Paul Stacey


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 data.gov 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.



An Exploration of Open Licenses and Financial Remuneration

October was an action packed month with the Creative Commons Canada Salon, Open Education Conference, and BCcampus OER Forum.

Some personal highlights:

The BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation, and Technology open textbook announcement. This initiative will support creation of open textbooks for the 40 most popular first and second-year courses in the province’s public post-secondary system. The open textbooks will be openly licensed and made available for free online, or at a low cost for printed versions, to approximately 200,000 students. I’m especially pleased that BCcampus will lead the implementation of this initiative engaging B.C. faculty, institutions, and publishers through an open request for proposals. Tony Bates’ excellent blog provides additional insight and I personally am hopeful that some coordination can happen between BC and California where, in late September, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills that provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges.


Visual Notes of Honourable John Yap’s announcement at #opened12 (CC BY-NC-SA) by Giulia Forsythe

Giulia Forsythe’s graphic facilitation skills wonderfully captured the BCcampus OER Forum events too. See – BCcampus OER Forum Summary.

The Open Education Conference was fantastic this year. The jam-packed program had an amazing array of sessions organized around micro-themes including – world wide initiatives, business models, open textbooks, open assessment, alternate credentials, social media and OER, data and analysis, and open from a wide range of perspectives including legal, faculty, students and librarians. Open has clearly gone beyond content and is pervading the entire education sector. The conference web site program has presentation materials and audio streams from sessions. I encourage you to explore them and see for yourself how open education is evolving. A stand out highlight was the evening dinner boat cruise with an awesome OpenEd music jam featuring attendees plus Gardner Campbell and John Willinsky, two of the keynote presenters. A conference where the keynote speakers rock out – my kind of conference! Enjoy it yourself:



Special thanks to Novak Rogic for these awesome videos.

While there is a great deal to assimilate coming out of all these events, I find myself thinking about matters from the Creative Commons Canada Salon that took place in Vancouver 15-Oct-2012.

This event featured a panel of practicing artists sharing how and why they use Creative Commons licenses for their works. I found the remarks of documentary filmmaker Ian MacKenzie especially intriguing. Ian referenced the gift economy, alternative ideas on money and the public commons from the book Sacred Economics, and crowdfunding.

Here’s why this is occupying my thinking. There is a natural inclination to think that Creative Commons open licenses are in opposition to financial remuneration. The thinking goes like this: “If I license my creation in a way that gives others permission to freely access and use it I’m forgoing financial compensation associated with charging for access and use.”

As I consider this I am puzzled by what I see in education.

Lets say I’m an educator employed by a public educational institution. My salary is essentially paid for by public taxpayer dollars. Given the way the economy works – if you pay for a good you get that good, it’s natural to expect that works developed by the educator should be freely accessible for use by the public. Yet this is not the case. Course materials educators create during their publicly paid for employment are not freely available to the public that paid for them. Shouldn’t public funds result in a public good?

But, you might say, it takes money to make the course materials educators create available to the public. This is true, but digital changes the economics of doing so. With digital the cost of copying is close to $0. The cost of distributing digitally is close to $0 as was so eloquently laid out by David Wiley in his presentation at the BCcampus OER Forum. See David Wiley’s presentation in it’s entirety Why Open Education and OER, and their implications for higher education institutions.

Lets try a different example. Lets say I’m faculty engaged in research. I apply for research grants from the national government and use those grants to conduct my research. When I complete that research the results ought to be available to the public who paid for them. But, and this is what I find puzzling, public access to the results of research requires another payment of public money in the form of a journal subscription fee even when the journal is digital. Given that the peer-review process is also supported through public funds, the public ends up paying for something three times, as Dieter Stein outlined in his keynote “Open access: effects and consequences in the management of scientific discourse.” at the University of British Columbia’s Open Access Week. The public 1. pays the scientist, 2. pays to publish, and 3. pays to buy publication. Why does the public have to pay three times?

For more on this I highly encourage you to watch Open Access Explained? from PHD Comics.

See why I’m puzzled? The economics underlying public education are not in line with our expectations of how economies work and, even more puzzling, aren’t in the best interest of the public who is paying for it.

But let me come back to my earlier point. There is a natural inclination to think that Creative Commons open licenses are in opposition to financial remuneration. The thinking goes like this: “If I license my creation in a way that gives others permission to freely access and use it I’m forgoing financial compensation associated with charging for access and use.”

At least in the context of someone being paid by public funds an open license that gives others permission to freely access and use the work isn’t in opposition to financial remuneration. The financial remuneration took place. The Creative Commons license ensures the obligation to the public is fulfilled.

However, what if we look at this from the perspective of an artist, a writer, a musician, a filmmaker. I’d expect artists to be thinking, “I made this and if anyone is going to make money on it it’s going to be me.”

