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OER24 Guest Post: “It’s like watching someone else make out with your girlfriend.” Reflections on the first time I saw another lecturer use “MY!!” content.

By Tony Murphy, South East Technological University

Aaron Sorkin was planning to watch episode one from series five of The West Wing, the famed and successful TV series he had created, but which he had left after producing series four. On hearing of Sorkin’s plans, Larry David, who had co-created the Seinfeld Show and left the series before it had finished its run, cautioned him not to turn on series five reportedly saying “It’s like watching someone make out with your girlfriend” (Parker, 2021).   I have always felt that this remark succinctly, if not misogynistically, sums up watching something you care about deeply because of a huge personal investment be handled, or mishandled, by someone else.  Contrast that with Bob Dylan’s reaction to being asked how he felt about Jimmy Hendrix’s now much more successful and famed version of the Dylan penned “All Around the Watchtower.  Dylan replied “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using” (Dolan, 1995).

Please believe me that I know that putting my name in the same space as such creative geniuses as Larry David, Aaron Sorkin, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan is the equivalent of breaking the world record for self-flattery, however, many years ago, long before Open Education Resources (OER) was a commonly known term, I created a little reusable learning object.  The object detailed a model to help researchers and academics approach desk research.  It wasn’t particularly special. It was just a series of pre-existing tools and tasks that I put together in a slightly more systematic way than I believe they had been previously presented. But I was a bit proud of it because what I had done that I didn’t think anybody else had done, is that I had placed ignorance at the centre of the model.  I made the ignorant, unknowing person absolutely key to the process and to the model and, in doing so, I wallowed, a little more than I should have, in the delightful irony of celebrating ignorance in a room full of “all-knowing” academics.  

My comfortable smugness was beautifully pulled from beneath me one afternoon, when I was sitting in the back row of a lecture theatre watching and listening to a colleague discuss desk research with a room of academics.  My colleague proceeded to discuss my model. Using a slide deck I had created, he presented my approach to preparing for desk research.  In the back row, I started to squirm. My colleague was sufficiently gracious to acknowledge my presence to the room and the work that I had done, but it did little to deflate my uncomfortable and increasingly angry feelings.  Externally, I knew that it was not my content he was using. As an employee of a college, I was fully aware that the college was free to distribute any teaching content I created. Moreover, I worked for a publicly funded college, so the content was publicly financed and, therefore, publicly owned; anyone could and should use it.   Internally, however, I was livid.  This was my content, this was my model, this was my work that I had laboured and struggled to put together, that only I could do justice to, and he hadn’t even the courtesy to ask my permission or even give me a heads up.   

What made matters even worse was that he was presenting it better.  It wasn’t just that he was a more polished performer who lectured with grace and panache, but he had found insights in the model that I had missed.  He highlighted benefits and value in the approach that I had not seen.  By now, I was beyond livid; livid was in the rear-view mirror.  But the worst was yet to come.  He failed to make any reference to the value of ignorance.  He simply brushed over this aspect of the model.  Maybe he did not want to offend the academics in the room, maybe he thought it was not that important or maybe he simply forgot about it. I don’t know, all I did know was that, sitting in the back row, steam was bursting from my ears and my nostrils were flaring with rage.  

That uncomfortable episode occurred several years ago. Since then, I have created numerous OERs that, hopefully, have been reused by numerous people numerous times.  But I haven’t forgotten how I felt that first time I witnessed someone reuse content I had created.  Reflecting on my reaction, I note that there were a couple of things going on.   First, the misplaced sense of ownership.  We do not own anything regardless of which CC license it is published under.  Academic content, knowledge and ideas are there to be shared, which is the basis of how we progress.  Academia is not the TV or music business; academia is not about protecting and monetising ideas, it is about sharing them and freeing them from behind paywalls, no matter how much effort and personal investment has gone into their creation. 

Second is the misplaced jealousy.  Amid my resentfulness, I was blind to the second point of academic ideas; that they are there to be built on and reinterpreted, or misinterpreted, which again is how we progress.  The value and the reward comes from you and others knowing that you have played a small part in putting in place the next link in the chain that will go on long after you have stopped thinking about it.  This is why authorship and acknowledging authorship continues to be important.  We need to be able to take pride in what we do in order to put in the effort and that effort needs to be acknowledged, even as it is reused and reinterpreted.  

It would be great to think that, when it comes to OERs, we could always be as gracious with our creations as Bob, however, there is no harm in acknowledging our effort and allowing ourselves to feel a little bit like Larry from time to time.  


Parker, D. (2021). “Why Larry David Told Aaron Sorkin To Never Watch ‘The West Wing.’” The Things. Available at: https://www.thethings.com/why-larry-david-told-aaron-sorkin-to-never-watch-the-west-wing/

Dolan, J. (1995).  “A midnight chat with Bob Dylan”.  Sun Sentinel.  Available at: Fort-Lauderdale, Sun Sentinel today 29/9/95 (interferenza.net)

Registration is still open for the 15th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy will be organised by ALT, in partnership with Munster Technological University (MTU).

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