GEORGE SIEMENS: Well, we're now at week five of the course. And at this point, we get into the exhilarating and perennially exciting topic of research, and research in OERs. And I know you've been very actively involved in research, really since its inception. You've devoted 20-plus years of your life to this domain area. You lead the Open Education Research Group as well. So can you talk a little bit about what kind of research is being done around OERs?
DAVID WILEY: Yeah. Well, the research has gone through phases. There was a couple of years where most of the research on OER was survey, kind of attitudinal perception research. What do you think about OERs? Tell me how you feel about this OER. How did the quality of it compare to the quality of other resources we've used kind of 1-5, sort of self-reported data, survey kind of work.
Somewhere around the middle of the 2000s, late middle of the 2000s, as the OER adoption work was really trying to take off, we kept encountering the same kinds of pushback again and again, along the lines of I will admit now that there are all these open and licensed materials available online. But because you get what you pay for, I know that this $200 textbook I currently use will result in far better student learning than a bunch of free stuff that I can download off the internet. And so myself and a couple of students and other faculty at BYU got together and said, let's just kind of list out these questions. And let's go do the research that needs to be done and to provide the answer to these questions.
So when people say, well, won't students learn less? You can lay a couple of articles down. Won't the university lose money? Because now we're cutting into bookstore revenue. Just really trying to lay out enough of a foundation that people would feel like they could do work in the OER space without having to be afraid of, I'm the very first one, nobody knows what's going to happen. I don't know why it is open, but everyone thinks the universe is going to end when they take that next step in open, whether it was MIT Open Courseware or what we're talking about now. But a lot of the research, I'd say from 2008, 2009, kind of coming forward has really been looking empirically at the impacts of OER adoption either on student learning outcomes or on institutional finance or things like that.
GEORGE SIEMENS: And part of that too, which I've always found a little fascinating, is researchers, academics, who are critical, scientific thinkers in their own domain, often revert to more opinion and bias when they talk about openness. The point that you mentioned, well, it's not going to be as good if it's open. Or if I publish it in open source or an open scholarship journal, it's not going to be as good for my career, even though like you noted earlier in the course, that well, who sets the criteria for tenure and promotion advancement and so on?
So it's interesting to shift the use of OER activities, which is not unusual in education when you have something that is part an activist activity, because it really is. There is activism in promoting the use of OERs. And you can get tied to the idea of openness at an activist level that you never really turn to the empirical evaluation of what that is. And there's nothing in the world wrong with that. You're always going to have that balance of activists and empiricists or activists and researchers. The two don't have to be the same being. Where do you think we are now in terms of research, and what's still outstanding from your perspective around OER use, OER adoption, or even just openness in general?
DAVID WILEY: I think, of course we need more. We need more, we need more, we need more. This kind of empirical bend of OER impact research is almost 10 years old. Everything that was written in 2007 and before was a lot of, OER is going to change the world. Open courseware is going to change-- I mean, even in journals like--
GEORGE SIEMENS: But we know that MOOCs, they're the ones that are really going to change everything.
DAVID WILEY: We figured that out eventually.
GEORGE SIEMENS: OK, good.
DAVID WILEY: But even in journals like Science, there'd be these articles like, open courseware is going to change the world. And no data, there's just so much opinion writing kind of up to them. But I think where we are now, despite the fact that we need more work, is we have a pretty solid understanding now that when faculty members stop using $100, $200, now in some cases, literally $400 single textbooks in their class, when they stop doing that and they start using OER, regardless of which outcome you look at on the student outcomes side, the results are the same or better. So you can look at final grade on a 0-4 scale. You can look at it as a dichotomous variable, did they get a C or better or not. Drop rates, withdrawal rates, kind of however you want to measure outcomes from the student side, the results are the same or better on the student side when faculty assign OER in place of commercial materials.
GEORGE SIEMENS: What about some of the research? Are they looking at the specific basic science perspectives of how do OERs help people learn? Or are they mainly focused on adoption, utilization? What are the specific nature of questions that are being explored right now?
DAVID WILEY: I think we're just starting to transition from some kind of more basic ones into more interesting ones. As I said, this kind of shift that we tried to create in the field around 2008 to more empirical work about what happens when faculty adopt OER, is just really trying to provide some kind of floor, where we could say, we do know a little something here. You're not behaving in some unethically reckless way by adopting OER. We know something about what happens here.
But in terms of more nuanced questions around, so we're working on a study right now, looking at an institution where there's pretty broad adoption of OER, looking at the difference in student outcomes, in courses where faculty members were directly involved in pulling together, aggregating, and designing the OER, versus the faculty member of the office next door that just picked that up and started using it in their class. Is there some kind of effect from the teachers' direct involvement that you don't get from a faculty member who just adopts OER and doesn't actually do any of the design or curation piece of it?
There are more opportunities for us to get into those kinds of areas now, differences in learning outcomes based on different ways that faculty use OER. Or have they just swapped out the old phone for the new phone, and they're still using it exactly the same way? Are they engaging in some more kind of interesting and truly open enabled kind of pedagogies? That's all work that still needs to happen, that isn't happening yet. We're just about out of the very, very basic phase, I think of OER research, and ready to ask some of these more interesting questions.
GEORGE SIEMENS: There's two things here. You and i have spent five weeks together recording this. And it's been fascinating to see just how many equivalent shirts we have that have worn them for five weeks straight.
DAVID WILEY: Folded the same way.
GEORGE SIEMENS: I am impressed. So I think that's important to note. Secondly, the fact is that the learning analytics field, which we're going to deal into when we wear the same clothing in week six, is also very rapidly capable of contributing to some of the developments around research, specifically around adoption. This is the point that we've talked about before, that once you have the resources in a technological format, they're discrete, they're analyzable. You can track what people do with it. You can explore the networks and form around a knowledge object and the list goes on.
So I think the research, as will be experienced through the readings and the discussions this week, the research in OERs, while it is still like you've noted, it's an early stage, it's really at a point of significant expansion and growth going forward.