Finding Concerts for OERcisians:
Independent Acadmeics & Scratch (Money)

Copyright (C) 2011 Charles Jeffrey Danoff. As the copyright holder I place it in the public domain, and dedicate it there via a CC0 Public Domain Dedication as well as dual-license it with the Public Domain Dedication and Licence and WTFPL Public License.

     For roughly the past two years I've had a significant interest in Open Educational Resources [OER] which had led to currently organizing a course on P2PU, publishing a year of lessons on Wikiversity , writing a paper about paragogy with Joe Cornelli and putting resources on my own site. This has been like a hobby as I've invested numerous hours and cash on these, but haven't gotten a dime back in return. I did this because I found it fun, to be vain and show-off all my lessons, because I wanted others to see and use them in their own classes, and I hoped I'd get feedback on them to learn from myself. James Neil has an excellent video Going naked - Openism and freedom in academia in two parts one and two on why he does similar things.

     I plan on still pursuing this as a hobby and I don't need more cash to do so, which is wonderful, but for the rest of my life away from OER I could use some scratch.

     So, if possible, I am open to the idea of getting money from the knowledge of and skill set within the OER world. There is a risk that attaching money to this'll take away some of the intrinsic joy and motivation (cf. happiness parts of Clay Shirk's Cognitive Surplus) i'd also be able to do more instead of taking an hour to make money reffing, caddying or doing store inventory (my cash jobs since I've been back Stateside) so there's a chance I'd work more. And people do this, like M.S. Vijay Kumar getting paid to teach EDUC E-107 Open Education Practice and Potential (23439) at Harvard's Extension school.

     I could also make money by trying to sell my resources instead of giving them away for free, but that'd make my resources less likely to get used, thus would be harmful to idea sex of my lesson plans and other teachers I want. I wrote more about this in a series of blog posts. Yet, if I could get money to create free resources that'd be something to consider.

     On that note, Leigh Blackall recently blogged about a US Government move making $2 billion available for grants to US colleges dedicated to making the work. He was obviously enthusiastic overall, but added the cooling points "There is still a way to go before the formal education sector recognises the real and potential contribution that Wikipedia, Wikiversity and Wikibooks makes to people's education. ... It will be the formal education sector that is consulted on how and where to spend that injection of money, and that's the worry."

     I guess I kind of agree with him, at the same time I think the angle the WA Open Educational Resources Blog takes about the "unrestricted, open access (legal rights to reuse, remix, revise and redistribute) to all $2B worth of courses / programs produced with this grant." Of course, they are a potential recipient, unlike Leigh, but either way $2 billion worth of resources will be created for the world. Futhermore the politicians behind this move need to take care of their constituents and they're likely people involved in Universities or Community College, not independent OER makers or organizaitons like the Wikimedia Foundation.

     These ideas and frustrations lead to something that individuals involved in OER need to be mindful and careful of is demonizing proprietary or less free educational resources and their associated institutions.

     By proprietary I mean textbooks, handouts, etc. created to make a profit. These range from textbook publishers to individuals like Richard Grahm, selling the materials they create.

     By less free I mean anything given away for free with strings attached. Some lesson plans are given away free, but can't be used by people to make a profit, so a textbook publisher couldn't use John's lesson plans in their textbooks.

     That said they could use ones they found on Wikieducator, but only if their derivative works were also available for others to re-publish/change freely or at a profit. Basically anything besides resources dedicated to the public domain (which have their own issues) are free with some strings attached. The US Government money will only go to free works, IF that have to be attributed to their original author with a CCA license. That is, I can take anything from there and put it in a book to sell to you, but I have to credit the author of the lesson plan I used, if I don't I'm breaking the law.

     Perhaps demonizing is too strong, but those making OERs are not in competiton with proprietary resource makers, though I'd assume proprietary resource makers view OER as a threat. If you make money off bread and some guy starts giving away bread for free so you lost income to put food on your kid's table, you'd feel that new guy is a threat.

     Unlike bread, though, the world's appetite for education is insatiable, so there's room for both OERs and prorpietary resources. The quality of the later should go up exponentially and there's a reason people paid for professional as opposed to amateur work in the past.

