Musings on OER Policy

Policy favorable to OER is a critical component of the entire open education movement. OER policies currently exist at many levels: international, national, regional, local, and institutional. You can explore various OER policies around the world on the OER Policy Map maintained by the OER Research Hub. Creative Commons also maintains a list of proposed and adopted OER policies that is well-worth your perusal. As I have traveled hither and yon these past few months meeting with Hewlett grantees and others involved and interested in OER, the policy issue has continually surfaced as an important theme. These conversations have caused me to think more deeply about the role of policy in accomplishing Hewlett’s goal of mainstreaming OER.

Dr. Vance Randall, an expert in both education policy and educating about education policy (and former advisor to Senator Orrin Hatch) argues that policy is nearly always created to a solve a particular problem or set of problems. From this perspective, the best way to understand an existing policy is to identify the problem(s) it was created to solve (not always an easy task). In advocating for OER-related policies, we should be very clear about the problem the particular policy would solve. What’s more, we should recognize that OER policy can solve different problems at different policy levels. Using the “policy/problem/solution” concept as a framework, here is my current thinking (limited as it may be) about OER policy at the international, national, and institutional levels*. For each level, I provide the problems that I think are most easily solved by OER policy, problems I think are less likely to be solved, and my current vision for a “dream” policy. I am very open to feedback about my views on OER policy and hope that others will contribute to the conversation here.

International OER Policy

Policy at the international level related to OER is most likely to be useful in solving the OER awareness problem and the sustainable OER development problem. Awareness of OER is very low throughout the world. International OER policy established by IGOs like the European Commission, UNESCO, OECD, and the World Bank can do much to help solve the awareness problem by being committed to discussing the role of OER in solving broader educational issues at member state gatherings. IGOs that provide funding to member states could also require open licensing of materials produced with those funds. Non-funding IGOs could encourage their member states to adopt national-level policies that require open licensing of all materials produced with public funding. It seems less likely to me that international OER policy can as effectively or directly solve other problems related to OER, including adoption, discoverability/interoperability, and effective Open Educational Practice (OEP) at the classroom level.

A “dream” international OER policy would require member states of each of the respective IGOs to openly license all materials produced with public funds, as a condition of membership.

National OER Policy

Depending on the nation, national OER policies may help solve the sustainable OER development problem by requiring open licensing on materials produced with public funds. National policies could also solve the OER efficacy problem by providing funding for research related to OER and OEP. In democratic, decentralized states like the US, national OER policies are less likely to be effective at tackling the adoption and discoverability/interoperability problems.

A “dream” national OER policy would require all education materials produced with public funding (including all materials produced on-the-clock by faculty and teachers at publically funded institutions and schools) to be openly licensed and shared in a national repository that requires appropriate metadata tagging to increase discoverability.

Institutional OER Policy

Institutional OER policies could help solve nearly every problem related to OER mainstreaming. Institutional OER polices could help solve the OER awareness problem by requiring faculty and teachers to receive professional development related to OER. Institutional policies could also solve the OER development problem by requiring investment in faculty and teacher time to review, adopt, and adapt existing OER (and create new open materials when there are gaps). Institutional policies could solve the adoption problem in higher education by requiring faculty to use OER by default and only use propriety materials when adequate justification exists. In K-12, institutional polices at the school district level could require curricular review boards to give priority to open content and justify use of proprietary content (I suppose regional policies at the state level could do this as well, but it is much less politically viable in the US). Institutional policies could help solve the discoverability/interoperability problems by requiring that all newly created open content carry appropriate metadata, be shared via the national repository (if  my national “dream” policy were in place), and require investment in professional development related to effective strategies for finding OER (i.e. “How to Use Google Advanced Search”). Finally, institutional OER policies could solve the OER efficacy problem by encouraging and supporting in-house research on OEP.

A “dream” institutional OER policy in higher education would require faculty to adopt openly licensed content by default, and only allow adoption of proprietary materials if justifiable. A “dream” institutional OER policy in K-12 would require curricular review boards to give priority to open content and only allow adoption of proprietary content in extreme cases (if at all).

