Paul Stacey

Open Business Models – Call For Participation

In our capitalistic world competition for limited resources and profits are the driving forces of business. Social value, environmental value, and other non-monetary forms of ROI are rarely factored in to the bottom line.

But some businesses are incorporating social goals into their operations and adopting triple bottom line frameworks. Some are becoming B Corporations. TedX talks like this one from Jay Coen Gilbert are influencing the thinking of entrepreneurs. And still others businesses are eager to create a business that is not only socially responsible but also modern in its use of digital, and open licensing strategies where the aim is to maximize access, use, and distribution. For many entrepreneurs use of Creative Commons is a key enabler of both social goals and financial success. Startups and existing businesses are exploring new alternative business models using Creative Commons licenses as either an enabler or core component of their business – see the many examples at TeamOpen.

Screen shot of TeamOpen web site.

For every one of those examples there are many others who want to move in that direction but don’t know how. It’s not easy to figure out how to run a business that is both financially sound and socially responsible. It’s not easy to transition business models from strategies that are focused on locking customers in and producing products and services that are not easily copied, to one where you give customers choice and encourage them to copy, modify, and freely distribute your products and services. It’s a big change.

One of the most frequent questions I get in my Creative Commons work is “How do I earn a living, pay the bills, and keep the lights on if I openly license my work and give it away for free?” Underlying this question are deep seated needs to a) be financially compensated for the work we do, b) manage costs and revenue responsibly, and c) not have others unfairly earn income off your work. These needs are matters of survival and social norms we operate under in a society based on capitalism.

This question and others like it come not just from people in the private sector but the public sector too. Here are a few variants of the question.

One public sector variant pertains to sustaining open initiatives that receive special grants or startup funding. When the one-time special funding runs out how does the open initiative sustain itself? What are the models for sustainability?

In the private sector, startups are designing businesses around openly sharing as much of their product and service as possible for free, while at the same time generating enough revenue to operate a business. What are the business models for that?

This is something that really interests me and I’ve written about the economics of open and open business models before – see here and here.

This year, through gracious funding from the Hewlett Foundation, my Creative Commons colleague Sarah Pearson and I, are leading an open business models initiative that aims itself squarely at answering questions like these. We aim to make visible how open business models work and provide tools and strategies for designing and developing your own.

Open for business sign
Building an open source business by Libby Levi licensed CC BY-SA

We want to do this work in a community-based way with all of you. We published a Creative Commons Open Business Models Call For Participation blog post today.

We’re inviting participation in these open business model activities:

  1. Join us in designing, developing, and iterating a set of interactive Creative Commons open business model tools that anyone can use to design an open business model.
  2. Use these open business model tools yourself to generate your own open business model(s).
  3. Share the results of your participation including the open business models you generate.
  4. Provide feedback and recommendations for improving the Creative Commons open business model tools and process.
  5. Partner directly with Creative Commons on developing an open business model for your specific initiative.
  6. Participate in a Creative Commons workshop on generating open business models.
  7. Contribute to a Creative Commons open business models report.

See our Creative Commons Open Business Models Participation Activities document for further details on each of these activities, including specifics for participation, and links to the tools.

As you’ll see in the Open Business Models Participation Activities document we’ve also created a Creative Commons Open Business Models Google+ community as a forum for sharing, participation, and interaction.

We’re just getting started but I’m totally excited about doing this work.
I think its potentially a really big thing and hope you’ll all consider participating in this work to grow the commons through open business models.

The Commons

After years of working with, and for, Creative Commons this spring I had an epiphany. Creative Commons is not just about making things “open” its about building a “commons”.

What, you say? Thats so obvious. I mean really, commons is part of the name.

Maybe so, but my experience is that everyone focuses on how Creative Commons makes things open.  We all talk about Open Educational Resources, Open Access, and Open Data. No one talks about the commons. The very idea that there is a commons has, for the most part, been lost.

All that changed for me this spring. The commons now looms large in my thinking.

So just what is a commons?

One type of commons I’ve been exploring and reading about is the natural resource based commons. The air and water are good examples accessible and shared by all. Other examples of natural resource based commons are Swiss alpine pastures, huerta gardens in Spain and Portugal, and salmon fishing in British Columbia, Canada where I live.

Heather Menzies book, Reclaiming the Commons For The Common Good explores how “commoning”, cultivating community and livelihood together on the common land of the earth, was a way of life for centuries. In her words:

“It was a way of understanding and pursuing economics as embedded in life and the labor, human and non-human, that is necessary to sustain it. It was a way of ordering this life through local self-governance and direct, participatory democracy. And it was a way of knowing, through doing and the sharing of experience through common knowledge and common sense.”

Reclaiming the Commons Book Cover

Reclaiming the Commons is both a memoir and a manifesto recounting Menzies’ exploration of how her ancestors in the Highlands of Scotland managed their commons, the real tragedy of the loss of the commons, and the reemergence of the commons as a vital means of re-enfranchising people as responsible participants in common good governance locally and globally.

Natural resource based commons are not limitless. They are rivalrous and depleteable. The physical form of natural resources mean that if I have a fish and give it to you I no longer have the fish. Natural resources exist in limited supply with removal and use depleting that supply. The physical form and depletability result in competing rivalrous use interests. Natural resource commons require community management to ensure sustainability and equity of use. Water may be a natural resource based commons but many regions live in drought conditions making water for things like irrigation a commons based resource that requires community management.

So just what is a commons?

A commons is a pool of resources, a community that manages them, and the set of rules or agreements by which they are managed.

I used to think of community management of natural resource based commons as being implemented by either 1. government which takes on management of commons on behalf of it’s people, or 2. market based systems where natural resource commons are managed based on supply and demand economics.

But, I’ve been reading the work of Elinor Ostrom who won the 2009 Nobel prize in Economics for her work studying different commons all around the world. Ostrom’s work shows that natural resource commons can be successfully managed by local communities without any regulation by central authorities or privatization. Government and privatization are not the only two choices. There is a third way – management of the commons by the people directly involved and impacted. The physicality of natural resource commons give them a regional locality. The community in that region has the most familiarity, history, and direct relationship with that natural resource commons and is best situated to manage it.

As the book Governing Knowledge Commons points out, “Ostrom’s approach to governance of natural resources broke with convention by recognizing the importance of institutions intermediate between private property and the state in solving problems of collective action. These intermediate institutions, are collective, locally organized, means for governing and making productive and sustainable use of shareable, but depletable resources such as fish, water, and trees.”

Governing Knowledge Commons Book Cover

Ostrom’s work on the commmons is substantial and required reading for anyone trying to understand the commons and how it works. She constructed empirically informed frameworks, theories, and models based on study of real world commons. Here are a few samples of her work that I find useful when thinking about the commons.

Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development framework reveals the design principles of a commons and provides a structure for analysing the social and ecological interactions of a commons. This framework can be used to model an existing commons and to diagnose problems or explore alternatives.

Institutional Analysis and Development Framework

Ostrom primarily studied natural resource commons. The resources in these commons have specific biophysical characteristics that affect their use. In each case there is a community of users who have an interest in or are impacted by the use of commons resources. Inevitably a set of rules evolve that regulate use within the community usually blending together formal legal rules with social norms. Rules define who is eligible to take a position regarding use of the commons, what they must or must not do in their position, whether a decision is made by a single actor or multiple actors, channels of communication among actors as well as the kinds of information that can be transmitted, and rewards or sanctions for particular actions or outcomes.

Positional rules, determining who is eligible to take a position regarding use of the commons, include:

  • Access: Right to enter defined area and enjoy its benefits without removing any resources.
  • Withdrawal: Right to obtain specified products from a resource system and remove that product from the area for prescribed uses
  • Management: Right to participate in decisions regulating resources or making improvements to infrastructure.
  • Exclusion: Right to participate in the determination of who has, and who does not have, access to and use of resources.
  • Alienation: Right to sell, lease, bequeath, or otherwise transfer any or all of the preceding component rights.

The Action Arena is where the social interactions and decisions about the commons occur. It’s where exchanges take place, rules are made, entitlements are allocated, and disputes resolved. Actors choose from among the available action alternatives based on their own interests and desired outcomes. Individual costs and benefits are weighed against the social costs and benefits of the whole community. In many cases regularized patterns of interaction emerge creating social norms of behaviour and establishing a kind of balance or equilibrium. In a natural resource based commons these social interactions result in outcomes that frequently affect not just the actors and community but the resource system and resource units themselves. Evaluative criteria can be such things as economic efficiency, distributional equity, and sustainability.

The key take-away for me from all this is the principle that the commons can be self governed. The typical binary options of government regulation or market economics are not the only options. If sustainability is the goal then community-based self-governance using common-property regimes might yield better results.

Part of my epiphany this year has been seeing the commons in this new light. Talk of the commons and public good has largely been subjugated by dominant discourse around politics and the economy. But I increasingly see that the commons offers us an alternative way forward, a kind of middle ground balancing the role of government and markets. With the world increasingly divided into haves and have nots, rich and poor, a commons approach that addresses the needs and interests of the public seems like a long overdue and necessary antidote.

Around the world governments are increasingly converting natural resource based commons, historically managed on behalf of the public by the government, into property which is leased or sold to businesses who manage the resources. These governments believe that markets are a better way of managing commons than government regulation.

There is a long ongoing history of taking public commons, separating it off, enclosing it, and privatizing it. This process is called enclosure of the commons. David Bollier’s book Think Like a Commoner talks about enclosure of the commons this way. Enclosure is:

“dispossession of commoners as market forces seize control of common resources, often with the active collusion of government. The familiar debate of “privatization versus government ownership” does not really do justice to this process because government ownership, the supposed antidote to privatization, is not really a solution. In many instances, the state is only too eager to conspire with industries to seize control of common resources for “private” (i.e., corporate) exploitation. Regulation is too often a charade that does more to legalize than eradicate market abuses.”

Think Like A Commoner Book Cover

I’d never really thought about it before but Robin Hood, the popular children’s story, is really a story about the commons. Essentially the king takes pastures, forests, wild game, and water used by commoners and declares them his own private property. Commoners are evicted from the land, fences and hedges erected and the sheriff and his men given authority to ensure no commoner poaches game from the kings land.

Contemporary examples of commons enclosure are numerous. Government agreements allow mining companies to extract minerals from public lands, timber companies to clear cut public forests, oil companies to drill in pristine wilderness areas, and commercial trawlers to decimate coastal fisheries. Management of commons based on market systems tends to result in over exploitation as pursuit of profits and power override public interests.

Natural resource based commons have no human producer. Humans are users only. But there are lots of other forms of commons that humans produce. Highways, roads, sidewalks, and public squares for example. Jonathan Rowe’s book Our Common Wealth – The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work does a good job of exploring how such public spaces are a form of commons that we share. Rowe expands the commons to include languages, cultures, and technologies. The Internet is a kind of commons. He shows how there is a symbiotic relationship between the commons, the economy, and even our personal and planetary well-being.

Our Common Wealth Book Cover

And then there is the knowledge and culture commons, the creative commons in which I work. There are several aspects of the knowledge and culture commons that make it different from natural resource based commons. One difference is the inherent nature of knowledge and culture. Knowledge and culture are non-rivalrous and non-depletable. If I share an idea or some knowledge with you we both end up with the idea and knowledge. If I sing a song you too can sing it with me. Giving it to you does not mean I no longer have it.

