Software Association Weighs Growth of Open-Education Resources

Managing Editor

The Software and Information Industry Association says in a new report that open-education resources in K-12 and colleges are “here to stay” though the organization also warns that the content may carry higher costs for schools than are immediately obvious.

The report from the major Washington-based trade association, released this week, provides everything from the organization’s take on definitions and terminology surrounding open-education resources to a description of current government policies supporting it to the its breakdown of the implications of those resources for commercial publishers and others.

Open-education resources are teaching, learning, and research materials that are part of the public domain under an intellectual property license that allows them to be used and repurposed freely, the authors of the report say, borrowing a definition put forward by the Hewlett Foundation.

Currently the overall presence of those accessible materials is modest, according to the report, the “Guide to the Use of Open Educational Resources in K-12 and Postsecondary Education.” But their footprint is likely to expand, meaning “publishers will need to follow and adapt to this trend to meet the budgetary and instructional demands of customers,” the authors say.

While open education resources initially will have little if any cost for districts, they could bring significant costs if school systems or colleges attempt to scale them up, the association’s paper contends.

These costs include time spent training teachers and others on how to use the content provided, supplementing the open resources, and perhaps most significantly, upgrading them over time to meet changing academic needs, the association argues.

While the association represents software and digital content providers who sell products to schools, among others, the goal of the report is not to discourage school officials from considering open resources, said Mark Schneiderman, the SIIA’s senior director of education policy. Many of the companies SIIA represents won’t be competing with open resources, he said. Some of those providers aggregate content, and will attempt to use useful education materials, no matter what their sources, and thus could gain from open resources, he said.

“We’re not for them or against them. They’re in the mix,” Schneiderman told Education Week, adding, “what we’re trying to do is inform the discussion and what [policymakers] think about.”

(Some publishers and education companies are already getting into the open-source game, as Education Week reported recently, though critics of those efforts question how “open” those materials really are.)

The authors say that the recent, severe recession and the gradual recovery from it “could be a tipping point” favoring the adoption of open-education resources. The shift could force organizations and publishers to consider offering a hybrid of proprietary and open content, including free or fee-for-service information that supports open content.

But the authors also see other options for companies sharing a landscape that includes open-resource materials:

[T]here may be opportunities for publishers to distinguish their offerings and create higher-end resources with more research and development investment, more robust technology, customizable resources/content, professional development, and value-added services. Examples might include cognitive tutors with adaptive, interactive content, as well as software built on gaming principles and designs. In higher education, publishers may need to compete by making their books modifiable. Resources will also need to be sold to support the growing number of technology platforms, including tablets, e-books, and smartphones. … In K-12, new opportunities to partner with schools and districts to vet, organize, and custom-publish using a blend of open and proprietary resources will likely also emerge.

We’ll see if those predictions about the changing market take hold in the years ahead.

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