Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Benefits and Drawbacks of 'Big' and 'Little' Open Educational Resources

According to Weller (2011, 2012) open educational resources (OER) can usefully be characterized as 'big,' large integrated projects created by major institutions, or 'little,' small, discrete and idiosyncratic outputs from everyday research and teaching activities. From Weller's discussion it is clear that big OER and little OER share some traits in common. They also differ in many ways, with the interesting feature that their differences show a strong reciprocal relationship. In many instances, the strengths or benefits of one mirror the weaknesses or drawbacks of the other.
Here is a partial listing, as noted in Weller (2011):
  • -17K to 200K visits monthly
  • -large audiences
  • -high visibility
  • -clear, strong motivations
  • -high costs (money, time)
  • -high technical expertise ??
  • -high threshold to content production
  • -creativity & work
  • -isolated
  • -must consider audience demographics
  • -constained by project-focused method of working
  • -fine filter
  • -require a pre-established network to be most effective
  • -low costs (money, time)
  • -low technical expertise
  • -low threshold to content production
  • -creativity & fun
  • -includes many shareable artefacts that are outcome of normal university work
  • -networked
  • -practices can be embedded
  • -can be simple spin-offs of everyday academic activities
  • -consistent with with the bottom-up, unpredictable nature of internet innovation
  •  -no need to consider audience demographics
  • -coarse (open) filter
  • -no academic compromises
  • -high reuse potential
  • -requires comfort with technologies
  • -low level motivations, complex, murky, unpredictable
  • -low visitation, visibility
  • -smaller audiences
  • -yet, as niche products, long-tail theory (Anderson 2006) suggests equivalent impact to big OER
  • -needs lots of content to sustain a perception of value
  • -money & time costs overestimated
  • -require a pre-established network to be most effective
  • -needs empowerment and liberation by academic organizations
  • -requires changed promotion criteria
  • -need formal and informal recognition of value within academic institutions
Weller appears primarily interested in the value of little OER and the actions that can be taken to make them more viable. As a result, the lists above are somewhat skewed in the direction of extended detail in the characteristics of little OER. Most of the little OER drawbacks, it appears, will in fact become strengths if the academic environment in which they are generated can be modified. Strongly supported embedding of little OER creation in the normal academic workflow, he suggests, can make little OER a major force in the cause of open education.
Weller, M. (2011) ‘Public engagement as collateral damage’ in The Digital Scholar, London, Bloomsbury Academic. Available online at (Accessed 27-Mar-2013).
Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [online]. Available at (Accessed 10-Mar-2013)..
[This posting is for Activity 11 of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]