Is it possible to openly license your creative work and still make a living?

I keep coming back to this question as it seems fundamental and generalizable to everyone.
Special thanks to Martha Rans for ensuring it stays front and centre in my thinking.

And so with this question on my mind I paid special attention when Ian Mackenzie spoke at the Creative Commons Canada salon.


Ian Mackenzie speaking at the Creative Commons Canada salon.

My exploration of Ian’s remarks around the gift economy, alternative ideas on money, the public commons and crowd funding took me in interesting directions. Here’s a bit of what I found.

Sacred Economics is a radical rethink of societal values, the role of government, and the commodity we use as money. It envisions decentralized, self-organizing, emergent, peer-to-peer, ecologically integrated expressions of political will. Government becomes the trustee of the commons including “the surface of the earth, the minerals under the earth, the water on and under the ground, the richness of the soil, the electromagnetic spectrum, the planetary genome, the biota of local and global ecosystems, the atmosphere, the centuries-long accumulation of human knowledge and technology, and the artistic, musical, and literary treasures of our ancestors.”

Sacred Economics imagines an ecology of money with many complementary modes of circulation and exchange. In a sacred economy, money goes to those who “contribute to a more beautiful world – for community, for nature, and for the beautiful products of human culture.”

I’m not doing the Sacred Economics justice. There is much to admire and ponder in this work. For a more complete synopsis I encourage you to view Ian Mackenzies video on Sacred Economics.

I found the ideas on alternative forms of money intriguing and spent some time looking at Bit Coin see here and here.

I also ended up checking out a Policy Agenda for the Sharing Economy.

Ian has developed expertise with crowdfunding to the extent that he now offers consulting, strategy sessions and workshops on crowdfunding. His web site has a great list of crowdfunding resources and platforms. The crowdfunding platform listing is particularly interesting as it differentiates general crowdfunding platforms from specialized ones dealing with things like Business, Environmental, Scientific, Social Causes & Non-Profits and hey, even Education! Did you know that Scolaris crowdfunds personal scholarship fundraising?

How about Degreed? Degreed is crowdfunding to create the world’s first Digital Lifelong Diploma, which will ‘jailbreak’ the degree and enable learners to reflect everything they’ve learned, from any source, throughout their lives.

At Kickstarter there is a whole section devoted to artists who are seeking and getting remuneration for their Creative Commons licensed work. See http://www.kickstarter.com/pages/creativecommons.

As I consider larger world events around financial markets, bailouts, and countries massively in debt or bankrupt it makes we wonder whether indeed our current economic model and it’s underlying financial system is serving us well. Clearly a sharing economy, alternative forms of money, and crowdfunding are changing social norms. Whole new conventions around getting paid, raising money, and making an investment are emerging.

Creative Commons licenses are situated within this changing landscape. As I explore the financial remuneration opportunities associated with use of Creative Commons licenses it’s important to point out that Creative Commons license options specifically offer creators choices around licensing their work in ways that provide others with permissions that specify commercial or non-commercial use. An artist who openly licenses their creative work with a Creative Commons license can do so in a way that specifies that users can copy, adapt, modify, publish, display, publicly perform and communicate the work but only for non-commercial purposes. This ensures any financial remuneration coming from the work goes to the creator. On the other hand it encumbers the work with restrictions that may prevent users from using the work in innovative and entrepreneurial ways which the creator could benefit from downstream.

There are a great many differing opinions out there around the suitability of different Creative Commons licenses for different use cases. In fact this is a hotly debated topic right now. See:

I especially appreciated David Wiley’s observations on these discussions in a 27-Nov-2012 Oer-community post where he commented:

“Just as there is not One True License, there is not One True Perspective on this debate. A few examples:

  • Some people look at OER issues from the perspective of the content, and some see them from the perspective of the people who use the content. Content-p drives people to favor SA licenses, to insure that derivatives of the content always remain free. People-p drives people to reject SA, so that derivers always remain free to license their derivatives as they choose. Which is the One True Perspective?
  • In this thread we have already seen people who view NC from the perspective of the licensor and others who see NC from the perspective of the licensee. Licensor-p sees NC as enabling and facilitating commercialization. Licensee-p sees NC as forbidding commercialization. Which is the One True Perspective?
  • As we’re also seeing on this thread, we can look at OER from the perspective of Access to content (without which permissions granted by licenses are meaningless) and from the perspective of the permissions granted by Licenses. I recently discussed these two perspectives in more detail on my blog (http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2596). Which of these perspectives is most important? Which is the One True Perspective?
  • As a final example, some people look at “open” from the perspective of a Bright Line test, while others take a more Accepting perspective. Bright Line-p enables people to make clear distinctions between what is and what is not open. Accepting-p enables people to recognize and value movements toward becoming more open, without passing judgments on people who “aren’t there yet.” Which of these is the One True Perspective?