The non-rivalrous and non-depleteable nature of the knowledge and culture commons mean that the rules and norms for community management of knowledge and culture commons can, and ought to, be different from how natural resource based commons are managed. However interestingly the global default is to apply property law and copyright to knowledge and culture commons resources creating an artificial scarcity that makes them more like natural resource based commons. This artificial scarcity is time-limited though as all knowledge and culture resources eventually pass into the public domain the name we’ve given to the knowledge and culture commons.

It’s intriguing to revisit Elinor Ostrom’s models and frameworks and explore how they might be modified to fit with this alternative form of commons. Its a challenge to transition from a model based on scarcity to a model based on abundance. The biophysical form of knowledge and culture is increasingly digital. Digital based resources can be copied, shared, distributed and used at costs which approach zero dollars and at a scale that makes them increasingly accessible to the entire world. The knowledge and culture commons is as much a global commons as a local one.

I’m increasingly seeing the knowledge and culture commons as having two forms; 1. a large global commons comprised of all open and shared creative works, and 2. a local commons made up of curated collection of resources drawn from the global commons that have local relevance and have been customized to fit local needs.

I was delighted to have my early exploration of the commons in 2014, bolstered by the arrival of Ryan Merkley as Creative Commons new CEO. Ryan places a strong emphasis on the importance of building the commons movement and establishing a vast pool of free and open content online: data, academic research, educational curriculum, videos, music, pictures, and more. Under Ryan’s leadership Creative Commons published The State of The Commons. This report succinctly documents the growth of the commons.

Growth of Creative Commons licensed works

It also shows what parts of the world are contributing to the commons.

Global Creative Commons contributions

Ryan also encouraged us to re-examine the goals and work Creative Commons is engaged in and encouraged a re-imagining. The resulting sharing of ideas among my peers was inspiring.

Here are some of the ideas I put forward that reflect my thinking about the Commons.

Creative Commons is currently doing a great job at enabling sharing of creative works.
But we don’t know why people are sharing.
We don’t know what their intent is.

In the context of Elinor Ostrom’s framework Creative Commons has established some great rules-in-use, but we have not put in place a complementary technical component to support the community based social interactions involved in producing and managing the commons.

I imagine a technical component, added to the Creative Commons license, that allows creators to express intent and solicit the support of the open community in achieving it.

Once the why of sharing is known so much more can happen. Each expression of intent is a Creative Commons value proposition statement.

In addition to stating why they are sharing I think it is equally important for Creative Commons to enable the sharer to have a means for saying how others can help them achieve their aim.

Adding technical functionality that allows sharers to seek the help of others in achieving the aim associated with sharing adds a social component to Creative Commons license. We connect creators to each other – for all kinds of reasons.

I imagine it enabling creators to form communities of common interest around openly licensed content collections – for curation, remix, enhancement, additional development, …

I imagine it as enabling the development of creative works that require multiple talents – someone for the video, another person for the audio, musicians, writers, .. Collective content creation through collaboration.

And many other use cases.

I see this as having the potential to migrate Creative Commons from simply being a license that is put on content to an enabler of connections between people. Creative Commons will have not just a content value proposition but a social one.

Given this focus I suggested the following as a area of focus for maximizing impact.

Creative Commons can have the most impact by focusing in on purposeful sharing. A great deal of Creative Commons use is secondary – sharing as an add-on to some other primary function or purpose, sharing as an act of generosity, sharing as an expression of values based on moral principles, sharing in response to mandate.

Much of this sharing lacks an expressed explicit goal, intent, or purpose – sharing with unexpressed, but hoped for consequences. Creative Commons can amplify impact by enabling expression of purposeful sharing and rallying the help of others in achieving sharing goals.

A great deal of sharing and CC use is by autonomous individual users or organizations acting on their own. CC can generate greater impact by creating a mechanism for the formation of social networks and collaborations around CC licensed works. The opportunities Creative Commons is missing are not some sector we’ve ignored but the social dimension of sharing. The formation of social networks of Creative Commons users collectively working together on achieving some shared goal is a missing piece Creative Commons is positioned to enable. Moving Creative Commons use from a form of individual expression of rules and permissions to Creative Commons use as a form of collective action will magnify impact.

Ryan asked us to identify the metric we would track and I said:

My one metric is – User expressed value (or user expressed ROI).
Ask users how their use of CC generates value.

This can be achieved by adding to CC tools a mechanism for expression of purpose, a means of inviting others to join in achieving that purpose, and a method for showing progress and outcome.

CC use generates diverse forms of value.
It can be financial – money saved or revenue earned.
It can reputational.
It can be a gift or altruistic.
It can generate personal value, or generate value for others, or both.
CC value takes a myriad of forms.

CC value is generated through personal and group action.
An individual, a corporation, a government can all generate value through CC use.

The people, stories, and values associated with CC use are inspirational.
User expression of CC value is a mini-human interest story revealing new ways of doing things, new outcomes.

Users know why they use CC and the value it generates.
We should invite them to express the value they are generating.

My one metric is – user expressed value.
From this one metric a diverse range of value will emerge for which additional metrics can be defined.

And finally Ryan asked us, What does winning look like?
Here is how I see it:

I see winning as looking like:

A move away from GDP as a measure of health of a country to “”quality of life”” indicators that evaluate the well-being of a society based more on environmental stewardship, democratic participation in society, equitable distribution of wealth, good health, and contributions to and use of the commons. Winning means Creative Commons and metrics associated with Creative Commons are used as one of the quality of life indicators measuring the economic and social well-being of a nation and the world. Winning means quality of life measures and global well-being inform and affect the decisions and actions of individuals, communities, organizations, businesses, and government. Winning means CC use is a key means of enabling quality of life.

Winning means a change of state from accumulation of personal wealth, personal property, independence and autonomy to shared wealth, shared property, and creative collaboration with others. Intermediate mile posts include a recognition that profit-making pursuits have limited scale and sustainability. Mile posts include replacing or supplementing the use of profit-making practices with commons-making practices for innovation, scale, and sustainability. Winning is not necessarily completely replacing profit-making with common-making but rather a balancing of the two and a symbiotic relationship.

Winning is based on abundance not scarcity. Winning is a move away form the market consumerism economy based on scarcity to a sharing economy based on abundance with Creative Commons being a key enabler. Accompanying this is a surge of participation, creativity and innovation. Individual acts of sharing are as important as government and market forces.

Winning means Creative Commons use solves big global social and economic problems and in doing so leads to growing understanding of the importance of balancing private sector pursuit of profit with the common pursuits building common wealth. Winning means distributed, networked collaborative production builds out common wealth and at the same time reduces the reliance on personal ownership replacing it with shared access and permission to use (within limits). Winning is a form of global activism that benefits all humanity without regard to national boundaries.

There are a lot of ways this can be quantified. Currently sharing is “”off the books”” and not tracked as a means of social or economic well-being. Current societal measures focus on growth as measured by production and consumption. However, the emergence of a “”sharing economy”” brings with it the opportunity to measure sharing in economic and social terms. People are deriving income and other non-monetary rewards from sharing. This manifests itself as a diversification and expansion of suppliers, better usage of existing resources, and a desire to make the world a better place.

Metrics associated with sharing recognize the shortcomings of unlimited growth in an increasingly resource limited world, and the growing inequitable distribution of wealth. Sharing saves money, amplifies participation, creates easy access to goods and services, and leads to more abundance.

Metrics should measure not just the number of resources being produced but the number of people producing those resources and the benefits to both the creator, downstream users, and society as a whole.

I share these ideas not to suggest that Creative Commons will implement them but as a way of showing how a shift of emphasis from “open” to “commons” generates different concepts and strategies.

Focusing on the Commons has led me to see the work we are all engaged in differently. It has been exciting to discover a commons-based alternative to government and market based forces. Going in to 2015 I look forward to balancing talk of the global economy with talk of a global commons. One where everyday citizens can participate independent of government and market pooling their knowledge and creativity as an expression of kindred spirit and for the common good of all.

Joy to the Commons and a Happy New Year all.

Comments Off on The Commons

National OER Framework

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a volatile mix of religion, ancient civilizations, political turmoil, wealth and poverty, beauty, extremism, and violence. Can Open Educational Resources (OER) be a form of diplomacy and peace in this region? Can open education offer some small hope as an alternative form of engagement, action, and reform – instead of drones and beheadings?

For the past year or so I’ve been helping the US State Department with their Open Book project. Announced by Hilary Clinton before she stepped down as Secretary of State the Open Book project is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State in partnership with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and leading education innovators to expand access to free, high-quality education materials in Arabic, with a focus on science and technology. Promoting and expanding access to these resources will help to create educational opportunity, further scientific learning, and foster economic growth.

See Arab League, U.S. Launch Open Book Project for more.


The objectives of the Open Book Project are to:

  • Developing an increased awareness of OER in MENA and the U.S., including refining the concept and identifying connections with copyright and open licenses
  • Deliver the benefits of open education to the Arab world
  • Expand access to free, high-quality, open education materials in Arabic, with a focus on science and technology
  • Implement open licensing in the MENA region that enables anyone to use, adapt, and share these education materials
  • Build partnerships between the US and MENA region to make more learning materials open, free, and connected to Arab educators, students, and classrooms
  • Lower geographic, economic, and even gender-based barriers to learning
  • Create open education resources that anyone with access to the Internet can read, download, and print for free or adapt a copy that meets the local needs of their classrooms or education systems
  • Put a full year of high-quality college-level science textbooks – biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus – online, for free, in Arabic
  • Help Arab professors and intellectuals create their own open courses
  • Explore the benefits of OER for governments, institutions, faculty, students and the public, specifically examining how OER affects teaching and learning practices including the inter-relationships and synergy of OER with open access, open data, open policy, open science
  • Evaluate the impact of OER on education business models and practices in MENA and the U.S.

With the support of World Learning and a team of OER experts (of which I was one) the Open Book Project was structured as a two phase exchange program. In Phase I education professionals from all countries in the Middle East and North Africa were invited to apply to participate in a US-based OER fellowship. Fourteen people from eleven countries including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were selected and came to the US for three weeks in March 2014.

After an initial gathering in Washington, DC for introductory sessions, participants were split into small groups for more individually tailored programs, including placements or mini-internships with relevant U.S. organizations as well as other site visits and meetings. The goal of these placements was:

  1. to learn about the day-to-day operations and projects that the American organization is engaged with
  2. to share aspects of the foreign organizational practices and challenges (especially as pertains to OER) with U.S. counterparts, and
  3. to work with the host organization on the development of an action plan or methodology to create/develop and apply OER in the foreign fellow’s originating academic institution.

Everyone reconvened in Washington D.C. at the end of the U.S.-based program to synthesize and discuss strategies for sustaining the MENA OER network and supporting implementation back in participant home regions.

In Phase II a sub-group of the OER practitioners and experts who helped plan the Open Book Project travelled to countries in the Middle East and North Africa region to work with the foreign fellows on implementation of the plans created in Phase I; meet with key stakeholders in academia, government and the NGO community that are already serving or have the potential to serve as local champions for the open educational resources effort; and learn about existing efforts and challenges.

I was privileged to be a member of this group and just returned home from site visits to Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Tunis is home base for the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO). Comprised of 22 member states ALECSO works to coordinate cultural and educational activities in the Arab world. ALECSO is launching a new strategy, aiming to enhance the use of ICT in the areas of Education, Culture and Science through five projects approved by the ALECSO execution Council and the ALECSO General congress.

Paul Stacey, Mary Lou Forward and James Glapa-Grossklag at ALECSO in Tunis
Here I am at ALECSO with my colleagues Mary Lou Forward and James Glapa-Grossklag. (photo by Vladimir Spencer) Our hosts gave us a great overview of their plans.