A final word about implementation: A policy means nothing if it is not implemented with fidelity. The best “dream” policy in the world is a pile of garbage if the solution it provides is not actually implemented. We need to be spending more time on encouraging implementation of existing OER policies while we are advocating for new ones. As a rule, I believe international policies are much more difficult to implement with fidelity than national policies. I also believe that national policies are much more difficult to implement than institutional policies.

My views on policy implementation, taken together with my argument about institutional OER policies, should leave no one surprised at my current thinking on the OER Policy space: In addition to advocating for policies at the international, national, and regional levels, we should be more intensely investing our energy and advocacy in pushing for solid OER policies at the institutional level – at colleges, universities, and school districts.

I give an important reminder here that the posts on my blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This post simply represents my current, jet-lagged thinking on OER policy. I welcome and encourage feedback from the field on this issue. I absolutely reserve the right to keep an open mind and change my views. Typing this also reminds me of one of my favorite lyrics by one of the greatest bands in the world:

A man came up to me and said:

“I’d like to change your mind

“By hitting it with a rock,” he said,

“Though I am not unkind.”

 

Let the kindly rock throwing begin.

 

*I have chosen not to address regional/local policies in this post, not because I feel they are unimportant, but because I see them as an extension of national policies or a reflection of institutional policies, especially in the United States. If someone has an argument for the uniqueness of local/regional OER policies in terms of solving key OER problems, I would love to hear it. I suspect there are some good cases to be made

**Since originally writing this post, I’ve discovered this gem of an article that addresses state-level OER policy issue quite well. Definitely worth the quick read: http://publications.sreb.org/2010/10T02_Guidelines_Eff_Pol.pdf

The Past Two Months

A lot of exciting things have happened to me over the past two months. First, I successfully defended my (openly licensed) dissertation on Feb. 1. Preparation for this event occupied the majority of my time in December and January, of course. My dissertation research involved developing a model of digital textbook quality from the college student perspective and subsequently using this model to develop a measurement instrument that can be used in evaluating digital textbooks. The implications of this instrument (which I will make available for general use soon) in the OER context are large. Those developing and improving digital OER will be welcome and encouraged to use this instrument to get valid and reliable feedback from their students.

At the same time I was defending my dissertation (literally the day before), I traveled to Boise, ID to interview for the position of Director of Assessment in the State Department of Education (SDE). I was blessed to receive an offer for this position and after careful consideration decided to accept it. Less than a week after defending my dissertation, I was unloading the moving truck at our new house in Boise.The Director of Assessment position is a great fit for me because I have extensive training in educational measurement and enjoy working on educational policy issues. In addition, the senior staff at the Idaho SDE have expressed a keen interest in OER and have welcomed my expertise in this area. Given that I work next door to the Director of Content for the state, don’t be surprised to see some OER-related K-12 initiatives coming out of Idaho in the near future.

As the Director of Assessment, I look forward to leading Idaho into the next generation of K-12 assessment. In particular, I am excited to participate in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)as the State Lead for Idaho (and possibly on some committees) and in preparing Idaho for the transition from its current statewide test to the more rigorous and technologically advanced test currently being developed by SBAC. This transition will be challenging for many reasons, but I am eager to lead out and contribute to improved assessment at the state and national levels.

Also, sometime during the week between the job offer and the move, we heard back from The Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME) that our latest OEG paper regarding student and teacher perceptions of OER will be published in the next issue. Good news indeed. Finally, I completed and submitted a draft of the OER Policy Guide I have been working on as the OER Policy Fellow at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). It should be published soon. The last deliverable for this position will be a collaborative content development guide for states who are wanting to develop OER aligned to the Common Core. I hope to have that finished by the end of April and will provide links to both documents as soon as possible.

 

Texas Legislature to OER Community: Where are you?

Last week I had the chance to chat with Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Texas legislator from Houston who has been heavily involved in getting OER policy passed in his state. He’s had remarkable success with bills like H.B 2488. This bill, in particular, has allowed the state board of education, which creates the approved instructional materials list for Texas, to include OER on that list. This is only POTENTIALLY impactful policy because, while school districts have authority to use OER, there has not been a lot of motivation to use it or go looking for it. It’s inefficient to have 1000 school districts looking for and approving OER.

