4 A Critical Take on OER Practices: Interrogating Commercialization, Colonialism, and Content

Sarah Hare

Originally published on October 21, 2015


Photo by Flickr user arbyreed (CC BY NC 2.0)


This spring, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) held their 2015 biennial conference in Portland. While I attended multiple sessions and poster presentations on Open Access (OA) and Open Educational Resources (OER), Heather Joseph’s invited paper session, “Open Expansion: Connecting the Open Access, Open Data and OER Dots,” left the most lasting impression on me. Joseph’s presentation focused on the different embodiments of openness and how collaboration between the efforts could be transformative. While explaining the Open Data front, Joseph’s presentation stopped on a photo of an oil rig. A few slides later, she summarized politicians’ take on open data, explaining that while President Obama had called data a “valuable national commodity,” Dutch politician Neelie Kroes had gone a step further and named data “the new oil for the digital age” (Joseph, 2015; Kroes, 2012). Joseph (2015) went on to explain that Kroes’ assertion was that “national economies and national destinies [were] going to rise and fall on understanding how to get the most value from data.”

Right before I listened to Kroes’ words, which seemed so profoundly nationalistic and exploitative to me in that moment, I saw the photo of the rig and thought about western conquest and our pursuit of other nations’ natural resources. This sparked a deep realization within me. I found that all of the discussions I had engaged in about openness—including Joseph’s presentation—were about shared goals or shared politics. The shared risks were often left unaddressed. I started to consider how openness, when disconnected from its political underpinnings, could become as exploitative as the traditional system it had replaced. I began to reflect on the ways in which I had used, or experienced others’ use of, openness as a solution for poverty or development—often in a way that was disconnected from an understanding of systemic inequality.

This article, which is an intentional critique of OER praxis, has given me the space to explore these questions. OER are digital learning objects that are shared under “an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” Under this definition, learning objects can mean almost anything used as educational material, including tutorials, videos, guides, lesson plans, and syllabi. The Open Education movement is different than the OA movement, which is focused on the free and unrestricted use of research materials and literature. However, like Open Education, OA works to enable deeper unrestricted analysis so that scholars can read articles but also “crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose” (Chan, et. al, 2015, para 3).

This article uses a critique of OER creation and practice as a proxy for the open movement in LIS generally. Thus, it utilizes some of the useful critiques OA has engendered to inform the discussion of OER, which is less developed. While the intention is not to conflate OA or critiques of OA with OER, it is worth noting that both evoke a similar rhetoric of openness and, as such, share similarities that enable us to apply lessons learned in one domain into the other.

The first section will explore critiques of OER and openness in relation to commercialization, colonialism, and content. While not exhaustive, these critiques address issues of labor, the corporatization of higher education, oppressive learning formats, imperialism, and technocratic discourse around development and the information poor. This broad overview will provide a useful framework for understanding how openness generally—and Open Education specifically—can be improved.

I will then offer tangible suggestions for how librarians and other LIS professionals can construct more thoughtful OER practices. These include thinking critically about the language we use when engaging stakeholders; moving beyond cost and marketing for our institutions and focusing on open pedagogy and student-centered learning; using OER creation as an opportunity to talk to students about labor and knowledge production; and challenging whose knowledge matters globally. These are not meant to be “solutions” but instead starting points. I do not provide a suggestion for every critique but instead advocate for the use of open, critical pedagogy as a method for engaging with several of the critiques mentioned, as it can make our practices more deliberate and authentically engage students in issues of openness.

I believe that OER have value. I believe that equitable access to research and the data that accompanies that research is imperative and a goal our profession should continue working toward. But I also believe that it is worth our time to be intentional, to be cognizant of our position within increasingly corporatized institutions and consider how we might be furthering the goals of those institutions, to think seriously about how we can be actively dismantling power structures instead of perpetuating them, and to remind ourselves why we think open is worth fighting for in the first place. In explaining the difference between critique and criticism, author and screenwriter Balogun Ojetade (2012) writes, “Critique is not in service of a single ‘truth’…Critique opens questioning and makes single-truths unstable so as to be more inclusive of difference” (para 5). Our professional conversation around openness risks being in service of a single truth. My hope is that nuanced critique can help us move these conversations forward in a thoughtful way.