The ALECSO Arab OER project will:

  • Promote the use and development of OER at a Pan-Arab level to institutions, teachers and students
  • Make indexing, retrieving and accessing of Arabic OER easier for teachers and students
  • Offer a wide exchange and scope of Arab OER
  • Ensure community building for exchange of educational resources across Arab countries
  • Enhance the quality of developed OER in Arab countries

The other four ALECSO projects are worth mentioning as OER could be strategically included in each.

ALECSO App’s project will provide:

  • A Pan-Arab web-based repository for mobile applications, the ALECSO Apps Store
  • A specific editor (ALECSO Apps Editor) for development of Arabic mobile applications by non-technical end-users
  • An Arab competition (ALECSO Apps Awards) with awards to encourage Arab developers to innovate and create mobile applications and populate the ALECSO App’s store.

ALECSO Arab MOOCs project is planning to:

  • Develop Arab capacity and infrastructure in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at a Pan-Arab level
  • Promote the use and development of MOOCs in Arabic countries
  • Offer a Pan-Arab MOOC delivery platform
  • Develop capacities in the use and development of MOOCs in the Arab region
  • Pilot the delivery of MOOCs in selected subjects

ALECSO Cloud Computing services for education project will:

  • Make known the advantages and benefits of using Cloud Computing services in education in Arab countries
  • Organize a conference on using Cloud Computing Services in the education field and make its advantages and benefits known to different stakeholders in educational institutions
  • Prepare a specific guideline for the effective use of cloud computing in education for Arab countries, through the implementation of a cloud computing based educational platforms
  • Prepare a comprehensive work plan containing all the required milestones in order to set up appropriate infrastructure allowing the use of Cloud Computing services in Arab schools and universities
  • Develop capacity in the use of Cloud Computing services in education in the Arab region.

ALECSO project to promote use of ICT in education for people with disabilities will:

  • Develop public recognition and awareness on promoting ICT in education for people with disabilities in Arab countries
  • Build capacity for webmasters and developers on improving web sites accessibility
  • Translate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) to Arabic
  • Translate the “Model Policy on Inclusive ICTs in Education” document to Arabic
  • Organize a conference on ICT and Accessibility

In addition to these projects ALECSO is hosting an Arab Forum for Scientific Research and Sustainable Development, in Dubai UAE December 19-21, 2014. As part of this event they will be reporting out on and planning future activities related to Arab – International Cooperation. One of these activities deals with Arab-North American cooperation and agreements. They plan to have an Open Book Project panel that engages Arab decision-makers, policy-makers, academics and researchers in advancing this work through planning, objectives setting, components of the project, and defining mechanisms for implementation.

ALECSO explicitly asked the State Dept. to consider transitioning the Open Book Project to an OER Project and move from a short term exchange program format to a longer term cooperative action plan program. They specifically are seeking support for:

  1. Selection, translation and localization of US OER to Arabic
  2. Raising awareness of OER and associated benefits across MENA region
  3. Building capacity of Arab teachers/institutions to produce their own OER and building community across countries for exchange of good educational practices, skills, expertise, know-how, etc.
  4. Developing and maintaining a Pan-Arabian OER infrastructure
  5. Building capacity by helping coalesce scattered initiatives across the MENA region, developing OER communities of practice, and putting in place a coordinated approach that supports dissemination and spread of OER and OER development capability across region
  6. Formulating open policies and regional indicators

Lots going on and heartening to see Creative Commons as a key building block for such a vision.

I was in Tunis right before Tunisia’s October 26th elections. There were signs of tension – parts of Av Habib Bourguiba were sectioned off by barbwire fencing and police were a visible force. There were some incidents on the outskirts. But overall on the streets of the city I’d say things are relatively low key with way less in your face political lobbying than we see in N.A. It is heartening to see the successful democratic election that took place being called a “beacon of hope in an uncertain region“, and Tunisia held up as one of the few countries to come out of the Arab spring with a democracy.

While in Tunis I was saddened to hear the news from back home in Canada. From Tunis I went to Riyadh Saudi Arabia where the October 25 editorial in the local Saudi Gazette said:

“It’s sad and worrying that such incidents have reached a land that is very distant from religious or ideological extremism. It is jarring and alarming that this has happened in Canada, of all places. Canada has always been seen as a successful country, minding its own business. It has always been an open, diverse society that has one of the highest levels of immigration in the world.

Then again, why should Canada be immune? Canadians fought in Afghanistan. The country is a member of NATO and an historic ally of the United States. …Joining the American-led alliance in the fight agains IS was not an easy decision to make in Canada. There was heated debate over the Conservative government’s decision to join the military campaign, as well as to increase anti-terrorist powers at home. …Canada, blessed largely by diversity and peace, is now chillingly aware that vengeance and hate have reached its shores, up to the seat of democracy…”

For me, advocating for openness as a representative of Creative Commons in the Middle East at this time felt like an alternative call to action. Not a politicians call for arms and troops but a call for everyday citizens to pool their knowledge and creativity as an expression of kindred spirit and for the common good of all. 

In Riyadh we were hosted by Abdullah Almegren who leads the National Center for e-Learning & Distance Learning at the Ministry of Higher Education. This trip had many cultural components and I feel honoured by the way our hosts shared the history and culture of their region. Abdullah and his colleagues took us to old town Riyadh where we were suitably garbed. Here I am with Abdullah.

Paul & Abdullah

We were given tours of universities – James and I went to King Saud University and Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University. Mary Lou went to the women’s public university Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University.

Ministry of Education plans for a Saudi Arabian OER initiative were shared with us and we were asked to conduct a workshop for deans of e-learning from universities across the country. As part of this workshop I agreed to speak on Success Factors for a National OER Initiative. Based on the questions we’d been asked, their planning documents, and my own experience with OER initiatives I decided to put together a one page diagram that represents my take on what a national framework for OER should encompass.

National OER Framework Success Factors

This is the first time I’ve tried to consolidate all the various components of a large scale OER initiative into a single diagram. I’ve since added a few additional elements but let me start with a short explanation of this initial version. When it comes to OER I usually get a lot of questions related to technology. However, in this diagram I try and show that there are many components to an OER initiative that have nothing to do with technology and come well before technology decisions need to be made.

I start with Strategy. Large scale OER initiatives should be strategic and purposeful. Doing OER without a real purpose is not a recipe for success. The US Department of Labor TAACCCT program is a great example of a national OER initiative with a clear purpose – move displaced and unemployed workers into jobs in high growth industry sectors by funding community colleges to create stacked and latticed credentials in partnership with industry. All the curricula these community colleges create must be licensed with a Creative Commons CC BY license making them OER.

In addition to strategy a large OER initiative needs incentives which could be monetary or could be other things related to innovation or transformation of teaching and learning.

A national OER framework should include a research component. It is essential to test out the strategy and purpose of any OER initiative and evaluate practices and outcomes on an ongoing basis. Research informs success. I point to a current source of OER research – the OER Research Hub (and in subsequent versions of the diagram have included the OER Knowledge Cloud).

To enable large scale success OER require policy. Creative Commons has been aggregating examples of OER policy from around the world into an OER policy registry. In addition UNESCO has authored an excellent OPER policy development template that describes policy as it pertains to intellectual property, copyright, hiring practices, procurement and many other areas of education operation. (in subsequent versions of the diagram I’ve also included the recently launched Open Policy Network – at Cable Green’s suggestion).

Strategic purpose, incentives, research, and policy all impact the activities of institutions. A national OER initiative involves many institutions. Two institutional practices I’ve come to see as critical to success are:

  1. Forming inter-disciplinary OER teams within an institution made up of faculty, instructional designers, media producers, librarians, and educational technologists. For OER to succeed a team effort is needed and each of these roles has crucial skills and knowledge to contribute. Faculty have the subject matter expertise, instructional designers the ability to design effective teaching and learning structures and activities, media producers can produce rich multimedia, librarians are superb at finding and curating collections, and educational technologists bring essential skills about how best to develop and deliver OER with technology.
  2. Forming communities of practice across all the institutions involved in a national OER initiative that bring together people across institutions by domain (such as arts, science, engineering, etc.) and by role (such as faculty, instructional designers, librarians, etc.) All distinct fields of study and members of OER teams like to talk to their peers at other institutions. The challenges tend to be the same and they frequently learn about great resources their peers have found or new practices that are working well.

For actual OER content I advocate implementation pursue four distinct efforts. First review existing curricula already developed and in use that could simply be openly licensed and made in to OER. Second identify educational content that is desired and search existing OER to see if anything is available. If it is simply adopt it. Sometimes OER is found but is not a perfect fit. If that is the case why not adapt it – translate, localize, customize, update or improve the educational materials so that the fit works. Thats one of the benefits of OER – you can modify it. Finally, as a last measure, having exhausted the previous three efforts if OER is needed where none exists then go ahead and author it.

OER is transforming education by making educational materials visible and available to all. Success is contingent on high quality resources. In higher education research is quality assured through peer review. I believe the same practice is a success factor for OER too. OER should be vetted through a quality review process and peer review.

I place technology next well after all those other key success factors have been dealt with. I highlight a few of the key technology components in the diagram – authoring tools, open file formats (so others can modify the resource downstream), creating portable interoperable content that can be exported out of one Learning Management System and uploaded to another, classification schema for OER, and repositories or referatories where OER can be found, previewed, and downloaded.

Finally we come to usage. OER are multi-use. They can be used in on campus courses, mixed or blended courses, fully online courses, and MOOCs. OER don’t just have teaching and learning value they are useful as a means of marketing to students (try before you buy), they provide a rich source of supplemental resources for students to use when they are studying, they can help industry meet the professional development needs of their employees, they help working adults pursue career pathways, and they attract national and international interest in your institution.

In subsequent versions of this diagram I’ve added accessibility (ensuring OER meet the needs of those less abled) and pedagogy (factoring pedagogical approaches into the design of OER and innovating new open pedagogies based on the unique attributes OER have).

All-in-all I’m pleased with this diagram as it captures over ten years of work in the field on a single page. This diagram is generalizable to any large OER initiative.

From Riyadh I went to Doha in Qatar for meetings with Qatar National University. The Qatar National University has developed a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Strategy for the years 2014 – 2019. A key objective of the strategy is for the university to embrace, promote, practice and evaluate the “Culture of Open Education”.

The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for this objective include:

  • Institutional Openness Policy and Institutional Openness Strategy
  • Open Education Resources – Open Courseware and Open Content contributions
  • Open textbooks
  • Incentives for faculty, research workforce, and staff for engagement in Open Education
  • Licensing and Intellectual Property Rights
  • Assessment, and Quality Assurance
  • Accreditation of Open Access Learning Opportunities
  • Adoption/Integration of OER Courses and programs
  • QU Strategy Document for Open Education
  • Membership in the OpenCourseWare Consortium
  • Open Education Portal with link to QUOpenCourseware and external OERs
  • Translation Capabilities for Arabizing Open Education Resources available in other languages (in particular English), mainly for K-12 Education, and fields taught in Arabic in QU (e.g. social sciences, humanities, business)
  • Offerings of opportunities for outreach, training, and awareness for QU stakeholders, and external stakeholders on issues relevant to Open Access
  • Number and impact of QU open access resources to the local community
  • Engagement of the industry and employees in utilizing and/or co-developing Open Access Resources with QU

The plan has been approved but implementation is on hold. Open Book Project support could provide the necessary confidence needed to move forward with implementation.

