I’ve been involved in some conversations lately to examine how OER might be leveraged as core curriculum resources (read: replacements for textooks, for those who still use such things) in K-12.

At some point in these conversations, the question of the role of traditional publishers arises. For the most part, publishers have not been a part of these discussions, whether by choice or a natural repulsion I’m not sure. Certainly, a concern with the tenets of open-licensed materials has been collectively expressed by their lobbyists, and one can easily understand their apprehension. At the same time though, I hear that a few publishers are also sniffing around the edges with possible interest.

Regardless, their voices are important ones to include in the discussions of the next evolution of instructional materials.

Publishers are important stakeholders and have a wealth of valuable expertises and experiences that can and should be brought to bear on the challenges we all face addressing the achievement and engagement gaps in schools.

Further, OER is not all about “free” in the no cost sense. To be successful and sustainable, OER must include models that bring together free and fee-based, profit and non-profit, public and private, business and academia.

To stretch the thinking about how traditional publishers might engage in new models of OER in K-12, I’ve been thinking about a range of possible collaboration scenarios that go beyond just asking publishers to open-license their work.

(For the purpose of clarity, I’ve used the term “OER provider” to refer to a group primarily involved in producing and distributing open resources and a “publisher” to refer to a traditional commercial publisher. In reality, the roles could overlap or even be reversed.)

  • An OER provider might act as a reseller of  selected products or services of a traditional publisher. These products or services would complement the free OER offerings, thereby offering the customer added value and the publisher extra revenue.
  • An OER provider who wants to distribute a print version of their content (at some cost) might collaborate with a publisher to do so.
  • In a similar vein, an OER provider might partner with a publisher for distribution and sales services. This role could expand considerably for OERs submitted for state adoption, a process with which publishers have unique expertise.
  • An OER provider and a publisher might co-develop new product, which could then be open-licensed or sold.
  • An OER provider and a publisher could partner on new funding options, from sources such as public or private grants, venture philanthropy, state co-development funds, etc., to do any of the above.
  • An OER provider might acquire content or product from a publisher. This could be especially attractive to publishers who have duplicate lines they are not marketing, as is the case for many after the massive consolidation of the industry.
Publishers and OER collaborations
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