Let’s face it, OER is a tough sell…

Convincing faculty, staff, students, friends and family that OER is important is a difficult and sometimes frustrating process.  For starters, even describing what OER is can be difficult.  If you don’t lose your audience after saying “open educational resources” you usually do immediately after mentioning copyright.

Faculty, especially, are concerned with copyright and its broader impact on the resources we are asking them to share. A couple examples from a concerned faculty member might be:

“Will I lose control of my work if I share it under a creative commons license?”

“Why would I want others to remix and reuse what I have spent so much time creating for a specific reason?”

If, however, you are lucky enough to ease faculty concerns regarding creative commons licenses and other copyright issues, you are likely to hear that their materials are not ready for the world stage, or that freely distributing their material will take away from their personal, or the university’s bottom line.

Peter Sefton, from the Australian Digital Futures Institute, in his blog presents very excellent and precise arguments that demonstrate how to win a debate with faculty who are concerned with the quality of their materials and the bottom line.

Peter Sefton and Neil Butcher of OER Africa have also pointed out that educational materials are already being shared through bitTorrents and other file sharing websites, so we should embrace and capitalize on this trend before colleges and universities end up like the music industry and newspapers. But, as Neil Butcher points out, until policies at universities are in place that reward the creation of OER, can we really expect people to change their behavior? Furthermore, even if we have the most logically sound arguments for why OER is the best and why everyone should participate there is still cognitive dissonance to manage. Sure, our arguments for OER make sense, but people are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence.” No big deal, but I just quoted Wikipedia.

So how can we continue pushing forward without sweeping policy changes that encourage the creation and dissemination of OER and how do we break through the mental blocks people build up against OER? Easy. Pleasant persistence.

What is pleasant persistence and why does it matter? Pleasant persistence is a frame of mind, or perhaps even a strategy that can be employed by any person in any work environment. Pleasant persistence is simply being respectful and kind, while at the same time unrelenting in your mission to convince someone of something, in this case, that OER rules #1.

Being cordial and respectful to your colleagues generally goes without saying, but in the case of OER (and anything else designed to change the way people work), it is important to keep your cool when people do not buy in as quickly as you would like them to. Pleasant persistence is a strategy that helps you deal with just that.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when venturing down the road of pleasant persistence:

1.     Stay positive and always be helpful. All communications, emails, phone calls  and face-to-face conversations should be in the tone of a customer service representative. Not in an annoying way, but you want to express that you are there to help. And that by spending a little time with you, one will learn a great deal about OER. The good, the bad, and everything in between.

2.     Try and try again. Faculty and staff may choose to ignore your emails, phone calls, and presentations, but that is not a reason to give up (unless you run out of funding I suppose) or to become combative. Keep on sending those emails and giving those presentations. Sometimes it takes 5 emails, or presentations, or phone calls to grab the attention of a faculty member. Just remember, keep it positive, helpful, and informative.

3.     Be concise, but don’t overload your audience. Eventually, people will start to listen. And when they do, you will want to offer up small, easily digestible, pieces of OER wisdom.  Offering just shy of the right amount of information and they may have to ask a question (good), but offering too much may alienate them with all of your OERness (bad).

4.     Check your enthusiasm. “An overly-enthusiastic response to a minimal piece of new information can cause unintended backlash, like future snubbing of requests.” This last one comes from our office manager and co-founder of Open.Michigan, Piet Kleymeer. Be sure to look out for other “Piet’s pro tips” in any of my future blog posts (assuming I’m invited back).

5.     Finally, be available. It will not help your cause if you send someone three emails requesting a response, and then ignore them when they finally write you back.

Does this really work? I like to think so, and we may even have some proof (in a totally unscientific way, of course). This past summer, I was lucky enough to land a job here at Open.Michigan. My job was to work with the Open.Michigan team to convince as many Medical School faculty as possible to publish their learning materials as OER. The Open.Michigan team had already laid an excellent foundation in which to continue building faculty participation on, but the overall growth of faculty participation had begun to slow down. Naturally, I believe, because the initial interest generated by the launch of a program can fade quickly and because people are busy. We are competing against a ton of other on campus activities.

