OERs… It’s Complex (#OpenEdMOOC)

To continue a discussion from last month’s Transparent Educative Experiences (#OpenEdMOOC), I wanted to tease out a few more ideas related to OERs and how OERs and pedagogy differ from a more systematic approach needed when researching OERs in practice.  As important as open and educational are in determining how an OER is defined, I find the two terms tend to be too nebulous when it comes to the obligation of narrowing down a researchable topic to something that is S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

OERs and Pedagogy

The vagueness of OERs is necessary when it comes to employing pedagogy within a formal educational context.  “It seems clear… that there ought not to be an a priori stipulation that something may or may not be an educational resource” (Downes, 2007, p. 31). Yet instructors continually consider different resources by anticipating how they might lead to certain student engagement patterns and/or learning outcomes.  They probably also look for inverse relationships that take certain learning scenarios that might dictate how resources emerge from the educative experience itself. Instructors then predict what could happen, then report certain results if they decide the share the resource with others, say as an OER.  The next instructor to use the OER (whether a process, artifact, etc.) will take this reporting (a stipulation or condition, context, situation, etc.) and adapt and/or adopt it as necessary as the process continues.  So, when teacher practitioners are actively using resources to promote engagement and particular learning outcomes, how necessary is it to create a taxonomy of OERs (e.g., types of resources and resource media)?  Pragmatically, resources either promote or hinder the educative experience… it either works or it doesn’t.  Creating a taxonomy and trying to reach a consensus about what is open or not, educational or not, or what a resource is or not, places too much emphasis on the resource (material or one particular individual) and less about the collective experience that involves the complete network of social relationships, materials, and ideas/concepts.  Thus, the act of stipulating comes from understanding context, as in where the OER came from and how it might serve a particular purpose locally.  A “negotiation” exists between one instructor stipulating how a given resource is “educational” from experience and another instructor stimulating by predicting how this same resource might serve a purpose going forward.  


When it comes to embodying OERs through research, terms like open, educational, and resource cannot remain vague.  The challenge is to follow a process of planning a research project that ends up being specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. To this end, Booth, Colomb, and Williams (2008) would consider the following:

  • From topics to questions
  • From questions to problems
  • From problems to sources
  • Engaging sources


My concern with researching OERs is that the vagueness of OERs and pedagogy fail to reconcile with the systematic approach required to researching OERs in practice.  Also, I feel too much focus adheres to a singular relationship between an OER and its impact, instead of a more complex stance that views OERs as an emergent cause and effect from a particular experience or set of experiences.  For these reasons, I think the only way to approach OER research is through complex-related theories: complexity theory, complex adaptive systems, complex networks, etc.

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