Selling open: The conundrum of for profit companies in the OER space.
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Selling open: The conundrum of for profit companies in the OER space.

Michael Feldstein posted a reflection on his controversial keynote address at the Northeast OER Summit. Billed as a conversation between Don Kilburn, Michael Feldstein, and facilitated by Marilyn Billings instead both speakers gave semi-prepared speeches, they didn’t address each other. The reaction from the attendees on twitter bordered on outrage.

In his reflection, Michael was able to organize his thoughts and ideas much more clearly and coherently than he did at Summit. One quote from his article rings particularly true.

One question I got in the Q&A was what advice I had about things that the open education community isn’t doing as well as it could. That’s easy: Stop bickering so much.

-Michael Feldstein

The quote reminded me of the SUNY OER Champions Meeting in Albany. There was a murmuring discontentment in the crowd with SUNY’s partnership with Lumen Learning, a for-profit company that provides SUNY with infrastructure, preassembled courses, and original OER content.

We should ask hard questions of our friends. Here are some of mine for and about Lumen Learning.

1. Do we need Lumen Learning?

Does the company or partner provide a necessary service? In this case, Lumen Learning hosts a customized version of Pressbooks for SUNY, and gives us access to those premade courses and textbooks.

Could you convince your IT department to host a new server with open source software so that you can have your own Pressbooks?

How big does the need at your institution have to be to warrant the IT department seeing it as a priority? How many instructors would need to be using it for them to consider it mission critical like the LMS? Will they build it for you because you hope OER will grow on your campus?

If you have the expertise at your school to host a system like Pressbooks or the Online Homework Manager, can those staff members take on more projects?

2. Does Lumen Learning behave ethically in the open space? Does Lumen share their platform as open source with the community?

Do we have access to the source code whether or not we use them as a vendor?

Can you go to Lumen Learning’s Github and download the program to run their Candela Platform?

Can you download their Online Homework Manager?

Where they improved these open source systems did they release those improvements back to the community?


3. Does Lumen Learning behave ethically in the open space? Does Lumen share their content?

Can you get their content and books from their public facing website even if SUNY didn’t have the contract?

For example, do you have access to their US History book?

If you had a Pressbooks server, could you clone the book onto your server?

Does the books license allow for that kind of reproduction?


4. Does working with this vendor help the sustainability of OER both at your institution, the movement across SUNY, and the overall movement?

Are there other options that are more sustainable for the initiative at your institution or the OER movement in general?

Let’s have an ‘open’ and honest conversation. I think we should ask hard questions of our friends. I think once some of the people questioning SUNY’s partnership with Lumen hear the answers, they will feel better.


Ed Beck is an Instructional Designer at SUNY Oneonta.

I’ve done a lot of research on this. I run my own Pressbooks server on the Amazon Cloud at so I can compare core Pressbooks to what I have available to me through SUNY’s vendor.

I’m an active open source member of the Pressbooks community, testing the latest versions, reporting bugs, and enjoying the collaboration that comes from an open community.

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