The Future of OER
Two days ago, one of Open Educational Resource’s leading pioneers did an abrupt about face. Dr. David Wiley, one of the most respected voices in Open Educational Resources, posted a blog article admonishing the bleak track record of OER and Zero Textbook Cost degrees and their impact on student outcomes. In the introduction to his blog Dr. Wiley wrote, “…if your primary purpose is improving student outcomes, the shrugging “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t” uncertainty is utterly unacceptable. So I’ve been thinking more than I’d care to admit about the relationship between OER and improving student outcomes. This thinking, with all the benefit that hindsight affords, doesn’t always reflect well on some of my earlier research…”.
Dr. David Wiley is currently the Chief Academic Officer at Lumen Learning, among other honors and titles. His personal website positions Lumen Learning as “a company dedicated to increasing student success, reinvigorating pedagogy, and improving the affordability of education using a combination of open educational resources, learning analytics, continuous improvement, and professional development”. Dr. Wiley is credited with coining the term open content in 1998. He has also authored and co-authored several studies examining the impact Open Educational Resources have on student outcomes. This is a man that knows OER. This is a man who has dedicated his life to providing open content for thousands and thousands – if not millions – of students. So, when he says something like this, it requires a moment of pause and reflection.
If you have spent any time reading OER effectiveness studies, you will read terms like “as good as” or “does no harm” when the study reports out about the interactions observed between OER interventions and student outcomes. In his blog he wrote, “It should surprise no one that media comparison studies find no significant difference in student learning. Why would students who use a pencil learn more than students who use a pen? Why would students who read an openly licensed textbook learn more than students who read a traditionally copyrighted textbook?”.
He continues, “When we reflect on the lessons learned from decades of media comparison studies, we shouldn’t expect to see a significant difference between students who use OER and those who use TCM. There’s no reason for us to expect that changing the copyright license of a work will impact student learning”. So, what about those handful of studies that do show some sort of positive interaction between OER and increased outcomes? He says,“…when studies find improvements in student outcomes, where are those improvements coming from? What are they attributable to? Something else. Or, as the jargon goes, confounding variables”.
Future of Intervention Research
Dr. Wiley suggests “…researchers looking for a difference in outcomes between students whose faculty adopt OER and other students whose faculty adopt TCM should explicitly describe the mechanism that they hypothesize will cause the difference in outcomes they are looking for”. He also says, “OER researchers have an opportunity to be more thoughtful about the way they control potential confounds”.
As a researcher currently investigating course materials interventions like Inclusive Access and Equitable Access, this blog gives me some things to ponder about my research. Is my methodology sufficient? Are my results a result effected by confounding variables? If someone this accomplished and more noteworthy than I could ever hope to become can question his own research and its place in understanding the effectiveness of OER’s impact on student outcomes, why should I not also reflect on my own work. Dr Wiley should be commended for his public stance. He should be commended for challenging his own work. He should be commended for forcing course materials intervention researchers everywhere to pause.