So with pleasant persistence in mind we launched an email campaign targeting the Medical School faculty we hoped would agree to publish their material as OER. We didn’t always break through with the first few emails, or meetings scheduled as a result of those emails. But, through our continued efforts we eventually went on to double the number of faculty (over 80 now) who have agreed to work with us and we have even doubled the number of open medical school resources available for download on open.umich.edu. Bringing our total number of published medical school materials to 348 resources. Again, without the foundation set it place, this would not have worked, but once you have laid the groundwork, it’s only a matter of reaching out, over and over again, in a positive way.  And who knows, eventually faculty and the greater community of researchers, learners and policy makers will see the benefits of OER, and as a result, those sweeping policy changes mentioned earlier may come to fruition.

Interview with: Ali Asad Lotia, Open.Michigan Developer

One of our esteemed colleagues, Ali, has recently relocated to London and he took his amazing coffee grinder with him. Before he left, he was gracious enough to be the first guest in our upcoming interview series we will be hosting this year. Below are his answers to my short round of questions and we hope this gives you a sense of who we are at Open.Michigan and why we love doing what we do.

What’s your background?

I got to Ann Arbor from Karachi Pakistan for my freshman year at Michigan in the fall of 1993. NSCA Mosaic had just been released, this web thing was brand new and people were still using Gopher to “browse” stuff. Some friends from the dorm and I were floored by the ability to type stuff into an address bar and see visual content mixed in with text after having experienced Gopher sites. After spending too much time playing with this stuff instead of dealing with coursework, I learned that ITCS was willing to pay students to play with computers. This seems to have set a theme and I’ve managed to avoid having to get a typical “job”. People kept paying me to do stuff I would have done outside. Lucky me.

What do you do at Open.Michigan? Why do you work here?

I work on various software projects that we have established to support the creation of Open Educational Resources at Open Michigan. I also participate in the care and feeding of the systems on which our software runs.

I work here for the company of course. I believe very strongly in retaining the rights to freely share content I have created and in exercising the right that others have granted to share and reuse their content. Were it not for these principles, the Internet and the technological bits that are at its foundation would have been very different. I want to be involved in an organization that embraces and promotes those ideas. This paragraph could get very very long.

What do you hope to see Open.Michigan doing in five years?

I would love to see content authors pro-actively using materials that aren’t encumbered with restrictive licenses so their content is open by design. I would also like to see a rich community of OER authors and consumers where the distinction between them is extremely blurry. I would also like to see us heavily involved in a community centered around software projects that enable OER authoring, processing and distribution and which are themselves OER.

*What is your favorite part about contributing to the creation of open content?

Since I work on software, that somebody smarter than me will see it and improve it, which enriches the code base, benefits the community and helps me improve as a software developer. I feel that the same idea is applicable to open content that isn’t software. The possibility for improvement via the richness provided by a community of experts (or non-experts).

Why do you like coffee so much?

There’s so much to learn, and the learning is so very delicious. I think that coffee professionals are also very open in sharing their knowledge, expertise and their fine brews. Brevity is a challenge in answering this question.

A Lesson from P2PU’s Digital Journalism Mashup

Treat For-Credit and Not-For-Credit Participants Differently

(And How Someday, Maybe We Won’t Have To)

A while back, in response to Joi Ito’s upbeat blog post describing the Digital Journalism course he taught as a mashup between The Keio Graduate School of Media Design (KMD) and P2PU, Piet sent out a hopeful request in search of UMich instructors who were similarly opening their classes to real-time public participation. Having attempted to take Joi’s course via P2PU, I responded, in brief, that I hoped there weren’t any such courses. I then promptly left to ride my bike around Lake Michigan.

Summer vacations are over now, and it’s that time of year when students beg their way into oversubscribed classes or request permission to audit them. Expanding such learning to as many people as possible is quite what I’m about, but I’d like to use this opportunity to explain how my experience with Joi’s class now limits my wholehearted advocacy for open auditing to exclude equally weighted mashups between for-credit and not-for-credit educational endeavors.

