Open Education is More Than Just Free Books

I miss Jim Groom at OpenEd15 – I miss his viewpoint and energy. He knows I am a big fan (something that blows around a lot of hot air :-). Jim Groom tweeted today:

“The unfortunate equation of open education w/ free text books has made the movement seem more and more myopic and less and less compelling.”

I couldn’t disagree with this more. Yes, we are still defining “open” and a lot of work needs to be done with “open pedagogy” and the means to achieve that. But open textbooks are more than just “free textbooks,” they are a completely different way of engaging in education. “Free” is only one dimension. The others are “share,” “remix,” “reuse.” If it was only about free, I wouldn’t be here. Over and over again, I have seen at conferences like Open Ed 2015, how content can shape teaching, how the openness of the materials enable changes in how people teach and learn. They are interrelated.

I don’t think open textbooks are a one-to-one equation with open education here or anywhere. They are part of that picture, but there are victories here. There are success stories. There was nothing easy about how this came about. Huge shifts in belief systems had to happen before the gains that were made took place. And there is still a lot to be done! I have been at colleges where faculty fought this tooth and nail. I have seen the corporations co-opt “open textbooks” in order to turn a buck (e.g. Flatworld Knowledge).

Open textbooks include projects like Scott Payton and Laura Hahn’s Survey of Communication Study. A Wikipedia book where the capstone students in COMM 490 update the textbook for the in-coming Freshman. The kind of learning that takes place in this project is incredibly interesting, engaging and useful for the students. Teaching with open content changes the way people teach.

As you know, commercial textbooks sell course packages and a lot of ancillary stuff (test banks, etc.) that supposedly make teaching easier. In my experience as both a teacher and an instructional designer, it is all junk. It does not speak to the individual students in your particular population with their particular issues (e.g. how well is algebra taught in your local high school?). Open textbooks are like the employees deciding to run the factory themselves. The factory – the building and the machinery – are not the work itself, but how we choose to engage with the tools, changes how we work.

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