Critiques of OER & Openness

Labor & the Commercialization of Higher Education

Academic labor is currently structured around tenure. In other words, tenure-track faculty members do not have to rely solely on dividends from their research output because their institution compensates them for doing research. However, as higher education increasingly relies on adjunct labor, this model is compromised. In order to offer more classes for less money, adjuncts are compensated by the number of courses they teach instead of their research output. As money is taken away from educators, how is the relationship between openness and labor changed (Drabinski, et. al, 2015)? Or, in more pointed terms, how does openness exasperate labor issues? Do institutions expect adjuncts to continue to create the same level of output a faculty member would, including OER creation?

One of the major critiques OA has received is that it can make labor become more invisible (Roh, Drabinski, & Inefuku, 2015). The invisibility of the labor required to do the actual work behind making a publication OA is often “distant” from the rhetoric behind why OA is important, creating a disconnect between values and practice (Drabinski, et. al, 2015). Further, less “academic” work that is fundamental to maintaining OA publications (metadata creation, for example) becomes devalued (Roh, Drabinski, & Inefuku, 2015). Matthew Cheney (2015) argues that we do open systems, including OER, a great disservice if we do not talk about the labor and technology structures needed to make them possible.

Thus, there are two important labor issues related to OER creation. The first is that OER creation is not rewarded in the current tenure system. Faculty members are often granted tenure because of their research impact, which might relate to OA but not OER. Further, beyond compensation, tenure provides (or has historically provided) some level of protection to take professional risks. As the concept of tenure becomes compromised and the number of positions having tenure-level protection decreases in the United States, the incentive for faculty to devote time to exploring OER creation is also compromised. The second is that adjuncts might be expected to create learning objects and even deposit them as OER but the current system does not reward them monetarily for the extra labor involved in doing so. If both parties continue to create OER, their labor might become unrecognized and devalued.

The way in which this academic labor is applied at an institutional level is also worth discussing. OA advocates have started to realize that OA, separated from its political underpinnings, can quickly become a governmental and commercial source of revenue (Lawson, 2015; Watters, 2014). In the case of OER creation specifically, openness can also become a source of branding and marketing for universities (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008). Librarians should continually question who benefits from supporting openness. We should then recognize that any open movement that happens within a neoliberal institution might further politics or initiatives that do not align with our values.

Roxanne Shirazi (2015) recently wrote about librarians’ relationships with their employers, particularly as boosters of their university’s brand. While her post is focused on scholarly communication, labor, and copyright more broadly, Shirazi asserts that institutions are often more than willing to promote prestigious or interesting projects but “when it comes to financially and structurally supporting the sustained work of the individuals behind them” it is a different story (para 4). This applies to OER creation and application. Institutions might be willing to publicize lower costs for their students but what steps are they taking to rectify the labor issues described above for adjuncts?

OER projects also obviously require labor beyond the creation of the actual learning object. OER repositories have to be maintained and updated. OER have to be organized and assigned metadata for discovery to be effective. We must also continue to think about how this labor is funded. One funding model is a for-profit company to pursue this work. One example is Lumen, which has worked closely with several colleges and universities to implement OER.

Another funding model is for a repository or institution to find donor support. MIT is a leader in OER creation and the pioneer of OpenCourseWare (OCW) production. d’Oliveira and Lerman found that MIT received $1,836,000 in philanthropic funding and donations to support the OCW initiative in 2009 alone, which covered about 51 percent of that year’s annual operating costs (as cited in Winn, 2012, p. 142). We should consider what it means for donors to underwrite the sustainability of our institutions’ projects (Winn, 2012) and how making more sustainable change might be compromised by this funding model (Kanwar, Kodhandaraman, and Umar, 2010).