Key opportunities exist around:

  • open policy
  • open pedagogies for increasing motivation
  • open licensing key-note talks from visiting scholars
  • OER for first year program
  • early adopter and innovator use of OER – pilots
  • Technology Enabled Learning strategy – but implementation stalled
  • open access publishing of QU research
  • library – institutional repository DSpace – OA research publication and theses, visiting scholars, finding and curating collections of QU specific OER
  • Qatar Foundation – Education Above All initiative

Overall I was deeply impressed by the insights and plans that have emerged in the MENA region in response to the Open Book Project. There is huge potential. The US State Department and others could continue to play a key role as these countries move to implementation. It is not clear if the Open Book Project will continue but even if it doesn’t the recent U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan makes a commitment to promote open educational resources, to help teachers and students everywhere. It outlines three key activities:

  1. Raise open education awareness and identify new partnerships. The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will jointly host a workshop on challenges and opportunities in open education internationally with stakeholders from academia, industry, and government. The session will foster collaboration among OGP members and other interested governments and will produce best practices to inform good policies in open education.
  2. Pilot new models for using open educational resources to support learning. The State Department will conduct three pilots overseas by December 2015 that use open educational resources to support learning in formal and informal learning contexts. The pilots’ results, including best practices, will be made publicly available for interested educators.
  3. Launch an online skills academy. The Department of Labor (DOL), with cooperation from the Department of Education, will award $25 million through competitive grants to launch an online skills academy in 2015 that will offer open online courses of study, using technology to create high-quality, free, or low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials. This academy will help students prepare for in-demand careers. Courses will be free for all to access on an open learning platform, although limited costs may be incurred for students seeking college credit that can be counted toward a degree. Leveraging emerging public and private models, the investments will help students earn credentials online through participating accredited institutions, and expand the open access to curriculum designed to speed the time to credit and completion. The online skills academy will also leverage the burgeoning marketplace of free and open-licensed learning resources, including content developed through DOL’s community college grant program, to ensure that workers can get the education and training they need to advance their careers, particularly in key areas of the economy.

Inclusion of the MENA region in items 1 and 2 could significantly improve the likelihood of successful OER implementation and advance cultural exchange and understanding.

Based on my experience OER affords a cross-cultural education experience and can act as a form of diplomacy, understanding, and peace-keeping. I am deeply indebted to the many people who hosted and helped me on this trip. I really enjoyed the camaraderie with my colleagues Mary Lou Forward, James Glapa-Grossklag and Vladimir Spencer. I was especially touched by the many in country people who shared perspectives and experiences of life in their country. Through OER we share and prosper together. Alhamdulillah.

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A Systems Approach to Open

In the 1990’s I worked for Hughes Aircraft of Canada developing large scale air traffic control systems for international customers around the world. Air traffic control systems are large, complex, mission critical systems. After extensive requirements gathering and analysis an overall architecture for the air traffic control system was defined including complete hardware and software requirements. Development of something so large required the overall architecture to be broken down into subsystem components which were then distributed to different teams for development. The lead systems engineering team had the responsibility of integrating developed subsystems into the final air traffic control system and ensuring that the overall architecture design and requirements were met.

This kind of approach is called systems engineering. The key characteristics of systems engineering are that it:

  • gathers, analyses and shapes customer requirements into an overall system
  • takes a holistic view that breaks the overall system down into components and integrates developed components together into a whole
  • uses and coordinates an interdisciplinary set of expertise and teams
  • focuses on not just the initial development of the system but its life cycle and iterative improvement over time
  • combines technical and human-centred practices and work processes

The early days of open licensing and open resources were primarily shaped by innovators and early adopters using Creative Commons licenses and creating open resources as independent individuals. What I see now is open moving from an individual activity to a large scale system wide activity similar to systems engineering. As open matures a more holistic approach is being adopted involving many people working together.

Increasingly I see a systems approach to open as being the most strategic and impactful. A systems approach takes a multi-stakeholder perspective, strategically considering all the stakeholders in a value chain and how they can work together to achieve a common goal. This shifts the focus from individual adoption of open practices to system-wide adoption. A system working together can achieve greater impact than an individual.

Let me give a couple of examples.

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit held in Vancouver 16-17-Apr-2014 brought together a wide range of organizations and people who are all collectively working on adopting, adapting, and authoring open textbooks for students. An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license (such as Creative Commons), and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. While online versions of open textbooks are available for free if students want hard copy they can print out their own or order a low-cost print version.

Open Textbook Summit logo

The open licensing of a textbook makes it possible for others to add to, adapt, translate, localize, and otherwise improve it. Everyone has 5R rights to:

Retain: Make, own, and control their own copy of the textbook
Reuse: Use the open textbook in its unaltered form
Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the book
Remix: Combine the book with other openly licensed content to create something new
Redistribute: Share copies of the original textbook, revisions, or remixes with others

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit featured speakers representing a wide interdisciplinary group of expertise including government & institution senior administrators, faculty, students (and here), librarians, authors, publishers, and technologists. This wide representation of multiple stakeholders who all play a role in creating open textbooks is a great example of a systemic approach. Each stakeholder’s involvement in creating and using open textbooks is important but it is the cumulative effect of multiple stakeholders working together that creates the greatest impact.

More about the BCcampus Open Textbook initiative can be found here.
If you want to see examples of open textbooks start here.

One of the great things about the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit was that it brought together not only multiple stakeholders but multiple regional open textbook initiatives. Representatives of open textbook initiatives in California, Oregon, Washington and beyond were all in attendance. This enables sharing and comparing of approaches and lessons learned not just from different stakeholders but from different regional system wide initiatives. Its fascinating, and informative, to hear about the BC open textbook initiative and compare it to the one in California, or Washington, or Oregon.

Inevitably the adoption of open practices requires stakeholders to change current modes of operation, sometimes dramatically so. Change of this magnitude can be disruptive and may threaten traditional roles and responsibilities, business models, and financial structures. A natural reaction to such change is fear, risk aversion, and preference for the status quo.

To generate movement and acceptance I’ve found it important to keep the focus on the shared goal, cause, or issue that open solves. In the case of open textbooks the shared goal is making education more accessible and affordable for students. Having a shared goal as the primary focus make business models, roles, modes of operation and the like secondary to the main goal. When the impetus and value associated with achieving the main goal are big enough, change happens, the system and stakeholders adapt, new models and modes of operation emerge. Adoption of open practices is best enabled when the value proposition of doing so is high.

Open textbooks are one great example of a systems approach to open.

Another example emerged for me in the context of leading an open models working group for the World Bank’s Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). Our task was to generate a range of open models that enhance the scalability and sustainability of food safety. Our primary goal was to show how open practices can support GFSP’s efforts to help ensure safe food, increase food supply chain value, accelerate economic growth, alleviate rural poverty, and improve public health outcomes. This is the big picture goal the GFSP seeks to attain.

Can adoption of open practices help the GFSP achieve this goal? If so, how?

The Global Food Safety Partnership is a public/private partnership representing many different stakeholders including:

  • governments
  • funders
  • regulatory agencies – public regulators, inspectors and managers
  • private sector agri-food processors and manufacturers
  • farmers and producers
  • universities, service providers, trainers and certification bodies
  • international organizations
  • non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

This suggests that a systems approach to open is required. It won’t be enough for one stakeholder to adopt open practices. The goals of GFSP are too large for that to be impactful. Achieving the big goals of GFSP requires multi-stakeholder coordinated participation.

One of the significant benefits of open practices is that they open up the opportunity for new stakeholders to get involved and participate. Food storage and cooking at home, the poor, the farmer, the food market seller, the street vendor, these uses and stakeholders are not well represented at the GFSP table. Adoption of open practices opens up the opportunity for them to be involved. If GFSP has a goal of alleviating rural poverty it is essential that they be engaged as active participants.

A systems approach to open offers opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. Multi-stakeholder adoption of open practices generates cumulative benefits for all stakeholders. In a systems approach to open the more stakeholders participating the greater the impact.

Applying a systems approach to open for GFSP considers the role of each stakeholder and what open practices they could adopt that would contribute to the big picture goal GFSP is seeking to realize. Its not a one size fits all approach. Different stakeholders adopt different open practices. Government and funders might adopt open policy that require deliverables produced through the funds they provide to be openly licensed. Providers involved in generating food safety training and learning resources can publish their content as Open Educational Resources. There are many forms of open and a myriad of open practices can be brought to bear on a shared goal.

For the GFSP we defined nine different open practices stakeholders could adopt:

  1. open content (including Open Educational Resources and Open Courseware)
  2. open data
  3. open access (research)
  4. open government
  5. open source software
  6. open standards
  7. open policy
  8. open licensing
  9. open hardware

GFSP Open Model Big Picture

For each type of open practice we provided GFSP relevant examples. Here’s a sampling:

  1. open content – see Digital Green and Food Safety Knowledge Network
  2. open data – the US web site releases government open data.In 2012, a national annual competition was created as part of the Health Data Initiative to stimulate the innovative use of health data in apps and products. The “Health DataPalooza” is now a sold out event attended by over 2,000 health providers, technology developers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and community advocates and has resulted in the launch of new products and companies. OpenFDA, providing easy access to public data of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and highlighting projects using these data, will be implemented in September of 2014.
  3. open access (research) – There are a number of open access journals and online publications that provide free and open access to scholarly articles specific to food safety, foodborne illness, manufacturing and processing practices, etc. In 2007 the US National Institutes of Health enacted an open access policy requiring the researchers they fund to make their final, peer‐reviewed manuscripts publicly available no later than 12 months after official date of publication. The number of open access journals is rapidly increasing – the Directory of Open Access Journals lists over 9,000. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central are two popular examples relevant to food safety.
  4. open hardware – See Open Source Ecology and Farm Hack for examples relevant to food production and food safety. Photosynq is an open research project whose goal is to create a low cost, hand-held measurement device which researchers, educators and citizen scientists can use to build a global database of plant health. A low cost mobile prototype has been developed to replace the large, expensive and stationary equipment that was previously required to measure photosynthesis.

One of the challenges in open work is helping people understand the myriad forms of open and how they work. Defining open practices, along with associated value propositions and examples goes a long way to establishing a common lexicon and a tool box of methods that can be strategically deployed.

All that and more is captured in the GFSP Open Models Concept paper. Feel free to read the whole thing if this interests you. I also want to express deep appreciation and thanks to Theresa Bernardo and Garin Fons who co-wrote this paper with me and to Chris Geith and the World Bank for the opportunity.

Writing the GFSP Open Models paper led me to have a heightened interest in the use of open practices for food related issues. My colleague Puneet Kishor at Creative Commons shared with me another great example – the Open Source Seed Initiative. Linux for Lettuce and The Carrot Hack provide thoughtful coverage of this important development.

Open Source Seed Initiative web site

I also recently finished reading Jeremy Rifkin’s book The Zero Marginal Cost Society (highly recommend) which contains a few other fascinating examples including Shared Earth connecting land owners with gardeners and farmers, and HerbShare which is fundraising to develop online, searchable community maps of fresh herbs available for sharing.

Open Source Seed Initiative web site

A systems approach to open combines a wide range of open practices across multiple stakeholders and applies them to a shared common goal. It’s exciting work that not only accomplishes short term goals but sets in place a process that can scale, iterate, and sustain over the long term.

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New Models for a New Year

All I want for Christmas is for the world to be more open.

NORAD Tracks Santa by NORAD Public Affairs
Public Domain image modified by Paul Stacey

But I know from my interactions all around the world that most people struggle to understand what open is and its implications.

