Robert Schuwer, godfather of OER, concludes with final symposium

Fontys Information and Communication Technology
In October, Robert Schuwer, professor of Open Educational Resources at Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT, received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the field of Open Educational Resources (OER). Due to reaching the state pension age, he is resigning his position as a lecturer effective January 1, 2023. A final symposium was held on Friday, Nov. 25.


Where do we stand with OER and how do we move forward? These questions were the focus of Robert Schuwer's farewell symposium, which consisted of a panel discussion followed by a presentation by the outgoing professor.

More OER
First, some context. Early this year, a statement was adopted as part of the Acceleration Plan for Education Innovation with ICT. Boards of higher education institutions agreed to make educational resources as open as possible and to share them with one another so that instructors can discuss the content and quality of that educational resources. This will benefit the quality of education, they believe. The educational institutions also want to come to an agreement with commercial parties (publishers and Educational Technology (EdTech) companies for short) for the use of teaching materials, with the direction remaining with the institutions.

Former student Thomas van der Meer would welcome more involvement of students in the composition of learning materials. 'Students actually mainly want to know: do I really need the book and what does it cost? I once bought a €150 book that we barely used. It's logical that many students take a look at it before buying a book, or see if they can get there with PDFs and pencasts.'

Teacher-researcher Annemarie van den Broek no longer works with a fixed book list, she says. 'A complete book list sometimes cost as much as six hundred euros. We now work with topics - the knowledge base - and help students find good sources for them. That's not easy, by the way. On the Internet you can find a lot of superficial information and a lot of scientific material. The layer in between is thin. Maybe we could do something about that.'

Maintenance needed
OER are sometimes at odds with the AVG, explains Ron Augustus of SURF. "In order to see whether students are achieving their learning objectives, the easiest thing to do is to collect all the data and keep profiles, as and Netflix do: 'If you like this, you might find this interesting, too.' The question, of course, is whether that's allowed.' Darco Jansen of the Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) breaks a lance for autonomy and sovereignty. 'Ownership of learning materials and the educational process are very important.' According to Jansen, opening up learning materials an sich is not enough. 'That material has to be maintained and you have to give people hours to do that. If you don't do that, the material quickly becomes obsolete and is no longer used.

Role of teacher remains crucial
Fontys director Hans Nederlof believes that education should be less cautious towards market parties. 'Put flatly: we just have to hit them in their business model.' That students resort to Youtube as a source of information worries him somewhat. 'We then have absolutely no control over quality anymore.' According to Van den Broek, the teacher is still the key to good education. 'But in a different role than before. Teachers are no longer the gate to knowledge. It is our job to follow students critically in their development and to coach them, also, for example, in how best to spend their time.'

Then Schuwer, as he calls himself, gives a public account of his work at Fontys over the past eight years. "The first four years I mapped the OER field and explored trends. Then came the phase of dissemination and knowledge sharing. What I cannot emphasize enough: OER is a means and not an end in itself. You have to think from the values of the student and the instructor. What is important to them? Both will want to know: what's in it for me?

Unanswered questions
Although the necessary knowledge has been gathered, many questions remain unanswered, according to Schuwer. "For example, what can "open pedagogy" contribute to the adoption of OERs? What difference can Open Educational Resources make in effectiveness, efficiency, and enjoyment of education? And how does adoption of OERs contribute to more inclusiveness and better accessibility of education in the Netherlands?

The use of open learning materials in education should become part of all teacher training programs, according to Schuwer. "But I haven't gotten around to that. That's for people after me.' A person can't do everything. It was Friday afternoon, four o'clock. Time for beer and bitterballs.