The OER Content Trap

Recently I’ve been following  a discussion about the future of OER (Open Educational Resources). Most of the discussion has been via blog posts between David Wiley (@opencontent) and Rajiv Jhangiani (@thatpsychprof).  Others have contributed via Twitter.  It’s a friendly exchange with the key blog posts having been David’s

and Rajiv’s

The discussion is not really a new one. It’s the question of how to promote OER. There has been for a while two “camps” or points of view.  To simplify (or oversimplify) the question:  To expand OER use do we argue the “free textbooks” aspect emphasizing retain and reuse, or do we argue the “open pedagogy” practices aspect and emphasize revise and remix powers.  The points are, of course, well made and I’m not writing here to disagree.

Rather, what I want to suggest is that we’ve fallen into a trap by our use of the word “resources”.  We need to stop thinking about “resources” period.  No more OER.

Yes, I have a proposed replacement – wait for it.  First, let me explain where I’m coming from. The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading a book called The Content Trap by Bharat Anand.  Read it. Do it. It’s a highly readable, story-laden book about business strategy for digital businesses. But despite being so accessible, it’s also strongly supported by good research and the economics of business strategy.  Trust me. I’ve been a full-time academic for the past 15 years, but I’ve spent nearly four decades in the business strategy world. I spent a good 20+ years working on these kinds of issues: how to expand adoption of a new technology/product/process/service and how to compete. I spent a lot of time a few years ago helping to craft strategy for a college.  I don’t praise business strategy books easily. Most are crap or pablum. The Content Trap is not. It is based on both sound empirics AND sound economics and behavioral analyses.  The oversimplified, too short TL;DR version of Content Trap is this: focusing on the product is a trap. It’s the connections that count: connections between products, between customers, between producers.

Rajiv is right that part of the problem is changing minds and certainly understanding the relevant psychology should inform our advocacy.  David is also right about a very important thing: we are competing against the for-profit publishers and the publishers are pivoting their strategies towards platforms.  But the essence we’re facing is a strategic competitive problem.  It’s the Open folks vs. the for-profit, lock-down, lock-in publishers.  I think by focusing on the “resources”, the content, we’ve fallen into the content trap.  We worry about how to finance the costs of production of “free” textbooks. We worry about competing for adoption of OER texts vs. the publisher texts. We’re trapped into focusing on the content.  Even when we talk about open educational practices or pedagogy, OEP, we’re still focused on the content because we focus on how the content is used.

We’re not alone in this trap. Nearly all higher ed institutions are there too.  They almost all think their special sauce is are the courses they teach or the research publications they produce. They’re wrong.  Similarly, the special sauce in open education isn’t the OER, the resources, books, videos, and content. The real special value is in the connections people make, the community that forms, and the identities they forge.

So what should we be focusing on? Open Education Connections or Open Educational Communities. OEC.

I’ll have more to say in the coming month, God willing.  I know this is just kind of a tease so far but I don’t have time tonight to go further. In my own head I’m beginning to visualize winning strategies built around this concept of OEC’s. It’s a lot more complex than just a simple name, great strategies always are.

I’ve got a panel discussion at OER17 conference coming up in April.  I’m trying to put together a couple longer blog posts in preparation for that.  Right now I’m thinking this OEC idea might fit.

 

WPCampus Online – Ten Plus Ways to Teach With WordPress, a.k.a Open Education

Please join me today at the first WPCampus Online conference. It’s free. If you’re involved with higher education you’ll find it helpful – regardless of whether you’re experienced or new to WordPress.   I’ll be talking about examples of using WordPress to engage students and create an open education.  Here’s the full description:

All times are listed in Central Standard Time.

Date: Monday, January 23, 2017 Time: 2:00 – 2:45 p.m. Location: Room 2

The Magic of Teaching Using WordPress: 10+ Ways to Easily Transform Classes & Excite Students

Open Learning means no more boring disposable assignments and no more locked-down closed LMS’s. In Open Learning, students become to become creators and publishers, instead of passive receptacles for lecture. WordPress is the magic that enables professors to create open learning experiences such as student portfolios, writing-for-public assignments, collaborative open texts, and more. In this session, I will describe ten (or more) ideas and designs for how to customize a WordPress site for a particular instructional use case. For each, I will provide ideas for how faculty can get started themselves – regardless of whether their institution has a formal blogs or domains program. All examples are based on our experiences at the Lansing Community College Open Learn Lab or at some other Domains-of-One’s-Own hosting universities.

