The Pros and Cons of Open-Sources vs. Curated Content

June 11, 2019 Edward Gonsalves

When I first started teaching as an adjunct instructor, I didn’t think too much about the pros or cons of open-source or curated classroom materials. Starting out, I was just grateful for the supporting content available from the publisher for the required text, particularly when I was asked to teach a class on short notice. Today is a different world. One of the current debates in academia is the efficacy and appropriate use of open-source classroom materials.

Taken at face value, the choice of this little to no cost option may appear to be an easy one. College is expensive enough, so why not select the low-cost open-source content for the benefit of students? This would be the obvious choice if I hadn’t had a chance to see exactly what goes into building properly curated content. Several years ago, I was asked to work on some support materials for a new marketing text by McGraw-Hill Education. I was involved in reviewing the complete book and developing the end of chapter content which also included test bank questions. It was through this process that I learned just how much effort and attention to detail goes into vetting every single piece of content and the efficacy of every component of the text and its supporting materials.

While open-source materials provide a tantalizing alternative, there are several unintended consequences to consider before adopting:

  1. Do these resources offer enough support materials?

Like most instructors who are considering changing their course materials, one of the first things my colleagues and I do is investigate the available support tools. Does this product have pre-built PowerPoint slides, lecture videos, practice exams, curated case studies, adaptive learning tools, simulation exercises, assessment and data resources, etc.? If not, there is quite a bit of effort necessary to provide this required material.

  1. Who vets all this material to ensure it is accurate, edited, and updated?

If we expect our students to create truthful, accurate, and polished work that reflects our course learning objectives, it’s imperative that both know and approve of who is creating and editing our classroom materials. A poorly edited or curated resource, whether from open-source or curated published material is a detriment to the learning process and can derail more than one lesson.

  1. How do these materials support students with accessibility issues?

Instructors, departments, and universities have a responsibility to ensure that their classrooms and lessons are accessible to all students. Whether that means creating lessons according to universal design principles or ensuring that any content used in a course is ADA compliant, is a critical consideration when looking at new materials

Despite these concerns, there are tons of excellent open-source resources and materials available for instructors (YouTube, TEDTalks, social media streams, newspaper articles, etc.). As mentioned earlier, there remains a fair bit of due diligence for the instructor to consider. Is it right for the audience, does it mesh with existing materials, can its use comply with copyright law, can it be edited to meet required messaging and time constraints?

While publisher materials aren’t perfect, they can serve as a curated foundation that helps drive solid learning outcomes while letting you supplement or experiment with outside open-learning resources. The balance of how much you use is based on your comfort level and time.

About the Author

Edward Gonsalves

Professor Gonsalves is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Management Science. Professor Gonsalves’ career has spanned thirty-five years in the technology field, having held positions in design, applications, sales, marketing, business development and management. He is the holder of 9 patents and has presented at a variety of industry conferences in the area of RFID. For the past twenty-five years, Professor Gonsalves has been teaching undergraduate and graduate marketing classes and has been involved in executive education at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. During this time, Professor Gonsalves has also taught at a variety of other schools in the New England area, including work at Boston College, Babson College and Providence College. He has also served as a Digital Faculty Consultant for McGraw-Hill Higher Education, where he has reviewed and developed a variety of materials, with a focus on simulations and digital content. His areas of interest are in the marketing and development of high technology products and he retains an active consultancy practice in these areas.

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