In short, we must recognize that the changing labor system and the continued commercialization of higher education are not disconnected from our work with OER. Joss Winn (2012) challenges open advocates to apply the Marxist view of social wealth to openness, stressing that being open does not offer an alternative to “the capitalist form of social domination” (p. 134). He contends that OER, under capitalism, ensure that “employees are as productive as possible within the limits of time and space” by creating an object that can defy these constraints to create continuous institutional value and promotion (p. 141). We must think critically about whether our open work is doing the social justice, political work we envision it doing. If we fail to ask these questions, we risk endorsing programs that align more with profit than with access.

Colonialism & Imperialistic Practices

In “Beyond the ‘Information Rich and Poor’: Future Understandings of Inequality in Globalising Informational Economies,” Ingrid Burkett (2000) identifies five assumptions that have been historically made about the role of information in international development:

  1. Give the poor a computer and they will move from being information poor to information rich.
  2. Information inequality is a North/South issue.
  3. Access to more information enriches people’s lives.
  4. The ‘information society’ will be more democratic and participatory.
  5. Given enough information we can solve all the world’s problems. (p. 680)

Burkett (2000) asserts that these five assumptions egregiously simplify both economic and social global inequality. Every librarian should consider how any of these myths might be embodied in their current language around the need for openness. For example, in trying to explain why OA is important to stakeholders, I have sometimes defaulted to talking about the need to share information with developing nations. Yet, understanding inequality through the lens of these narrow “truths” should give us pause.

A dichotomy of superior/inferior ways of knowing has been established within these discourses and the assumptions that were made to employ this rhetoric. The first assumption is that the Global South will remain ignorant and underdeveloped until it has access to the West’s knowledge, which is an idea that is historically grounded in presidential conceptions of development (Haider & Bawden, 2006). The second assumption is that the West should focus on the spread of its information instead of facilitating a true knowledge exchange,which illustrates what type of information is valued. Burkett (2000) finds that even asserting that some are “information poor” overlooks the types of information that might be important to a specific community. She states, “people may be ‘poor’ in terms of the information they can retrieve from the Internet but be rich in ways which could never be calculated in the Western scientific paradigm—in terms of sustainability, social relationships, community and cultural traditions” (p. 690).

The assumption that is most relevant to the discussion of OER here is that access to more information—which is different than access to knowledge (Burkett, 2000)—will alter exploitative colonialist histories and deeply rooted structural oppression. We see these assumptions being made in conversations surrounding the digital divide (Watters, 2015) and in the implementation of programs like One Laptop Per Child1 where access to technology—often technology that is not sustainable or integrated into the lives of the people supposed to be using it in a meaningful way (Burkett, 2000)—is seen as a viable opportunity for development and progress, often in a manner that is blind to an understanding of structural issues. Unfortunately, some research has found that these beliefs are well represented in LIS literature. In 2006, Haider and Bawden conducted an interpretive analysis of 35 English articles published between 1995 and 2005 in Library and Information Science journals, found by searching “information poverty OR poor.” They find that the “‘information poor’ are positioned as the legitimate target of professional practice” in LIS (p. 373). Many of the close readings they did identified language that connected a country or region’s educational inequality with a lack of professional librarians in that area, creating rhetoric that ignores the complexities of why inequality exists and positioning the librarian as savior (Haider & Bawden, 2006).

OER has also been connected to development and is often cited in conversations about global rights, specifically the right to education.2 Western universities sometimes use the need for global access to educational materials as an explanation for their commitment to OER creation.3 These explanations, while possibly well meaning, are destructive. They overestimate what OER can reasonably accomplish and use OER as a legitimate “solution” for larger inequalities. OER are only one piece of the solution and are not a substitute for an adequately funded and staffed education system (Bates, 2015).

