The Cost Trap, Concluding Thoughts

Though I deeply enjoy my infrequent, often protracted conversations with Stephen – and find them deeply useful for clarifying and advancing my own thinking – I believe this one has just about run its course. Stephen has posted Four Conclusions on OERs he has drawn from our conversation. This will be my final post as well, and I’ll make only a few concluding points.

One of the things I’ve learned through this discussion is that some might benefit from the inclusion of a brief disclaimer somewhere on my writing. Something like this, perhaps:


My long term goals in advocating for OER are to (1) radically improve the quality of education as judged by learners and (2) radically improve access to education worldwide. However, the short-term goals I am currently pursuing as a step toward these longer term goals are to increase the effectiveness, affordability, and access to post-secondary education in the United States, particularly in the context of institutions that serve at-risk students. Please be aware that if your current goals with regard to OER differ from mine, one or more of the following statements may be either nonsensical or untrue in the context of your goals. Please also be aware that this does not make them nonsensical or untrue in the context of my goals.


Actually, I just added it to the bottom of the information in the right-hand column,  just below the licensing statement.

Stephen writes,

Wiley concludes,

most of the disagreement (and occasional confusion) between Stephen and me is my desire to work within the context of existing formal educational institutions and his desire to work outside / around them.

Yes. But also that really important bit about the goal of the OER movement and the other bit about endorsing a specific pedagogy.

Let me start with “the goal” of the OER movement. The assumption that all the people participating in the global OER movement have a single goal strikes me as wrong. This is why, a few posts ago, I stated that “the question we must each ask ourselves is – what is the real goal of our OER advocacy?” Our advocacy. Not ‘what do you believe the “real goal” of the global OER movement should be?’ I then tried to reinforce the idea that, for each of us, the specific goal of our advocacy will be something individual to each us (“Personally, my goal is…”).

Every time Stephen says “the goal” instead of “a goal” or “one of the goals” I find myself unable to agree. If, for example, instead of saying:

the objective of providing access for all… [is] demonstrably the goal of the vast majority, if not all, people working in OER

he would say:

the objective of providing access for all… [is] demonstrably a goal of the vast majority, if not all, people working in OER

then I could agree wholeheartedly and without reservation. Yes, increasing access is one of the goals the majority of people in the movement share. And yes, it is likely true that more people share this goal than any other. But that doesn’t make it “the goal” of the OER movement (unless you define membership in the movement as identifying “access to all” as “the goal” of the movement). People in the OER movement have many additional goals, and they aren’t always subordinate to the goal of access for all. I know many people to whom the goal of transforming teaching and learning is equally important with the goal of increasing access. Are they “outside” the movement because they don’t believe that access for all is “the goal” of the movement. I would say no. I think the movement is more inclusive than that.

Now as for “endorsing a specific pedagogy.” OER-enabled pedagogy is “the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities.” That’s not a specific pedagogy. I’ve been pretty clear about that:

As for usage, the phrase “OER-enabled pedagogy” can be used as-is to talk about how the 5R activities facilitate new kinds of teaching and learning in general. You can also put one or more additional words inside the phrase, like “OER-enabled constructionist pedagogy, when you’re trying to describe the additional learning-mediating leverage the 5R activities give you in the context of a specific model of teaching and learning. (emphasis added)

There’s no advocacy here for a specific pedagogy. The advocacy is for the idea that when we use OER in teaching and learning we should take advantage of the affordances offered by OER. Those can be creatively leveraged across a wide range of teaching and learning practices. To argue that we should reject OER-enabled pedagogy when we adopt OER is to argue that we should be careful to use OER only as if they were still fully copyrighted and very expensive. It’s not clear to me who would argue that OER adopters should never cross the line into taking advantage of the affordances of the OER they’ve adopted. But it is something that you see happen frequently and quite by accident – people adopting OER and then using them exactly like they used the proprietary textbook they were using last term. Advocating for OER-enabled pedagogy is about trying to help people understand that there’s more they can do with OER.

To illustrate this point: after most of us purchased our first smart phone, for some period of time we continued to use it like our old phone – only to make calls and send texts. We didn’t really “get” that with this new phone we could also take pictures, read and send email, watch videos, surf the web, play music, and do other things. We needed someone to point this out to us and show us how it actually works.

Part of what caused this problem was our initial insistence on continuing to call these devices “phones” (e.g., smartphones). Today many people call them mobile devices, and that new language no longer limits our thinking about their potential uses. This is one of the reasons I strongly advocate against the phrases “open textbooks” and “free textbooks,” because they similarly limit people’s thinking about the potential uses of OER to only what was possible with traditional textbooks. It’s like conceptualizing a car as a horseless carriage. We drag this old vocabulary forward at our peril.

Anyway, that’s what my advocacy for OER-enabled pedagogy is about – not arguing for a specific model of teaching and learning. You can continue using your specific connectivist or constructivist or cognitivist or behavioral or constructionist or other pedagogy or andragogy. However you prefer to think about teaching and learning in your context, that’s great. There’s no advocacy for changing your specific approach – just encouragement to look for ways that the affordances of the OER you adopt can help you do what you do, better. (And if you want to think about doing it differently, that’s great, too.)

Stephen also writes,

Wiley is free to focus on the 3%. But his efforts to limit the entire OER movement as a whole to that demographic are (to my mind) misrepresentative and damaging.

I’m not sure how I could have been clearer in my previous posts that I think it is critically important that many more people and organizations are experimenting with many more models targeting many more demographics (including, potentially, the whole world) – that we need an ecosystem supporting “ruthless massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle” with regard to competing approaches to OER advocacy. I wrote at some length about why I’m glad that Stephen is taking a different approach to his work. I wrote about how dangerous it is that there’s so little diversity in the movement’s structures and sustainability models. I don’t know how you can read that and believe that my goal is to “limit the entire movement as a whole” to any single model or demographic. We need far more work coming from far more perspectives using far more models – not less. Maybe if enough people take a first step, someone will actually succeed in taking a second.


For all the effort I spend arguing with Stephen and giving him a hard time, he’s a true blessing in my life. No one pushes my thinking like he does. We share a common long-term goal. He genuinely wants to make the world a better place. He’s incredibly bright. He’s willing to argue with me – at length and in depth. (Have you heard about the time we sat down in a courthouse and argued for eight hours?) Though I fail frequently, he helps me practice engaging in civil discourse with someone I disagree with. I’m not sure what more a person could ask for.

I hope you have a Stephen in your life. If not, you should try to find one. Happy weekend.