Wednesday, June 15, 2016

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 4

I’m genuinely glad that Lumen is doing what they’re doing, and I applaud the announcement this past Monday of the Major National Initiative to Help 38 Community Colleges in 13 States Develop New Degree Programs Using Open Educational Resources. But, I also still have significant reservations about the particular model that’s being used to provide access to the OER. And, I don’t think discussing the model of delivery and the specific nature of how and to where the money flows is merely ‘academic,’ as Dr. Wiley described it in his comment on my previous post, For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 3. It may be that the Lumen model is exactly what’s needed at this stage in the development of OER, but I’m concerned that without a clearer understanding of the details (like documentation other than what’s on Git hub and a support network other than Lumen staff), we might be missing greater opportunity. Bluntly, I don’t want the purposes of a for-profit company spoiling the possibilities.

The really great thing about Lumen’s approach is that it is providing significant immediate savings to students and thereby enhancing the sustainability of the institutions where they’re studying. (Go ahead and quote me.) The for-profit textbook publishers have created a worldwide orchard with a whole lot of low hanging fruit.

Here’s the distinctions I want to make:

1.  Putting the OER in a separate platform and connecting to the LMS via LTI is only really useful if you want more money going to those that run the separate platform instead of keeping the money for running the LMS. I’m pretty sure that Lumen is already working with Instructure and other LMS purveyors to blur that line even more, which will come with the argument that that is the way of most opportunity which is Dr. Wiley's proclaimed rationale for Lumen being a for-profit entity.

2. The supporting functions that are necessary for the continued flourishing of OER can be provided by a for-profit entity, but the best value to community colleges, students and faculty will be when they are provided on a fee for service basis. The structure of the entity providing the supporting functions might be for-profit corporate, for-profit individuals,  non-profit corporate, consortia of governmental orgs, or combinations of the above. The particular mix of combinations matters, too.  The ultimate factoring to per student does not necessarily correlate to quantities. Sometimes it will be cheaper per student for a class of twenty-five students at a four year institution and sometimes it will be cheaper per student for all of the Algebra 1 students in the statewide CC system. As institutions including administration, IT support, faculty, libraries, student services, and students all come to understand all of the moving parts of OER, the institutions will better be able to determine which payment method for OER support is best for their particular circumstances.

As Dr. Wiley has pointed out, there is a need for all types of support. Different recipes produce different cookies. For now, cheers to Lumen and the Major National Initiative to Help 38 Community Colleges in 13 States Develop New Degree Programs Using Open Educational Resources.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 3

I’m very grateful that Dr. David Wiley posted a comment on my previous post and shared some observations. I have much admiration for the work that he’s done. I think our  differences are not nearly as numerous as the things we share in common.  Any criticisms I make are made in an attempt to achieve what’s best for students, faculty and educational institutions.

Dr. Wiley observed that my tone in the last post was critical and that bewildered him. I think his observation is accurate but I’m not sure why me being critical of Lumen’s method of delivering OER is so bewildering. Is it bewildering that someone else could have a different way of addressing the problems that Dr. Wiley described having experienced in Lumen’s first foray with OER adoption ? Is there a different way of using OER that doesn't involve passing money from community college students or those that pay for the books of community college students to Lumen investors.

Dr. Wiley incorrectly said “You say that "instead of addressing those problems" we started working with institutions and charging them for our services.” What I actually said was “So, instead of addressing those problems Lumen did the next best thing that also just happens to offer a ROI for investors of Lumen.” It’s the ownership structure of Lumen that I’m questioning. (Note the titles of this series of posts.) And more importantly, how did the ownership structure of Lumen influence the choice of OER delivery methods that Lumen developed? Lumen encountered problems using just one LMS to connect faculty and students with OER; could those problems have been solved differently if Lumen were a non-profit instead of a for-profit?

In my opinion, the Lumen way of implementing OER does not create the best value for the students or the owners of most community colleges, the taxpaying public. Nor do I think the Lumen method of implementing OER creates the best value for the faculty of community colleges. Implementing OER using LMSs like Lumen purportedly did initially is the better way, IMO.

That Lumen ran into some difficulties implementing LMSs is not surprising; it’s very complex work; it is very labor intensive and is not the kind of work that outside investors get excited about. For-profit investors would rather have an interest in something that can be sold again and again and involves as little labor as possible. Lumen’s solution for implementing OER looks more like a way to maximize return on investment for Lumen than a way to maximize savings for community college students.

