Open Sesame: Open Education

© 2010 | Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Open education is an attempt to broaden access to education, learning, and training.

Open Educational Resources are defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2007) as “digitsed materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research” (p. 31).

Open Education (OE) and Open Educational Resources (OER) have the potential to help transform elementary education. The potential cost savings associated with free and open resources is just one perk. Even if free only means the ability to modify, copy, and share materials among colleagues, schools and districts can still reduce the cost of supplies (Bonk, 2009). In this environment of slashed budgets, technology that can empower teachers to make sound instructional decisions without racking up a large bill seems to be a silver bullet. Let’s not ignore the positive impact on curriculum and teaching practices that can come with access to and input from great teachers around the world. My intervention group blog can benefit form OER in several ways. The students can seek out material to read and write about, and I can search for lesson plans about blogging, writing, and digital citizenship.

This sounds so wonderful, so what’s the catch? McNally (2012) refers to it as “the tension between public good and commercialization.” On the one hand is the altruistic free sharing of knowledge and ideas. On the other hand, we live in a capitalist country, so why shouldn’t we own and get paid for the materials we produce? For a real-life example, take the methods and materials from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (through Columbia Teachers College). Their workshop model is the gold standard for literacy instruction, but associated books, training, and classroom materials are expensive. Teachers pay for books, assessment collections, seminars, etc., and that money funds the Project’s research and publishing and pays instructors for the seminars. If the resources were suddenly provided at no cost, how would the Project continue? (In the interest of full disclosure, sample resources are available on the TCRWP website: There is no easy answer to this problem. Perhaps they could start small, as McNally (2012) suggests. If some seminars/classes could be live streamed for free, many, many more teachers could benefit (meaning the students will benefit too).

What ideas do you have for easing the strain between altruism and commercialization?

Bonk, C.J. (2009) The world is open – How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McNally, M. (2012, March 22). Democratizing Access to Knowledge: Find Out What Open Educational Resources (OER) Have to Offer. Retrieved from

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2007). Giving knowledge for free: The emergence of open educational resources. Retrieved from