I’ve always been a big proponent of quality over quantity. Well, I prefer a quantity of quality items but having been a student forever and being a student for the endless foreseeable future after which I will pursue a career in education, I’ll take what I can get.
When we make the argument you get what you pay for, we are often correct. You have to pay someone to hand craft a quality item that they put special care an attention into. You have to pay if you want real leather as opposed to fake leather, you have to shell out if you want the tasty diet coke and not the gross store brand kind. If I want a winter coat that I know is going to last, I’ll shell out. Notice that all those resources are not priced equally, and notice that they are all physical.
When we look at digital resources, we have to look at them differently. Not only are we not paying for materials to create digital resources, quality of these resources is very subjective. We also do not have to pay high production costs for these materials. When we make the you get what you pay for argument with digital resources, you’re not telling the full story of the cost of digital resources.
That is one of the biggest arguments made with OER. People are worried that if something is free, that it won’t be good quality. Let’s set aside the fact that students may not even look at the textbook and talk about quality. There are costs associated with content creation and hosting, but there are no physical costs associated with compiling and binding a textbook, shipping it out, and getting it to your consumer.
The costs associated with content creation and hosting are easily explained. To host those materials on a small scale, the cost is negligible at about $20 per year. To explain content creation, a lot of these materials are a result teaching and learning. When those materials are produced for publishers, the production costs are barely an incentive, and there aren’t particularly large royalties that incentivize production. In fact, when we’re talking about OER, these production costs are often circumvented with grant money. But now, instead of a publisher being able to collected money on the resource created, while the creator gets nothing, the knowledge is given to students and teachers as a public good. Pretty nice, isn’t it?
Nobody is arguing that there aren’t costs associated with creating and sharing OER, but for those who are arguing that free means low quality as a digital resource, I in turn give you the contents of the internet and welcome you to go look for some quality resources. I assure you, you won’t have a problem finding something you enjoy or is a quality educational resource on the internet that’s free.