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Observations from Open Ed 2015

By Andrew Han in the group Teaching and Learning at Athabasca December 7, 2015 - 1:14pm Comments (1)

OpenEd 2015

November 18–20 of this year, over 500 hundred delegates attended the 12th annual Open Education Conference at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver.  This was my second trip to OpenEd as I had last attended in 2012, also in beautiful Vancouver. For anyone with the remotest interest in OER (open educational resources), OpenEd is an occasion not to be missed. The conference did not disappoint. Here are my main observations:

It became clear that the mood and tone of the conference had shifted from the euphoric, almost evangelical, vibe of 2012 that OER would transform education to the pragmatism of today that focused more on continuing gains made and identifying future roadblocks.  The opening keynote on Day 1 by Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill epitomized the current state. They spoke about OER being at a crossroads or inflection point. The energy and optimism is still based on the insight that OER align almost perfectly with users’ needs (faculty, students), but despite the obvious great opportunity, faculty using OER as their primary course material was still only 4%–5% (Babson Survey Research Group, 2014). As Hill pointed out, cost influences faculty the least—what concerns them is efficacy (how to find and adapt OER) and quality. The strategic challenge of raising awareness and use of OER remains.

Andrew Han and Cable Green OpenEd 2015

Here I am with Creative Commons founder Cable Green (right).

Another overarching message that stood out for me, and I stress that this is my subjective interpretation, is the growing importance of analytics in the movement to legitimize OER.  In a presentation titled “Why Open Education Demands Open Analytic Models,” Cable Green set the stage by discussing at length what he viewed as the greatest obstacle to OER: the lack of any analytics that could provide insight into factors such as what instructional designs work best, how to adapt learning to individuals, and so on.  Green believed that if OER could not add effective analytics, then big publishers with their own platforms and analytic systems would rush into fill the void much as they are doing now. Norman Bier commented on the need to question the algorithms that drove much of the analytics, since they are designed to favour certain characteristics of learning over others, thus devaluing what he termed the overall “instructional complexity” of the teaching and learning experience.

Finally, and this was repeated in various guises throughout the conference, those propagating the use of OER were encouraged to remember who the beneficiaries would be:  faculty and students. The main argument for OER has been its potential cost savings for students.  Several presentations highlighted just how enormous the potential savings could be, including one by the University of Maryland’s University College (Day 2, “Reducing Student Barriers to Education”) that claimed 5 million dollars in savings after OER replaced the majority if not all undergraduate textbooks and materials. But in other presentations there was talk about supporting learners in other ways such as giving them the responsibility to create content (OER) for teaching and learning.  As for faculty, one critical insight was the need to frame OER as something that would support teaching—open pedagogies and practices—and was not simply about saving money. Early adopters and innovators amongst faculty using OER had to be championed even while questions of academic freedom had to be respectfully and informatively addressed.

In closing, it was a fascinating three days, and I look forward to the next OpenEd in order to discover what has changed and what has not.


  • Archie Zariski December 7, 2015 - 5:06pm

    Andrew, thanks for the report. I am finding more and more open source materials such as papers and articles on institutional websites that can substitute well for book compilations. As you know, at AU, at least for the present, savings through using OER are not being passed on to students, but that may change. What I am doing is also creating parallel open non-credit courses (OCW) which use the OER for the benefit of the publc generally.