So Amazon is getting into the Open Educational Resources market. What do we think about that? If you read these pages regularly, you can probably predict what I’ll say. It’s the wrong model.
For over a decade and a half we’ve focused on getting OER into central sites that everyone can find. Or developing “registries” to index all of them. The idea is if “everyone just knows the one place to go” OER will be findable.
This has been a disaster.
It’s been a disaster for two reasons. The first is that it assumes that learning objects are immutable single things, and that the evolution of the object once it leaves the repository is not interesting to us. And so Amazon thinks that what OER needs is a marketplace (albeit with the money removed). But OER are *living* documents, and what they need is an environment less like Amazon.com and more like GitHub. (And that’s what we’re building at Wikity, a personal GitHub for OER).
So that’s the first lesson: products need a marketplace but living things need an ecosystem. Amazon gives us yet another market.
The second mistake is that it centralizes resources, and therefore makes the existing ecosystem more fragile.
I talked about this yesterday in my mammoth post on Connected Copies. While writing that post I found the most amazing example demonstrating this, which I’ll repeat here.
Here’s a bookseller list from a particular bookshop from 1813:
How many of these works do you think are around today?
Answer: all of them. They all survived, hundreds of years. In fact, you can read almost all of them online today:
- Universal Library, or Complete Summary of Science
- Vince’s Principles of Hydrostatics
- Ward’s Mathematician’s Guide
- Watt’s First Principles of Astronomy and Geography
- Webb’s Complete Negociator
- Well’s Young Gentleman’s Astronomy
- Weston’s Complete Merchant’s Clerk (behind logins unfortunately, but there)
- Whiston’s New Theory of the Earth
- Whyte on the Art of Reading and Speaking in Public
- Wilkin’s Discovery of a New World
- Williamson’s Mathematics Simplified
- Willich’s Domestic Encyclopedia
- Wingate’s Arithmetick
Now consider this. SoundCloud, a platform for music composers that has tens of millions of original works is in trouble. If it goes down, how many of those works will survive? If history is a guide, very few. And the same will be true of Amazon’s new effort. People will put much effort into it, upload things and maintain them there, and then one day Amazon will pull the plug.
Now you might be thinking that what I’m proposing then is that we put the OER we create on our own servers. Power to the People! But that sucks as a strategy too, because we’ve tried that as well, and hugely important works disappear because someone misses a server payment, gets hacked, or just gets sick of paying ten bucks a month so that other people can use their stuff. We trade large cataclysmic events for a thousand tiny disasters, but the result is the same.
So I’m actually proposing something much more radical, that OER should be a system of connected copies. And because I finally got tired of people asking if they needed to drop acid to understand what I’m talking about, I’ve started to explain the problem and the solutions from the beginning over here. It’s readable and understandable, I promise. And it’s key to getting us out of this infinite “let’s make a repository” loop we seem to be in.
Honestly, it’s the product of spending a number of weekends thinking how best to explain this, and the results have been, well, above average:
I haven’t gotten to how copies evolve yet, but I actually managed to write something that starts at the beginning. I’ll try and continue with the middle, and maybe even proceed to an end, although that part has always eluded me.