When we consider who leads the Open Education movement, it is clear that these assumptions are in some ways also actively practiced within the movement. Right now, many OER aggregators function as somewhere to “dump” content or lessons already created in the hope that someone somewhere will be able to use it (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008). This is a problem because context is what makes an OER transferrable (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008). It is also a problem because “content creation (including educational content) on the Web is currently heavily dominated by the developed and English-speaking world” (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008, para 9). For example, Wiki Educator’s “Exemplary Collection of Open eLearning Content Repositories,” which has been cited as an important list of repositories (Atenas, 2012; Watters, 2012), is composed of primarily American and European-based repositories. Javiera Atenas’ list, which includes data from OER Research Hub, contains more global OER initiatives; still, over half of the repositories listed are Western. The creation of OER by Western institutions is not in itself a bad thing. However, it becomes troubling when these institutions promise that their OER will be useful or applicable to all learners globally for educational purposes. It is also disconcerting when access to content is touted as the educational solution when in reality affordable, sustainable “access to programs leading to credentials” is the real barrier (Bates, 2011, para 27).

Kim Christen (2012), an anthropologist at Washington State University, researches openness—specifically the openness of cultural heritage objects—and its connection to colonialism. She asserts that the “collecting history of Western nations is comfortably forgotten in the celebration of freedom and openness” (p. 2876). Her work rejects the argument that “information wants to be free” and instead asserts that information wants to be contextualized (Christen, 2012). She has done important work to provide that context to cultural heritage objects by creating licenses and a CMS that give power and autonomy back to indigenous communities. By using these tools, the community is able to decide if objects should be open, closed to the community, or open to a specific community or during a particular time based on the historical sharing of objects by season, status, or gender.

I believe that her assertions create a valuable framework for understanding OER advocacy. A learning object with relevant context, an application that is not culture-specific, and the capacity to be truly localized and understood is more important than a learning object that is simply free. In addition, while moving beyond a North-South information flow and developing a mechanism for reciprocal sharing is the goal, librarians should be cognizant of what risks other nations face in sharing their educational materials. We might find that having a conversation about these risks and contexts is more important than complete openness.

Content, Format, & Audience

In addition to how OER are used and discussed, the form of the OER itself has been critiqued. Open Educational Resources (OER) can sometimes be used synonymously with textbooks or traditional learning objects like worksheets and lesson plans. However, OER, when defined broadly, can also include wikis, LibGuides, tutorials, syllabi, apps, and websites. This divide between what OER usually refer to and what it can include illustrates an important underlying assumption made about OER. We often think that OER are created in the academy for the academy. Because OER are often presented as a response to the price of educational resources increasing exponentially, their potential use is sometimes stunted. OER can also be used outside of traditional academic settings for self-learning purposes.

How, then, do OER continue to reproduce the academy, even if they are used for other purposes, both in format and in content? Many scholars have critiqued textbooks as a stagnant, oppressive format. Shaffer (2014) defines the traditional textbook as a “physically and legally fixed expression of ideas from a scholar outside [the class] learning community” (para 3). Wiggins & McTighe (2005), the authors of Understanding by Design, state that textbooks “can easily hide from students (and teachers) the true nature of the subject and the world of scholarship. Like an encyclopedia, few textbooks help students understand the inquiries, arguments, and judgments behind the summaries” (p. 230). Drabinski, et al. (2015) find textbooks “historically contingent” and the reproduction of them unrevolutionary. Why, then, are open textbooks often used as an example (if notthe example) of OER? Why are there such extensive efforts to create more open textbooks?4 Further, how do textbooks, as the primary form of OER shared, limit self-learners outside of the academy? For example, when the goal is to present historically linear “truths” about a subject, more iterative and active forms of self-learning might be hindered.

