OER Sustainability

It is commonly pointed out that even though a resource may be free for the consumer, it does not follow that the resource is free, in the sense that it nonetheless costs something in funding or services to create and distribute a resource. Consider, for example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an open learning resource made freely available on the internet. According to Zalta (2005), this service costs roughly $US 190,000 to provide. The bulk of the costs are in staffing ($US 154,300) with contract programming, travel and office expenses, computer services and overhead taking up the rest.

This is a small amount compared to what it may cost to mount a full-fledged resource. Beshears (2005) outlines the costs facing the United Kingdom Open University (UKOU), which, he notes, spends a average of $US 3 million per course on content development http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33401 .

It becomes clear that by 'sustainable' we cannot mean 'cost free', by sustainable we must mean "'has long-term viability for all concerned' - meets provider objectives for scale, quality, production cost, margins and return on investment."

In addition to the cost of the resource, the concept of 'sustainability' needs to take into account the resource itself. If, for example, the resource consists of a piece of software (or content written with a particular piece of software), then it is important to consider 'software sustainability'. (UNESCO, 2002a) Additionally, the infrastructure needs generated by the use of the resource need to be considered:

  • Technology (hardware, software, connectivity, standards, etc.)
  • Organization (technical competencies, training, standardization communities)
  • Policy (openness, business model)

Each of these constitutes some sort of investment on the part of the organizations providing and consuming the resource.

 This is especially the case in developing economies. In environments where course completion rates are not as important, provision of resources in a particular manner may be favoured because it is cheaper, however in some nations, particularly those where there are few existing graduates, completion rates are more important, and therefore the outcome of the resource provision, and not merely the cost, becomes the primary factor http://www.col.org/Consultancies/04CostingDEinSSA.pdf

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