I think For-profit companies that operate in the public education ‘sector’ have a special requirement to be as transparent as possible. Lumen’s announcement about their deal with SUNY and Dr. Wiley’s explanations since are not as transparent as they could be, IMO. My questions about why Lumen uses LTI from their platform to connect to LMSs was not about not understanding LTI;  it was about seeking transparency from Lumen and Dr. Wiley.  My thoughts on how best to implement OER differ from Dr. Wiley’s, I think, not because the bulk of my time in the last 20 years, at least, was spent in K12, but because I’m coming at it from the perspective of an independent contractor providing service to institutions, most of them governmental or other non-profits, rather than as the founder of a for-profit company. Implementing OER doesn’t fit well with for-profit software start-up modeling.

Experience in implementing systems in community colleges suggests that they are more like K12 public school districts than they are like major R1 universities, and they are significantly different than private liberal arts institutions of higher ed. Experience with software companies that link to LMSs via LTI in addition to the work for a major textbook publisher advising their IT team as to best practices using an open source LMS to deliver open source textbooks inform the notion that using an LMS is the most practical way to implement OER.  But, again, that may not be the same experience as the folks at Lumen, a for-profit software company.

Lumen’s ‘solution’ to the problem of how to most effectively provide OER in community colleges is problematic because it appears to introduce yet another LMS-like system that while being open source is not widely understood by either faculty or IT support staff. There is more to learn about how Lumen’s platform actually works, but Dr. Wiley failed to address my previous question of where to find documentation for their system, and he failed to specifically identify the faculty and community college support staff network of expertise with the Lumen platform.

Another problem with the Lumen method is the fee structure. Lumen’s fee structure appears to be per student use of OER, but that’s not clear from their website; it might be per student enrolled at the institution.  Fee structures of software companies selling to educational institutions are often ‘negotiable.’ There’s nothing wrong with that. The pay I receive from institutions for curating OER, faculty professional development and support, analytics and effectiveness research, and strategic and change management consulting for academic leadership is all negotiable, too.  I don’t work on a per student basis, though, and I advise institutions to avoid service provision on a per student basis whenever possible. Further discussions of professional service fee structures, approaches to checks of OER licensing and attribution, and the best type of org structure for supporting OER are in our future, I think. Stayed tuned.

Friday, June 10, 2016

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 2

David Wiley has posted on his blog what looks like an answer to the question I asked him last week that is referred to here in For-Profit Involvement with OER

“If OER adoption were to become widespread among the majority of faculty, it became clear that someone would need to do something more than create OER, post it on a website, and give conference talks about it.” That's an observation that Wiley makes in his post and which is so very obvious to anyone who has been involved with education and technology for more that a week or two.

The biggest reason that OER hasn’t had much of a chance of getting used in all kinds of schools is because devices to use OER have not been common enough in most classrooms to make it practical for teachers to begin the adoption of a new way of doing things. That is, until recently. OER are now practical because  devices to use OER are becoming cheaper every day and wifi is becoming stronger in every classroom every day. Adoption didn’t happen quicker because technology in education at the classroom level had not yet evolved to the point where it was practical.

Wiley wisely tried first to use OER with learning management systems.. Well, LMSs have had the same problem that OER faced - not enough commonly used technology at the classroom level. I’ll also add that there hasn’t been enough leadership or professional development for teachers to adopt either LMSs or OER. That, too, is changing, finally.

Wiley described a couple of problems that they ran into when trying to use OER within a LMS.

They also discovered that faculty don’t always follow all of the rules of attribution. Really !

So, instead of addressing those problems Lumen did the next best thing that also just happens to offer a ROI for investors of Lumen.

“Lumen has spent a lot of time, effort, and money creating an OER management and integration platform that solves many of the most common OER adoption problems, which is also free and open source. “ - that’s the Lumen Wordpress / Pressbooks LMS like thingy that they use to house the OER. Their thingy may be open source but how many people on the planet outside of Lumen know how to operate it? And, where is the documentation on how to operate this open source tool? How many faculty or teachers are there who typically and practically use this tool?

Because the OER that Lumen is offering to schools is in the platform that they built Lumen gets to charge the users of the OER as much as $25.00 per OER which also includes all of the other things that Lumen does.

‘Institutions partner with Lumen because Lumen provide faculty training and support, checks of OER licensing and attribution, hosting and technical support for our platform, and analytics and effectiveness research – as well as other services like strategic and change management consulting for academic leadership.”

