Are we outsourcing education?

The Case Against Adopting too much of a Publisher's Online Resources

Traditionally the role of publishers in education was to provide a support to aid in the teaching of courses. Publishers were publishers and teachers were teachers. As teachers we choose the supporting texts. In my own experience it would not happen that I would whole-heartedly adopt one textbook's point of view. A teacher's job is to develop and provide curriculum; that includes perspective and objectivity. One author or one publisher's materials may not provide that.  

Canadian teachers often find that many of the leading textbooks are American. Sometimes those leading textbooks are Canadianized. As a co-author of a Communications textbook that was Canadianized, I can say that our job as Canadian authors was to work within the framework determined by the American author and to remove American references and add in Canadian examples references and readings. Does this really make a book Canadian?  The publishers’ resources that support online courses may have the same American frameworks and biases even if they have been Canadianized. In a face–to-face class or an online class where the teacher determines the curriculum more objectivity can be assured. The teacher in this case is not just following along with what the publisher has determined is the "answer". The teacher uses selected materials and presents them and lets the class determine an organic path that allows critical thinking and learning. ( At least I hope) 

Publishers' resources tend to follow the traditional teaching model where one source is the expert. In this respect they can be regressive. The publisher is the new sage on the stage. These resources do not take advantage of constructivist ideas of learning. Students do not become the creators of their own learning through activities that just test content learning. As such. publishers resources are a movement away from experiential authentic learning - a direction we need to be going.

With the demise of the printed textbook, publishers have been scrambling to remake their businesses to survive. Part of that remake by publishers has been an increasing encroachment on the act of teaching. You can now see e-books and online publisher resources that when adopted as a whole, totally remove the teacher from the job that they are required to do- determine curriculum and teach. A set pre-determined curriculum outlined by a publisher where every person does the exact same things in the exact same way may not provide the rich experience that occurs in a natural environment. Often these materials do include interactive elements and multiple choice tests that are automatically graded. Students become familiar with the machine. Will they even know their teachers? Will they feel connected to the course, the program, the college? 

Teachers in some cases are left the task of putting the materials into the LMS ( Blackboard) and then pressing "Go" and  at the end pressing "Stop" and entering marks. Does one need a higher education to do that?

These so called "canned courses" can be offered anywhere in any school. If we adopt these types of courses, how can we say we are providing the best learning experience? How can we say we are "teaching"? What would differentiate our college from any other? 

Why have colleges at all when Pearson and McGraw Hill could just deliver and do automatic marking? Pearson is now granting degrees in England so they are already in the business of providing content, delivering material and teaching. Can we trust one of the most important jobs we have- to educate, to any organization whose premier function is to make money? Are we outsourcing education?

Any time that online materials are adopted from the large publishers and the students are also enrolled in the publishers interactive exercises and tests, those actions can be tracked by the publisher. The publisher will have a record of every action that every student takes and every result. They will also know the student's exact location through his/her IP address. Who owns the student's data? Have students signed up to  college to be part of a publisher's analytics?

For Canadians, where information is housed is an issue. Most of the major publishers' servers are in the US. Information about our Canadian students would be subject to the American Patriot Act. That puts our students privacy and rights at risk.  In the past some colleges have taken action especially with the LMS to ensure that no data of our Canadian students was stored on American servers.

LMS's like Blackboard now are working with some of the publishers to ensure easier implementation of the publishers’ resources. Although this may provide a smoother adoption of materials, it may lead to even more of a takeover of our courses by the two organizations. Blackboard is also able to track the actions of students, teamed up with publishers there is even more of a threat to student privacy. 

Adopting large portions of publishers’ materials in online courses can be a logistical nightmare. First of all, a college may have adopted one "box" to house the courses- perhaps Blackboard. The smoothest running courses in Blackboard are the ones that are developed within the Blackboard environment. These courses can be revised and edited easily by anyone. When other "boxes" like Dreamweaver, Soft Chalk and Publishers resources are added into the mix, things are never smooth or simple. Instead of one person being able to simply edit a course , now 2, 3 or more people have to jump in to figure out how to "make things work". Every new service pack  to the LMS has the potential to not work with the other systems, and if one moves to a new LMS that can be a timely and costly proposition, reformatting and ‘making it all work again. 

We have to ask ourselves, just what are we doing when we allow someone else to do our jobs, when we allow curriculum and teaching to be left in the hands of  publishers and their marking machines.  I'm not saying that we shouldn't use any publisher's resources. We need to select and choose carefully. It's our job.

Information is out there and deserves to be free. Open Educational Resources are widely available. We (both faculty and students) would do better to add to the pool of open educational resources rather than to just go along and adopt pre-packaged materials. We have a choice: we can buy the Kraft Dinner where the box is probably as healthy as the food inside or we can pick and choose the best fresh ingredients, and prepare a healthy tasty dish that is the best we can create.


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