content, platform capabilities, and learning design as “courseware” (see the chart at the bottom of the page). I think that, in the context of Michael’s specific definition of the term, “courseware” is a good description of Waymaker and OHM – they are both right in the center of that middle pie chart.

Stephen is disappointed that he can’t find the Waymaker source code in Lumen’s GitHub repository. Waymaker is, in fact, our name for the way we bring many tools together cohesively, including the open source Pressbooks, Candela, and Open Assessments source code in our GitHub repo. Much of the Waymaker code is there even though the repo names may not make that clear. In fact, all code underlying Waymaker is in the public repo except the code for the analytics dashboards and messaging services, which we have not yet released as open source. (I can’t give you a timeline today for when that will happen.)

The accusation that Lumen is “getting institutions to require that students pay a fee” to access OER is simply wrong. The OER are free and open to the public – anyone and everyone can use them without paying a fee. But when we maintain and support the infrastructure that provides the SSO, assessment services, grade passback, analytics, and other integrations –  we charge a fee. And if you don’t want or need those services, just link to the OER.

In summary, it does seem like most of the disagreement (and occasional confusion) between Stephen and me is my desire to work within the context of existing formal educational institutions and his desire to work outside / around them. Any discussion of tactics or strategies (e.g., questions of what will work best when advocating for OER adoption) that doesn’t recognize this fundamental difference in approach will likely (continue to) be frustratingly hard to follow.


More on the Cost Trap and Inclusive Access

My recent post about the cost trap and inclusive access prompted responses by Jim Groom and Stephen Downes. I’ll respond to Jim’s post first, as it provides an opportunity for some necessary clarification on my part.

[Back in 2012 – 2013] I was impressed (like many others I’m sure) with how Wiley was able to frame the cost-savings argument around open textbooks to build broader interest for OERs.

If you’re a longtime reader of Iterating Toward Openness, you’ve read my discussions of means and ends in this context a number of times. For example, in 2015 I wrote that “My ultimate goal is this: I want to (1) radically improve the quality of education as judged by learners, and (2) radically improve access to education. And I want to do it worldwide.” For reasons I have outlined countless times (relating to the pedagogical innovation only possible in the context of permission to engage in the 5R activities), I believe OER adoption is a critically important means to achieving this end. As Jim notes above, for some period of time talking about the cost savings associated with OER was an effective way to advocate for OER adoption, helping us get a step closer to the end goal. However, in the new context of inclusive access models, arguments about “reducing the cost of college” and providing students with “day one access” are increasingly ineffective at persuading faculty to adopt OER because publishers have completely co-opted these messages. Ask a publisher why inclusive access is good for students and the list of reasons they will provide sounds like it came straight off a 2013 OER advocacy slide.

But what does bother me a bit is the suggestion that OERs have not been primarily (and very intentionally) marketed as a cost saving strategy for years now. And the idea of pivoting away from that at the exact moment Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw-Hill are adopting that approach seems a bit too convenient. I fear it is OER wanting it both ways. What do you offer when cheaper is no longer enough? Well, you can return to the authenticity of the pedagogical experience of open and reassert the primacy of the open license. But when you do this, the Creative Commons license (as well as the 5 Rs) seem to be just as much a brand as anything those corporate publishers are doing to corner the market.

It’s not an accident or “convenient” that I’ve been clamoring about this for months. My increasingly intense pleas are a direct response to both publisher behavior and publisher messaging.

The question we must each ask ourselves is – what is the real goal of our OER advocacy? If your real goal is promoting OER adoption (because you believe in its transformative potential or for any other reason), then it is time to talk about permissions first and cost second – and to clearly address cost as part of the problem caused by a lack of permissions (as I will explain in further detail below).

However, if your end goal was never OER adoption, but was increasing access and affordability (and that’s a worthy goal!), there’s nothing you need to change in the way you talk about cost. In fact, if improving access and affordability are your end goal, you may be starting to feel like your work is just about finished – inclusive access models are delivering day one access and drastically lowered costs to students.

