Why Openness?

Many people wonder why the Open High School of Utah has committed itself to using open educational resources licensed for reuse, adaptation, and sharing. I’ve heard that question more than once at the orientation this morning. (Did I mention that folks from RedHat / opensource.com are here doing a video / photo / interview production about the OHSU? But I digress…) Here are some possible hypotheses about why there’s an O in OHSU:

  • Because OER are so COOL!
  • Because OER are really popular with granting agencies, and OHSU will be able to rake in the dollars!
  • Because David Wiley is the founder of OHSU, and it would make him a giant hypocrite if the school didn’t use OER!
  • Because in the current economy no school can afford to buy seven $100 textbooks for each of its students!
  • Because proving that OER can function just as effectively as expensive curriculum will put commercial publishers out of business!

Alas, none of these hypotheses are correct. The reason for the O in OHSU is local control. While there are numerous secondary benefits to using OER, the primary reason OHSU was originally committed to openness is this: for learners to reach their full potential, teachers need to be fully empowered to help them learn.

When you adopt a curriculum that is copyrighted in such a way that prevents teachers from making improvements and necessary adaptations, you limit teachers’ ability to help students. When you adopt a curriculum that only gets updated and improved on a schedule determined by a for-profit company with no direct interest in your school or students, you limit teachers’ ability to be helpful. When you adopt an expensive curriculum and leave teachers believing that the only supplements worth adopting are also expensive and, therefore, unavailable to them, you limit teachers’ ability to be helpful. Etc. Etc. Worst of all, when you adopt commercial curriculum and forbid your teachers from “messing with it” because you believe a publisher in Virginia knows more about what your Utah students need than your teacher who practically lives her life with them does, you limit your teachers ability to be helpful – and you seriously need to get out of education.

The OHSU’s commitment to openness lets us say, “Teachers. You know your content and you know your students. The entire universe of OER (over 350 million choices!) is available to you, and you’re welcome to write your own material as well. You are in complete control. Put together the most incredible learning experiences you can, and when you see opportunities to improve, do it! Help each and every student learn as much as you can.” No other school can say that to its teachers to the degree that the OHSU can.

So that’s why there’s an “Open” in the “Open High School of Utah.” Just in case you were wondering.

3 thoughts on “Why Openness?”

  1. “When you adopt a curriculum that is copyrighted in such a way that prevents teachers from making improvements and necessary adaptations, you limit teachers’ ability to help students.”

    Hi David, can you point me to any research indicating the extent to which teachers are willing to modify their assigned curriculum or deviate from it. In other words, “do teachers teacher what they’re told to teach?” My interest differs from yours somewhat but it seems like the sort of thing you might have encountered. Thanks.

  2. I was nodding in agreement to the dot points of why, and had to lean forward when you said, “Alas, none of these hypotheses are correct.

    At risk of drawing us all into a debate ages old, I think Dan’s comment also hints at the same point. Do copyrights really affect teachers ability to copy and adapt media?

    Remember Brian Lamb’s post questioning the need for OER? It rang true to me. This is not to say OER is pointless, far from it. Its to say that the points you originally listed (and then some) are exactly the point. You could add things like OER builds critical literacy, enhances awareness (and compliance with) copyright law, engages with online communities and resources that are a better fit with learning and public education.. there’s more.

    The local control/freedom argument seems too abstract , and puts too much emphasis on content again. There are many other reasons other than copyright as to why teachers and students do and don’t modify educational resources. OER addresses them too, copyright is way down the list… I reckon

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