Identifying concrete pedagogical benefits of open educational resources

Here’s one of the proposals I submitted for Open Ed 2010:

The most naïve kind of hype around open educational resources (OER) says that OER are more effective pedagogically than proprietary educational resources (PER). Can we justify this claim?

First, it is critically important that we understand that “effectiveness” is not characteristic of an educational resource. Without a proper conception of the origin of “effectiveness” we cannot ask meaningful questions about the comparative effectiveness of OER and PER – because we will not know where to look.

A similar lesson is taught by item response theory (IRT). IRT teaches us that an assessment item does not have a “difficulty” independent of the individual who is attempting to answer the item. While an assessment item may be “hard” for a novice to answer correctly, the same item will be “easy” for an expert. Consequently, we cannot talk about the difficulty of an item without talking about the expertise of the person attempting the item. “Difficulty” is a property of an item-individual pair.

Likewise, “effectiveness” is a property of a resource-individual pair. A resource that perfectly meets the needs of one individual may be completely inappropriate for a second individual. Consequently, we cannot talk about the effectiveness of an OER or PER without talking about the person using the resource.

One important difference between educational resources and assessment items is that while there is typically only one way to “use” an assessment item, there are many ways to “use” an educational resource. Pedagogically, the most important difference between an OER and a PER is the additional ways an OER can be used that are prohibited with a PER. When a resource-individual pair has access to an expanded repertoire of uses, we have a rational foundation for believing that increased learning may occur.

For example, a pilot project in Utah high schools is deploying printed copies of OER science textbooks in place of traditional PER textbooks. Before we can ask if students will learn more from the OER textbooks we should have a theoretically responsible, pedagogically-founded (i.e., new-type-of-use-founded) rationale for the question. For example:

PER science textbooks cost at least $80 each. Because they are so expensive, these textbooks have a four-year service period and must be protected so they can be used by different students. Consequently, students are generally prohibited from writing notes, underlining, highlighting, or otherwise annotating their textbooks. Printed OER science textbooks cost about $10. Because they are so inexpensive, a new OER textbook can be purchased each year for each student. When a big-ticket item ($80) becomes a consumable ($10), students can be allowed to write notes, underline, highlight, and otherwise annotate their textbooks. When students can use their textbooks in this new way, engaging in more active study strategies, we have a theoretically responsible, pedagogically-founded reason to believe that students using the OER will learn more than students using the PER.

In this session, we will discuss new uses enabled by OER that give us theoretically responsible, pedagogically-founded reasons for believing that OER can be more effective educationally than PER.

1 thought on “Identifying concrete pedagogical benefits of open educational resources”

  1. Dear David,

    Starting of with the ‘expertise of the user’ determining the possible effectiveness of educational resources, I’m losing track of your rationale when you make the switch to the ‘type of use’, i.e. an experienced learner can still learn more effectively using a PER (without the permission of annotating etc.) than a less experienced learner who is permitted to annotate his OER.

    Introducing the ‘type of use’ in your rationale is like introducing the modality of the educational resource. I don’t believe that resources have ‘many ways to be used’, although they have many ways in which they can be reused (repurposed). The resource-type of use pair seems like a pairing that doesn’t realy attribute to the discussion of the differences between open and proprietary resources.

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