OER: A Push Toward Mainstream – Gov Jerry Brown Signs Bill into Law!

Open Educational Resources (OER) are not new but they are not exactly commonplace or well understood within the educational community or beyond. OER is content that is provided free through an open public license and made available for others to reuse and modify for teaching and learning purposes.

The most well-known example of OER is that of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia site available for anyone in the community to view and edit and add to. The community works to keep it clean and updated through a democratic non-profit self-regulation process. Debate about the legitimacy of Wikipedia as an academic source is heated and the openness with which anyone can access and contribute to the information is seen as both a blessing and a curse, something where accessibility and standards have not always found harmony. A lesser-known but more-academic alternative is being created by Khan Academy. This free online world-class education is available free to anyone to use. Podcasts and iTunes U and sites such as http://www.openculture.com/ also show great potential.

In terms of policy, OER is about to enter the mainstream in a big way. With today’s signing of the California Bills SB1052 and SB1053, the state embarks to create the nation’s first Open-Source Textbook Library. The state will seek to determine the 50 most widely-taken lower-division courses in the California higher-education system. These in all likelihood, will also be some of the most widely-taken courses across the country. They will then seek to create textbooks for these courses that will be free in digital form and in print for $20 or less.

The ripple effect of this legislation should spread way past California and throughout the whole country. With quality publisher-grade peer-reviewed options becoming newly available in open format and competing against the high-priced publishers’ textbooks, faculty will need to pause to review these and see how they can be used in their classroom.

The cost savings as outlined in this infographic by 20MM.org are mind blowing. It is easy to see how a 5-million-dollar investment by the state of California will save students hundreds of dollars on these classes. The bigger impact will be in showing faculty and educators that open-source textbooks are of a quality worthy of their classrooms. That will take time and proof and building trust.

Three Important Things to Consider with Regard to New Open-Source Legislation:

1) Maintains Academic Freedom: The bill as it is written maintains the academic freedom of faculty to make decisions about what they feel they need for their classrooms. Faculty maintain their power and are given quality alternatives to consider. The CC BY license gives faculty the rigths to reuse, remix, revise and redistribute books as they choose. The Creative Commons liscense gives legal rights for the faculty to re-purpose the books for local needs.

2) Connect to Other Libraries: The basis of OER is to reuse and remix. The content created in this process will provide a whole new world of quality materials for faculty to choose from. Once connected to repositories such as Connexions and MERLOT, the new potential for new textbooks is limitless.

3) Working Smarter: With a limited budget of only $10 million dollars (five million from the state and five million from foundations), the faculty group created to drive initial textbook production will need to consider all kinds of strategies from textbook acquisition to building from scratch. The key will be to find ways to meet the quality and stay under budget.

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