Saturday, October 20, 2007
OpenEd Week 8: One Button to rule them all
Building a sustainable business model around giving away educational materials is, as the readings indicate, tricky. Giving educational materials away for free does not bring in money to pay for staffing of personnel who work to give these educational materials away, or the extra time that a creator of educational materials takes to prepare the materials to be given away. But money is not the only thing that motivates people, in fact, it is not even the main thing that usually motivates people. Many people are motivated by desires to help others, have peer review etc. There are many economic models that creators of open educational resources currently use to fund their initiatives.
Models of funding for OER initiatives
-Endowment model - The project obtains a base funding from a grant or charitable organization.
-Membership model - Members pay for membership for special privileges early access, road map decisions code releases and documentation.
-Donations model- Development is funded by community donations.
-Conversion model - Users are converted into students.
-Contributor pay model - Contributors pay for the cost of maintaining the contribution. The provider makes the Initiative freely available
-Sponsorship model - Advertising pays for an OER initiative.
-Institutional model - An institution takes its own monetary responsibility for OERs.
-Governmental model - A government takes its own monetary responsibility for OERs.
-Replacement Model - Use of OERs can replace expensive systems like blackboard.
-Foundation model - Funding comes from foundations if deemed to be worthy.
-Segmentation model - Value added services are provided along with oers for a price.
-Voluntary support model - Fund-raising efforts pay for OER initiatives.
Wiley also brings up another important model in which the cost of the creation of open educational resources becomes almost nothing and therefore it is sustainable in the long run. It seems to me that this would need several things to fall into place if it were to become widespread. First, technologies (including proprietary systems like blackboard) would have to widely adopt a “one button” functionality to take a course that is online from being closed to open. If this type of functionality is not adopted by proprietary systems like blackboard, then universities that use blackboard would have to make a switch to a different learning management system that either has the potential for allowing the creation of such a “one button” function (open-source programs allow this), or already integrates this function (Wiley indicates that the Sakai project is working on this). Open source learning management systems that do not already contain a “one button” function to take a course into an open course from a closed course would have to be programmed to do so. This, of course, costs money but could be a great money-saver in the long run.
Blackboard is not likely to change their system to allow for a “one button” functionality, so there will be costs involved in exporting a blackboard course to fit another learning management system which does have this functionality. Blackboard now holds somewhat of a monopoly (though I do not know why, especially when other systems are so much easier to use and less expensive) so they are in a position to do whatever they want. When all is said and done, it would probably be faster to take the course from blackboard straight to an open courseware system like eduCommons rather than having universities convert all of their course material from blackboard to Sakai. Still, open source learning management systems are gaining ground especially among academic institutions. Moodle usage has almost exponentially increased since its inception, and Sakai has done the same with a more limited adoption.
There is still the question of courses that are not currently online or are only online as a supplement to face to face courses. Conversion of these courses to an online system such as Moodle or Sakai still takes an enormous amount of work and therefore, cost. The open educational resources movement does not have, to my knowledge, any tool that will help a professor who is not adept at technology to take their own face to face course and add it to Open CourseWare with a type of “one button” function. Such a technology would likely be very complex and require high costs in programming, but would enable a very low cost in the provision of open educational resources. An interesting parallel was a piece of software developed by the ID2 research group at Utah State University. This software followed M. David Merrill's Instructional Transaction Theory. It asked for certain items from the user, and then arranged these in such a way as to become properties of an item that was to be learned. So the system asks for the information that it needs, allows the user (subject matter expert) to enter that information, and then as long as the system has all of the information that it asked for, it can organize and place the information in a purportedly instructionally effective manner. Can a similar approach be taken to help professors provide open educational resources? A system could ask the professor or an assistant for certain files and the professor/assistant can explain what module these files belong to. Then the system can take them and arrange them for final approval. All of this would have to be done using terminology that the professor/assistant understands, and would avoid arcane technical terms. Of course there are still those who have class materials on paper only and these would have to be converted to a digital format.
Giving away credentialed degrees for free is quite of problematic, especially when students are still paying tuition for their education. You really have to justify this method of giving away degrees when others have dutifully worked to pay their tuition and make it through a difficult 4 years at an institution of higher education. I think that so far the two cannot be reconciled. If education is going to be free for one, it will have to be free for all. The only sustainable model that would make this work is having the government take care of the bill. This is the case in our education system except the government is only willing to pay so much. Grants, donations, and students have to foot the rest of the bill. So until the government is willing to pay more, or grants and donations take over, it seems to me that students will have to pay for credentialed degrees.
So should governments step in and fund open education initiatives? I think they should. Let me just say that open educational resources would be best served if the production of them can be made as inexpensive as possible. Then let the government come in and help fund OER initiatives. Developing countries can benefit from aid or their own government's money to make OER initiatives work locally. OER initiatives are a way for a government to give the result of the tax dollars that are spent on higher education (and paid by the general population, including those who never attend a government-sponsored university) back to people who are not currently attending a university.