     Basically, the OER community should play the "higher game" of academics which the Wikiversity article associated with that Neil video I mentioned describes as:

Academia is about sharing - otherwise it is not academia. To not share is to retreat to an ivory tower. This is the "low game" of academia in which knowledge-development and knowledge-storing is approached as a competition (e.g., between staff, students, departments, institutions, sectors, countries etc.). The "higher game" in academia is to selflessly contribute to collective knowledge by freely disseminating one's knowledge and activities (for a deeper discussion of the "academic game", see De Ropp (1968)).

This claim may be summarised as "academics are public servants and our work is public property".

     As a side note I would put Leigh's disparaging remark about the formal education sector in the "low game" category, even though he was a key contributor to the article cited above.

     That still leaves the money problem. How to fix it? Create your own job. For example, with my experience I could approach a community college as an OER consultant of some kind and offer to set-up their OER production and then write their grant for this government money.

     I think OER creators should think of themselves as modern musicians, perhaps OERcisians? With technological changes modern musicians get their music heard by more people than ever before in human history, but their CD sales don't make them money. How do they make cash? People pay to see them live, by going to concerts.

     A way to make money as an OER creator is by selling your "concerts" or, by people paying for what you can-do in person. As opposed to paying for your CD's or materials.

     A perfect example for this analogy is Girl Talk who re-mixes all of his music, a la educators re-mixing existing OERs for their resources, then gives his CD away as a free download. This lets more people hear his music, building his hype, allowing him to make more money and do more of what he gives away for free.

     Only the "fans" OER creators need aren't horny groupies. They include governments, old rich people, folks who want to learn and hopefully lots of groups/people I've never considered. Governments as in what the US one is doing with the $2 billion paying for the creation of these materials. Old rich people like William and Flora Hewlett who're giving oodles of green to this cause and folks who want to learn as in people who'll pay for your time and you-in person or you real-time-e-communicating to teach them something, e.g. how a history teacher can put his 20 years of lessons about Napoleon's March through Russia online and freely available so his work can live on after he retires.

     And, there are all sorts of people/places/institutions I haven't thought of who hopefully'l give some scatch to OERcisians. Perhaps also resources can be released for 3 - 4 months on a proprietary basis and then given away for free? Another method is letting fans download it for however much money they wanted.

     The goal is to avoid jokes like "What do you call a jazz musician who just broke up with his girlfriend?" "Homeless." being made about OERcisians. BUT, with money entering the picture, the OERs need to remain as free or even freer. And not alienating the vast majority of people who do not want to contribute as anything more than hobby.

     The fact the US Government is putting $2 billion into this effort is very encouraging. While we certainly can and maybe should squabble about how the money's being invested, its important to take a meta-step back and look at this as a sign that people will pay big money for OERs, enough that individual OER makers can find some scratch to support and justify their hobby when they have bills to pay.

     Nevertheless for the vast majority of OERcisians out there, this money is not going to help them. Many people feel OERs are wonderful, but very few will pay, and if they do it's not better than a 40-hour week at Walgreen's. The fact OERs are a good, perhaps stupendous, idea does not mean they'll become popular or the new status quo and it certainly doesn't mean OERcisians will get any palpable rewards like cash or equivalent groupies to rock stars.

     OERcisians like myself and in general have not gotten people hooked on our idea enough to support it en masse with cash. Part of the reason is OERcisians often are not looking for cash anyway, but it'd be swell to keep that attitude and be turning down people offering cash.

     Along the journey I feel its imporant for OERcisians to be a-political and non-hostile towards proprietary makers. They view OER as a threat no matter what, instead of increasing the panic we should try to show how we can work together to improve their products and keep the sign of their shop door turned to "open".

     After all, if you really are an idealist and dedicated to OER, then shouldn't you be most dedicated to how you can use the tools available to you to create the perfect resource for someone else to use? Within that daunting task, how can you justify any energy for fighting/whining in relation to proprietary makers that don't threaten your production at all?

     Money will fit into the equation somehow, the more important thing is that stuff keeps getting created and money does not lead to anger and closed minds taking away from OERcisians art.