New open models require a rethinking of traditional models whether they be education models, business models, models of government, models of research, models of publishing, music, or the arts.

And of course new models can be scary. They threaten the status quo, they challenge pre-conceived notions on how things work, and generate fear of the unknown.

So I’ve put on my Santa hat and here, on Christmas Eve day, I’m working on what I think of as a gift for the world – new models for a new year. This is a gift we unwrap together with an open mind. Lets get started.

New open models are significantly different. Understanding them is a gradual process, a progression through a series of steps or stages that look something like this:

  1. Awareness – open models are a new concept most people haven’t even heard of. With new models for a new year I aim to make new open models visible. By making you conscious of them I hope you begin to consider them as options, choices you make in how you do your work and how you live your life.
  2. Responding to and overcoming the fear reaction. Almost everyone initially expresses a great deal of fear over new open models. With new models for a new year I aim to alleviate those fears.
  3. Looking at examples. One of the best ways to understand new open models is to look at real examples. Hearing the stories and use cases of those who have successfully adopted new open models creates a sense of possibility, soothes the fears, and inspires.
  4. Trying it out. Once a certain level of comfort has been achieved you’ll begin to see how you can make use of open models personally. As a gift I hope you’ll play with new models for a new year, dip your toe in and try using something that is open.
  5. Going open yourself. Once you’ve sampled someone else’s open work and experienced the benefits I hope you begin thinking about making your own work open – perhaps initially in a small way but gradually more and more.
  6. Adopting open as a cornerstone of practice. Once you get to this stage you’re in all the way and usually become an advocate of new open mdodels who won’t go back.
  7. Spreading open. If you adopt an open model in one area (lets say Open Educational Resources) you’ll become interested in other areas of openness (lets say open policy, or open data, or open access). You’ll start to see the synergistic benefits of adopting more and more open models. The cumulative benefits of multiple forms of openness are greater than each individually.

I aim to get you to stages 5, 6, and 7. But to get to that gift the wrappings associated with the earlier stages must first be removed. We all unwrap gifts in different ways. I’m going to start in the middle with stage 3 and use examples to work through the earlier stages and to lead to the more advanced stages.

Here are some wonderful examples of people using new models of openness.
Team Open.

Team Open Heading

The Power of Open.

Power of Open

New models work for both the public and private sector. Both the public and the private sectors can realize social and economic benefits through open models that cannot be attained in any other way. This is an important part of the gift so lets unwrap both the public and private sector aspects of new open models.

New Open Models in the Public Sector

The benefits of openness are often more readily understood in the public sector. The basic tenet of open models in the public sector is that public funds should result in public goods. The public should get what it paid for. I can see you all nodding. Yes, you say money I pay in taxes should result in goods and services I have access to. Yet, the truth is under current models this is not typically the case.

Lets take research. This diagram shows the current funding cycle for research.


As you can see the public pays for research and then pays again to get access to the results of that research. This limits dissemination, economic efficiency, and social impact.

New open models change that process in subtle but important ways that ensure the public does get access to what it pays for as shown in this diagram.


As you can see new open models maximize dissemination, economic efficiency, and social impact.

Governments everywhere are starting to get the picture not only for research but for many other aspects of public sector work. 2013 public sector use of new open models includes:

These are all fantastic in their own right and the Open Government Partnership maps out many more ways governments are pursuing new open models.

In the new year I expect to see new open models spread from single to multiple use cases within these early adopters and more public sector organizations to follow suit. For me the real potential of new open models exists in the combinatorial effect of combining open models. This is “stage 7 spreading open” I describe in my progression at the start of this post. When public sector organizations adopt openness as a new operating principle across all their activities the combined impact will be even greater. Let me give an example.

One of the projects I’m involved with through my work at Creative Commons is the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). This is a World Bank public-private initiative dedicated to improving the safety of food in middle-income and developing countries.


Imagine your public sector organization has responsibilities for food safety. At a very practical level one of the things you’ll need is a training program for food inspectors. Here’s my take on how you could combine multiple means of openness into a whole new approach to putting that training program together.

Step 1: Open License Existing Resources: As a publicly funded agency over the years funds will have been invested in a wide range of standards, competency frameworks of skills and knowledge inspectors require, training manuals, curricula and other resources. As with the research example we saw earlier typically these resources are held all rights reserved with no public access. These legacy resources can all be shared openly by digitizing them and licensing them with a Creative Commons license. This one activity alone, which essentially costs zero additional dollars, leverages and makes available for reuse a large body of existing resources and begins to fulfill your obligation to give the public what it paid for.

Step 2: Adopt an Open Policy: As a publicly funded agency adopt an open policy associated with all future funding grants you award. In this open policy require deliverables from funding awards be openly licensed and made available digitally to the public. (There are lots of existing model policies you could use to create your own open policy including: US Department of Labor’s TAACCCT grant policy and the California Community Colleges Board of Governors Chancellors Office policy)

Step 3: Open License by Default: Adopt a Creative Commons CC BY license as default. This license makes all content (such as curricula developed by developers, marketing and student recruitment resources, etc.) shareable with the public that paid for it. Commercial use of the resource is allowed. The resources can be reused, revised, remixed and redistributed allowing all interested parties to utilize it. Resource use requires attribution be given to the developer.

Step 4: Require Open Educational Resources: Base long term strategy for scaling and sustaining the food inspectors program on Open Educational Resources (OER). This enhances speed of updates, distribution, localization, and translation. It also significantly reduces costs for design, development, delivery, and participation.

Step 5: Use Open Design & Open File Formats: Require developers of the food inspectors training program to make use of existing OER as much as possible when designing and developing training programs. Emphasize the importance of developing all resources and OER as digital resources using open file formats to ensure they are editable and modifiable.

Step 6: Build Open Development Networks: Facilitate matchmaking between those looking for OER and those that have OER. Food inspection is a global need. Build a network of developers who all collectively work on shared food inspection OER they have a mutual need for and coordinate development of new resources across the network.

Step 7: Design for Open Pedagogy: Adopt teaching and learning methods that leverage the open nature of the learning resources and the open web (both resources and social networks). This includes connecting trainees to people and resources on the open web and having students actively modify and improve training materials.

Step 8: Open Delivery: Open up delivery to wide range of service providers who qualify in part based on their expertise in the above and a proven ability to use educational technology.

Step 9: Open Repository: Create a repository on the web, open to all, where openly licensed resources associated with the food inspectors training program are kept. Establish repository librarian like role for managing the collection of resources, ensuring they are appropriately tagged with meta-data (use Learning Resource Meta-data Initiative LRMI), and for curating collections of resources for multi-purpose use.

Step 10: Open Marketing and Recruitment: Develop (and openly license) marketing resources that recruit participants based on the unique value add (including cost/time savings and quality) associated with a food inspector training program that uses open models.

Step 11: Open Analytics: Openly publish a set of analytics/data that define program success. (Analytics could be associated with learning, completion, costs, networks, …) Openly license (using CC0) and transparently report out analytics/data on an ongoing basis.

Step 12: Open Access: Publish any research results that come out of studies done on the food inspectors program and the analytics using Open Access (OA). Provide free, immediate, permanent online access to the full text of research articles for anyone, webwide. This can be done using open access research journals (the golden road of OA) or through archiving articles in open repositories or on the open web (the green road of OA).

Step 13: Open Community: Build an open community around the training including students, developers, suppliers, graduates, … Engage open community in contributing to improvement of the training program, and formation of local, regional, national, and international partnerships.

I know this is a very specific example. But I hope it conveys something of the spreading open thinking that can come to bear on traditional practices. Combining open policy, open educational resources, open access and all the other forms of openness described above increases the overall impact and benefits associated with the approach. Limiting adoption of openness to just one small area also limits impact.

Perhaps by now you’re going OK, I see how new open models can be useful in the public sector but I’m in the private sector how do open models work for me? How can I use open models and still make a living?

New Open Models in the Private Sector

New models for a new year is one of those gifts with multiple presents inside. This is a gift that just keeps on giving. We’ve unwrapped new open models in the public sector, lets look at examples in the private sector. I’ve grouped these examples by industry sector. At the end of each example I’ve provided, in italics, a mini description of how they earn revenue.


The Noun Project: The Noun Project is a platform empowering the community to build a global visual language of icons and symbols that everyone can understand. Icons are designed and contributed by designers from around the world. All icons are licensed using Creative Commons and free to use as long as attribution is given to the creator. Pricing and money comes in to play if you want to use the icons without giving attribution.

Flickr: Flickr is one of the largest photo management and sharing platforms in the world. Flickr lets you store, sort, search and share photos online. Flickr provides Creative Commons license options right from within the platform. Many Flickr users have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license, and you can browse, search and download their photos under each type of license. At you can see the more than 280 million Creative Commons licensed photos users have contributed. Use of Flickr is free but each user is given a maximum limit of 1 terabyte of storage. If you want more than that you have to pay. If you want your photo collection to be ad free you have to pay for a Ad-free subscription account. Flickr also provides printing services for a fee.

Pixabay: On Pixabay you may find and share images free of copyrights. All pictures are published under Creative Commons public domain deed CC0. Sponsored images are shown to finance Pixabay and to provide a choice of professional photos. Sponsored images cost money.

Jonathan Worth, a professional photographer explains how open benefits photographers;


Jamendo: Jamendo offers more than 350,000 free music tracks licensed under Creative Commons, all available for streaming and unlimited download without ads. It allows the public to discover thousands of artists of all genres who have chosen to distribute their music independently outside the traditional system of collecting societies. Jamendo artists can choose to join the Jamendo PRO service that allows them to sell commercial licenses of their music for professional uses, such as music synchronization for audio-visual productions or broadcasting in public spaces. You can search for music on Jamendo using the CC Search tool or directly on the Jamendo web site.

ccMixter: ccMixter is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want. One out of six uploads to ccMixter are used in a YouTube video, Flickr moving image, podcast, compilation album and thousands of other places all over the web. ccMixter is ad free and free to creators and listeners. Funding is generated through sales of memberships to artists clubs giving you an inside access and experience with the artist including access to things like Digital-LPs, CD-quality downloads, private blogs and other unique things you can’t get anywhere else.

SoundCloud is a social sound platform for people to create and share music and sounds. Recording and uploading sounds to SoundCloud lets people easily share them privately with their friends or publicly to blogs, sites and social networks. Many SoundCloud songs and sounds are licensed with Creative Commons. Use the url to see SoundCloud sounds and songs licensed with Creative Commons. Certain features of the Platform are only available to registered users who subscribe for a “Pro” or “Pro Unlimited” account. These paid accounts provide extensive stats such as count plays, likes, comments, downloads, who’s playing your sounds and where they are.

MuseScore: MuseScore: provides free and open source software that allows musicians to quickly create sheet music. They also provide a space where you can share your sheet music and comment on others. MuseScore lets people share music under all rights reserved or openly license their music using Creative Commons licenses. For a fee you can get a “pro” account where you have unlimited storage, detailed stats on how popular your scores are, and no ads.

Jonathan Coulton: a professional musician who uses open business models. See The New Music Biz: Cracking the Code to Online Success video explaining how he does this.

Books & Manuals

Boundless: Boundless is building an innovative learning platform by curating the world’s best open educational resources in 20+ subjects and delivering interactive learning tools to college students. Students at thousands of colleges are ditching expensive textbooks and discovering Boundless Learning Technologies that go way beyond traditional books. Boundless textbooks are available for free download as a .pdf. Boundless makes money from advertising embedded in the free, online education materials on their web site. Paid premium access gives you access to the book in their learning platform across multiple channels, including mobile, website, and iBooks.

