The Impact of OER

As the impact of Open Educational Resources (OER) has started to be felt across higher education (with federal funding, various statewide initiatives, and increasing use) new questions begin to arise.

One question is how the spreading interest in free materials will shape the future of commercial publishing. FastCompany reports that publishers are looking to “co-opt the open textbook revolution,” and trying to integrate for-profit services into the emerging new model. David Wiley, of Lumen Learning, predicts that OER will be used in the majority of general education courses within the next 5 years.

Some speculate that traditional publishers will still have a foothold in the textbook industry, particularly in terms of addressing more complex, high-level course material. Yet Debra Wydra (previously of Bedford/St. Martin’s and Macmillan Learning) observes that the business model itself is shifting:

“The same work exists, but now it’s being broken up and redistributed to a variety of parties who can, collectively, do it more cheaply… Rather than an editor within a publishing house assembling materials into a chapter, educators themselves might take on this work.”

A related question is where the labor of OER creation migrates, when released from the traditional publishing model. One article for EdSurge explores a few possible alternatives, asking: “What if faculty were fairly compensated for their time, not simply for choosing a text…but for meaningful and quantifiable engagement with the content and learning technologies?” At some institutions, faculty work with OER may be counted towards tenure and promotion. At CUNY, the development of OER has been spurred by a recent influx of grant-based funding, creating a temporary infrastructure of librarians, instructional designers, and adjuncts. Resolving these questions about workflows and labor will be a critical component to the full integration of OER.

These topics are ongoing conversations, and represent a new dynamic between the relationship of content, distribution, and the fundamental economics of the field. However you approach OER, these questions are embedded in a larger framework – and as Debra Wydra notes, the open movement is already “disrupting the familiar landscape in fundamental ways.”

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is an Adjunct Reference Librarian at the Graduate Center Library.