Brainstorming OER development

I received an invitation to a Silicon Valley brainstorming event, which I cannot attend since I now live in Indiana. The basic process is

Write what you want brainstormed on the sheets we provide. Put them on the wall. Others add their ideas with Post It notes. Then you take your sheet home with new ideas and contacts.

It occurred to me that it isn’t necessary to attend such a session in order to benefit from it, so I sent in my poster, with the notion that they could photograph the result and e-mail it to me. I had to repeat much of what I have said on this blog to introduce it to those new to the idea, but I also had a few new thoughts.

I cannot attend your FocusCatalyst Brainstorming Salon because I now live in Indiana. However, here is what I would like brainstormed.

Computers with Free Software and Open Education Resources (OER) now cost less than printed textbooks. That means that the investment to replace printed textbooks with computers will be negative once there is a sufficient OER library available. I estimate the expense of providing a laptop or tablet computer to every schoolchild every four years will soon be on the order of $25 billion annually, which is as I said much less than the cost of textbooks worldwide (or rather it would be if every child were getting textbooks). $25 per child will not cover the cost of one hardcover book.

This includes all of the other components of the program, such as teacher training (which is being paid for anyway, and only needs now teaching materials); local renewable electricity generation; Internet connections for schools; and support. The corresponding financial Return on Investment will be infinite, even without considering the resulting improvements in education and the intended end of poverty. That is, the world economy will grow by tens of trillions of dollars.

How can we replace all textbooks in every subject for every level of child development in every country and language with OER, for a billion children at a time (all of them)? There are many projects to tackle parts of this problem, especially high-school textbooks. Sugar Labs, which started out as the software arm of One Laptop Per Child, is branching out into OER with its Replacing Textbooks project. We expect to get volunteers to work on materials that interest them, and we hope to get governments, NGOs, and international aid agencies to contract with us and others to write and translate what the children need.

The investment to create an OER is quite modest, particularly when you consider how many students may use each one. Perhaps a year’s salary for a subject-matter expert with experience in instructional design, perhaps much less. For general subjects such as math and the sciences, we expect any particular OER to be useful to up to a hundred million children at a time. For any OER that requires substantial local content, including health, history, geography, literature, civics, and business, the effort will depend on what local expertise is available, but in many cases the salaries involved will be much lower than in the US or  Europe. The result will then be shared mostly by the children of a specific country, or a specific language group.


Questions for brainstormers:

  • What else is needed?
  • How can we fund and otherwise speed up the process of generating the needed OER?
  • How can we publicize this work, and get it into the political discussion on aid, development, and the Millennium Development Goals?
  • Do you have a better idea?

About mokurai

Generalist; End poverty at a profit for all
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