Pratham Books: Pratham Books has been a front-runner in adopting a Creative Commons licensing framework and in the last 5 years has released over 400 stories and hundreds of illustrations under a Creative Commons CC BY or CC BY-SA license. Their vision is to put ‘a book in every child’s hand’. It makes money by selling hard copy print versions. Because the books are licensed with CC licenses other organizations and individuals have converted their books to audio, Braille, and DAISY giving visually impaired access to the books and saving Pratham the cost of doing so themselves.

Autodesk: In July 2013 Autodesk announced that its Media & Entertainment (M&E) support and learning content for its 2014 product line is now live and available under Creative Commons (CC) licensing; that equates to 20,000 pages of documentation, 70 videos and 140 downloadable 3D asset files. Autodesk also plans to publish product help materials, its Knowledge Base and Discussion Forums, as well as past and future training content from Autodesk University under the Creative Commons model. This is all part of Autodesk’s ongoing support of students’ pursuit of careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Autodesk’s goal is to ensure the next generation of designers, engineers and digital artists have great training and free access to the same software that professionals use every day. Autodesk makes its money from its software.

Cory Doctorow: Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author with a vast amount of work under his name. Cory, as a very early adopter of Creative Commons, has been producing Creative Commons licensed works since 2003 with the publication of the first CC licensed novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. See Cory’s views on openness in Giving it Away chapter in Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future


YouTube: YouTube has built into its platform the option of posting a video to YouTube using a Creative Commons license. As of July 2012 the YouTube Creative Commons video library contained over 4 million videos from organizations such as C-SPAN,, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera. From the YouTube home page if you type in your search term followed by a comma and then “creativecommons” the videos returned are CC licensed. lets you see the most viewed and most reused Creative Commons licensed videos. Not only can you can mark your videos with a Creative Commons license when uploading them to YouTube you can also incorporate the millions of Creative Commons-licensed videos on YouTube when creating your own videos using the YouTube Video Editor. Within the YouTube Video Editor you can click on the CC tab to find content available under a Creative Commons license. YouTube and its users make money through advertising.

Vimeo: Vimeo makes it easy to upload and share videos. You can share a video publicly or privately. Vimeo is also a community platform enabling you to pick filmmakers you want to subscribe to, receive updates from, and send messages to. Many Vimeo entrepreneurs and artists use Creative Commons licenses to gain exposure, widespread distribution, and secure a return on their creative investment. Vimeo has integrated Creative Commons license choices right into their platform. For a fee Vimeo provides users with ftp and dropbox integration, mobile/tablet/TV compatibility, customizable video player, html5 compatibility, etc. Vimeo On Demand supports users interested in renting or selling their videos. Vimeo’s Tip Jar lets fans to show their appreciation for videos with small cash payments to the creator.

For more on filmmakers use of new open models see: CC Filmmakers and Festivals Change the Rules


IBM. See A history of IBM’s open-source involvement and strategy for a description of their thinking.

Red Hat: Red Hat provides a portfolio of products and services in support of enterprise adoption of Linux open source software. Red Hat provides solutions to more than 90% of the Fortune 500 companies. Open source software makes vendor lock-in a thing of the past. Linux is free open source software. Red Hat makes its money providing support, consulting, and training services for that software.

Android: Android is open source software and Google releases the source code under the Apache License. According to Wikipedia as of November 2013, Android’s share of the global smartphone market, led by Samsung products, has reached 80%. The open source nature of Android lets third party’s rapidly produce apps. As of May 2013, 48 billion apps have been installed from the Google Play store, and as of September 3, 2013, 1 billion Android devices have been activated. The software is free and open, the phones, tablets and other devices using the software cost money – as do many of the apps.


figshare: figshare is a platform that allows researchers to publish all of their data in a citable, searchable and sharable manner. All figures, media, poster, papers and multiple file uploads (filesets) are published under a CC-BY license. All datasets are published under CC0. figshare offers unlimited storage space for data that is made publicly available on the site, and 1GB of free storage space for users looking for a secure, private area to store their research. Users of the site maintain full control over the management of their research whilst benefiting from global access, version control and secure backups in the cloud. For a fee figshare provides users with larger private storage, larger file size limits, and collaborative spaces. figshare also does custom-branded spaces for institutions for a fee.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all private sector corporate entities using new open models, merely a sampling. There are many more. But you can see that open models do not preclude revenue generation and earning a living. New open models can be very successful business strategies.

Fundamental Building Blocks of New Open Models

There is one more part to this gift that lies at the very core of new open models. The gift within the gift. Lets unwrap the fundamental building blocks on which new open models are built.

New open models are built on three fundamental building blocks – digital, free, and open. There are lots of models that use just one or two of these building blocks but the new emerging models I’m referencing use all three.

1. Digital
The bits and bytes of digital things are fundamentally different than the atoms of physical things. Technology advances are rapidly increasing bandwidth, storage, and computing processing speeds. Semiconductor chips roughly double the number of transistors they hold every eighteen months. The number of bytes that can be saved on a given area of hard disk doubles every year. The speed at which data can be transferred over a fiber-optic cable doubles every nine months. At the same time costs associated with processors, storage and bandwidth halves at the same rate. The digital building block uniquely provides faster, better, cheaper. At a practical level the costs to store, copy and distribute digital things like images, music, books and data begins to approach $0. The physical realm of atoms and the economics associated with it are based on scarcity. Digital enables abundance. Scarcity in the digital realm is almost always artificially created.

2. Free
As the cost of digital approaches $0 it becomes possible to provide everyone digital resources for free. Furthermore if I have something that is digital and I give you a copy of it, I still have it. This is dramatically different than what happens in the world of physical things. The free building block involves shifting your strategy from conserving resources as scarce commodities to treating them like an abundant commodity. Free enables scale. With technology advances giving us more for less the free strategy spreads costs over a larger and larger base of users. Free is the best way to reach the biggest possible market and achieve mass adoption. If the marginal cost of distribution is free you might as well leverage and multipurpose your resources as much as possible by putting them out there in as many different ways as possible. Of course not everything is free as we’ve seen from the examples above. But the free building block is an essential component of new models. The more people use the free digital resource you provide the more you can build complementary services and products around it. Typically the provision of free to all is funded by complementary products and services that a subset of users pay for.

3. Open
Open is different than free. When things are open you can modify them, use them in whole or in part, improve them, localize them, translate them, and customize them to fit your need and purpose. Just because something is digital and free doesn’t mean it is open. There are lots of free digital things that are closed prohibiting the freedoms and permissions inherent in open. Open adds additional value by permitting change and participation in the act of creation. Open uniquely leverages the network of users by making them active participants in improving and advancing a product or service. The open strategy involves giving up control. Open sees users not just as passive consumers but as active and creative producers – co-creators if you will. Open tends to level the playing field between professionals and amateurs. New open models are not so much based on a “I know what is best” command and control strategy as a collectively we know what is best egalitarian approach. Open invites everyone to actively engage and contribute their knowledge and expertise.

As we enter 2014 I’m excited about new models built on digital, free, and open. Its the combinatorial effect of the three that has such innovative potential. I see in that potential great hope for a better world.

Happy new models for a new year.

Recoding Education Innovation as Freedoms

In the recently released video Recoding Innovation: Free Software – Free Culture, Larry Lessig says the development of a free culture movement came from asking the question “How do we hack the free software movement and turn it into a free culture movement?”

This led me to frame my own question, “How do we hack the free software and free culture movements and turn them into a free education movement?”

Recoding Innovation

Free software and free culture are based on ethical principles of freedom.

With free software the aim is to ensure users control their own computing rather than programs controlling users. Non-free software is under the control of someone else making you dependent on them. Free software liberates your cyber-world giving you as much control as you want.

Software is free software if people who receive a copy of the software have the following four freedoms:

  1. The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Free software expresses and grants these freedoms to others using a set of licenses, the most popular of which are:

Free software starts with a fundamental understanding that the best software builds on software that came before. Developers can only make a new idea useful by combining it with what came before and working together to improve and innovate. Inherently those involved in free software place a high value on community and working collectively to ensure freedom.

It’s interesting to see New Zealand, after five years of debate, pass a new Patents Bill that bans the enforcement of software patents in New Zealand.

But its important to understand that free software is a matter of liberty, not price. As the saying goes, “Think free speech, not free beer.” Indeed the free software that lies at the heart of the Internet, and the individual control it gives us, has created vast economic and social value. New Zealand’s banning of software patents is not anti-business. If anything it acknowledges the criticality of free software principles as a driver of the economy in the digital age.

2246983607_c261de3d9c 827570460_0829760ff4
——–EFF Free Speech Icon / CC BY 2.0———–FREE BEER version 3.2, St Austell / CC BY 2.0

Free culture shares a similar ethic to free software. In the digital world everything we do involves making a copy. Every time you surf the web the pages you visit are “copied” to your screen. In the analog era writers, performers, publishers, and broadcasters were the primary cultural producers. The digital era has placed tools of creation in the hands of all users making everyone creators of cultural work.

Free culture aims to ensure users control their own creative process and actively create culture. Non-free culture is under the control of someone else. Free culture liberates creative processes giving individuals more control. Free culture empowers individual creation, democratizes culture, and ensures we all have the freedom to create and participate in culture.

Like free software, free culture provides users with a set of freedoms. Free culture freedoms are derived from those of free software. Free Cultural Works are works or expressions which can be freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified, by anyone, for any purpose. The Free Cultural Works definition describes the freedoms associated with free cultural works as:

  • the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it.
  • the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
  • the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
  • the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works

Free culture expresses and grants these freedoms to others using a set of licenses. Of the six Creative Commons licenses only two are considered free cultural works licenses:


Creative Commons Attribution CC BY by

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA by-sa

Free culture views sharing and building on the work of others as fundamental freedoms inherent to creative practice. Free culture places a high value on community. At a time when Hollywood, the music industry, and publishers are trying to control culture, free culture is empowering individuals to take control of their creative expression. Free culture invites all people to participate in creation and re-creation of culture. Free culture takes culture out of the control of a few and places it in the hands of many.

But its important to understand that free culture is a matter of liberty, not price. Free culture is not anti-business. Free culture principles like those of free software are drivers of the economy in the digital age. The recently launched Right2Remix initiative in Europe presents the case well. The Right2Remix manifesto says:

We live in an age of remix. Creativity and culture have always drawn from previous works, but with the Internet and digital technologies, the creative re-use of works has been taken to a whole new level. More people are able to edit and share a greater range of works than ever before. More than ever, it has become clear that “everything is a remix!”


Right2Remix goes on to say:

In the classic notion of originality, the new creation tended to disguise the old beyond recognition. The core characteristic of the remix as a cultural practice, however, is that the old remains visible within the new. The remix is a creative copy that is readily identified as such. Since creative copying has become commonplace, the right to remix is a fundamental requirement for freedom of expression and free speech. We formulate the right to remix as a combination of three creative rights:

  • The right to change works during usage and to publish the results. (Transformative usage right(s) with lump-sum compensation, e.g. background music in mobile phone videos)
  • The right to create and to publish remixes of existing works. (Remix right(s) with lump-sum compensation, e.g. fake trailer for a TV series)
  • The right to commercialize remixes, in exchange for appropriate compensation. (Remix commercialization right(s) subject to compulsory licensing, e.g. selling music mash-ups on iTunes)

Notice how Right2Remix acknowledges compensation. I especially like the way it invites those who sign the petition to also provide a link to their favourite remix.

