Another Response to Stephen

A quick search via Google shows that Stephen Downes is mentioned over 500 times on the pages of Iterating Toward Openness. What would I do without him to disagree and argue with? I would certainly be intellectually impoverished. As I’ve said before, everyone needs a Stephen in their life. Anyway, here’s another page to add to the pile…

In commenting on the recent announcement about the partnership between Follett and Lumen, Stephen asks:

What if students don’t want to pay money for these ‘open’ educational resources? Are they denied access? Isn’t this exactly one of those closed marketplaces people said would never happen?

Let me provide some additional context and then address Stephen’s concerns (and air quotes).

The Follett partnership is focused on two of Lumen’s offerings – Waymaker and OHM (Online Homework Manager). Both of these products wrap significant additional functionality around OER. Waymaker is Lumen’s platform for personalized learning. It wraps pre-assessments, in situ formative assessments, and summative assessments around OER. Waymaker provides each student a data-driven study plan that helps them understand where they are in their mastery of course concepts and how to best allocate their study time. Faculty also have access to a range of tools that make it easy to identify and reach out to students who are struggling while there is still time to do something. Similarly, OHM is a system for creating, managing, remixing, and delivering automatically generated and automatically graded homework problems in math and other quantitative disciplines. Like Waymaker, OHM wraps these and other features around OER.

Let’s answer Stephen’s questions now.

What if students don’t want to pay money for these ‘open’ educational resources? Are they denied access?

NO. Courses offered in Waymaker and OHM have public-facing “master” versions where all the OER are freely and publicly available, openly licensed, with detailed attributions. These are the versions that faculty review before making an adoption decision. (And yes, in the section-specific versions of these courses where students are enrolled things are exactly the same – all the content is licensed with exactly the same open licenses, with all the same detailed attributions). No one is ever denied access to the OER in Lumen courses for any reason. In fact, teachers can “adopt” a Lumen course and use it to teach their class by just linking their students to the publicly available content and never talking to – or paying – Lumen.

If you don’t pay, what you won’t have access to are personalization features, assessments, teacher analytic and communications tools, LMS integration, gradebook write back, and things like that. You’ll never be denied access to OER because of an inability to pay, unwillingness to pay, or for any other reason.

(I should add that, not only are the OER open, but the entire OHM codebase is also open, as is a good portion of the Waymaker codebase.)

Isn’t this exactly one of those closed marketplaces people said would never happen?

NO. Providing value-added services, whether it’s around open content or open source software, does not enclose the open content or OSS. And it particularly does not result in enclosure when you go out of your way to ensure free and unfettered public access to all the content via your website.

Not only does the enclosure you’ve feared for so long not happen in Lumen’s context, just the opposite does. Our work results in the creation of significant new resources that are contributed to the commons under the most open license. See, for example, the content of our College Success course, the majority of which was newly commissioned by Lumen and is licensed CC BY. Lumen has committed repeatedly and publicly that all new content we create will be licensed CC BY, and we have kept that promise from our founding almost 5 years ago.

2 thoughts on “Another Response to Stephen”

  1. It would appear that this longstanding, ongoing debate is focused on how best to support affordable education for all those who can and will learn.
    On the one hand we have the idea that costs should be borne by public supports determined by accountable democratic mechanisms. On the other hand, we have the idea that costs should be borne by private investments determined by the expectation of ROI.
    Thus, the more important questions have to do with identifying ways and means of testing these two polar viewpoints. So, when and how do we get to do that? Debate isn’t a suitable decision support tool without lots of empirical evidence.

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