Saturday, November 17, 2012

RSC Continues Support of OER Movement

The movement to create and distribute free educational content is not new. Education advocates have been exploring the potential of digital media and open source licensing for about 10 years.

According to Rio Salado College Director of Instructional Design and Technology Michael Medlock, the idea is to expand access to higher education by creating open educational resources (OER) that can be modified and redistributed by anyone.

"The spirit of OER is that anyone can take content for their own reuse, revision, and remixing without having to pay a license fee," Medlock said. "OER will inevitably provide more universal access to learning content. However, I anticipate that the biggest impact will be in the area of creating value for the learner. “

Medlock said that although the value of OER is already visible in open source textbooks and online educational content, he believes the real impact is yet to come.

"The value is in more than just the purchase price of materials," Medlock said. "At this point in time, learners need more than knowledge, they need credentials that indicate learning has occurred. They need a way to demonstrate to potential employers that they have the knowledge and skills to do the job."

Medlock went on to explain that existing processes at RSC have positioned the college to take full advantage of open learning materials.

"RSC's course development, design, and production processes ensure that open source content is vetted and utilized appropriately. We are easily able to utilize low cost or free materials while still ensuring quality teaching and learning," Medlock said. "So when a student earns an official grade it carries the value of coming from an accredited institution of higher learning."

In addition to OER projects including cost free textbooks and a growing number of courses utilizing open content, Rio Salado College will soon offer publicly available learning materials through the Rio Commons initiative.

"Becoming part of the OER movement includes minimal risk with a chance at high success," Medlock said. "That success will be judged on the dimensions of providing access to more learners and lowering the costs for all learners."

In some cases, the learning materials available on Rio Commons will be portions of actual RSC course content. It will be used to support current students and allow potential students to see the type of learning available to them. Other OER content will be created exclusively for Rio Commons through partnerships and grant funding.

"We are providing a great educational product to our community," Medlock said. "And Rio Salado gets the additional value of being able to use grant-funded OER within our for-credit courses."

Medlock said he feels the project is a direct result of Rio Salado's culture of innovation.

"Rio Salado College was founded to advance education through access and affordability," Medlock said. "Participation in the OER movement is a simple extension of the work we were already doing."

"Innovation is an important aspect of the college's culture, and there are processes in place at RSC that make innovation less risky than it might be at other institutions," Medlock said. "Employees are encouraged and willing to try to new things in the spirit of relentless improvement."

Learn more about RSC's support of the OER movement: Cost Free Textbook (Sept. 21, 2011), Creative Commons Classes (Sept. 28, 2011), Looking Ahead (Oct. 5, 2011)

This article can also be found in the Nov. 17 edition of the Tempe Republic.