Here’s a link to my slides in case this viewer doesn’t display them or you want to download.  Links to all examples are in the slides.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1DAmm7hk7QyXjIelIyMslSGkVnAdRIdfqo9rlAxHhlOU/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000

Brexit, Trumpworld, and the Future of Open Ed: A Topic for OER17?

The deadline is looming in a few days for next April’s OER17 conference in London. I’m not even sure yet if I can make to the conference yet but the events of the past week seem to me compelling to us.
I’m thinking of proposing a panel discussion to discuss Open Education in a time of Brexit, Trumpworld, & whatever other shifts to the hard right happen before April. Specifically we would look at not only whatever threats the political shift from globalized neo-liberalism to far-right nationalism might mean, but more importantly in my opinion other issues:
  • examining the idea that open, connected, learning is more important than ever, and that open, connected, learning is the vehicle by which we combat long-term these trends
  • the implications for the more decolonization and opportunity in the rest of the world, after all, Brexit-Trump-Putin etc is pretty much a Euro-North American phenomenon.
  • what hidden opportunities might this shift away from neo-liberalism offer?
  • how might we change our approach to promoting open, connected education?
Martin Weller has already offered some thoughts from last September in Open Education and the Unenlightment.  I intend to blog heavily in the coming months on the subject and also include my Comparative Economic Systems class in the work.
Here’s the catch. I really don’t want to create another all-white-male panel.  We need more voices. If you’re thinking of attending OER17, interested in being part of it, and you don’t look like me (lucky you!) please contact me ASAP.  Either follow me on Twitter (@econproph) and DM me, or email me at   econproph(at)gmail.com.

Doing the Write Thing

The past 4 weeks have been unsettling.   As above, so below.  At my school where I’ve spent 8 years heavily engaged in governance, planning, and accreditation work I’ve come under a severe personal and “political” attack that has put the open learning project I’ve decorative image of trees reflected in pond led at risk.  I didn’t see that coming.  Yet, three weeks ago I participated in my first Lilly Conference. I felt comfortable and surprisingly (to me) confident. I’ve never thought of myself as having much pedagogical expertise. I always thought I was just an economist, an unconscious competent when it came to teaching.  I started to realize that even though I don’t have any degree in “education”, I’ve got something to contribute and I feel comfortable with these “teaching experts”.

Then two weeks ago it was OpenEd16. I’ve already written about that. I found my people. Never have I have felt more at home with some academic group.  I went to OpenEd hoping to tell the story  of what we’ve done with open learning and a domains of one’s own project at my community college.  I seriously hoped to get a kind of “that’s a good job, there, little bro” from all these thought leaders and big research schools that pioneering this movement.  What I got was a welcome and interest as a peer – people thought I had something interesting to say.  My voice was welcomed. And it was welcomed on a stage much larger than I pictured. It’s an international stage.

And then election came day.  Trumpland.  I didn’t see that coming either, but in retrospect this week, I should have.   I’m still an economist. I teach not only macro principles, but econ history and comparative econ systems.  But I listened to pollsters instead of relying on my own analysis as economic historian.  So I’ve been deeply buried in trying to figure out what Trump + Republican congress means. How will things change.  How do I explain it.  And I’m trying to figure all that out while sorting out my own feelings of grief for my country and society and my realization that I have to help protect all those that are so threatened  by this coming new administration.  I am fortunate enough to be older, hetero, white married male. I am not as vulnerable as so many others are.  That’s a privilege.

But with great privilege comes great responsibility. 

So what to do?  I realize that I’ve let my blogging and writing languish in recent years as I got more and more involved in governance and politics inside the little campus where I work.  I got tied up in a silly anxiety over whether I should use this blog, which originally started as just explanations of economic news for my students and somehow gained some followers, or use a different platform for topics that weren’t directly economic analysis: open learning concepts, pedagogy, management and leadership of higher education, and just broader social commentary.  I realize I’ve let my voice get too quiet.  I also realize that while I don’t have all the answers,  I can offer some unique perspectives.  What’s felt like an unfocused jack-of-all-trades-not-expert-in-anything career with corporate planning, strategic & technology planning consulting, teaching economics, economic analysis, college governance, economic history,  rhetoric studies, and pedagogy might actually be an advantage.  I can connect dots that others can’t even see.  I’m also now in my sixties. I’ve seen many things those that are younger haven’t and were never taught.