This applies to content as well as format. If self-learners or even other instructors are going to use content meaningfully, OER have to move past the content “dump” (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008) toward context and an understanding of how and why the OER was made. Audrey Watters (2015) contends that ed-tech is coded with “[p]rivileges, ideologies, expectations, [and] values” (para 46). The same is true of OER. When learning objects are stripped of their environment, learning from them becomes more challenging (Bates, 2011).  Localization—going beyond simply translating an object and instead truly situating it in culture, values, and educational need (Pullin, Hassin, & Mora, 2007)—is vital, particularly as a large amount of Western OER continue to be created. Librarians can start by teaching others the importance of metadata and documentation in order to make OER more localizable.

Suggestions for OER Praxis

The following section builds upon the previous critiques of openness to provide starting points for more thoughtful, intentional OER practices within librarianship.

Use Realistic Language

After Haider (2007) performed a close reading of international OA documents, including mission statements and declarations like the Budapest Open Access Initiative, she found that OA was discussed alongside concepts “such as humanity, poverty, cultural heritage, or equity, which are all highly charged notions entangled with strong connotations and related to various agendas” (p. 454). Like OA, Open Education can sometimes be discussed in highly-charged terms. It is also often presented as a solution, not only for the rising costs of textbooks and other learning materials, but also for fixing education globally (see footnote ii). First and foremost, librarians need to be honest with stakeholders about what OER can accomplish. While sharing educational materials with other nations can foster learning, it is not that simple. OER should not be presented as the answer to structural inequality or used to disregard or replace serious funding issues in other nations’ higher education systems.

Librarians can situate OER within historical, economic, and cultural practices that make their capacity more clear. In other words, when we talk to stakeholders we can complicate access instead of simplifying it. We should continually stress that OERs are “important in helping to widen access to learning opportunities, but ultimately…are enhancements rather than a replacement for a well-funded public education system, which remains the core foundation for enabling equal access to educational opportunities” (Bates, 2015, key takeaway 6).

Interrogate Whose Knowledge Matters Globally

When talking to stakeholders, librarians might also move beyond the rhetoric of access to discuss reciprocal sharing. Even if it is free for “developing” nations to read papers (or access OER), it may still be too expensive for some scholars to publish these objects, further limiting the amount of reciprocal sharing happening and making research from other nations less visible (Bonaccorso, et al., 2014; Czerniewicz, 2013). Librarians can use language that problematizes access as a value, making the idea of true “access” more complex than simply giving other nations the ability to view Western content.

Move Past Dumping Toward Possible Localization (Or, Do Outreach Beyond the Learning Object)

Librarians should assert that the paywall is just one obstacle of many that learners in other nations face when utilizing an OER. Technology, language, and applicability are also important factors. What does it take for an OER to not just be translated but truly localized, truly applicable to others’ educational needs and prior understanding?

We can start by focusing on teaching instructors and OER creators how to design OER that are “easily adaptable to local needs” and can be easily translated, situated, and expanded upon (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008). Thus, our outreach to faculty about OER creation is shortsighted if it only discusses the actual learning object. We should be proactive about teaching faculty how to create documentation and supply metadata that gives meaning to their OER and makes it more discoverable. We should also teach instructors about technical standards and technological infrastructure required for accessing OER, especially videos and other objects that require a high bandwidth to view, and how this might exclude specific audiences (Pullin, Hassin, & Mora, 2007).

Move Beyond Cost

Librarians must acknowledge that while their institutions might be concerned with global education at some level, the marketization of OER might play a role in how OER work is funded, sustained, and prioritized. Quite simply, OER and OCW create “potentially beneficial marketing opportunities for universities and, by extension, a potential supply of future fee-paying students” (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008). This is not just a distraction but also a conflict of interest.

The price of textbooks has increased 812 percent between 1978 and 2012 (Moxley, 2013) and this phenomenon affects students’ ability to engage in class in very real ways. Increasing access to educational materials, especially to students of lower socioeconomic status, is important work. Still, David Wiley (2013) has found that there are “much bigger victories to be won with openness” than cost (para 1). This is because we, as educators, can utilize OER in ways that are more meaningful than just making content free.

