(a response to the post by Tony Bates – http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/03/18/a-reflection-on-the-oer-debate-every-which-way-but-loose/)

Quality matters. Quality takes effort. Quality takes time.

All of these are true, but the third, time, is tricky. Quality takes time because it involves the mistakes of practice. We don’t know what will work until we see it work. It also helps a lot to see something not work. Quality comes from refining a first effort. Practice is effective ONLY when it involes making instructive mistakes along the way. A good work may be the result of many stumbling iterations. OER has a unique avenue for that stumbling practice.

The tone of the post by Tony Bates and the reply by Keith Hampson (in the comments) provide some criticism, but seem to suggest that OER is only good in a finished form, one which has been quietly run through a gauntlet of peer review in the shadows, as it were. However, one of the main benefits of OER materials is the workflow of the community. A rough cut OER product may hold the germ of a wonderful piece of work. By putting it in a visible, shared place, an OER can be remixed. After several such remix steps, the result may please even the most harsh critics. What results may be the OER product you seek and would praise. The sequence is more in the open, though, and therefore a little more “messy” than a typical educational “product.”

I am not suggesting that a respected institution lend its name to shoddy work. I am proposing that the OER “movement” is still young. It absolutely NEEDS masses of contributors. OER isn’t business as usual with a few experts delivering the authorized “word” to the rest of us.

The interactive nature of the Internet, with its open borders, does not rely on the old models of scarce knowledge. New contributors can join the effort at any time. Some of their work may be weak at the beginning, but the persistent contributors will refuse to be silenced. They will keep at it. They will get feedback. They will generate new OER materials which supplant the product of the traditional educational power structure.

Third world, indeed. Who says expertise is exclusively a first world holding? Individual learning has never required anyone to be a silent sponge in the presence of academic giants. The printing press spread the world’s expertise to the masses (gradually), breaking the grip of the old power structure. The Internet is providing a path for even broader spread. OER simply prevents the power hungry from controlling access. If work is unlocked from the monopoly of copyright, it is available to any with the basic skill of reading and reasonable access to the network.

Any “religious” reference seems gratuitously negative. Indeed, OER proponents may be reacting to the closed status structure of the citadels of authority. OER may, indeed, originate outside the walls of the university. Does that make it a “religious” effort, or does it simply a challenge to the status of the credentials system (PostDoc, PhD, Master of Arts, Baccalaureate, whatever!) Does a person really need any of those to be a producer of “content”?

If anything, the OER “movement” might deserve “cult” status, since it bucks the authoritarian line of the “religious” hierarchy. Please note that I’m not suggesting that OER is either religious or cult-like. It does seek to wrench the world of knowledge from the hands of an educational elite. OER is an attempt to break loose from the caste system.

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