So I hereby commit to write more.  I’m going to contribute my voice more and quit hesitating.  The role I’ve come to play on campus needs to step up to a larger stage where more across long distance can hear and where I can amplify their voices.

I’ve developed a bad case of blogstipation*.   Specifically, you the reader can expect more and more frequent posts about the following themes. I promise there will be more of not only the original reason for this blog,

  • More macro policy analysis – As we shift from Obama’s inadequate policies based on broken mainstream macroeconomic theories to Trump’s likely to be volatile and failed policies based on a free-market fantasy, there will be much to explain.

but also more about what I’m doing and experimenting with pedagogically.

  • Open Learning – the nuts and bolts of what I’m doing, what I (we) are learning about learning, and the odd insight

I now see that I these aren’t entirely different worlds of thought.  They’re connected.  So I’ve got some pieces in the works that make the big picture connections.

  • It’s the End of the World, except It’s Not.  Brexit. Trumpworld.  Putin. Europe seems to be turning to the right.  I read and hear way too much commentary that sees this as the end of the world but sees it in older 20th century right-left, free market capitalist vs. socialist, cold-war or WWII terms.  It is possibly the end of a dominant system in the West, but that system is globalized neo-liberalism (don’t reach the verdict yet, the Empire has yet to strike back).  That view also ignores the heavily colonized vast rest of the world. What comes next?  There’s a lot to talk about.
  • Sub-Prime US.  Gardner Campbell  planted this seed.  The financial crisis of 2007-09 that started in the U.S. with the sub-prime mortgage mess wasn’t an accident. It was a feature of the system and not bug.  When seen as part of a globalized, neo-liberal, hierarchical system, we see that sub-prime is a class thing.  The “student success” and “completion” agendas and efforts in higher education have much in common with Wall Street’s embrace of sub-prime mortgages.  The corporate restructurings and shift of the US economy from manufacturing to finance & entertainment is part of a class system: the blue-chip 1% and the elite-educated struggling to become the 1%, and the rest of us reduced to sub-prime status.  Sub-prime us.

But I also have ideas about how we can lead, react, and fix this mess.  I need to document and share these ideas so they can be pollinated.

  • Flipped College – How we manage, organize, and lead higher education must change.  Much has been made in recent years of the need to “flip” the college classroom (I hate the simplistic moniker BTW).  But the classroom pedagogy is but a reflection of the institution itself. If we don’t want the classroom to be top-down content-delivery, we have to flip the college itself away from top-down hierarchical structures and practices.
  • some more that I don’t have cute little names for yet.

Stay tuned.  I have work to do.

 

Open is Alive

OpenEd16 isn’t your normal higher ed conference.  This year it had all the normal features of a higher ed conference: keynotes, the stimulating concurrent presentations, food, and evening socializing by academics that felt just a little more freedom by being out of town.   But it also had a something new. A jam session.

Yes, that’s right. In addition to organizing the usual conference, David Wiley (@opencontent) rented a drum kit and who knows what other instruments and somehow convinced the Hilton Hotel to allow us to take over the lobby bar from 8 to 10 last night. Anybody from the conference was free to step up to the microphones, grab and instrument, and make music with their peers. Peers they had never practiced with. Peers they were playing with for the first time. Peers who were all at different stages of experience in playing. Peers who had varying levels of talent and skill (I’m assuming that, since being at the zero level on that scale I can’t really judge). Does this sound like an open pedagogy class to anyone yet?

When I heard of the plan, it sounded crazy. But it wasn’t. It was brilliant. It was fun. It was energizing. Some people got up and danced. Many watched and listened intently. Many others were actively engaged in conversations around the room with the music of their peers as background. I think everybody there had fun. And I know I at least had a moment of insight, that exquisite moment when the blood surges in the brain near the right temple that Gardner Campbell told us about in the opening keynote yesterday.