Robin DeRosa (2015) argues that there are a lot of ways that institutions could potentially save students money, including changing class sizes and closing facilities. She calls educators to advocate for OER use not because of “the health of the institution” but instead for “the empowerment of the learner” (DeRosa, 2015). When librarians advocate for OER creation and use, they should go beyond using rhetoric about cost or access and also explain how OER can be used to improve pedagogy. Librarians should also continually consider their role in furthering the goals of their institution and if they could have a role in shaping their institution’s future goals.

Use Open Pedagogy

Giroux (2002) writes that higher education cannot be viewed “merely as [a site] of commercial investment” because it is a public good where students gain a public voice and come to terms with their own power and agency (p. 432). The previous section challenged librarians to think beyond OER’s value in saving students’ money and instead apply OER to student learning. There are at least two ways that this can happen. The first is by incorporating the tenets of open pedagogy into library instruction sessions. The second is by using student OER creation as a springboard for important conversations about knowledge production. Librarians can also be active in helping other instructors, including faculty, learn how to do this in their classroom.

David Wiley (2015) has claimed that there is “nothing about OER adoption that forces innovative teaching practices on educators” (para 13). OER use becomes more meaningful in the classroom when it is combined with critical pedagogy, which fosters student agency and nurtures reflection and growth (Stommel, 2014). Robin DeRosa (2015) defines open pedagogy as instruction that:

  • Prioritizes community and collaboration instead of content
  • Connects the academy with the wider public
  • Is skeptical of end-points, final products, gatekeeping, and experts

Librarians can start by working toward instructional practices that embody these values. But it is naïve not to recognize that librarians face obstacles in doing so, particularly in having autonomy and power over what their instruction sessions will cover because of faculty members’ limited understanding of our work (Accardi, 2015; Wallis, 2015). Thus, if faculty on campus are not integrating open pedagogy into their classroom, it can be difficult for librarians to do so as well.

I would challenge us to think about our impact more broadly. While we might not have control over whether a class’ final research assignment is open or collaborative, we can start these conversations on campus. If we do outreach about openness or OER, it should cover the mechanics (like repositories and licensing) as well as how OER might be integrated into the classroom through open pedagogy. Librarians that do instruction can also use these tenets in their sessions or for-credit classes. We can spark interest by presenting research as a continuous community endeavor for students. If there is an opportunity to teach a for-credit course, we should explore how students might become producers of OER and other open content.

As an example, my institution is currently discussing how faculty might move away from assigning the traditional research paper and instead craft research assignments that empower students to create. Any consultation my team has with instructors about their research assignments should not only discuss the potential use of OER but also OER creation as an option for giving students agency over their learning. These conversations should continue to define OER broadly to include public-facing, hackable, iterative learning objects like wikis and blogs, instead of focusing solely on just textbooks.

Teach Critical Openness & Labor

As students engage with OER, how can librarians help them understand knowledge production, intellectual property, and the privacy issues inherent in their project? Further, how can librarians leverage students’ experience creating OER as an opportunity to teach issues of labor as a response to the corporatization of higher education?

As students develop understanding in an area and are asked to create an open research project, they should also develop an understanding of how complex information creation is. The goal is for them to grasp that information is a social, public process instead of a final product (Lawson, Sanders, and Smith, 2015). First and foremost, students should be asked to reflect on this process. Librarians should advocate for continued reflection so that students can meaningfully consider the challenges inherent in creating instead of merely focusing on what was created.

One of the most important conversations librarians might have about knowledge production is about unseen labor. This conversation about labor can spark larger conversations about funding cuts, the adjunctification of higher education, and faculty reward systems. Cheney (2015) recommends being transparent with students about how funding in the higher education system works so that OER can be created. He proposes that instructors explain how tuition dollars fund faculty salaries, which support faculty research and instructional activities (Cheney, 2015). These funds, in addition to endowments or donations, enable faculty to create OER at no charge because they do not depend on revenue from OER for income. I would propose that we also push students by asking, “but what if the tenure track model is eliminated and faculty are suddenly supported by a wage that directly corresponds only with the number of classes they teach?” As students consider how much time it takes to complete their project and create an OER, librarians can facilitate these conversations.

