This week we peeked into the world of open and flew into a worm hole. There is sooo much that can be read into one word, and so many uses of the concept that it gets difficult for me to see the multidimensionality of it. I have a tendency to stay on the surface because that’s what I understand.
On the surface, open education is teaching through a free means. Open educational resources are the items used in the teaching that are also free. I’m good here, this is easy to understand. No cost to teachers or students for textbooks, articles, or any materials the instructor wants to use.
But let’s talk about free. Free starts to get complicated because free should just be that, but it isn’t. Just like free from a library isn’t free if you can’t get to the library or you live outside the service area, free on the internet isn’t free if you can’t get onto the internet. You need a computer and access to get to the free. So what exactly is free? and how do we provide it to ALL to create real openness? Also, is free, free when we make students pay to be taught? And here is when I stop playing kal-toh and go back to tic-tac-toe.
So how does this relate to my own idea of open education? I’m not sure I have an idea about open education… yet. I do know that in my practice I want to save the student from having to purchase material to learn something when practical application and discussion can accomplish the same thing. But the materials we use are the library databases that are not free since they are licensed via the library budget. So even though they don’t have a textbook, their tuition pays for the subscriptions, so in all technicality that is not free or open.
Can I create assignments that are completely open? The easy answer is yes, by using open access articles to do information literacy objectives, I could use all free materials. But again… this is not truly free for the student who doesn’t have a computer or the internet at home, because they would not be able to access the material anyway. To further complicate this, they have already paid for my class. I’m not sharing my expertise free of charge, which again technically would not be completely open or free. I keep getting stuck in the free aspect of open. Because really, nothing in our society is free.
I keep thinking about Star Trek. The open society where you explore your passions for self-improvement, self-enrichment, and the betterment of all humanity. There is no money. Everyone (supposedly) has the same opportunities for learning and working. In this world open education is open and free. In our world, there are too many facets to “open” and “free” to truly be either.
So until we can live in the Star Trek world, we do the best we can and cut cost to the student where it is feasible. To me that means, finding ways to provide open educational resources to the faculty to use, finding ways to integrate what the library already owns into an easier medium for the faculty and students to use, and to explore whatever options present themselves to make the life of the student easier. As a librarian, I am a facilitator of access.