Response to “Colonizers and Edupunks”

This post began as a comment on Robert Barrow’s “Colonizers and Edupunks(&C.): Two Cultures in OER” Thanks, Rob for prompting my thinking on this.

The question of open texts vs. radical OER is an interesting one. My training as an economist colors my view on this. One lesson of economics is don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. An innovation doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be better.

While I haven’t thought this through yet, it feels to me like those in the radical OER camp are changing underlying assumptions without perhaps being explicit about that. Or they could be speaking from a different context. More on this below.

I accept Rob’s observation that customizing a open text invalidates (or may invalidate) the efficacy conclusions. That doesn’t prove the efficacy suffers in a particular context. Of course, it depends on the type and degree of customization. One reason for customizing is to make a text work better in a specific context. I know the context in which I teach.  I’m willing to take the chance of improvement (or the risk of worsening) from customization that makes sense to me. In short, statistical inference isn’t everything.

Replacing a commercial text with OER may not leave the teaching approach unchanged. Look at the Lumen Waymaker platform. Full disclosure: I helped create the Lumen platform.  We don’t know yet, nor will we for some time, but the mastery/personalization/analytics approach it embodies may enhance student learning, especially in lower level courses that emphasize content and conceptual knowledge.

2814710002_711e3b2d82_mSuppose one is teaching a introductory course to 100 or more first year students. This may not be the ideal situation for learning, but it is very common in higher ed, at least in the U.S. Moving from a lecture-based course to the type of course described by advocates of open ed, where students create their own knowledge base, is simply not feasible with class sizes that large, just as teaching a composition course that large (for example) wouldn’t work either.

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Could one do this in a small seminar ? Certainly.  I’ve done that myself in upper level seminars.  But that’s not the question here. Do students learn better using a mastery approach with no arbitrary time limits on how long a student should take to learn a specific lesson? The research indicates yes. Do students learn better using a one-on-one tutorial approach? Same answer. For someone teaching 100 or more students, the question is what can I do to enhance the learning of the students in the context I am facing? An open textbook, especially the more immersive types like Lumen’s Waymaker platform may have the potential to do just that.

Images courtesy of:

  • Teddy-Rised via flickr That Huge Lecture Theatre! http://bit.ly/1IpktCt
  • Michael Summers via flickr That’s One Lucky Fella http://bit.ly/1LF5
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1 Response to Response to “Colonizers and Edupunks”

  1. Steve says:

    “An innovation doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be better.” Or cheaper. That, I think, is one argument for OER.

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