Somebody called it the OpenEd band (although membership was rather fluid). I have to agree. The band actually demonstrated why open education (open pedagagy) works. I’m now music expert, but even I know that objectively they weren’t “great”. They certainly weren’t as polished or slick as the original bands that sold platinum albums of those recordings. But that peer-reviewed, objective standard of “great” didn’t matter. Nobody wanted to sit around and hear the albums of The Monkees, The Rolling Stones, Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Lynyrd Skynrd, and all the other bands whose songs got played. What mattered was who was playing and that they were playing – creating– live. Live music beats polished recorded music. Everywhere.

Why?  Why would we rather listen to flawed music, complete with mistakes, than all gather to listen together to the perfect, polished recording?  Because it’s live. And live means alive.

I think the same is true with students and learning.  Alive matters. Alive gets us the real learning, not the “picture of the learning”.  But for learning to be alive, somebody has to be actively creating something. We have to be part of a live experience.  To me, the core of open learning is being in that space where things and ideas are created. The best space for that is for both instructors and students to create, share, and publish their own work.  Simply reading or viewing the flawless, peer-reviewed, polished, perfected work of some publisher is like listening to an album in public. It becomes background noise. If directed, we can attend a small part of it, maybe.  But mostly, we it has no affect on us.  On the other hand, reading, viewing, and listening to each others’ creations in the same time and space as they’re being created engages us. It even inspires us to create ourselves.  The flaws don’t matter.  The creating does.

Open works because it’s live. And live means we’re alive.

David Wiley, the leader in the background.

David Wiley, the leader in the background.

David Wiley, you modeled the proper role of a professor tonight perfectly. You set up the space. You provided the assignment. You mixed the sounds to pull in everybody. Folks engaged the risky experiment because they trusted you. And then you let the students open it up and create. Open. Live. Alive.

Running Errands for Open Learning Ideas

This is my presentation for Open Ed 2016 in Richmond, VA.   It’s kind of a progress report on the LCC Open Learning Lab project.  It’s very much a work-in-progress (the Lab project, not the presentation).   Assuming the universe cooperates, I’ll follow-up on this posting of the slides with a few long-form posts explaining what I said and going into some more detail.

If perchance your browser or Internet connection takes too long to load the above presentation, you can download the file here.

 

Coming Out Party for OpenLCC

So the journey that started with creating this blog back in 2008 is taking another big step.  Today I’m launching and announcing the OpenLCC network (openlcc.net).  Let me retrace a few steps and explain.

I started this blog with two purposes: teach myself what this “blogging” bru-ha-ha was all about and to see if putting my thoughts about economic news in public might be of interest or use in teaching my classes. Please keep in mind that back in 2008 the economic world was collapsing and we here in Michigan were at ground zero. The textbooks didn’t really have much to say about it. Well it was a rousing success. Students liked it. I liked it. I was hooked. And hooked is probably the right term. I kept going for bigger and bigger fixes. Next it was a self-hosted teaching portfolio & syllabus site at jimluke.com. Then it was trying to create a mini-MOOC (Little Open Online Course?) for my principles courses. Student success rose. Engagement rose. It was easier to manage. Then it was getting the students in on the fun.  I let them blog and write in public for my two gen ed -oriented courses.

All this led to an opportunity this year to take some “re-assign time” to create an Open Learn Lab here at Lansing Community College. By the way, for the non-academics, “re-assign time” is a polite way of saying the school lets you cut back your teaching load by the equivalent of approximately a day a week in return for you devoting 2-3 days per week working on some additional project.  Anyway, I did it. And now we’re doing it.  The Open Learn Lab is modeled after the Domains Of One’s Own programs that were pioneered at University of Mary Washington and now at several (20-30?) major universities.  We’re the first community college.  I’m really excited.

Of course this means I’ll likely be blogging about some teaching, higher ed, and open learning topics now. But I hope to also keep blogging about economics (I still do teach some classes!).  Anyway, here’s the presentation for the “coming out” party informational presentation on campus. Like most of my stuff, it’s Creative Commons licensed, BY-SA (attribution and share-alike).  If you want to download the PPT or speaker notes, click on the little gear.