…LICENSING ARGUMENTS ARE ARGUMENTS OF PERSPECTIVE. When we argue that one particular way of licensing is better than others, we’re really arguing that one perspective is better or truer than others. In other words, whenever we make an argument that says “everyone should use a [free | NC | etc.] license,” we are making a _religious_ argument – an argument which dictates the perspective by which we think everyone else should be judged.

When we move licensing outside the realm of religion, we can recognize the … importance of perspective. We can also realize that, depending on the peculiarities of a specific context and the personal or organizational perspectives of a specific licensor, different licenses will be optimal under different circumstances.

It would be great if the world were simple enough that One License to Rule Them All could exist, but it doesn’t. I wish to Heaven we would stop arguing about it, and just respect individuals and organizations to understand their own contexts, goals, and perspectives sufficiently well to pick the license that best meets their needs.”

There clearly are two sides to the open licensing equation. On one side is the creator or licensor of the work. On the other side is the user or licensee of the work. Openly licensing creative works entails considerations of both. Personally I prefer a range of licenses that provide creators choice in specifying open permissions and limitations. One assertion I’d make is that the more open the license the greater the market participation and the greater the innovation opportunity.

As you can tell I’m very interested in understanding the business models associated with open licensing. There is so much more to explore but let me close this post with a couple of additional examples of how Canadian artists are using Creative Commons licenses.

OK, lets take fellow Canadian Brad Sucks latest album “Out of It”.

Brad sells direct from his own website. You can buy the CD & all the MP3s or just the MP3s as a whole album or individually. Brad recommends a price for each but Brad offers flexible pricing – you can type in whatever price you’re willing to pay or download all the MP3s for free. Brad licenses the whole thing with a Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) license and encourages you to copy and share with your friends.

In his blog about the album he says:

“The only reason I, a dude who made an album by himself in a country basement, has had any sort of success is because people took it upon themselves to share my music with their friends. They remixed it, they used it in their videos, they played it on their podcasts, they included it in software and games and it took on a life of its own.

To sabotage that would be a huge, retarded mistake. Instead I’ll be grateful if Out of It worms around the world in even close to the same freaky way I Don’t Know What I’m Doing did and continues to.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying I love you Internets. Thanks for all your support and I hope you like Out of It.”

Hmmm, interesting. One way artists are making this work is by going direct to fans via the web. The Internet and digital formats change the economics reducing the need for middle men publishers and distributors. Personally I’d prefer as much financial remuneration for artistic creative works as possible go directly to the artist so I’m thinking this is a positive direction overall. It’s also fascinating to see flexible pricing and encouragement of copying.

One final example. Celine Celines based in Montreal has started a new company of open fashion. Using open data and Creative Commons (CC-BY) licensed images from NASA Goddard Photo and Video’s Flickr photostream her first collection is a series of silk scarves. The Hubble images captured on silk are beautiful – see for yourself at her online boutique gallery. This is an interesting example of a user/licensee, Celine, making a creative work out of a creator/licensor NASA image in a way I expect NASA never imagined.


Large silk scarve (CC BY-NC) by Celine Celines

I’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities.
The range of business models and opportunities is vast and varied.
Lots more to come in future blog posts.



Opening Education

Proposed new copyright laws,  confusion over what is allowed and isn’t allowed under fair dealing, Access Copyright’s attempt to increase tariff’s, risk adverse legal counsel advice, universities and colleges pulling out of Access Copyright. Has all this got your head spinning?

In parallel to the changing regime of copyright new open licensing and sharing practices have emerged.

As part of Open Access week BCcampus and partners are hosting an Opening Education event on October 17 to explore how the practices of Open Access research publishing and Open Educational Resource (OER) course content have emerged as complementary and creative alternatives to traditional copyright practices. Join us in this exploration of how creators are using digital open licenses to essentially clear copyright upfront in such a way that sharing and reuse by others is pre-authorized and encouraged.

We’ve created an Opening Education micro-site at http://open.bccampus.ca. This site provides a means for online registration and provides information on the location, speakers agenda, and associated resources. The event will take place face-to-face at Simon Fraser University’s Woodwards campus in downtown Vancouver and be simultaneously webcast over the Internet. The webcast will be recorded and posted to the micro-site for reference after the event.

