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.

Talking About ... Course Fees to Support Open Content

It is that time of year. Trees are blossoming, chicks are hatching, and a whole new batch of OER champions are looking ahead to fall courses asking, "Should we apply a student fee to support our OER courses?"
We field many questions about common practices and creative approaches to funding the use of open educational resources (OER). We don't have all the answers, but we have seen some great approaches. Rather than trying to represent the thinking and experience of others, we would love to facilitate a chance for members of the open education community to talk with each other. Given the tight timelines that many are facing, we propose a virtual meet-up early next week
Join Us:
Round Table Discussion: Course Fees & Funding OER
When: Monday, April 4, from 3-4 pm ET / 12-1 pm PT

Please join us for this round-table discussion. If you have already been down this road, others would love your guidance. If you have yet to take this on or are considering an approach and would like feedback, please bring your ideas.

For those who can't make this day and time, we are happy to record the discussion or to share anything that you send in advance with the team.

Use the link below to let us know if you're interested in joining us, and we'll get the meeting access information to you. 

Reserve Your Seat

 Photo: Seyyed Mostafa Zamani / Flickr

“Getting the Math” at Salt Lake Community College

Getting the math, using OER in the classroom at SLCC

Doing good is good business: How Lumen Learning is opening education for student savings and success

The Grand Challenge Equations: San Diego Supercomputer Center CC-BY Duncan Hull

On Turning Two

Photo: A♥ / Flickr