Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thoughts on Sustainability for Open Content in Higher Ed

In anticipation of our next Twitter event March 27, I wanted to begin working through my own thinking about what "sustainability" means for open education in Higher Ed. I kicked that off with a host on my blog this morning -- Three Priorities for Sustainable OER in Higher Education.

As a bit of context for that post, I should explain that I tend look at sustainability from the perspective of commercial ventures and competition. This perspective has been formed over the years in my various stints in publishing and edtech startups. Sustainability, for me, general means (in this order): 1) survival; 2) product growth, and; 3) success (based on some set of adrred-on goals).

Survival is the lowest level of sustainability and the easiest one to achieve. In my pinion, it is where open content and open education currently stand within Higher Education. We have several dedicated organizations and a multitude of dedicated people working with heart and diligence, but their individual commitment and efforts are only enough to keep open at a level of viability for a niche constituency.

This is not intended as a negative statement but rather as an honest observation intended to frame solutions for moving beyond the survival phase. In my post, I point to three things that I believe are necessary to move open content from survival to the growth phase of sustainability.

  • Sustainability must be a core, shared priority -- I believe that sustainability is a big priority for organizations such as OpenStax, but the general nature of open means that the broader OER catalog will always contain a majority of artifacts that are created by individuals and other organizations that are less concerned with long-term sustainability. Somehow, the broader community must adopt/promote a broader sustainability framework and find ways to promote and support it.

  • Mapping is key to flexibility, easy reuse, and distribution -- Market sustainability for OER means widespread adoption and mainstream use. In order to achieve those goals, however, open content must must become more discoverable within the granular context of courses. It must also be easier to combine and remix with other open content. This will require more than standard or shared metadata schemas -- it necessitates common tagging conventions -- shared taxonomies and vocabularies -- that can be used by librarians and other information managers.

  • Organizations must collaborate to support content renewal -- Content sustainability requires a commitment to provide the necessary resources and funding to enable revisions and updating. This can be achieved through institutional coordination and crowdsourcing, but it cannot happen without the leadership of key universities and library organizations.


  1. This is going to be a good chat for sure, Rob, since we are all coming at things from our diverse backgrounds and expectations. Since I have not had much luck with any kind of institutional-level efforts (OU has a long way to go there; tI see emphasis on sustainability for other kinds of projects, but not for teaching initiatives or educational content development), my perspective is very much that of an individual, but that perspective still resonates with what you say here:

    * Just as institutional sustainability is important, it is also crucial for individuals: making sure from the start that teaching initiatives are sustainable for a whole semester (don't start off with something huge you cannot follow through with) and also from semester to semester... otherwise: the perils of burnout!

    * What you would call mapping, I would call curation... and in some ideal world (!) the diligent efforts of individual curators like myself should be able to feed the metadata machines created at larger organizational levels!

    * Collaboration and leadership: Collaboration is obviously crucial for individual efforts (and that can cross institutional boundaries; I would not have made it this far without help from fellow teachers at other schools)... and leaders need people to lead after all, ha ha, esp. eager and enthusiastic people. :-)

    Very excited to see what emerges in the chat from different people's perspectives. Do you have ideas for specific questions? I threw some out here:
    Sustainability Questions for 3/27 chat and more would be good!

  2. Great expansions/additions Laura! You are,of course, right on when it comes to making sure that teaching initiatives are sustainable, and that leaders need to model collaboration and sustainability in order to maximize the efforts of the individuals within their organizations.

    I double and triple agree with your statement that "in some ideal world (!) the diligent efforts of individual curators like myself should be able to feed the metadata machines created at larger organizational levels!" You are absolutely correct! We need shared, intelligent, but invisible frameworks that can help all curated content be discoverable, but that can at the same time harness the efforts of the individual curators doing so much valuable work.


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