As a disclaimer, while asking students to create OER in order to explore these issues firsthand is a great first step, this practice can become coercive or uncomfortable for students. If we ask them to create OER we cannot do so in order to take advantage of free labor to create more useful learning objects. We must also remember that some open practices might be based on behaviors that students are not comfortable with (Weller, 2014), including publishing their work in open, online venues. David Wiley (2013) proposes that educators build a place of trust with students when adopting open pedagogy. This happens by being transparent about why each activity is useful for learning and giving tangible examples of what a successful open project might look like (Wiley, 2013). This might also include asking students to think critically about whether or not they would like their project to be open, instead of requiring it to be. The conversation around why they might consider openness is much more valuable than simply making it a requirement.


To borrow language from Audrey Watters (2015), I believe that OER do not “magically flatten hierarchies” (slide 9). They are produced, used, and shaped by important historical and cultural contexts. Free and unrestricted access to OER is just one step in improving education, not the primary solution.

Librarians are apt to do the integral work of reframing and complicating the OER movement. Our extensive understanding of copyright, instructional design, and discovery, combined with our interest in social justice, makes us natural leaders for helping others understand why Open Education matters. However, entertaining uncritical conceptions of development, the “information poor,” and the marketization of OER actually compromises our ability to do the work that we claim to value. The politics of our campuses or leadership can (and do) limit how loudly our voices carry within our institutions (Accardi, 2015; Wallis, 2015). Still, our critical perspective is needed now more than ever.


Many thanks to the In the Library with the Lead Pipe team for guiding me through my first peer-review publication process! I’d like to specifically thank my internal reviewer, Erin Dorney, and my publishing editor, Hugh Rundle, for their guidance and support throughout this journey. A huge thank you to my external editor, Robin DeRosa, who gave me the inspiration, confidence, and footing to write this article. Thanks for making both my writing and my ideas stronger.

Thanks also to Kyle Shockey, Heidi Johnson, Mattias Darrow, and Cara Evanson for their valuable insights on earlier drafts of this article. I couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks to Sveta Stoytcheva for convincing me that this idea was worth submitting and pushing me to stick with and trust this process. I so appreciate that even over 4,000 miles away, you’re still empowering me to be the best librarian I can be. Finally, thanks to everyone who supported me during this project, either professionally or personally.

References & Further Reading

Accardi, M. (2015, May 14). I do not think that the Framework is our oxygen mask. Retrieved from https://libraryinstructionburnout.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/i-do-not-think-that-the-framework-is-our-oxygen-mask/

Anjiah, L. (2006). Open access: Is it a futile option for developing countries? Proceedings from the Coady International Institute: The Open Access Movement and Information for Development. Retrieved from https://coady.stfx.ca/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/resources/publications/openaccess/anjiah.pdf

Atenas, J. (2012, Oct 22). Directory of OER repositories. Retrieved from https://oerqualityproject.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/directory-of-oer-repositories/

Bates, T. (2015). The implications of ‘open’ for course and program design: Towards a paradigm shift? Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/10-10-the-implications-of-open-for-course-and-program-design/

Bates, T. (2011, Feb 6). OERs: The good, the bad and the ugly. Retrieved from http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/02/06/oers-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

Bonaccorso, E., et al. (2014). Bottlenecks in the open-access system: Voices from around the globe. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication 2(2): eP1126. http://dx.doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.1126

Burkett, I. (2000). Beyond the ‘information rich and poor’: Future understandings of inequality in globalizing informational economies. Futures, 32(7), 679-694. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/s0016-3287(00)00016-1

Chan, L. & Costa, S. (2005). Participation in the global knowledge commons: Challenges and opportunities for research dissemination in developing countries. New Library World, 106(3/4), 141 – 163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/03074800510587354

