Saturday, October 15, 2011

Content as faculty production...

I was reading this post yesterday by Paul Prisloo on his reflections on Open Content.  I found his post enlightening because through my studies I had not really encountered to topic of history of distance education and the evolution of distance education has been of interest to me.  I have to say that I somewhat agree with Paul's view that lecturers (professors) are in the teaching business and not necessarily in the content creation business.  Any content creation (aside from scholarly publishing which is another activity that professors undertake) is really a happy by-product of preparing for teaching and carrying out that teaching.  I do however disagree with Paul on two issues.

Paul seems to diminish the curation aspect of teaching. From what I gathered, Paul doesn't really see the collection and curation of a set of materials (yes, other people's scholarly output) as something that is worth while recognizing.  I think he is dead wrong!  The design of a class does need to take into account what material is needed and how it fits in with the learning objectives.  You can't just take five journal articles on any topic from any journal and use them in your class and claim that the class will be the same as when you carefully read, evaluate and incorporate your materials, and other people's materials into your course.  I think that this design aspect to education is a type of activity that is undervalued by Paul and others, and it's really not fair. Designing a good class is as much work (if not more work) than teaching the course. So yes, I see a professor's (or lecturer's) output as both teaching and curating materials for their course. That doesn't mean that I don't think those materials should be openly available, it just means that I value them and other people need to value them too if they are ever to become available under some sort of open license.  If you don't value these materials, and by extension the people that created them, then those people won't release those materials (why should they?)

The second thing that I disagree with Paul about is that he doesn't seem to distinguish between those people who are tenured faculty and those who are adjuncts.  For tenured faculty, I think that their institutions should require that their academic output be made open, after all they are academics for a reason.  The people that Paul doesn't factor in is the many, many, many adjuncts that are teaching courses in the US these days (I don't know how things are abroad).  The adjunct's life isn't that great - as many articles on and, as well as many blogs, can attest. Adjuncts also don't generally get any money for developing a course, they only get to teach the course, and in some institutions the institution requires that the instructor to hand over this material (even though not paid for this labor of creating something).

I think that it is indeed true that instructors don't get paid for their course creation and content curation skills, but some instructors do get paid for intellectual output. Those instructors are tenured, and that intellectual output can be a course that they created or an article they wrote. If institutions are paying for that output, it should be public.  But, if an institution is not paying for the output, as is the case with adjunct faculty then I completely understand why those faculty don't want their materials out in the wild. It is, in a sense, one element of their competitive advantage (the other being teaching). If they spend countless hours developing a course, handpicking other people's work, and creating their own from scratch, so that they can teach the best class possible (and they are not paid for this prep work) then it's not fair to paint them with the same brush as full time faculty because those people do get paid for this labor.
blog comments powered by Disqus