• OER and a Pedagogy of Abundance

    Martin Weller gave a 30-minute presentation last week for George Siemens’s CCK09 course on an idea he called “the pedagogy of abundance.” The key idea was that teaching in the past had been based on a scarcity model. I interpreted this as meaning knowledge was scarce (or closely guarded) and educators (the “talent”) were the scarce high priests on high–classic sage on the stage. He likened it to the music industry, which doesn’t strike me as too far off-base.

    However, the music industry has been forced to change. The talent was still scarce, but production and distribution were now abundant. As we know, artists can even easily self-publish and promote, taking that power out of the record industry’s grasping hands. Educational resources are now experiencing the same sort of revolution. It’s suddenly easy for content developers to share their content; it’s the age of abundance.

    Weller listed several requisites for the pedagogy of abundance:

    • Content is free
    • Content is abundant
    • Content is varied
    • Social-based
    • Network is valuable
    • Crowdsourcing

    Looking at that list, it’s very heavily influenced by principles of the Open Source movement and, consequently, the Open Educational Resources movement. That movement was given a huge boost in terms of available content, quality of content, and certainly profile by MIT’s large-scale OpenCourseWare project.

    One problem, however, with this model is that, while the content is free to consumers, it’s not free to the producers. In a November 10th Guardian article, author Harriet Swain states that it costs MIT between $10,000 and $15,000 to put material for each course online. She also mentions that Utah State University recently had to freeze its own project after failing to raise an addition $120,000 US/year needed to fund their project. MIT’s project is being paid for—at least partially—with donations and corporate sponsors. I suspect some of that cost is rights clearance for materials and converting courses developed prior to the project to the OpenCourseWare format. If so, the cost should go down as authors are encouraged to make use of free materials and develop in a format appropriate for easy publication via OpenCourseWare. Still, it does demonstrate that producing and disseminating high-quality free content is in itself not necessarily free.

    Nevertheless, several institutions, including the Open University, are still committed to producing this content, not to mention countless individuals. Free content that we can remix. reuse, and repurpose fits beautifully and naturally into several of Weller’s suggested models, like resource-based learning and problem-based learning. However, it can also fit into constructivism, communities of practice, and connectivism too, where we’re actively building a shared understanding of materials through exploration and collaboration.

    With the glut of content available, it’s easy to drown. Backchannel discussion talked about the need for information filters and crap detection (see Howard Rheingold’s excellent article). With too much choice comes uncertainty and second-guessing, something Barry Schwartz has done some research on. Shared exploration and collaboration works well with the “guide on the side” metaphor, where you have subject expert mentors who help create “paths” through the sea of content, providing an intelligent information filter.

    George Siemens mentioned that this was similar to Darken’s (1996) “wayfinder” metaphor from gaming, an apt linkage. This skill is necessary for both learners and mentors, because we’re both in a transition period between scarcity and abundance. The information filtering issue probably won’t be as pronounced or maybe even worth mentioning by subsequent generations. Does that render the pedagogy of abundance a meaningless discussion or concept? I don’t think so, because we’re still talking about ways to promote participatory learning and encourage connected constructivism, regardless of the strategies people use to locate the content needed to do that.

    Weller’s presentation ends with three conclusions:

    1. There’s nothing in a pedagogy of abundance.
    2. There are sufficient theories already; they just need to be recast.
    3. None of the existing theories adequately captures the technology and behaviour, so a new theory is required.

    Initially, I tended towards two, although I commented during the presentation that many of the suggested pedagogies can be mixed and matched. If you’re mixing and matching, you could end up creating something new, which could potentially make it number three.

    Resources and References:


    6 comments on “OER and a Pedagogy of Abundance”

    • Essay says:

      Their reputation plus large repositories in a single location means that people can easily find content and will be more willing to trust its authority or accuracy on the basis of the repository’s existing reputation.

    • Essay says:

      Hi Michelle,

      I was really thinking that you will talk or include youtube in your article but i was surprised it was not even mentioned. Maybe i was thinking something else when you talk about the music industry as to how artist can produce their own or market their own using social sites such as youtube or facebook. I have no idea about OER or MIT, but i was really concerned about the power of social sites like the ones i mentioned. Producers are not doing it free will the consumers are watching and listening things for free. I already saw an essay about “piracy on social networking sites” and there was even a case where the kid was dancing with a popular music owned by a big music company. Open source, free, public, community, friends and social words are now a harmful things to the industry.

      Mechan .. youtube user

    • Martin says:

      Hi Michelle
      I think it depends on your definition of OER. If it is the very ‘heavy duty’ OERs we have seen from the OU and MIT then these costs might be true (but I’ll come back them). But if by OER we just mean any reusable educational resource then there are cheaper ones. An obvious example is a slideshare presentation. Given that we are creating the slides and giving the talks anyway they are almost zero cost to produce.
      On the costs of the ‘traditional’ OERs I think part of the problem is in trying to graft an OER system onto an existing system that hasn’t been set up to think that way. This means you end up having to do messy stuff like take out references to other course material, or clear rights etc. But if you have as your starting principle that all material will be released freely then it can be a fairly frictionless process.

      • Eingang says:

        Thanks for stopping by, Martin.

        I agree there's big OER as illustrate by MIT OpenCourseWare and little oer, like the Twitter Love Song or the Pedagogy of Abundance slideshow. I also agree that it's likely the high cost per course at MIT at the moment is due to rights clearance and preparing pre-existing content for the format; that cost should go down as people format the content appropriately from the start and use rights-cleared or freely licensed content in their material.

        However, the bigger issue hiding in here isn't actually the cost, although an awareness that there is a cost is a good thing to have. Big OER has a huge advantage over little OER in two areas: findability and reputation. In the talk's backchannel and in my blog post, we talked about information filtering and crap detection. An abundance of OER content means there's a need for finding appropriate content to use. MIT, The Open University, and other such initiatives are well-known with respected images. Their reputation plus large repositories in a single location means that people can easily find content and will be more willing to trust it authority or accuracy on the basis of the repository's existing reputation. MIT and The Open University can become de facto information filters. Little oer has a much harder row to hoe in that respect.

        I can't help but wonder if that means that means, in the world of a pedagogy of abundance, we'll see a similar pattern as to what happened with ISPs? At first ISPs proliferated. There were many, many to choose from. Eventually, over time, it collapsed down into a few major companies along with a few hardy independents in a given area. Will OER mature the same way, simply because of the reputation and findability issues?

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