Chan, et al. (2002). Budapest Open Access initiative. Retrieved from http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read

Cheney, M. (2015, July 10). Gratis or libre, or, who pays for your bandwidth? Retrieved from http://mumpsimus.blogspot.com/2015/07/gratis-libre-or-who-pays-for-your.html

Christen, K. (2012). Does information really want to be free? Indigenous knowledge systems and the question of openness. International Journal of Communication, 6, 2870-2893. http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1618

Czerniewicz, L. (2013, April 29). Inequitable power dynamics of global knowledge production and exchange must be confronted head on. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/04/29/redrawing-the-map-from-access-to-participation/

d’Oliveira, C. & Lerman, S. (2009). OpenCourseWare: Working through financial challenges. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/221/d’oliveira_lerman.html

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DeRosa, R. (2015, May 28). The open syllabus: A practical guide to open pedagogy in your course. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/orbitdog1/the-open-syllabus-a-practical-guide-to-open-pedagogy-in-your-course

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  1. While Burkett alludes to how technology can exasperate inequalities (p. 684), there are more tangible examples of how this discourse is specifically used with One Laptop per Child. In 2012, Audrey Watters summarized the failures of OLPC initiative. Within her summary, she maintains that Nicholas Negropont, the head of foundation, truly believes that “children can learn (and teach each other) on their own. Children are naturally inquisitive; they are ingenious. Access to an Internet-enabled computing device is sufficient” (para 13). Another example is a Guardian article from 2005 were Negropont states “Poverty can only be eliminated through education” (para 6). This rhetoric, combined with inadequate teacher training and the failure of the program, illustrates how dropping technology into a community, without context or purpose, is not meaningful.
  2. The twenty-sixth article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to education” and that education “shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations” (article 26). These ideas are often cited and developed in conversations around OER. One example is the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which states, “[OER] constitute a wise investment in teaching and learning for the 21st century… They will help teachers excel in their work and provide new opportunities for visibility and global impact. They will accelerate innovation in teaching. They will give more control over learning to the learners themselves. These are strategies that make sense for everyone” (para 10) and “we have an opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world through freely available, high-quality, locally relevant educational and learning opportunities” (para 11). Another document that employs this language is the 2012 Paris OER Declaration, which was created by UNESCO. It is important to note that the language that situates OER as a solution stems from rhetoric used about education as a solution more generally. One example includes remarks from US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan: “[e]ducation is still the key to eliminating gender inequities, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, and to fostering peace. And in a knowledge economy, education is the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity…Closing the achievement gap and closing the opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation” (as cited in Watters, 2015, para 2).
  3. This language is usually present on the institution’s repository or webpage. Examples include MIT’s OCW site, which states “educators improve courses and curricula, making their schools more effective; students find additional resources to help them succeed; and independent learners enrich their lives and use the content to tackle some of our world’s most difficult challenges, including sustainable development, climate change, and cancer eradication” (para 2) and Open Michigan’s site, which notes that the initiative will “dramatically [expand] the University’s global impact and influence and strengthening it as a point of reference for learning and teaching materials for educators and learners worldwide” (para 2).
  4. Some current examples include the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library, Kansas State University’s Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative, and Portland State University’s Open Access Textbook Initiative. These are not necessarily examples of linear or oppressive learning objects but instead examples of how we continue to replicate textbooks in an open environment.

About the Author

Sarah Hare (formerly Crissinger) is currently the Scholarly Communication Librarian at Indiana University Bloomington. Before moving to Bloomington, Sarah was an Information Literacy Librarian at Davidson College, where she led two Open Educational Resource (OER) incentive programs. Sarah’s research centers on several scholarly communication topics, including Open Educational Resources (OER), library publishing, and open access outreach to undergraduate students. Sarah regularly teaches a Library Juice Academy course on OER. Find examples of Sarah’s work at https://sarahecrissinger.com/ or on Twitter @sarahehare.


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