President Obama joins the OER evangelism movement

I was stunned to learn recently that President Obama has become a convert to the open educational resources (OER) movement. The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported on plans by President Obama to pump over $500 million into freely available web-based courses.

Whilst the move by the Obama administration has attracted a backlash at the Annual conference of Distance Teaching and Learning, what is notable is that President Obama subscribes to the principles of open access to educational resources.

The fundamental objective of President Obama’s initiative is to make higher education freely available to all and not only to the privileged few. It is reported that whilst institutions such as MIT have been successful at the publication of over 19,000 courses made freely available online, the huge cost of developing an open educational course – $10,000 per course – has impeded progress at the community-college level with the result that a huge proportion of the college population is not being served by OERs.

The plan of President Obama’s administration is thus to open up higher education to all students and also pursue its goal of giving the United States the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Reported benefits of the program include:

  • helping students explore new careers
  • improving retention of students
  • lowering the cost of a degree
  • spurring alternative ways of awarding credit
  • guaranteeing standards “whether you are in a more impoverished, under-served, or remote area of the country”.

There are many questions and challenges which are yet to be addressed such as whether new courses are necessarily needed, the cost of producing new learning materials, how to provide learning support for students in a self-paced learning situation and privacy issues of learning in an online environment.

The challenges notwithstanding, it is welcome news  – to OTTER especially – that OERs are attracting global political attention from the likes of President Obama.

Samuel Nikoi

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