There is a lot of talk right now about concerns regarding quality and OER. Quality is obviously of foremost concern with regard to educational materials;  however, I think that those who are castigating OER on the basis of quality concerns are confusing OER with mass collaboration.

Mass collaboration, of course,  is a process by which a task is undertaken by a collective of many (who may be anonymous or not, who may have expertise or not, who may be accurate or not, etc.). This is the development process that has created Wikipedia and some other open resources. I am not going to debate the merits of mass collaboration here (but those who know me might know that I am generally a fan of mass collaboration).

It is mass collaboration that breeds, in many, grave concerns about quality.

However, OERs are not all created by a process of mass collaboration. In fact, many high quality OERs, FreeReading, NROC courses, CK12’s Flexbooks, and most OpenCourseWare resources among them, are not created through mass collaboration, but through a relatively conventional development process that involves a basis in research, writing by qualified experts, and vetting by panels of subject-area authorities.

In short, they are created through a process that does not differ much from that of traditional educational resources, such as printed textbooks.

Appropriately, many state initiatives advancing open textbooks for K-12, such as in Texas, require a quality review and adoption process similar to that of other textbooks. Again, I’ll refrain from debating the merits and fine points of state department of education adoption policies (as much as I’d like to…another time perhaps).

What I would request is this: If you are rejecting the value of open educational resources on the basis of quality, examine the development and quality assurance process involved to see how it measures up. The benefits of OERs to our teachers and students are too great to do otherwise.

The quality issue
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3 thoughts on “The quality issue

  • Pingback:Mass Collaboration, Quality and OER «

  • January 13, 2010 at 6:24 am

    Thanks Karen.

    Having been on the FreeReading dev team when it started, thanks for the “high quality” shout out. You bring up a very valid point – most OERs are created through a relatively conventional dev process – sometimes even by the same people that create content for the big publishers.

    While mixing and mashing of content can lead to amazing as well as not-so-amazing learning resources, one of the challenges many OER aggregators face is just getting people to mix, mash and most importantly “share back” in the first place. Hard to judge the “quality” of mass collaboration, when the mass collaboration isn’t really happening in mass.

    I agree with you 100% Re: “The benefits of OERs to our teachers and students are too great to do otherwise”.


  • January 14, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for the comments, Anna. There are two issues here: the quality of the resource as it is initially presented by the developers (be they a team of content experts or the “mass”) and then the quality of the resource as it is remixed. My concern and the concern I’ve heard others express is with the former. I don’t think people are distinguishing between OERs that are created by experts and vetted for quality and those that are created by the “mass.” Many seem to think that all OERs are created through a process like Wikipedia.

    Regarding the latter, teachers “remix” conventional resources like textbooks everyday, though they may not call it that.

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