A Non-Definition of OER

THe following two photographs of slides are from David Wiley’s presentation on open education (which was awesome). I am playing against his definition for a variety of reasons which may become clear as I progress.

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(1) Any kind of teaching materials- textbooks, syllabi, lesson plans, videos, readings, exams

“Teaching materials” are in the eye of the beholder but leading with this phrase puts people in a certain mindset around content and one that is actually harmful. People make fun of “educational” resources for good reason. A large part of what needs to be opened is our ideas around what content might be educational and how we might use that content.

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(2) Free and unfettered access, and
(3) Free permission to engage in the “4R activities

I won’t argue much with #2, although I do realize I “pay” for access to some of this content when a 3rd party tracks me.

While I recognize the importance and goodness of #3, I hate to exclude all the content that falls outside that definition. I’d rather have a larger “house” of content and a few rooms that help people decide what they can do with it. I think it’s actually good that content might be ephemeral and might eventually go away. I am ok that I can’t remix certain things. I still find the content worth using. My goal is to first get people to open their eyes to the wealth of really engaging content around us and then the idea of remixing and making that content becomes both more likely and more interesting.

See Food!
I tend to see this as representative of most “teaching materials” only less exciting. The content is pre-chewed and equally unappetizing.

I’ll start with fairly normal media sources and drift outward towards stranger places and tools.

[Invitation to attend the execution of Tiburcio Vasquez]
The Flickr Commons has many good things (and a decent search interface), including this invitation to an execution that I found randomly as a result of subscribing to this RSS feed of the Commons’ photos. Since I knew Jim Groom was teaching a course on crime I passed it on and Jim did the rest. It’s also a decent example of the value of working in the open. If people know what you’re doing they may come bearing gifts. My favorites in Flickr are full of items waiting for uses.

This disturbing film records the successful experiments in the resuscitation of life to dead animals (dogs), as conducted by Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. Director: D.I. Yashin.

I found this very disturbing video on Archive.org– specifically wandering around the Prelinger archives which are full of all sorts of odd things. All this content is remixable and the potential is limited only by time and imagination.

XKCD's What if? There is a cartoonist who specializes in romance, sarcasm, math, language and happens to answer hypothetical physics questions on a weekly basis. I find this interesting in a variety of ways- not the least of which is that there is an audience for this. There is even a Twitter account that documents all the interesting numbers found in the pursuit of these answers.

Backstory There are so many beautiful podcasts out there. This one is amazingly well done and a model for how we might teach history- 18th, 19th, and 20th century lenses on the same topic. They interview experts and provide resources that allow people to delve even deeper. This kind of thing starts to get at the idea of transmedia– different media paths with different depths driven, to some degree, by a narrative. The timely nature of the content is also quite useful- this Columbus episode for instance which would go nicely with this Oatmeal comic.1

There are so many things out there, it helps to have other people tell you about them. Eric Hoefler let me know about this one.

I do think it’s worth noting that I’m ok with degrees of “truth” from these sources. I want all information to be suspect.

There’s an endless additional supply of media but from here I’ll start to branch out into the idea that tools have as much or more value. A few of my favorites are below. I like them because they start with plenty of content and plenty of options but they also offer you the ability to fill them with your own data.

GapMinder (Not sure why Gapminder doesn’t generate a screenshot via the WordPress Snap feature. . . it is a real place. You can click on the 404 image and go there.)

Google Earth/Google Maps- Short version – It’s full of stars.


Many Eyes

Under the tools category also falls all sorts of javascript libraries – Timeline JS, Simile Widgets, Dojo etc. etc.

And then there are people, so many people focused on finding interesting things in various areas of focus. A few content focused examples include2

Shorpy Fresh Photons It's OK to be Smart Literary Tattoos Literally Unbelievable

And what’s better than people? Communities. Legions of people working towards your goals is handy.

Like this reddit focused on colorizing historical photos.
Colorized History


1 and some fava beans

2 I would note that content focused blogs should be rounded out. It’s important to look outside education.

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