The focus of both free software and free culture is on freedoms that empower individuals. If we are to successfully transfer and apply free software and free culture principles to education it is imperative the focus remain on freedoms and empowering individuals.

Let me hack the language of free software and free culture and apply it to education.

Free education’s aim is to ensure you control your own education and learning. Non-free education is under the control of someone else making you dependent on them. Free education liberates your learning giving you as much control as you want.

Free education has the following four freedoms:

  1. The freedom to access and use education for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study and change education to make it fit your needs.
  3. The freedom to distribute your own education knowledge base so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to improve education, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Inherent in free education is a high value on community as there is an interdependence on others working collectively to ensure freedom. Free education starts with a fundamental understanding that the best education builds on education that came before. You can only make education useful by combining it with what came before and working together. Free education views sharing and building on the work of others as fundamental freedoms. Free education empowers individuals to take control of their education and invites all people to participate in creation and re-creation of education. Free education takes education out of the control of a few and places it in the hands of many.

As I consider this hacked description of free education I’m struck by the focus on empowering individuals. In education there are individuals that have knowledge and skills and individuals that seek knowledge and skills. In education we call the former teachers and the latter students but if we follow the freedoms that free software and free culture espouse we’d do away with this artificial distinction. In free education we all are both teachers and students.

Free software and free culture leveled the playing field making it possible for everyone to improve software and participate in the creation of culture. Are innovations in education equally leveling the playing field?

Open educational resources (OER), open access, MOOCs, open policy, and open data are all current education innovations that are at least partly derived from free software and free culture principles. However, these innovations emerged from and are being driven by government, institutions, business, and faculty. Students are surprisingly absent as creators and active participants in these innovations. Instead students are largely seen as tangential beneficiaries and passive recipients. This is limiting the impact and potential of free software and free culture-like innovations in education. If the principles of free software and free culture are to truly transform education the focus needs to shift to empowering students.

This is easier said than done of course. At this point the locus of power and control in education rests with education systems – ministries, schools, colleges, universities, teachers and administrators. Access to education is limited, competitive, and costly. As a result any student who manages to gain access to education tends to simply comply with what the system tells them they must do for fear of losing their access. However, if we want to leverage lessons learned from free software and free culture we’d be well served focusing on empowering students with freedoms.

As with free software and free culture it’s important to see free education as a matter of liberty, not price. This critical distinction has long been a source of confusion.

In the free software movement large software vendors initially viewed the concept of freely distributed software and universal access to application source code as a loss of intellectual property and threat to their business. In addition, despite free software’s emphasis on free being about freedoms there were many who interpreted free software to mean “no cost”. In the late 1990’s there was a concerted effort to apply free software ideas and benefits to the commercial software industry. The social activism and freedom focus of the free software movement did not appeal to most companies and a way to rebrand the free software movement to emphasize the business potential of sharing and collaborating on software code was sought. The new rebranding name that emerged was “open source” and this was quickly adopted. Today large software vendors like IBM, Oracle, Google, and Microsoft are active developers in open source software.

Proponents of Open Source Software sought to dump the moral ethical freedoms focus of free software which they found confrontational and focus instead on the pragmatic business model for software development and marketing. Toward that end an Open Source Definition of open source software was created that shifted from describing freedoms to expressing the conditions that must be met for something to be considered open source software. The Open Source Definition has ten conditions.

I think its fascinating to see that in education the innovations are named Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Access, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Open Policy, etc. Open, and the conditions that must be met for something to be open, largely dominate the discussion – not freedoms. Further muddling matters is the reality that some of these innovations, like MOOCs, are simply free of cost and don’t meet the conditions of openness as David Wiley so aptly describes. To curb open-washing I expect we’ll eventually see a set of requirements that must be met before something is certified as open similar to those required for food to be deemed organic.

There is a critical difference “open” and “freely available on the Internet”. Freely available on the Internet means you can access and see something online. But your access is completely controlled by whoever is making that available and you have no rights to use it, change it or redistribute it without their permission. Facebook is freely available on the Internet but it certainly isn’t open. You may be accessing it at no cost but the terms of use require you to accept a deluge of advertising and be willing to turn over data on your interests and identity in exchange. MOOCs are freely available on the Internet but they aren’t open either – you have no rights to reuse, remix, revise or redistribute. Freely available on the Internet at no financial cost usually requires you to accede control and freedoms.

I am a strong advocate for the open education innovations but increasingly frame their importance and their future sustainability by examining them from the perspective of freedoms. So lets look at education innovations through the frame of freedoms.

cMOOCs definitely embody both openness and many of the freedoms I think free education is about. As Michael Caulfield notes in his xMOOC Communities Should Learn From cMOOCs post:

“When you finish a cMOOC, your relationships with members of that course don’t end. You don’t keep in touch with all 10,000 people, of course, but people in a cMOOC often cite the valuable relationships they fostered in the cMOOC as one of the big takeaways. These people end up part of their permanent Personal Learning Network, as members of their twitter feed, as tumblr or blogger friends, as emailable resources, etc. On the other hand, much xMOOC social connection seems to die at the end of the course, and not persist in any useful way.”

cMOOCs value community in the same way free software and free culture do.

Free education innovations are primarily taking place outside formal education systems.

Peer2Peer University
Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2Pu focuses on learning for the people, by the people on almost anything. Three core values guide everything P2Pu does: openness, community and peer learning.


Webmaker is a Mozilla project with the goal of encouraging millions of people around the world to move beyond using the web to making it. Webmaker is a combination of tools, teaching & learning, and community.


I read through the Open University’s Innovating Pedagogy 2013 report with my education innovation as freedoms frame and found a number of intriguing examples.


Let me quote descriptions from that report of emerging pedagogy that embody and put in to practice some of these freedoms:

Crowd learning

Crowd learning describes the process of learning from the expertise and opinions of others, shared through online social spaces, websites, and activities. Such learning is often informal and spontaneous, and may not be recognised by the participants as a learning activity. In this model virtually anybody can be a teacher or source of knowledge, learning occurs flexibly and sporadically, can be driven by chance or specific goals, and always has direct contextual relevance to the learner. It places responsibility on individual learners to find a path through sources of knowledge and to manage the objectives of their learning. Crowd learning encourages people to be active in setting personal objectives, seeking resources, and recording achievements. It can also develop the skills needed for lifelong learning, such as self-motivation and reflection on performance. The challenge is to provide learners with ways to manage their learning and offer valuable contributions to others.

I found the examples of Stack Exchange and Forvo particularly intriguing.

Stack Exchange is a growing network of individual communities, each dedicated to serving experts in a specific field. Stack Exchange builds libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community’s area of expertise. User contributions are licensed using a Creative Commons Share Alike license.


Forvo is the largest pronunciation guide in the world. On Forvo you can ask for how a word or name is pronounced and another user will pronounce it for you. You can also help others by recording your pronunciations in your own language.


Maker culture

Maker culture encourages informal, shared social learning focused on the construction of artefacts ranging from robots and 3D-printed models to clothing and more traditional handicrafts. Maker culture emphasises experimentation, innovation, and the testing of theory through practical, self directed tasks. It is characterised by playful learning and encourages both the acceptance of risk taking (learning by making mistakes) and rapid iterative development. Feedback is provided through immediate testing, personal reflection, and peer validation. Learning is supported via informal mentoring and progression through a community of practice. Its popularity has increased due to the recent proliferation of affordable computing hardware and 3D printers, and available opensource software. Critics argue it is simply a rebranding of traditional hobby pursuits. Proponents contend that recent evolutions in networking technologies and hardware have enabled wider dissemination and sharing of ideas for maker learning, underpinned by a powerful pedagogy that emphasises learning through social making.

Maker Faires are happening all over the world.
Maker Faire

Rafi Santo’s post Maker Faire 2012: Nerdy Derby as Inspirational Pedagogy provides a good analysis of how this method of education stacks up against the classroom.

Citizen inquiry

Citizen inquiry refers to mass participation of members of the public in structured investigations. It fuses the creative knowledge building of inquiry learning with the mass collaborative participation exemplified by citizen science, changing the consumer relationship that most people have with research to one of active engagement. The concept is that people who are not research professionals engage in collaborative, inquiry based projects. For each investigation, they gather evidence of similar successful projects, create a plan of action, carry out a controlled intervention if appropriate, collect data using desktop and mobile technologies as research tools, and validate and share findings. Citizen inquiry not only engages people in personally meaningful inquiry, it can also offer the potential to examine complex dynamic problems, such as mapping the effects of climate change, by means of thousands of people collecting and sharing local data.

There are many examples of this. Here is just one:

Galaxy Zoo
Galaxy Zoo is a web-based citizen science project that use the efforts and abilities of volunteers to help reseachers deal with the flood of data that confronts them. Galaxy Zoo provides a data set made up of a million galaxies imaged by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and engages citizens in classifying them. More than 50 million classifications were received by the project during its first year, contributed by more than 150,000 people.

I highly encourage you to read the entire Innovating Pedagogy 2013 report to get the full picture.

* * * * * * * *
As you filter through the media hype surrounding education innovations and attempt to determine what is important and what isn’t, I hope you’ll join me in recoding education innovations as freedoms.

Education innovations should:

  • empower us to control our own education
  • engage us as both students and teachers
  • create community
  • encourage us to build on existing knowledge – remixing, adapting and improving it
  • distribute community built knowledge bases as public goods shared with and accessible to all

The Pedagogy of MOOCs

There is a great deal of energy, enthusiasm, and change happening in today’s education sector. Existing and new education providers are leveraging the Internet, ICT infrastructure, digital content, open licensing, social networking, and interaction to create new forms of education. Open Educational Resources (OER) (including open textbooks), Open Access, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have all gained traction as significant drivers of education innovation.

MOOCs in particular are stimulating widespread discussion around the potential to reach and serve hundreds of thousands of learners who would otherwise not have access to education. Like all of you I’ve been tracking MOOC’s with great interest.

While MOOC’s have attracted huge attention, and hype, for supporting massive enrollments and for being free its the pedagogical aspects of MOOC’s that interest me the most.

The challenge is this – How can you effectively teach thousands of students simultaneously? I’m fascinated by the contrast between post-secondary faculty and K-12 teacher contract agreements that limit class size and the current emergent MOOC aim of having as many enrollments as possible. What a dichotomy.

MOOC’s have done a great job at creating courses open to massive enrollments from anywhere around the world. But how well are MOOC’s doing at actually successfully teaching those students? Based on MOOCs equally massive dropout rates having teaching and learning success on a massive scale will require pedagogical innovation. It’s this innovation, more than massive enrollments or free that I think make MOOC’s important. Let me explain.

MOOC’s originated in Canada and I’ve been fortunate to have followed and experienced the early pioneering work of people like Stephen Downes, Alec Couros, Dave Cormier, and George Siemens. In 2007 there was Social Media & Open Education, in 2008 & 2009 Connectivism, in 2010 Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge, in 2011 Learning and Knowledge Analytics which we hosted in the BCcampus SCoPE online community. For a more complete listing see Stephen Downes Partial History of MOOC’s.


All of these early MOOC’s were open to anyone to participate. Some of these early MOOC’s, taught by university faculty, had tuition paying students taking the course for university credit who were joined in the the same class with non-tuition paying, non-credit students who got to fully participate in a variety of non-formal ways. Alec Couros pedagogically designed his graduate course in a way that relies on the participation of non-credit students. Other early MOOC’s were solely offered as a form of informal learning open to anyone for free without a for-credit component.