It sounds like Lumen has become a LMS hosting company using a LMS that is open source but that not very many people other than Lumen actually know how use.

And, Lumen has created package deals for degree programs, too. I think that means that they will spin up a Nursing Assistant program, for instance, or some other special program that is popular and useful at colleges.  The OER content will be all wrapped in with all of the other things that Lumen does to make the degree program happen. So, they’re like the OPMs (online program management) that have been in the news lately. OPM is hot in higher ed and apparently worth over a $billion. Lumen and its investors deserve a piece of that money, I guess.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

For-Profit Involvement with OER

David Wiley has said in a tweet that he will be posting a response later this week to the question I asked in a couple of different ways recently about Lumen's announcement about its deal with SUNY. The question I asked was why Lumen was using LTI to connect the OER they were providing to the LMSs of SUNY. See my previous post or tweets at @sabier for more on that question.

I'm expecting that I'll learn something that I don't know in David's response. There must be something in the way Lumen is configuring their LTI to connect OER with LMSs that I don't quite understand.

But, I think there's another more basic question to be discussed. David talked about it in a recent post of his - the issue of For-Profit involvement with OER.  David said, "it’s impossible to select a single decision rule about the involvement of commercial interests in open education that will be “acceptable” (by whatever metric you care to use) in all cases where it will need to be applied." You can read David's explanation of why he thinks that on his blog.

I think it is possible to make some statements about for-profit involvement with OER. Notice, that I said OER and not 'open education' which is the term David used in his post. There's a difference. I think we can make statements about OER that will be universally true. I think we can say clearly and unequivocally that money can't be changing hands for OER. OER is free. Period. If money is changing hands related to OER then we need to be clear about why the money is changing hands. What value is being exchanged for money. Both individuals (like me) and for-profit companies can earn money for work related to OER, but we need to be explicit about what the value is that we're providing.

If the exchange of money is in any way a barrier or gate or qualifier for access to the OER, the OER is no longer OER; it's something else, but it's not OER. When we publish OER are we making it as easy as possible to do all of the 5 Rs or are we hedging a little? I touched on this subject six months ago, and I hope to say more about it this next week. Your thoughts are welcome.

Friday, June 3, 2016


If you happen to be reading this and don't know what the three acronyms in the title of this post mean, you're in good company. Lot's of people don't know what they mean. I have some experience with each of them, but I'm still not sure what they mean. I think the terms are evolving.

Yesterday, Phil Hill, someone I follow on Twitter, posted this tweet 'Lumen Learning – Announcement: Open SUNY Textbooks scales up OER Adoption .'

I read the announcement and was puzzled by this - "They will further develop a formalized approach to OER adoption that provides faculty with a suite of services to assist with curating, adopting, remixing and creating new OER content, along with a platform that makes it easy to maintain and deliver OER within SUNY courses. The platform supports Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), allowing for easy integration with any Learning Management System (LMS), and easy access for students through the LMS."

I was puzzled by the last sentence - "The platform supports Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), allowing for easy integration with any Learning Management System (LMS), and easy access for students through the LMS." I didn't understand how LTI makes accessing the OER through the LMS easier. I write and curate OER content for use with LMSs. I don't get why having another platform that sounds like it's another LMS except it's not being called an LMS, just a 'platform' and is connected to the LMS via LTI makes accessing the OER easier.

Lumen's website talks about the things they can provide in their packages that cost what looks like as much as $25 per student per book. That's a whole lot cheaper than the price being paid for textbooks that aren't OER, so that seems like a very good deal. The problem I have is that it is not clear how to get the OER material without paying the upcharge per book for the extras that Lumen provides in addition to the OER which is free.

I tweeted back to Phil that this didn't make sense to me and he tweeted some vague jargon back to me and said he'd ask David Wiley, the Lumen founder, to weigh in when he could, which he did. But David's tweets were just as vague and confusing as Phil's.
Then, this evening, 2 hours ago agree with Phil some things are done better by interoperability tools off the LMS,
to which I tweeted - "Some things' Like what ? 'Some things' is not a convincing argument." 
he replied - "e-reader software for example. Downloadable content so can access offline when not connected." 
Phil and Rich have both said this is not a topic that Twitter can handle, so I'm offering this blog for longer comments. I'd really like to know why the Lumen platform that supports Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) that allows for easy integration with any Learning Management System (LMS) is supposed to be a good thing and not another pay wall by a different name and another repository of data that is housed where faculty and students can only get at it by going through Lumen?