OER as “Classroom Exhaust”

Mike responded to my recent toothbrush analogy with a thoughtful response which included this tidbit:

The most elegant defense of what I’ll call the input theory of OER is “We just publish by-products of of work, which is sustainable (we have to do the work anyway) and useful (after all, we’re using it).” I’m sympathetic to this view — the best view of the input theory lot. In a lot of disciplines, it’s pretty close to the truth. So let’s discuss why the input theory works in some applications, but tends to fail in education.

Those of us working in the learning analytics space are familiar with the concept of “data exhaust” from elsewhere:

One of the most powerful things I have learned over the past year is the immense amount of data that comes out of using a computer system, specifically some form an online web based experience. At Union Square Ventures, we refer to this as data exhaust, or sometimes called digital exhaust, because it is the excess valuable information that is left in the wake of using a service. The best services capture this information in an elegant and effortless way, without any barriers or friction.

This remains one of the core investment thesis ideas in my mind when I look at a company that lives on the web. In an inverse relationship to environmental exhaust where usually the more left behind the worse the system, the web works in just the opposite way. The more data left behind, that can be harvested, the better the underlying network…

The data retained from data exhaust can be use for many different things. The first and most obvious is to make your experience better. Your profile and activities give off information that can be used and processed with a system, making your experience better the next time you arrive. This presents a sparse data problem for new users and new systems, but once the data asset is in place you have more of an incentive to return.

As I read Mike’s blog post, it made me think that OER (the way many conceive of it – in the context of large institutional initiatives) are simply “classroom exhaust.” That is, the OER that large institutional initiatives tend to share are the ‘excess information left in the wake of teaching a class,’ like syllabi and lecture notes.

I’ve no big point to make in this blog post other than to connect these two memes of OER and data exhaust in the notion of classroom exhaust. I thought it was interesting, so I shared. But of course these aren’t the only kind of OER in the world, and while they’re certainly valuable, maybe they’re not the ones we should be focusing on…

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