How are Open Access or OER similar and how do they differ? This is a question of this week of #OpenLearning19, and I found it very worthwhile to think about it.
Both research and teaching materials have in common that copying them does no longer cause expenses. But both need to have some added benefit for being widely shared. For Open Access research, such an additional incentive exists since almost 350 years, as Suber’s chapter on the reading list impressively shows: writing for impact. For OER teaching materials, by contrast, merely transforming paper copies to gratis online copies, is probably not a sufficient benefit for them to flourish.
While the problem of OERs is certainly a lot more complex, there is one simple aspect where paper properties are still perpetuated into the digital world. It is the doctrine of the so-called Split Attention Effect which demands that an annotation needs to be close to the item it refers to.
Of course, for a paper resource, e.g. a diagram of a plant with all of its components, it is very plausible that it costs too much effort to scan the entire page to find the appropriate description item. (The older ones among us might remember former crossword puzzles that had little numbers referring to a text column, and how cumbersome it was to look up “5 down” or “6 across”, before the cue texts were integrated into the grid cells).
But OERs might implement some interactivity and display the descriptions upon clicking an item? Why isn’t this done much more frequently? IMHO this is because it is done by popup windows and delayed hovering labels, and these are distracting and intrusive and just annoying. But the doctrine of proximity demands that they are close to the items being described, because this doctrine has been carried over from the paper world into the digital world — as if a horseless carriage still needed a nosebag full of oats.
Instead, descriptions could be displayed in a fixed location, one at a time. And the student could write their annotations into this location, as well, which would add even more interactivity.