My first encounter with open was during my graduate studies in Ed Tech in the early 2000s and my work in learning software where ‘reusable shareable learning objects’ were the buzz words. Everyone wanted to find away to not “re-invent the wheel”…it was about finding efficiency in not duplicating effort and in the end about saving money in development costs. Everyone was a flutter with talk of developing standards for sharing such as SCORM. I was working at the time in McGill University’s faculty of Medicine where we were developing on online curriculum for 1st year medical students that included interactive multimedia based medical images. It was probably one of the first and only projects of its kind for medical education and clearly others wanted to get their hands on these “learning objects”. Why not share? we asked ourselves. So we worked with some librarians to create a shareable object repository so that others could access and ‘reuse’ these multimedia objects. It wasn’t long before we realized that no one else was sharing and I began to wonder why. At this point, through my graduate work, I was introduced to resources such as Merlot and it soon became clear to me as an Instructional Designer how difficult it was to find relevant and quality resources that could actually be reused/remixed. In fact, it was going to take me more time to reuse something than just develop my own. My excitement about open and sharing fizzled.
I can’t ignore the fact that we had done quite a bit of development in Flash…and now what? Virtually unusable! It is worth considering when we look at building OER what impact our decisions regarding technology has. Now, McGill Medical Informatics has moved on to build shareable medical cases and resources for patient education.
Flash forward a decade or more (post my stint in the corporate world where open was not in the vocabulary but learning objects were all the rage) and I was back in the public post-secondary environment at the JIBC. The language about ‘open’ was different and I had some catching up to do. Because the Justice Institute is focused on public safety I immediately connected this aspect to making our content accessible to all. It seemed to me that we had a responsibility to provide our resources for the greater good of the communities we serve. With the exception of some classified and sensitive information in law enforcement and child protection, for example, what was stopping us from creating OER? What I quickly realized was as long as we were developing content in our LMS we were unable to contribute to OER. And then it happened…a research project to educate first responders on a condition called Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD). A life threatening condition, first responders needed training on it quickly and without barriers. We now had a reason (saving lives!) to build outside of the LMS and WordPress was the perfect tool to make this happen. That was the beginning of our now 5 year journey into open. Not only did it mean we were creating OER, but we were now so intimately aware of the benefits and ease of it, and technology advances have been such a bit part of this.
When I reflect back on where I started, I realize we did the best we could with the tools of the time…and now we still do the best we can with the tools at our disposal. We also have so many more organizations and institutions to collaborate with – a key ingredient that was missing in my work so many years ago.