GEORGE SIEMENS: Given the challenges of publisher experience, given the challenges of faculty writing their own resources, creating their own content, one of the projects you're involved with most recently is an attempt to alleviate that experience from the faculty side and reduce the cost of educational content resources, certainly for students and for university systems, which is really critical for systems that serve low-income or minority or-- students that fit into that low socioeconomic status profile. And so this is Lumen. Can you talk a little bit about that company, and what your genesis, or the intent is of that organization?
DAVID WILEY: Yeah, I mean, the genesis was some Gates-funded-- some grant-funded work that was done, originally asking the question, can we persuade faculty to adopt open educational resources in place of the textbooks that they had been using before? And you know, there was a several-year project with a couple of waves of funding to it. And we like to jokingly but honestly say that I think we've been involved in more high-profile, high-failure OER adoption projects than maybe anybody in the world, because in those early days when nobody was really doing it, there were a lot of mistakes to be made. And I think we found many, if not all of them, in terms of how to support that.
But I think one way of thinking about what Lumen does is saying there's lots of work being done in pockets around these OER. So you're going to sit down and spend your whole summer pulling together all this material. And the thing that's absolutely crazy about it is that there's 20 other people, 100 other people, staring at their summer, asking themselves, am I also going to spend my entire summer doing what, pulling together open resources that have these-- permission to engage in these five R activities.
Like, why is every person starting over from scratch, right? Well, why don't we bring faculty together, have them collaborate, like cross-institutions, teaching Intro to Psych or College Algebra or whatever the course might be. Have them collaborate to produce something, and then have that something that they've made be the starting point for the next faculty member that comes along. And then have whatever they've done be the starting point for the next.
And this kind of snowball development model, so that when you think about adopting OER, it's not saying, how do I replace my quiz banks? Where do my PowerPoints come from? How am I going to find the time? Where do you even find all these little OER that are supposedly out there? How am I going to pull them all together?
You might start from a place where you say, well, here's a course where all the content has already been pulled together. It's been taught at several institutions already. There's a reasonable quiz bank. It could use some improvement. There aren't PowerPoints yet.
So maybe now the cost for you as a faculty member is dressing up the quizzes a bit and making some PowerPoints. It's not that whole cycle, right? And the next person that comes along after you is going to benefit from the work that you did, the same way that people who came before you benefited you in that adoption process. So we're really just trying to pull things out of being these individual, isolated pockets, so that there's more collaboration, more reuse happening, and people are able to get started further down the field every time they start.
GEORGE SIEMENS: So in some ways, it looks like you're trying to get at two things-- sort of the latent capacity of knowledge that exists within this system, and secondly, you're trying to connect people as part of a network, so that if there's, let's say, you and I and five others that are teaching Intro to Psychology again, that you do one part, I do one part, they do-- we all share, and in the end, you get this resource that's definitely superior, because our combined work is reflected in it. So, you know, the benefit of being part of a network.
DAVID WILEY: And in some cases, that network is synchronous, and you know who those other people are, and you're collaborating with them in real time. And in other places, it's more of a stigmergy kind of approach, where other people have come before. They've left the artifact in this state. And when you pick it up, you're like, oh, I can see the next thing that needs to happen. And you pick that up and take it.
And maybe both of those things are happening in parallel, in some ways. But there's so much capacity, and so much, particularly among faculty that serve these kind of under-represented or at-risk students. There's so much desire to support them and help them in their learning. The faculty are willing to do almost anything, but just don't know the best way to spend their time, how to most productively spend their time in pursuit of supporting and enabling their student learning.
And if you can bring them either into an active network of people, or help them find something that, here's where this was most recently left off. Don't go start by searching for 80 hours. Start here. And work for six, instead of 80, or whatever that might be. It's that kind of bringing together and unifying that effort.
GEORGE SIEMENS: So what's been the impact, then, of your work? I know you'd certainly work with a range of colleges. And I think you serve, in many cases, part of that group that most needs access and cost reduction.
So you mentioned earlier that through Lumen, you've made all the mistakes, or a good chunk of mistakes that you could make early on. You're in it multiple years now. What have you found has been the outcome of this approach, where you're trying to activate latent knowledge capacity in a system, and you're trying to connect up people who are doing shared work?
DAVID WILEY: Probably the single easiest measure, which is one that we care a lot about and that we track, is in 2016, we saved about 110,000 students a little over $10 million. And so when you look at these students, who are the kinds of students who literally drop out of college over the cost of textbooks in a term, you know, it feels like there's a lot of really positive impact that's happening, just in terms of cost savings, which is allowing people to stay in school, which, as we'll talk about some of the impact research later on, but students whose faculty assign them OER take more credits than students whose faculty assign them commercial textbooks. They actually reinvest the money that they save not buying textbooks, and buy more credits.
GEORGE SIEMENS: Well, you know, it's interesting that you just mentioned that part alone, from the cost end, and the-- who perform better, based on the OER representation, of course. There was a colleague that has done some research looking at one of the biggest predictors of student dropout is when they buy their textbook, because in many instances, they have to wait until student loan funds come in. And if that's even a week after a course starts, they're behind. For someone who is already a bit at risk, that can amplify things. So being able to just simply get access to content that's not financially tied to student loan funds coming in can be a huge factor.
DAVID WILEY: And it's frequently week three, and sometimes week four. And if you're in a school that's on quarters, where the whole quarter is eight weeks or nine weeks long, and you're a third or halfway through the course before you can read the homework assignments, get easy access to the homework problems that you're supposed to be doing and turning in, yeah, the impacts are really significant.
GEORGE SIEMENS: So you're saving students money with this sort of shared model, giving them better access to educational materials, and of course, hopefully producing better-quality learning, as you mentioned, from students that extensively use OER materials and resources. I mean, it's certainly a terrific outcome, or a great impact, at least.
Are you finding, at a systems level, because I know some of your projects, you work not just with a faculty one on one. You're trying to get that impact across the space or across the university campus. How eager are universities to make that cultural change, to think about OERs? And by OERs, open education resources. How eager are universities to make that change?
DAVID WILEY: It really-- this is going to be a generalization. But I think broadly, it has a lot to do with the kinds of role that faculty are asked to play, and the types of students that they serve. So for example, if a faculty member is at an institution where they're tenured primarily on grant dollars and the prestige of their research publications, and they just have to not be a terrible teacher, and they're serving students who are kind of primarily upper-middle-class kind of students, then there will be a lot less interest, generally speaking, among young faculty at an institution like that to take the time and make the effort involved in making this transition.
But at an institution where faculty have no grant or publication requirements, they're teaching four or five, sometimes six courses a semester, they're serving students that they know are coming from these lower-income, more at-risk kind of backgrounds, those institutions have a huge appetite for doing anything that they can to-- again, generally speaking, there are exceptions. But these are faculty who give their personal cell phone numbers to their students and say, text me anytime, day or night. Like, I'll come in on Saturday. I mean, I have a four-hour review session this Saturday for the exam.
They're just doing everything they possibly can to try to help these students become successful and get up and out of the kind of situation that they find themselves in right now. There's generally more appetite for engaging in the effort, for making the time, and even collaborating among faculty in ways that create what we call OER degrees, where every single course, from gen ed requirements through the required courses in the degree program, every course has at least one, if not many, sections that use OER in place of commercial textbooks, so that a student, for example, at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, who's pursuing their business administration degree, can go from their first class to their last class and never even be asked to buy a textbook, because every course they took used OER.