David Wiley

David Wiley is co-founder and chief academic officer of Lumen Learning
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Of Sunlight, OER, and Lumen

We recently installed solar panels on our home. The benefits of adding them were immediate and obvious – the very first month they were on the roof our electric bill dropped to $9 (the fee required to stay connected to the grid) and we generated more power than we used, pushing the excess back out to the grid. Because I can’t stop thinking about open, I’ve been pondering the relationship between solar power and OER.

At the same time, I’ve been thinking about how to answer several questions I’m often asked. People who don’t work directly with Lumen sometimes have a hard time understanding what we do, and this leads to a range of confused questions like, “What does Lumen do, anyway?”, “How can you sell OER if they’re free?”, and “If OER are free, why would anyone pay you?”

As I’ve continued to think about these two topics, I realize they’re actually closely related. In fact, I believe the simplest way to answer to many questions about Lumen is by analogy. Let me explain…

Sunlight is perhaps the ultimate example of a public good. Both nonexcludable and nonrivalrous, sunlight is available to anyone and everyone for free. Sunlight is highly versatile and can do everything from making your garden grow to melting the snow off your driveway. For years now I’ve been hoping to use solar to power my home – to harness the sunlight so that it consistently and reliably does what I want (i.e., provides electricity to cool my house, run my lights, keep the wifi on, etc.). But in order to get the sunlight to do what I wanted it to, I needed to partner with someone else who had the right combination of expertise and technology.

Some Lessons Learned Supporting OER Adoption

The tl;dr:David Wiley in front of a brick wall

  • Supporting effective OER adoption at scale has its problems.
  • Many of these problems have openly licensed solutions.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to deploy these solutions yourself; sometimes it makes more sense to work with a partner.

Background and Some Problems

To put it in a depressingly small nutshell, I spent the first decade or so of my career creating open licenses to make the sharing of OER legally possible, traveling the world talking to people about why they might want to place an open license on their educational materials and other creative works, experimenting with different open pedagogies in my own teaching, and conducting empirical research about the impacts of OER adoption on outcomes for students, faculty, and institutions.

Upon reflection several years ago, I came to see thatdespite all my efforts I was making the classic Field of Dreams mistake (“if we build it, they will come”) by assuming that “if OER exist in a faculty’s discipline and research shows them to be effective in supporting learning, faculty will adopt.” This turned out to be true only for a very narrow range of faculty – generally those who were previously innovation-minded (those same seven or so faculty on each campus that eagerly try every new thing). If OER adoption were to become widespread among the majority of faculty, it became clear that someone would need to do something more than create OER, post it on a website, and give conference talks about it. This is why we started writing grants focused exclusively on supporting OER adoption rather than on funding new OER creation. After all, there are over a billion CC-licensed works now – not everything we need, certainly – but enough that it felt like someone ought to be focused on helping faculty use what is there.

Over the last several years my fellow travelers at Lumen and I have learned a lot of painful lessons about supporting OER adoption among faculty. (In fact, I think it’s safe to say that we know more about ineffective OER adoption techniques than anyone!) However, working through and responding to these early challenges together with amazing collaborators at a wide range of 2-year and 4-year institutions around the country, we’ve learned something about how to support effective OER adoptions, too.

From One to Many: OER-based Degree Programs

Several years ago I was speaking about OER at a conference in Virginia. There was a great feeling in the room, and though I hadn’t planned to speak about the topic, I felt prompted to end my remarks by stating that enough OER now existed that an entire degree program could be run on OER. One institution, somewhere, would get to be the first in the world to create an all-OER pathway through a degree program, and I challenged those institutions represented in the room to consider grabbing this particular brass ring.

Personalization in Lumen’s “Next Gen” OER Courseware Pilot

For almost three years Lumen Learning has been helping faculty, departments, and entire degree programs adopt OER in place of expensive commercial textbooks. In addition to saving students enormous amounts of money we’ve helped improve the effectiveness of courses we’ve supported, as we’re demonstrating in publications in peer-reviewed journals co-authored both with faculty from our partner schools and other researchers. We’re making great friendships along the way. It’s been absolutely amazing.

Persuading the White House that When You Buy One, You Should Get (At Least) One

This week a coalition of more than 100 organizations, including Lumen Learning, called on President Obama to take executive action to ensure that publicly funded educational resources are open educational resources.