Personally, my goal is not to provide less expensive access to the same teaching and learning experience to more people – access and affordability have never been my end game. My goal is to facilitate radical improvements in education for everyone in the world, and I continue to believe that we will only see these improvements in proportion to the degree that we succeed in broadly deploying an open education infrastructure (of which open educational resources are a key component). But increased access and affordability are one of many ways students benefit when their faculty adopt OER, and it was not intellectually dishonest to begin OER advocacy conversations with the cost benefit (rather than one of the others) when that was the most effective argument for adopting OER. Likewise, it is not intellectually dishonest to begin future conversations with a different benefit. Cost is no longer the most effective argument for adopting OER.

You may argue that we’re not quite to the point yet where this statement is strictly true. If we’re not, the time is soon coming, and the language the entire field uses to advocate for OER adoption is a huge boat that will be very slow in turning. Even now I worry that we may have started too late.

On to Stephen’s response. This opens with a lengthy recounting of the many ways in which he has been a long-time, stalwart champion of OER-enabled pedagogy and taking umbrage at my call for greater focus here. Yes, Stephen, you have been talking about this consistently for a long time. Consequently, I’m obviously not talking to you when I encourage people to be more focused on OER-enabled pedagogy.

After defending his record of commitment to OER-enabled pedagogy Stephen addresses me personally (and sometimes aggressively) in his post, even going so far as to claim an intimate understanding of my thoughts and motives. I this think merits a longer response.

I won’t spend much time responding to the first section of Stephen’s essay, which is essentially a lengthy demonization of commercial entities. I will say only this: I am constantly surprised by the degree to which many of my friends, who are otherwise thoughtful academics, are perfectly willing to stereotype in this arena. To listen to them speak and read what they write, it seems as if these people who otherwise make their livings in the tiny nuances between large generalizations believe categorically that all non-profit entities are agents of righteousness and all for-profit entities are agents of evil. I believe many of them would be aghast if I accused them of stereotyping on the basis of age, race, gender identity, or religion. But stereotyping on the basis of tax status seems to be acceptable – perhaps even expected – in some parts of academic culture. It’s hard to believe this needs repeating, but organizations and individuals deserve the basic courtesy of being judged by their own actions and not those of others in any class to which they might belong.

Moving on to the substance of his response, Stephen writes:

The core issue here, argues Wiley, is one of permissions, not cost.

It is absolutely true that permissions are the core issue and not cost, because cost is a function of permissions.

The only reason publishers are able to inflate the costs of their educational materials so outrageously is their monopoly on permissions to make and distribute copies granted to them by copyright. If Campbell’s Biology were openly licensed or in the public domain, it would be available in a wide range of formats with a wide range of supports at a wide range of prices. But because Pearson has the exclusive rights to distribute this title, there is no competition and you’ll pay over $200 for a new copy. On the other hand, the public domain title Pride and Prejudice is about $8 per new paperback copy no matter who you buy it from (and cheaper or free in other formats), because everyone has permission to copy and distribute it. You’ll pay slightly more for an annotated copy, which might run you $15. (How do you feel about people who create value-added editions of public domain literature?)

The egregiously high cost of educational materials is a symptom of taking a traditional approach to copyright with educational materials. Traditional “all rights reserved” copyright is the cause; high costs are but one of its many negative effects. Moving forward, when we talk about cost we should do so in the context of permissions – both because our work should strike at the roots, not hack at the branches, and because this is a way of talking about cost that is unlikely to be co-opted by publishers (unless they move to openly license most or all of their catalogs).

Stephen next asserts his own commitment to OER-enabled pedagogy by questioning mine.

We are focused on the advantages of OER-enabled pedagogy. What do you think the whole MOOC thing George Siemens and I and others was about? Beginning in 2003 and continuing consistently thereafter I have depicted learning resources as words in a conversation, and applied the logic of language to the logic of reuse. In 2006 I described and recommended the community-based model to support sustainable OER-based pedagogy.