First of all, I should say that my personal history with in-class and online auditing is abundant, but Digital Journalism was an altogether different experience. For me, voluntarily subjecting myself to the sometimes monotonous lectures of famous professors makes it easier to stay awake and retain their pearls of wisdom, and, as an outsider, access to reading and paper assignments brings the joys of contemplating theses and supporting arguments without the headaches of staying up all night to write and cite them. I actually learn so much better this way that I decided to throw in the towel on formalized education last spring in order to rededicate myself to curiosity and action.

Thus, I was thrilled when P2PU offered a class with great appeal. A course in Digital Journalism promised to both encourage broad thinking on a challenging problem and teach valuable insider tips for getting involved with possible solutions.

As for the class structure, I prepared myself for something similar to my numerous auditing experiences, with the added benefits of back-channel communication and an astoundingly international set of peers. In addition, I was fond of the idea that I would be encouraged to participate rather than feeling like I should blend into the background in attempt to keep class size small for the high tuition payers, as was my custom. It turned out, however, that that last perk was more like the nail in the coffin when it came to participation, and I largely blame it for my abandonment of the course half way through.

Joi and commenters on his post, as well as some students who reviewed the course, seem to agree that participation in the class was underwhelming, usually citing technological difficulties or timing inconveniences as the cause. To be sure, imperfect technology did significantly drag down the pace of each week’s class, unorganized communication threads did render the online discussion somewhat overwhelming, and the time slot probably could not have been worse (early Monday morning in Japan, early Sunday evening in the US, and the middle of the night in Europe). Despite these issues, however, I feel that it was relatively clear that the underlying problem was inherent to the mashup model.

The problem, I think, was essentially dissonance between the types of relationship that KMD and P2PU students had to the course requirements. The general motivations of students attending an on-campus, for-credit class and those signed in through an online, for-fun university conflict in a way that seemed to kill a good bulk of the drive in both the KMD and P2PU students. It was a bit like mixing on-site employees and tele-contributing volunteers on an open source project, only much worse because of the student-professor power dynamic and the fact that the short class consumed only a small percentage of everyone’s time and focus.

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Upcoming blog features

Here on the Open.Michigan blog we feature all sorts of information from events announcements to short blurbs about what’s going on in our world and guest bloggers. We’re about to branch out yet again with some featured staff and expert interviews, guest bloggers and critical posts about our perspective (and others’) of the climate and development of open educational strategies, including publishing and shifting the learning and teaching paradigms. You can expect more opinions, more voices and more content on here in the upcoming months and we’re excited to bring it to you. It’s a big Open world out there and we’re hoping to bring you a nice slice of it as we continue to grow and contribute to the global learning community.

The International Open Scene

OER production and promotion isn’t just happening at the University of Michigan. It’s a global effort that has far reaching implications and impact. Recently there have been a few global (and local) events that illustrate the power of advocacy and may affect what we in the OER world can do in the next few years:

Brazil’s Copyright Reform Proposal

Earlier this summer, you may have heard about Brazil’s Copyright Reform Proposal. What’s so great about it is that it encourages freedom of expression and it discourages hinderance of fair use materials through digital locks or DRM. As we know, DRM and DMCA can cause all sorts of trouble for creating openly licensed content (as well as librarians just trying to do their jobs). By discouraging the abuse of these provisions and encouraging fair use, Brazil’s government is approaching the subject of use and re-use in a very proactive manner.

Arabic OER Platform

Creative Commons just announced the winners of its Catalyst grants and a Jordanian proposal was among the winners. As a grassroots initiative, the Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA) will use this funding to build an OER platform that addresses the learning interests and needs of the K-20 spectrum. It illustrates another link in the global network of OER production and the movement toward open access of information and another country’s willingness to support and sustain OER that can be localized and re-used in many different learning contexts.

U.S. Department of Education Priorities

The U.S. Department of Education (Department) just released its Priorities for Discretionary Grant Programs (with comments) one of which explicitly states support for OER.  It’s housed in Proposed Priority 13, devoted to “Improving Productivity.” Their definition of OER “means teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.” There have been recommendations to make this language stronger but it is certainly a great acknowledgement to see more and more OER efforts supported at such an institutional level.

These are just a few of the global activities underway to increase the standardization and reach of OER efforts at all different levels of support.