A Broader View of OER: In Response to McShane’s Article on Open Education

Michael Q. McShane’s article, “Open Education: Is the federal government overstepping its role?” (Winter 2017) makes the case that educators are essentially consumers of open education resources (OER) who lack the time, skill, and support to handle the “administrivia” required to be serious developers of content and pedagogy that can meet the needs of their students.

ednext_XVII_1_mcshane_img01Yet this is precisely what educators and librarians are doing nationwide.

Teachers and school librarians, for example, are working together in states like Arkansas, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington to make sense of and make better use of a wide array of high quality OER content in OER Commons. States are creating their own OER hubs to curate and create open educational resources to share with educators across their state and in other states in a broad range of fields, including English Language Arts, STEM, and ELL. For example, Washington’s Hub is searchable across districts using taxonomies that align with the state’s priorities for subject areas and learning progressions. In many states, these hubs are reviewed by expert teachers using the same rubrics that would be used for traditionally published materials. Thus the use of OER is accompanied by these open education practices and pedagogy among teachers, librarians, and others, increasing the professionalism of educators nation wide.

It is curious that Mr. McShane presents the OER movement as an effort to disrupt the textbook market rather than as a widespread effort to create, share, remix, and reuse learning content. With funding from major foundations and with state and district efforts to train teachers to become content curators, as opposed to content consumers, OER is helping to mobilize educators and librarians to bring quality, curated content to school and college classrooms in ways that students learn best. Why wouldn’t the U.S. government support this type of work?

The author’s statement that “the government should not throw its weight behind OER unless and until it knows that such resources are truly the wave of the future” fails to recognize just how government can help popularize and create policies and conditions that make it possible to do this work and to overcome the necessary barriers to do so. Recognition for competency-based education, e-rate subsidies to expand Internet access for schools, or support for charter schools, for example, could not have become significant waves of the reform without supportive policies and public investment. OER can use a policy boost to help expand the use of OER and loosen procurement policies that favor long-term contracts with commercial publishers.

We need to be clear that the value of open education is not that it supplants textbooks or will overrun the wealthy publishing industry. It is a crucial means to organize and transform the work of faculty, teachers, librarians, independent scholars and learners to create, curate, and enhance content to add value and coherence to what students learn.

– Guest Blogger Lisa Petrides

Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., is CEO and founder of ISKME


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