In the intervening years we’ve seen no support from David Wiley with respect to this alternative model. His focus has been on traditional institutions of learning and the traditional classroom model. When he has worked toward the production of OERs, it was to produce textbooks. I’ve spent years working toward a pedagogy of sharing and networks and communities enabled (partially) by open educational resources; Wiley has appeared disinterested. (emphasis in original)

It’s true that I have not thrown my efforts into Stephen’s community-based model operating mostly outside of formal institutions. This is true for two reasons. The first relates to one of my all-time favorite quotes, this one from Linus Torvalds:

Don’t EVER make the mistake that you can design something better than what you get from ruthless massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle. That’s giving your intelligence _much_ too much credit.

We need an ecosystem of models – lots and lots of ways of trying to sustain and scale positive impact in open education. We need lots of smart people doing everything they can to move those different models forward. We need those models to bump into each other in the world and to evolve over time. Hopefully, if we engage in this process of surfacing and working to advance a range of models long enough (“massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle”), we can find one or more that actually works. For the good of the field, Stephen shouldn’t want me working on his model any more than I should want him working on mine.

(Parenthetically, this is also one of the primary reasons Lumen is a for-profit and not a non-profit. There is very little diversity in the ways organizations working in open education are structured (almost all are non-profits) or in how they sustain their work (primarily through grants, supplemented with some services revenue). For example, the field desperately needs to diversify our sources of revenue. What would happen to the field if Hewlett announced tomorrow that they were changing the focus of their education funding? It might not be tomorrow, but they won’t fund OER indefinitely. We need many people exploring many models for scaling and sustaining the impacts of open education if we’re going to find models that work over the long-term.)

The second reason I haven’t invested heavily in Stephen’s approach is that I continue to be interested in the formal learning that happens in accredited institutions that award recognized credentials. Those credentials continue to be one of the best paths to achieving economic security for oneself and family. Many of those accredited institutions serve a large number of first generation, low income, academically underprepared students who need significant support and encouragement during the learning process. Needless to say, these students are not roaming autodidacts who, left to their own (digital) devices, will thrive and succeed as “free range learners” in a world of MOOCs. I see a significant need to continue to focus on the teaching and learning that happens in these spaces, and so I continue to work here.

Stephen is also upset that I accuse people of “‘not talking about open pedagogy’ when they take a perspective that is not based in the precious 5 Rs.” Because no one knows what ‘open pedagogy’ means, I am very careful not to use that term and I made no such accusation in my post. The term “OER-enabled pedagogy” has a very specific meaning, which is grounded specifically in the 5Rs, and OER-enabled pedagogy – and only OER-enabled pedagogy – is what my post was about.

Stephen then discusses my critique of the predominant model of delivering MOOCs:

The problem [Wiley] sees with these MOOCs isn’t the pedagogical model per se, it’s that they have the wrong licensing. “I believe we must ground our open thinking in the idea of open licenses. Specifically, we should advocate for open in the language of the 5Rs,” he writes. And this has been his position consistently for a number of years. (emphasis in original)

Yes, this has consistently been my position for several years. In addition to being the root cause of the cost problem, a lack of permissions constrains our ability to engage in a range of more authentic, constructionist pedagogies. Some (though certainly not all) of the problems with xMOOC pedagogies are a function of the lack of permissions teachers and students have in the traditionally copyrighted content around which these courses are most often designed.

  1. We learn by the things we do.
  2. Copyright prohibits us from doing specific things.
  3. Consequently, copyright prohibits us from learning in specific ways.
  4. Open licenses grant us permission to engage in these previously prohibited activities.
  5. Consequently, openly licensed content allows us to learn in new ways.

Exploring and leveraging the new ways of learning enabled by open licenses is the core of what OER-enabled pedagogy is all about.

Stephen continues:

The reason people talk about the cost of open educational resources is because some people – David Wiley included – think it’s an essential part of ‘open’ that the resources be commercialized and that vendors charge money from them…. Wiley (and a cluster of other OER advocates) insist that creators must use a CC-by license, allowing commercial use, if they want their work to be considered open.

