Pragmatism vs. Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy

Rajiv Jhangiani

Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Open education advocates customarily define OER as “beyond free,” based on the permissions to reuse, revise, remix, retain, and redistribute these resources (Wiley, 2014). However, in practice, OER advocacy often centers on the unaffordability of commercial textbooks and the cost savings associated with the adoption of open textbooks (i.e. merely “free”), an approach that may not be pragmatic given that the cost of resources is the factor that most faculty least consider when assigning required course materials (Allen & Seaman, 2016).

Similarly, OER advocates often highlight the advantages of the internet and digital technologies, especially as they enable the marginal cost of reproduction and distribution of educational resources to approach zero. However, the OER movement itself continues to grapple with questions from a pre-digital past, such as the responsibility of updated editions of open textbooks and the development of ancillary materials such as testbanks. This begs the question: If open educational practices are a game changer, why are OER advocates playing by the rules of the commercial textbook industry?

The psychologist Erik Erikson articulated a stage theory of psychosocial development that centered on an adolescent crisis between identity and role confusion (1956). Within OER advocacy, I argue that this crisis is represented by a tension between idealism and pragmatism.

In taking a critical look at OER advocacy, I argue for an approach that embraces the diversity in our audience and that emphasizes both pragmatism and idealism, social justice and pedagogical innovation, resources and practices, and free and freedom.


Pragmatism vs. Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy from Open Education Consortium