I’ve been thinking about what’s next for OER… With the current set of MOOCs – which aren’t even open – grabbing attention away from the real movement, we need an exciting idea to get behind. Something that can inspire another decade of work across the nation and around the world. (When was the last time you heard about a new OpenCourseWare initiative launching in the US? When was the last time you personally thought of OCW as being really innovative?) We need something that can capture the imagination, something that can inspire both faculty and institutional leaders, something that will bring another 100 US post-secondary schools into the open education movement. Most of all, we need something that will significantly bless the lives of millions of students, providing them access to educational opportunities that can radically transform their lives for good.
A recent Forbes article said, “in the case of low-tuition institutions (particularly community colleges), the cost of textbooks can even be in excess of the tuition and fees students pay.” Pondering the magnitude of this content tax on students, digging around in some community college program descriptions, and thinking about relevant, high-quality OER collections like those at Saylor, the Open Course Library, Project Kaleidoscope, and Flat World Knowledge, something has become very clear to me. There is currently a sufficient amount of high quality OER in the general education, business, and computer science areas that a community college could assemble a fully OER-based Associates Degree in either Business or CS from these materials if it had the institutional will and leadership to do so.
Consequently, the Fall 2014 semester will be the first one for which community colleges market “no textbook degrees.”
The “no textbook degree” – a degree where the materials formally listed on course syllabi are OER instead of traditional textbooks – cuts the cost of a community college degree in half. Imagine the competitive advantage for a school that can market a degree at 50% the cost of neighboring programs. Imagine the ease with which neighboring programs can make the same move, since it’s all based on OER.
By 2019, every community college in the country will have moved to no textbook degrees in business and computer science out of sheer competitive necessity. Other degree programs will follow. If Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation is to be believed, these OER will work their way up from the community colleges into the classrooms at public and eventually private universities.
An entire marketplace will spring up out of nowhere – in the same way that RedHat, IBM, and others provide services and support around open source software, new entities will provide service and support for institutions adopting OER and the “no textbook degree” model. Of course, the technically savvy will continue to adopt OER on their own, support themselves, and run Linux on their desktops.*
And finally, commercial textbook publishers will, for the first time, actually and acutely feel the impact of OER on their finances. By 2020, US students alone will have saved well over $1B.
Alan Kay famously said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” I think that means it’s up to me and you to make the “no textbook degree” happen. Let’s stop allowing the big name schools who cater to the wealthiest and brightest students to dictate the terms of the open education discourse in the public mind and public media (e.g., students who already have the academic preparation necessary to succeed in a course on Artificial Intelligence at Udacity). Let’s reclaim the open education discourse and make it about saving normal people money and increasing the academic success, graduation rates, and employment potential of normal people. We can do this.
* (Parenthetically, because of the continued uncertainty around the meaning of NC, the support marketplace will refuse to support NC licensed content. Thus, adoption and use of NC-licensed content will be confined to the DIY-ers among faculty, unless the creator of the NC licensed content is also a support provider. By 2017 the overwhelming majority of “casual creators” of OER that previously used the NC term will drop it from their licenses as they realize that NC condemns their content to obscurity due to lack of support.)