My definition of open, when used in the context of open content or open educational resources, has been crystal clear and unchanging for over a decade. Open means free plus permissions. (If you’re interested, you can read this tiny review demonstrating that the “open” in open content, open educational resources, open access, open data, open knowledge, open source, and open standards means “free plus permissions.”) The only real change in my stance has been the addition of a 5th R to the permissions three years ago.

Nowhere in my definition of open is there a requirement that a resource be licensed in a way that allows for commercial use. In fact, one of my main problems with the “open definition” is that it does explicitly require licenses to allow commercial uses of materials for them to be considered “open.” This is one of several reasons why you never hear me refer to that body of work. I disagree with it strongly.

It is true that I advocate for CC BY because this license maximizes reusability, is the most interoperable of all CC licenses, and is the easiest for people to comply with. With other CC licenses you almost always get well-meaning people violating the terms because they don’t actually understand what ShareAlike, NonCommercial, or NoDerivatives mean (it’s hard enough to get people to follow the best practices for attribution). But while I advocate for CC BY, I also advocate for the community to be understanding when people or institutions make other choices. As I wrote in defense of projects that choose the BY-NC-SA license,

When an institution enters a new world (like the world of open educational resources) we can and should expect the early adopters to move in baby steps, dipping their toes in before diving in head first. The force of will necessary to motivate the institution to take even these tiny initial steps comes at great personal costs of time, effort, and political capital to the individual champion or tiny band of champions who push the cause within the university. The costs are very real.

In my view, the so-called “free content movement” should welcome these institutions with open arms and applaud their first attempts at entry into the community. After all, just getting a handful of university courses digitized, licensed By-NC-SA, and posted online takes a massive commitment of time and love and tears and pain. This is a genuinely laudable first step. However, instead of a show welcome and gratitude, too often the institutional champions are greeted with complaints that their resources aren’t “free enough” and accusations that they must not really care about helping people learn, because they couldn’t convince their institutions or faculty peers from day one that they didn’t need the NC clause. After suffering the pains of conception and birth of their project, this feels like the ultimate insult to the champions. It dispirits and depresses them at exactly the moment when we should be encouraging them, building them up, and refreshing them before they begin round two.

For some creators of OER, an NC-bearing license will always be the best choice (though I believe these cases to be rare). For other creators of OER, an NC-bearing license will be the first step on a journey toward more openness. Either way, when people begin licensing their content as OER, we should explain to them what the community has learned over the last two decades of openly licensing content and then allow them to make an informed decision. Then we should respect that decision.

I advocate for CC BY. I also advocate for respecting others’ choice of license. Stephen’s mind reading fails him when he claims I “think it’s an essential part of ‘open’ that the resources be commercialized and that vendors charge money from them.” Nothing remotely like that has ever been included in my definition of open.

Stephen continues:

At core, Wiley sees ‘commercial’ as good, while I don’t. More accurately, I think, Wiley sees ‘commercial’ as the only good, while I think that public and community-based non-commercial alternatives are equally viable.

Again, Stephen’s mind reading is almost as wrong as it is possible to be. I believe education to be an undertaking so large in scope and so critical in importance that we need all hands on deck – including individuals, governments, community-based networks, non-commercial organizations, and for-profit companies. I believe each of these are capable of making unique and important contributions. But I also believe that in order to make positive contributions to the great educational undertaking an individual or organization (regardless of its tax status or lack thereof) needs to share a relatively small set of common values. Some individuals, government agencies, community-based networks, non-commercial organizations, and for-profit companies share these values. Others don’t. But when multiple groups with some shared values collaborate to achieving a common goal, much more is accomplished than when we exclude willing and anxious participants who share many of our values and want to contribute.

