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Activity 10 – Applying sustainability models to OERs


For this activity we were asked to read On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education by David Wiley.

Then, look at the following open education initiatives, and for each one determine which of Wiley’s three models of sustainability you think they are operating:
Change MOOC

Consider the following:
Was the sustainability model for each OER initiative apparent?
Did Wiley’s models cover all approaches or did you think a different model was operating for one or more of them?

To start, what are the three models of sustainability?

1. The MIT Model summary
The MIT model is big as it’s aim is to publish all of it’s 1,800 courses. New courses are added and old courses are archived. To do this a large organisational structure is required and of course the budget reflects this. The average cost of producing a course is $10,000. Money is obtained via foundation and private donor support and through the creation of partnerships.

2. The USU Model
The aim here is to publish as many courses as possible. Although there are paid staff the number is a lot less than MIT and is heavily supported by student assistants and volunteers. The average cost of producing a course is $5,000 and they have obtained foundation status.

3. The Rice Model
There are no specific objectives set in terms of the amount of courses to be published. Rice Connexions is

a dynamic digital educational ecosystem consisting of an educational content repository and a content management system optimized for the delivery of educational content.

Information in the repository is not just from the host university but authors from anywhere in the world can contribute. Therefore it is simply the facilitator of the website and in a way it’s governed by those that contribute. There are no support staff and as a consequence the budget required to produce a course is low.

The above are just my summary of the models and you can read more by following the link to Wiley’s paper.

Now, which of the models do the following open education initiatives follow?

If the MIT model is based on large budgets, an extensive range of courses and a big organisational structure I would suggest that this is the model Coursera follows. It has a Leadership team, advisory board and about 38 support staff. Like MIT they have staff to work on all aspects of the operation including recruitment, software engineers, business development, and a student support specialist. They have been very successful in creating partnerships and work with over 60 universities around the world offering free courses to anyone who wants to study them. Coursera has been funded by millions of dollars in venture capital, by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers amongst others, and is beginning to look at ways of creating income. This includes career services and adding verified certificates for a fee. Essentially Coursera is a business using business models to sustain and further develop its operations.

Change MOOC
I had trouble understanding this one as it appeared to be just one course but it wasn’t clear. I would suggest this was a low budget and not micro managed. I looked at archived newsletters and there are none for 2013. Four course facilitators are mentioned but no other staff. The course appears to have ended in May 2012. I would say this is the Rice Model in some respects but in others the Rice Model seems to be more dynamic and, so far, sustainable, whereas this one appears to have died a death.

Jorum is a repository for accessing and sharing learning and teaching resources and is run by Mimas at the University of Manchester. They describe themselves as

Mimas is an organisation of experts. Our role is to support the advancement of knowledge, powering world-class research and teaching. Technology is at the heart of everything we do.

As a nationally designated data centre, we host a significant number of the UK’s research information assets. But our core expertise is building applications that enable a wide range of users to make the most of this rich resource – from students and researchers working with census data to investigate social inequalities, to scientists using satellite imagery to survey and protect our environment.

They have a directorate and management team and a large body of staff. They work with a number of partners including, the British Museum, the University of Bonn, other universities and commercial organisations. Mimas has a longstanding relationship with Jisc and together they have created and funded Jorum. Jisc is a registered charity, which works with a number of higher education institutions. Their aim is to promote the use of digital technologies. This is very much a MIT model.

Open Learn (Open University)
The Open University’s contribution to the OER movement was launched in 2006. It receives some of its funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Hewlett, as in the founder of Hewlett Packard, and also contributed $1million to the start up of the Creative Commons project). Open Learn is essentially another portal of the Open University which is a long established and well organised body. It’s main partner is the BBC but it also has partnerships with the National Health Service, Universities and Colleges Employers Association and Confederation of British Industry. I can’t find any specific information about staffing but there is mention of an “OpenLearn team” and I imagine that with the backing of the Open University’s resources this team would not be insubstantial. Again, I would say OpenLearn follows a MIT model as it has a large staff body, is well organised, well funded and is embedded into the organisation of it’s “parent” the Open University.

I think the examples we looked at were clearly identifiable as one of Wiley’s models. They generally fell into the MIT or the Rice Model. I also believe that his models covered all the approaches. There may be cases where they are interchangeable or they evolve from a Rice to a Connexions, and then a MIT model. However, the three I identified as MIT models seem to have jumped straight to a MIT model, I assume because they are part of a reputable and long standing organisation, or in partnership with one, and because of successful funding models.

On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education by David Wiley.




  1. mymindbursts says:

    I worked at The OU for a year and often with the Open Learn team. Many were originally part of the BBC. Standards are high. Budgets are at the commercial end for e-learning. There are multiple remits shich includes supporting research as it is published, even surveys themselves to form research. As well as the relationship with the BBC creating complementary learning to support TV and Radio each faculty though they have budgets assigned to them must compete by submitting Open Learn proposals. In recent years the One Minute series have been very popular – A history of the world, of English and Economics for example. These do lead to people signing up for regular modules so they are both a communications, PR tool and taster.

  2. ingermariec says:

    Hi Nat
    It was interesting to read your post. I discovered new angles to the four open education initiatives, we studied as part of activity 10. I was very much focused on the publication of courses and modules. Perhaps because I got a bit dizy from surfing the net, trying to find out about goals, funding and organisation 🙂
    Jorum interested me in particular, since they have developed from a platform with restricted access to open access under creative commons license. They are also very interested in the use/reuse aspect and collaborating with communities and international OER projects. Users can both use Jorum resources and share their own resources via the platform. So they seem to be developing in the direction of the Rice model.

    • Nat Nelson says:

      It was interesting but I got very frustrated trying to find what I needed. Your take on Jorum makes me want to take another look as it sounds like a good collaboration.

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