OER: the death of the solipsistic academic?

OER

The challenge faced by the Open Educational Resources University is not translation, context or learning styles, it is not a question of interoperability of learning environments or granularity of learning objects, SCORM compliance or IMS standards; it is perhaps rather a question of academic identity. We have a lot of identify work to do.

I remember first meeting  Wayne Mackintosh at the Third Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF3)  in Dunedin, New Zealand, in July 2004, hosted by DEANZ, the Government of New Zealand and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The theme for PCF3 was “Building Learning Communities for Our Millennium: Reaching Wider Audiences through Innovative Approaches”. Wayne was convener of our thoughtful, diverse, varied and anarchic think-tank. We talked about kite-marks, quality standards, intellectual colonialism and poverty. The seeds of the OERu were visible then.

It is no surprise to see Wayne Mackintosh, Director OER Foundation, leading the initiative for Open Educational Resources University, OER university (#oeru). The initiative is raising some interesting critiques, and questions, which Tony Bates summarizes succinctly. But these are still issues of institutional norms, governmental process and sectorial quality assurance. I sense we are asking a lot of people.

There are people in the world who are good at facilitating learners’ encounters with new concepts and ideas, there are people who can enthuse, capture and motivate; and there are those who write, design, narrate and structure learning in meaningful ways. It is as often pride, as much as institutional conventions, that gives rise to academics’ conviction that they must fulfill all these roles. Whilst an academic was once the guardian, seeker, generator and clarifier of the codex of knowledge in their domain, they are now primarily its steward and pride is best placed in a more defined function.

That knowledge was once defined in terms of individual libraries, writings and musings suggests only that it was confined to the means available to communicate it. To consider it now practical, or realistic, for an individual to hold the key to a domain of knowledge is nothing less than a delusion born of vanity.

The world of knowledge creation, dissemination and propagation has changed radically in the last 30 years, and with it, academic identity. It is simply illogical, not to say inefficient, to expect a single academic to research, write, and teach all the content for their university courses. What the OER movement represents is a 21st century model of knowledge propagation, a contemporary revisioning of the master-pupil relationship, and a means of making learning accessible beyond the single, constrained, voice of the solipsistic academic.

For the faculty that make-up our institutions to accept their emerging role as validators of the learning that happens without them necessarily ‘teaching’ what is validated, and teaching what is validated by others….. that is a huge leap into the unknown, and that surely, is the biggest challenge facing the OERu.

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3 Responses to OER: the death of the solipsistic academic?

  1. Hi Simon,

    That’s a good reflection and I wonder why it is taking us so long for us in the solipsistic academy to move forward. Perhaps the reflective skepticism is one of reasons for the survival of the university — one of a few organisations to survive the industrial revolution.

    You’re right the seeds of the #OERu concept were around laying fallow back in the days of PCF3. As an aside — PCF3 was a not-so-successful attempt at the unconference. Not my doing or innovation. I offered to help the organizers in facilitating a session and you can imagine my surprise when I learned a few days before the conference that I was responsible for facilitation a group of +80 delegates from +30 counties for three days! Nonetheless — a great experience.

    So why has the OER u concept taken so long to materialise? Apart from the obvious point of the technology enablers like the social web and social media, I think you are right about the people point. I sense a social maturation with reference to collaboration, sharing, sustainability etc which wasn’t around in 2004 — only two years after the birth of the concept of OER.

    I think we are going to get this right this time round. We now have 10 accredited universities and colleges from Africa, Asia, North America and Oceania who have signed off at the highest executive level to join the OER Tertiary Education network and make this happen. Sadly — to date, now founding anchor partner from Europe :-(. Can you help?

    Don’t forget to sign up as a virtual participant and help us plan these futures as we did back at PCF3. Interesting — the circle is closing — we are back in Dunedin again!

  2. Tracey-Lynne Cody says:

    “There are people in the world who are good at facilitating learners’ encounters with new concepts and ideas, there are people who can enthuse, capture and motivate; and there are those who write, design, narrate and structure learning in meaningful ways. It is as often pride, as much as institutional conventions, that gives rise to academics’ conviction that they must fulfill all these roles.”

    So what does that leave us with, Mr Atkinson?! I think this is what the act of “teaching” is about…though it doesn’t have to be in a way that insists on holding the power. I’m curious as to what an alternative looks like…?

  3. Terry says:

    “To consider it now practical, or realistic, for an individual to hold the key to a domain of knowledge is nothing less than a delusion born of vanity.”

    Hear hear! I’d like to see Academics **and other roles** in institutions (learning technologists, lab managers, etc) work together to build and share domain/concept maps with nodes of ACCESSIBLE OERs to promote the discipline. Invent Academic 2.0!!

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