Alec Couros produced a YouTube trailer for his Social Media & Open Education course that conveys a bit of the creative fun associated with these early MOOC’s.

The most fascinating aspect of these early MOOC’s was the pedagogical approach. Dave Cormier in this YouTube video maps out the five steps to success in a MOOC – 1. Orient, 2. Declare, 3. Network, 4. Cluster, 5. Focus.

He goes on to explain in this Knowledge in a MOOC YouTube video that a MOOC is just a catalyst for knowledge and that knowledge in a MOOC is emergent.

The “How this course works section” of the Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge MOOC provided participants with the following:

PLENK2010 is an unusual course. It does not consist of a body of content you are supposed to remember. Rather, the learning in the course results from the activities you undertake, and will be different for each person.

In addition, this course is not conducted in a single place or environment. It is distributed across the web. We will provide some facilities. But we expect your activities to take place all over the internet. We will ask you to visit other people’s web pages, and even to create some of your own.

This type of course is called a ‘connectivist’ course and is based on four major types of activity.

The four types of activity are described as; 1. Aggregate, 2. Remix, 3. Repurpose, 4. Feed Forward.
I encourage you to read the full description here.

In those early pioneering days MOOC’s were exciting for their pedagogy!
Even the courses were about innovative pedagogy – Social Media & Open Education, Connectivism, Personal Learning Environments, Learning Analytics.

In 2011 MOOC’s migrated to the US with Jim Groom’s DS106 Digital Storytelling at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. DS106 is a credit course at UMW, but you can also be an “open participant“. As described in About ds106 you can “join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.”


DS106 took MOOC’s in new pedagogical directions.

DS106 has a highly innovative pedagogical approach to assignments. Rather than confidential, secret assignments created by faculty, ds106 course assignments are collectively created by course participants over all offerings of the course and are posted online in an Assignment Bank anyone can access.


Rather than specifying assignments everyone must do, participants choose from ones in the Assignment Bank. Each assignment has a rated difficulty of 1 to 5 stars and a particular assignment for a course topic might require students to complete 10 stars worth of say mashup assignments, or design assignments, or audio assignments – there are ten different assignment categories. This model of having course participants collectively build the course assignments which are then used by students in future classes is a hugely significant pedagogical innovation.

I’ll always remember ds106 as the first ever online course with its own radio station ds106 radio. I was totally impressed by the enthusiasm, connection, and devotion the radio station generated in course participants. The pedagogical potential of a course radio station is an exciting but relatively unexplored opportunity. I’ve been disappointed to not see this innovation adopted by other initiatives.


The next big step for MOOC’s came in the fall of 2011 when Stanford Engineering professors offered three of the school’s most popular computer science courses for free online as MOOC’s – Machine Learning, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, and Introduction to Databases. The Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course offered free and online to students worldwide from October 10th to December 18th 2011 was the biggest surprise. Taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig this course really was massive attracting 160,000 students from over 190 countries.


Pedagogically though these MOOC’s from Stanford were a step backward. The teaching and learning experience was comprised of watching video lecture recordings, reading course materials, completing assignments and taking quizzes and an exam. Gone were the rich pedagogical innovations from the earlier MOOC’s. Instead these MOOC’s simply migrated campus-based didatic methods of teaching to the online environment. Most disappointing of all was the absence of any effort to utilize the rich body of research that had already been done on how to teach online effectively.

While didactic, lecture based methods of teaching have long been the mainstay of bricks and mortar schools we know that this method of teaching does not transfer well to online. For this reason alone I’m not surprised MOOC’s have high drop out rates.

Sebastian Thrun’s experience teaching the Stanford Artificial Intelligence MOOC was so compelling that he left Stanford and raised venture capital to launch Udacity with a mission to change the future of education by making high-quality classes affordable and accessible for students across the globe.


The Udacity FAQ provides some explanation of the pedagogy. Udacity courses include lecture videos, quizzes and homework assignments. Multiple short video sections make up each course unit. Each video is roughly five minutes or less, giving you the chance to learn piece by piece and re-watch short lesson portions. All Udacity courses are made up of distinct units. Each unit is designed to provide a week’s worth of instruction and homework. However, since Udacity enrollment is open, you can take as long as you want to complete Udacity courses. Udacity courses include discussion forums and a wiki for course notes, additional explanations, examples and extra materials. Each course has an area where instructors can make comments but the pedagogical emphasis is on self-study.

In a nod to the importance of discussion in online learning Udacity courses do have discussion forums where students can post any ideas and thoughts they have about the course, ask questions, and receive feedback from other students. Forum posts can be “up-voted” by other students simply by clicking a thumbs up button on the left side of the post. When a question or answer is up-voted, the student who posted it gains “karma points”. These points serve as a rough measure of the community’s trust in him/her. On the other hand, if a post is misleading, it will be down-voted. Various moderation tasks are gradually assigned to students based on those points. The inclusion of discussion forums is a definite plus for Udacity MOOC’s as they provide a means for students to help and learn from each other. Udacity should be encouraged to move beyond using discussion simply as an informal system of help to being a key means by which learning occurs and more tightly integrate discussion into the content and assignments.

Further indication of the importance of enhancing MOOC’s with social learning can be seen by the fact that Udacity students have begun to organize their own meetups where local students physically meet to study together, ask questions, and share ideas. Udacity has put in place a community site to help students do this and 3,199 students have formed study groups across 520 cities.


In late December 2011 MIT announced edX with the aim of letting thousands of online learners take laboratory-intensive courses, while assessing their ability to work through complex problems, complete projects, and write assignments. As with other MOOC style offerings students won’t have interaction with faculty or earn credit toward an MIT degree. However, for a small fee students can take an assessment which, if successfully completed, will provide them with a certificate from edX.


Pedagogically I find edX odd. First their primary goal as stated in their FAQ is to improve teaching and learning on campus. Say what? You want to do a MOOC that teaches tens of thousands of students online in order to improve teaching on campus?

Second edX describes one of its distinguishing features as supporting faculty in conducting significant research on how students learn. There is no mention of applying research coming out of online learning to edX. Its almost as if online learning has yet to be invented. This makes it seem that the edX MOOC students are merely guinea pigs whose learning data will be collected by faculty as research data and used to benefit and improve the learning experience of tuition paying on-campus students.

A third edX oddity is that it isn’t trying to levearge MIT’s own OpenCourseWare materials by combining them with innovative online learning pedagogies for use as MOOC’s. Its almost like MIT edX and MIT OCW are from completely different institutions that have nothing to do with each other.

The focus of edX so far seems primarily to be not on pedagogy but on engineering an open source MOOC platform. In a strange twist edX announced in April 2013 that it has merged its own software development efforts with Class2Go an open source MOOC platform developed by eight engineers in Stanford’s computer science department. I think its great that this platform will be open source but I’m mostly interested in the extent to which the tool builds in support for effective, scaleable online learning pedagogies.


Class2Go supports videos from professors with in-video quizzes, formative and summative exercises, and frame extracting that lets students jump to a specific part of a video. Does this sound like pedagogical innovation to you? The only concession I see to the rich research of online learning is inclusion of discussion forums to “get people talking.” I wish edX was a little less engineering centric and way more pedagogically centric.

Coursera founded by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University launched in April 2012 as an educational technology company offering massive open online courses (MOOCs). Shortly after launch Coursera was working with Stanford University, the University of Michigan, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania. By February 2013 Coursera had over 69 university partners and was offering courses in Chinese, Italian, and Spanish.


Coursera is one of the few MOOC’s that actually describes its pedagogical foundations.

Coursera pedagogy involves video lectures, mastery learning, and peer assessment. Coursera is providing its university partners with a flipped classroom opportunity whereby the lecture, course reading, and to some extent assessment and peer-to-peer interaction for campus-based tuition paying students are handled in the MOOC with on-campus activities focused more on active learning. However, for Coursera MOOC participants who are not tuition paying campus-based students there is no active learning component. Although once again students are tossed a tidbit of social learning in the form of discussion forums. Lo and behold this actually improves learning as Clint Lalonde points out in “Online interaction improves student performance. Gee, imagine that.”

All of these new MOOC’s are focused on objectivist and behaviourist methods of teaching and learning. Their pedagogy is based on an assumption that when there are tens of thousands of learners social learning isn’t feasible. So instead of interaction with a person these MOOC’s focus on replacing the human social component of learning with a kind of artificial intelligence interaction with the platform. Coursera holds this up as good practice by noting, “Even within our videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: the video frequently stops, and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material.” Designing MOOC pedagogies based on what some are calling robot marking jeopardizes quality, learning outcomes, and ignores best practices in online learning.

I’m not the only one who thinks MOOC pedagogy needs work, see:
MOOCs and the Quality Question
What’s right and what’s wrong about Coursera-style MOOCs
MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera

Students tend to find online behaviourist and objectivist learning pedagogies boring, impersonal, and not interactive or engaging. But those of us who have been working in the field and taken exemplary online learning courses know that in fact online learning pedagogies can be incredibly social even more so than campus-based courses. It is relatively easy to instructionally design online learning so that every student engages in deep discourse.

Early MOOC’s and exemplary online learning pedagogies recognize and utilize the breadth of knowledge and experience students participating in the course have. The magic of online learning happens when extensive effort is made to tap into student expertise through blogs, chat, discussion forums, wikis, and group assignments. Socio-constructivist and connectivist learning theories acknowledge and embrace the social nature of learning. Learning is not just acquiring a body of knowledge and skills. Learning happens through relationships. The best online pedagogies are those that use the open web and relationship to mine veins of knowledge, expertise, and connections between students, between students and the instructor, and between students and others on the open web.

The big new MOOC’s also seem to be ignoring Open Educational Resources (OER) and the incredible pedagogical affordances openly licensing course content brings. Many of the early MOOC’s were not just open in terms of enrollment they were open in terms of utilizing the open web, utilizing open content, and making continuous improvement of courses an integral part of the teaching and learning experience. The new MOOC’s seem intent on enclosing students in a closed environment that is locked down and DRM’ed in a proprietary way. See Coursera, Chegg, and the Education Enclosure Movement for a good description of this direction.

Like many of my Canadian brethren I mourn the loss of early MOOC pedagogical innovations and find diagrams like this that purport to show Major Players in the MOOC Universe a form of colonialism that attempts to rewrite MOOC history.

However, I do see MOOC’s as a major innovation and hold out hope that other MOOC providers will differentiate themselves by being open and by fully utilizing social learning.

NovoEd has caught my eye. New MOOC Provider Says It Fosters Peer Interaction

And OpenupEd the first Europe-wide MOOC initiative, launched with the support of the European Commission. OpenupEd is committed to Digital Openness using open source software, open access, and open educational resources for their MOOC’s.

Let me end with my own pedagogical recommendations for MOOC’s:

  • Be as open as possible. Go beyond open enrollments and use open pedagogies that leverage the entire web not just the specific content in the MOOC platform. As part of your open pedagogy strategy use OER and openly license your resources using Creative Commons licenses in a way that allows reuse, revision, remix, and redistribution. Make your MOOC platform open source software. Publish the learning analytics data you collect as open data using a CC0 license.
  • Use tried and proven modern online learning pedagogies not campus classroom-based didactic learning pedagogies which we know are ill-suited to online learning.
  • Use peer-to-peer pedagogies over self study. We know this improves learning outcomes. The cost of enabling a network of peers is the same as that of networking content – essentially zero.
  • Use social learning including blogs, chat, discussion forums, wikis, and group assignments.
  • Leverage massive participation – have all students contribute something that adds to or improves the course overall.


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