OERs are major undertakings; they require a considerable amount of development and careful planning in order to get them established. Once they are established they need continual participation and resourcing to keep going.
I think the biggest overall challenge for OERs therefore is whether they have a future and if they do, what this looks like. A number of other students identified sustainability as one of the priorities for institutions looking at OERs; I would argue that it is the number one challenge and that there are a number of specific issues to consider when making sense of OER futures.
I looked at some articles which considered sustainability of OERs and found (unsurprisingly) that there are many common issues highlighted.
Downes (2007) considers methods of funding, models for distributing, using and reusing content, and ways of resourcing with staff as factors which impact the sustainability of OERs.
Albright (2005) lists a number of issues that will impact the future success of OERs including economic models, scalability, appropriateness of technologies and educational suitability
Caswell et al (2008) see the future of OERs as being based on a return to the original notion of community – they will need to acquire a life of their own and be driven by continual collaboration, contribution and use. They highlight funding and copyright/ownership issues as challenges faced by institutions running OERs.
My three big issues are economics, learner support and suitability of resources, all of which underpin many of the other issues.
Without the right economic model, OERs cannot exist. Atkins et al (2007) state that a course from MIT’s OpenCourseware initiative costs £25,000 p.a. to run, all inclusive and that the future has to be in institutions being able to treat OERs as a small component of their business as usual activities.
I was at a seminar at Learning Technologies this year where it was suggested that commercial learning providers might get into OERs as a way of displaying their wares (some do things a bit like this already) and given the credibility benefits that OERs offer institutions (for example Caswell et al 2008 describe how new students are often aware of an institution’s OER and it can affect their choice of institution), it could be that they treat them as a marketing channel. However they approach it, the economic question needs answering.
Assuming economic viability, the OER is still only sustainable if people make use of it and contribute to it. It needs to be decided what the learner experience will be and this could range from merely being able to access, read and reuse educational resources (where minimal learner support is needed) to a fully moderated and supported course event (like the OpenLearn Open Education MOOC). This model will determine how fit for purpose the OER is for the community at which it is aimed; if it is intended to allow people to derive educational benefit from it, it could be argued that provision of some level of tutor interaction is essential.
The educational suitability of its resources is the second element which will determine how fit for purpose the OER is and therefore how sustainable. This impacts the design of the resources in the first place (MIT OCW contains some materials which appear to be no more than the sharing of notes and slides designed for a face to face course – these may be interesting for someone trying to design their own course but may have reduced utility for an independent learner). It also impacts the way they are kept up to date, incorporate learner feedback, new research etc. Again, the purpose for which it needs to be fit must be what drives the model for ensuring suitability. And both of these are dependent on the OER being econmically viable.
Albright, P. (2005) UNESCO (IIEP): Final forum report. 2008-09-01 http://learn.creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/oerforumfinalreport.pdf
Atkins, D.E., Brown-Seely, J. & Hammond, A.L., (2007). A review of the open educational resources (OER) movement: Achievements, challenges, and new opportunities. Report to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Caswell, T., Henson, S., Jenson, M., & Wiley, D. (2008). ‘Open Educational Resources: Enabling Universal Education’. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9/1http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/469/1001
Downes, S. (2007), 'Models for sustainable open educational resources', Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, vol. 3. Available from: http://ijklo.org/Volume3/IJKLOv3p029-044Downes.pdf