Designer OERs: how fashionable can OER production be?

There is no doubt that OERs potentially present an alternative to current forms of higher education. No wonder they have gained, and continue to gain, the attention of educational policy makers around the world. Production models are still emerging across different institutions, communities and disciplines and an examination of these models shows that they are predominated by supply production frameworks.

At last year’s Open Learning conference at the University of Nottingham, representatives from OER Africa expressed their willingness to work with academic partners across the world who were eager and willing to respond to the specific educational needs of Africa. OER Africa was much averse to the one size fits all approach which currently dominates OER production. Their concerns raise questions regarding alternative methods of OER production as part of opening up education to the wider world. This calls for a shift away from “supply” to “demand” models of OER development or what I would like to term “designer OERs”, which are made to measure to the specific educational needs of members of the global community.

In this regard, there is a lot that OER practitioners can learn from the fashion design industry. Within this industry, the everyday needs of celebrities and individual customers are paramount and continue to drive the market. The principles of wearability, suitability, affordability, simplicity, sophistication, presentation, fit for purpose and planned obsolesce are key. Fabrics are carefully chosen, both the soft and the stiff, influenced by the time of the year, the season, the occasion, and cultural as well as social norms. Particular attention is paid to cutting and stitching to suit different shapes and sizes. Innovation within the industry is a constant feature, as are different fashion lines. Quality at different outlets remains the same but responds to different market types, from the Haute Couture to the mass market.

The implications of these principles, when applied to OER production and practices, can be far reaching. Like libraries of the past decades, much OER production continues to rely on “just in case” – supply – models to the neglect of “just in time” – demand – models. In the absence of a global educational curriculum it becomes difficult to assess the potential value and usefulness of an OER at the time of its production. A context sensitive, made to measure, made on order or tailored approach to OER production is much more likely to respond to specific “consumer” needs. The value of a “designer” approach to OER production is that it is much more likely to promote horizontal (re)usability across different regions of the world. Such an approach also minimizes the possibility of OER projects folding-up when their sources of funding dry-up. How fashionable can we get in the OER production and development industry?

Samuel Nikoi (16 March 2010).

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