I want to pause here to make a point I believe to be critically important. You don’t need to have ALL values in common with another person or organization in order to collaborate productively toward common goals. For example, I am constantly impressed by the good work done by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable. The SLIFR is a group of organizations (Baha’i, Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Sikh, and others) that disagree on the most fundamental of all things – literally, the very meaning and purpose of life. But they share other values, like a desire to end homelessness in SLC, and so they focus on those common values to do collaborative work that benefits many people. Not even the faculty member in the same department in the office next door to you shares all your values. Our growing inflexibility and unwillingness to work with others with whom we share some values – but who fail to pass an ideological purity test – is the primary cause of dysfunction in our politics at the moment. I hope we can avoid repeating this mistake in education. (See what I did there? Religion and politics in the same paragraph!)

Finally, Stephen writes:

Of course [Wiley] wants us to stop talking about cost – that would deflect the criticism of his own business model. Lumen Learning is in the same business as Pearson, Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education: selling textbooks (directly or indirectly) to students…. You want me to stop talking about cost, David? Stop charging money for something that should be free. Return education to the community network. Help work with us together without putting a price tag on it. (emphasis in original)

Stephen is generally quite thoughtful. But here he joins a cast of characters who appear to have made no effort to learn about what Lumen actually does but who still feel comfortable making public statements about our work based purely on their assumptions.

When Stephen asks Lumen to stop charging money for something that should be free and return it to the community, what does he imagine those things to be?

Is it the OER we have aggregated, aligned with learning outcomes, consistently formatted, supplemented with videos and interactives, and meticulously attributed? Is it the new OER whose creation we’ve commissioned? Is it the new OER we’ve created ourselves? All of that is publicly and freely available to the community under open licenses on our website. So that can’t be it.

Is it the software we’ve created to help faculty manage all the complexity around attribution in the context of revising, remixing, and making compilations of OER? Is it the software we’ve created to simplify the process of integrating OER into any LMS via the open standards LTI and Common Cartridge? Is it the work we’ve done to make it easier to align WordPress-based content with learning outcomes? Is it the features we’ve added to and the bugs we’ve fixed in the Pressbooks plugin for WordPress? Is it the improvements we’ve made to the IMathAS quantitative assessment platform? Is it the extensions we’ve made to the Open Assessments platform? All of that is publicly and freely available to the community under open licenses on our GitHub site. So that can’t be it.

Is it the time Lumen staff spend each week on the phone, on email, in face-to-face workshops, and in other settings helping people find, use, improve, integrate, and update OER that Stephen thinks should be free? Is it the time they invest in data-informed continuous improvement, increasing the effectiveness of OER term after term? Is it the AWS hosting, systems monitoring, backups, and other technical services they provide and support? People’s time and technical services like hosting have real, recurring costs associated with them. And yet Lumen provides a fair amount of this to the community for free anyway, for example, through our Office Hours and by paying for the hosting of the community instance of IMathAS running at Many, many people take advantage of these services, which have real, recurring costs and which Lumen provides for free as a service to the community.

But if you want Lumen staff to be responsible and accountable for running, managing, and supporting your OER-related infrastructure, yes, we charge for that – just like OER Commons does for its Microsites service. Or if you want to use the new tools we’ve developed to support personalized learning in the context of OER, yes, we charge for that – just like OpenStax does for its Tutor product. Or if you want us to fly to your campus and run OER workshops for your faculty and provide other implementation support, yes, we charge for that – just like Open Up Resources does. And I sincerely and wholeheartedly believe it is completely appropriate for us to charge a fee for these services, just like other organizations in the open education space do.

I think Stephen’s call for Lumen to ‘stop charging money for something that should be free and return education to the community network’ reflects, most likely, his lack of understanding of what we do and how we do it. But I don’t know that for certain. Hopefully, he now has a clearer sense of what we do and his future criticisms will be better informed.

And no, Stephen, Lumen is not “in the same business as Pearson, Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education.” They are primarily in the business of leveraging their copyright monopolies on content duplication and distribution to extract exorbitant fees from students, and secondarily in the business of building technologies that enforce and protect those monopolies (e.g., implementing novel DRM in proprietary content delivery platforms). Lumen is in the business of doing just the opposite.

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