OER and Equity

Over 20% of children in the United States live in poverty (http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html)

Most internet access in the United States takes place on “mobile” devices such as phones and tablets (https://techcrunch.com/2014/08/21/majority-of-digital-media-consumption-now-takes-place-in-mobile-apps/)


Taken together, we know that most internet consumption in the future will not happen on big screens with legacy OS’s. While this presents a problem for some sectors (software development, heavy graphics etc) for most of the internet this is a welcome problem.

Open Educational Resources is a term that’s been around a while, but with varying degrees of fidelity. I use the definition defined at opencontent.org by David Wiley and others at opencontent.org/definition:
The terms “open content” and “open educational resources” describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like “open source”) that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)

  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)

  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)

  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

When it comes to reaching students in poverty with OER, my observations are that the ball has often been dropped but doesn’t have to be. Part of the Open Content definition is the ALMS rubric:

  1. Access to Editing Tools: Is it easy to edit the content?
  2. Level of Expertise Required:Is it hard to use the tools that edit the content?
  3. Meaningfully Editable: Is it easy to edit the content in a way that would help remix it (ie a PDF is a terrible way to publish open content)
  4. Self-Sourced: A more technical one, but “It the format preferred for consuming the open content the same format preferred for revising or remixing the open content (e.g., HTML)?”

A lot of the open content that I have seen thus far does not fit this definition. Sometimes folks have great content within their LMS, but it’s just sitting there. Or it’s on a website somewhere but you can’t easily copy and paste the text, or it’s in a Google Doc and thus not as easily searchable as perhaps other public information. PDF’s still make up almost 80% of non-HTML documents on the internet, so that’s a lot of information that for most intents and purposes is trapped.

There are a lot of great efforts happening to free this content – much of it thanks to folks like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, Creative Commons, IMS Global and various Open Education groups/consortiums.

I taught middle and high school for about 10 years in and around Fresno, CA. Many of my students grew up without fathers, without parents having even any kind of job (government assistance for_their_entire_lives) and computer use was either at school or cell phones. Some middle and upper class people mock those considered low-income and their use of often higher-end cell phones – not realizing these people don’t have a car, don’t have a mortgage, a retirement fund, etc – so money goes toward the immediate need/gratification.

Open Educational Resources need to be made with Universal Design for Learning principles in mind. My wife retells this image from the comic strip when talking about the need for universal design in all educational settings:


This need is still true even now. All OER should:

  • Be easily translatable (Google Translate works great)
  • Allow the option of being read aloud
  • Be licensed with no restrictions CC-BY
  • Follow the norms laid out by the ALMS rubric
  • Be printable: Of course being able to print materials easily (read: Not a string of oddly formatted HTML pages!) does a lot of good as well. If kids can print it they can access it, period – as long as the other accessibility guidelines mentioned are present like language, etc.

Failure to follow these principles of design will serve only to widen the gap between the tech elite and the tech poor. As we have seen in society today, there is a large gap not just in the reality of Americans but in the ability to have a perception of reality.

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