As Rep. Hochberg explained it, the problem is that the OER community (especially producers of OER directed at K-12 audiences) do not seem too interested in getting involved in processes where they have to do something to get materials approved. In fact, traditional publishers have continued to have great success in Texas, despite all policy doors being open for OER. One of the reasons traditional model continues to dominate is because there are strong economic reasons for traditional materials publishers to jump through all the hoops. For instance, there is a big profit motive for Pearson to submit its textbooks. The same motivations are not there for OER producers. Thus, if you’re an administrator and you have Pearson knocking on your door and showing you stuff (which, by the way, is already approved by the state board), then OER becomes less appealing – even though it’s cheaper and possibly of equal or better quality.

In the end, Rep. Hochberg expressed his frustrations with the OER community not doing more to “get in the faces” of potential OER adopters at the K-12 level in Texas. There is so much potential in Texas right now. At least one policymaker is crying out for the OER community to take advantage of it!

Intro to OER – NRMERA 2012 – Park City, UT

I’ve posted the slide deck from the OER Workshop I gave at the Northern Rocky Mountain Education Association meeting in Park City, UT last Friday.

Check it out on Slideshare.

The first part of the deck is a remix/revision of some of David’s earlier slides. For those who’ve already seen David’s excellent intro to OER, skip to slide 37 for slides on OER policy, implementation, business models, initiatives, and research.

The Birth of OER Policy

In our vigor to advocate for open educational resources and policies that support their development, it would be wise to keep in mind some fundamental things about policy and the policymaking process itself.

1. OER policies should solve more problems than they create. Indeed, policy is “a set of answers to questions, a series of solutions to problems” (Cooper et al., 2004, p. 63)

2. The problems solved by OER and its related policies should be clearly defined and explained. “If a policy issue is not well-defined, it will not be perceived as important, making it difficult to attract enough attention to reach the policy agenda” (Fowler, 2004, p. 167).

3. Policies related to OER should come with solutions attached. “Even if policymakers want to address a problem [such as the rising costs of education], absent a proposed solution or plan of action, the problem cannot be addressed…[Some even] argue that public officials will not take a problem seriously unless there is a proposed course of action attached to it” (Cooper et al., p. 65).

4. The policymaking process is NEVER objective or ideologically neutral. “Before a policy choice can be made, a problem in society must have been accepted as part of the agenda of the policymaking system–that is, as a portion of the range of problems deemed amenable to public action and worthy of the attention of policymakers” (Peters, 1986, p. 39). What’s more, “cultural values, interest group advocacy, scientific information, and professional advice all help to shape the content of problem definition” and the policymaking process itself (Rochefort & Cobb, 1994, p. 4).

5. New OER policies should be clearly tied to older, related policies. “The more a new issue can be made to look like an old issue, the more likely it is to be placed on an agenda” (Peters, 1986, p. 47).

6. Advocates of OER policy should understand and use the power of the media (new and old) to shape policy. “Media influence on the process and content of policies varies according to type of issue, stage of process, time frame, and political and media systems. Under certain circumstances, the media can be a crucial player. It depends on what is covered, how often, and how it is framed” (Paletz, 1998, p. 234).

7. The language of policy can be as important as the policy itself. “Social” rhetoric and symbolism should be used in advocating for OER policies. “To heighten participation, issues may be connected to sweeping social themes, such as justice, democracy, and liberty” (Rochefort & Cobb, 1994, p. 5). And, “the more closely a particular problem can be linked to certain important national [or international] symbols, the greater its probability of being placed on the agenda” (Peters, 1986, p. 48).

8. OER policy reform should be influenced, if not led, by people with expertise in education. “What is significant about much of the interest group activity [in educational policymaking], and what distinguishes it from previous activism, is the prominence of non-educators leading the reform efforts” (Cooper et al. 2004, p. 76).