Open educational resources, editing, and economics

This graphic was created by my mom, who runs

It’s impossible to disagree with the principle of, as Ilkka Tuomi says in Open Educational Resources: What they are and why do they matter“a world where teachers and learners have free access to high-quality educational resources, independent of their location. Who wouldn’t want that? And what makes sense to me in the Cape Town declaration is the idea that if the public is paying for educational resources, the public should have free access, and “the public” includes the students using them. Last semester I taught some freshman composition courses, and my students at the community college paid more than $150 for the books for the course! For a writing course! The initiative from Cable Green and Washington State makes good sense for that reason alone. At the same time, however, that initiative is funded by a private foundation, Gates, which of course has its own agenda for educational change and certainly won’t keep underwriting this kind of development for every state in the union. In addition, it’s finding some challenges in the process (see thet commentary in the linked article about Washington State).

I want to be selfish for a minute, though, and figure out what all that means for me, given all the hats I wear. For instance, one of my larger clients is an academic journal publisher, for whom I edit papers appearing in seven different journals. I copyedit for the researchers and statisticians, making stylistic choices to adhere to the journal’s formal tone as well as ensuring things like all the citations in the text have sources listed in the References list. I also see journals, whether open or not, that are not edited in this way, and my eye immediately goes to the typos and infelicitous uses of language, errors, and usage problems. Likewise, when practitioners promote their theories on their blogs in order to foment that public discussion, I’m intrigued and interested in the results—while at the same time, I cringe at the run-on sentences, comma splices, typos, poor organization, unclear references, incorrect use of words like “comprise,” and so on. (I also cringe at these in the materials generated by my stepdaughters’ teachers.)

Definitely, my eye is more finely tuned than a normal person’s to grammatical nuances. But language primarily communicates, and poor language usage means that a reader is not receiving the clear communication she wants. Frankly, not all academics or teachers are, in fact, writers. Is there a place in open educational resources for qualified professional editing? Or do I need a new job?

This question becomes even larger: not everyone who knows about a subject is an expert in organizing content so that learners have the best experience they can, especially younger learners. Not everyone understands children’s cognitive and social-emotional development. That’s why K-12 teachers are required to attend hours and hours of professional training every year in order to remain a teacher and renew their licenses: in theory, at least, it helps them keep up with research in these subjects. That’s also why textbook publishers often pay for their editors to attend graduate school for MA degrees in education. My other clients are mostly educational publishers who are worried about the death of publishing. Sure, textbooks are expensive. Too expensive. But not everyone understands the enormous work that goes into creating them. Just as one example, at the K-12 level in the United States, each state has its own set of learning standards for, say, social studies. Maybe “history” in the generic sense doesn’t change…but what each state deems important makes it change, at least for the publishing industry. My old day job used to be keeping up with these developments in state legislatures and education departments, and publishers scramble to keep recreating textbooks when states change their minds about whether Thomas Jefferson is a crucial part of the U.S. History curriculum or not.

Perhaps it’s just that I don’t understand the economics of open source. How can I create “content” to share freely with the world when I need to be paid, somehow, in order to keep the electricity on?

One of the three strategies of the Cape Town Declaration includes the call for “educators, authors, publishers and institutions to release their resources openly. These open educational resources should be freely shared through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone.”  Fulfilling this and other strategies “will make it possible to redirect funds from expensive textbooks towards better learning.” I’m not seeing the step-by-step, flowchart kind of logic that shows this kind of business model, and I hope that my next course in the University of Manitoba Emerging Technologies in Learning certificate program, Open Educational Resources, gives me some ideas about how this can actually work in the context of U.S. elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. The principles of open access to information and knowledge appeal to me greatly, especially as someone who simply loves to learn; I look forward to learning about some practical examples that show how it can work.


7 Responses to Open educational resources, editing, and economics

  1. Thanks for this. Once we stray from the comfort of theory things (like implementation) get messy. As for saving money on textbooks to spend on teaching? Didn’t we just cut the teaching staff to buy Smart Boards? Publishers are just the current bad guy in the “why can’t Johnney learn?” saga.


  2. If I understood your second paragraph correctly it touched on the inability to control the quality of the content, especially if every which person could rework the content to suit his or her needs. This is definitely a concern, especially to the educational institutions.

    In the last course I took in this Certificate program, titled Instructional Design in Adult Education, they stated that instructional designers would often invest a lot of time looking for appropriate learning resources. Then if these located resources were poorly developed (for instance poor grammar or spelling), it would have saved time for the Instructional Designer to have just developed their own materials from scratch.

    I agree with what I thought to be your final conclusion: that The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, and possibly others as well, do not offer a business model to guide us in making this transition to open access of learning resources in educational institutions.

    Perhaps these initiatives could switch from speaking (and writing) of the ideals of “open access” and transfer to developing sustainable plans that educational institutes could easily implement.

    I enjoyed reading your clearly presented ideas and look forward to reading your future posts.

    Thank you for sharing.


  3. Leah
    Wow! Your blog entry is timely—When I started at Fort Hays State university I began mid semester and was assigned one online course in Blackboard (Into to Management). FHSU has a significant online program and the LMS is BB. All profs have to teach 4 courses, a combination of f2f and online. It was my responsibility to learn BB (Still learning!) but I have 1:1 support.
    Now to the point- I am working with the Provost on a project to set up an Adjunct Development Center for the rather sizeable Virtual College. My area is social media for communication. I am told the existing adjunct will resist the use of social media. Why? Salaries are low and they are all busy professionals who mostly graduated from FHSU and want to contribute via teaching.
    I see the same with part timers who don’t want to learn BB.
    The answer is in change management – find the early adopters and leverage their influence in a formal communication campaign to demonstrate the value of social media, to them individually and to the students.
    More as we proceed!
    Skip Ward

    • leahgrrl says:

      It’s not that people don’t want to learn, I think. In an earlier blog post I talked about simply not having time to learn a system if it meant time away from my real work or time that would be taken from sitting down one-to-one with students. Teachers, adjunct and full time, need time for professional development–and if institutions value this training as they say they do, they will make it happen.

  4. ebrownorama says:

    I too have written courses for online delivery–courses in which I have a background. When I first heard of writers and course designers preparing courses for online delivery in which they had no expertise, I was shocked. I know of examples where the course developers simply digitized a textbook and prepared assignments with questions from the content! Open educational resources must be reliable. Often everyone involved in creating course content is in a hurry, wants to get the course out there, and wants the job done at low cost. Course development, at least good course development, is a lengthy process and costs money. I think it behooves us as educators to review carefully the resources that we select for our learners. I am eager to learn how to filter OER so that we can be assured that the resources are reliable.

  5. Before taking the OER course at U of M I thought the idea of tiling a course with open content would be quite easy. I was wrong. While it might be a welcome relief from the over produced media surrounding us to put together a mesh-mosh of free learning objects, the sense making can get to be exhausting.

    Finding the right image or clip or text bit can be hard enough but then you have to find another to match and carry the narrative forward. After hours of assembly and re assembly I found that instead of the free content being my means of making a small bit of sense, it felt like the roles were reversed and it was my job to assist the content make sense of itself.

    Given the abundance of humans we have on this planet, why do we need to make copies of copies of things anyway? Seems like a waste of an obvious resource to not be surrounded by unique interpretations in constant flux.

    I do understand the need to bring education to everyone and how technology can enable that goal. For some reason we have simultaneously come to the conclusion this will all be very expensive. Education has never been cheap and we should be careful things like “open content” not be misdirected to mean money saving.

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