The event features a wide range of speakers representing organizations who are actively engaged with open access and open educational resources. Presenters include:

  • David Porter, Executive Director BCcampus
  • Sir John Daniel, CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
  • Scott Leslie, Open Education Client Services Manager, BCcampus
  • Venkataraman Balaji, Director for Technology and Knowledge Management, Commonwealth of Learning
  • Wayne Mackintosh, OER Foundation, New Zealand
  • Rory McGreal, Associate Vice President Research & UNESCO OER Chair, Athabasca University
  • Joy Kirchner, Scholarly Communications Coordinator, University of British Columbia Library
  • Paul Stacey, Director Curriculum Development, BCcampus

Resource links on the micro-site are grouped to portray the range of activities each of these speakers and organizations are pursuing around open access and open educational resources. We encourage you to explore the resource links in advance for orientation.

Hope you can join us.

Paul Stacey



The University of Open

I enjoyed the University of Utopia as a provocation. However, as the authors acknowledge, at this point the University of Utopia is largely a critique rather than an alternative utopian vision. That got me thinking about how easy it is to critique something and how hard it is to actually put forward an alternative.

Over the past two years I’ve been noticing a lot of commentary, articles, and conversation lamenting how out of step traditional institutions are with contemporary students and forecasting the demise of the university. Here are a few examples:

End the University as We Know It

The Impending Demise of the University

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

Why Free Online Lectures will Destroy Universities Unless They Get Their Act Together Fast

I read all of these with great interest and have considerable empathy for much of the disenchantment I hear expressed. However, my interest isn’t around the doomsday portent but in unearthing substantive descriptions of alternatives.

I’ve been playing around with some alternatives in my own mind and thought I’d work one of them out here in public. The alternative I’m imagining recasts the traditional “open university” in contemporary terms. It synthesizes multiple related “open” initiatives into a common core operating principle that defines the university and the education it provides.

I’ve started imagining a University of Open.

The University of Open:

  • uses open source software for its administration and for teaching and learning
  • involves students and faculty in research which is published in open access journals for all to see and use
  • operates in an open government/open data way whereby the learning analytics and data about the institution are open and available
  • offers credential education through programs built using open educational resources developed in-house and reused from elsewhere
  • involves all students and faculty as active contributors in one or more of the open communities that open source software, open access, open government/data, and open educational resources rely on
  • expands on the traditional no-entry requirements open-door policy of an “open university” to intentionally and strategically utilize new and emerging open pedagogies

Let me contextualize these bullet points with particulars.

Open Source Software (OSS)

Open source software is computer software whose source code is open to others to study, change, and improve. The fact that the code is open means it can be easily and quickly adapted. Customization and enhancements do not necessarily require large investments nor are they dependent on a proprietary vendors implementation decision or timeline.

There are lots of open source software applications in use in higher education. Applications such as Moodle, MediaWiki, WordPress, Sakai, and Drupal are all open source software applications serving the learning and collaboration side of higher education. Each of these open source software applications have developer communities (Moodle Development Community, MediaWiki Developers, WordPress Developer Documentation, Sakai Community, Drupal Contributors) that are open to anyone to participate in. Source code bugs, improvements and feature requests are all openly shared and managed within these communities creating a transparency around development that is remarkable.

Open source software also lends itself well to higher education institutions joining forces to form community based developer networks collaborating on development of key applications particularly for administrative systems. The open source software application Kuali is being developed by a consortium of universities and companies to handle administrative and operational tasks like general accounting, purchasing, salary and benefits, budgeting, asset management and grants. The system is designed around modules that enable it to be tweaked to work with other existing applications. As part of the consortium there are services for installation, integration and support.

openSIS is another open source software application built to manages student demographics, scheduling, attendance, grades, transcripts, and health records, and its parent company makes add-on modules to support additional features like disciplinary tracking, billing, food service, and bulk email/SMS messaging for emergency contact. In December 2010 the openSIS developers were being inundated with emails and phone calls from users seeking openSIS + Moodle integration to help them run their virtual schools or hybrid schools more efficiently.

There are lots of other examples including the JaSig community developing uPortal, and CAS (Central Authentication Services) and Internet2 – a consortium led by universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies including products such as Shibboleth and Grouper

One key aspect of open source software development is that a large number of the participants in the developer communities are also users of the software. This removes the frequently wide gap between what users want and proprietary vendors are willing to provide.

In the University of Open students, faculty and administrators don’t just use these open source software applications they contribute to their development by participating in the developer communities. Students, faculty, and administrators at the University of Open are active investors in open. Faculty and administrators are expected to devote a certain percentage of their time to open developer communities but students receive “credit” for active contributions.

Open Access

Open access publishing is free, immediate, permanent online access to full scholarly research articles for anyone to access, read, and use. Since the 1990′s, with the advent of the Internet, open access has become a bit of a social movement in academia. The basic underlying principle is that publicly funded research should be freely shared with the public for the common good.

The impetus to move in this direction has been driven by two additional forces. First the cost to produce traditional print-based scholarly journals has been rising rapidly. Publishers recoup those costs by charging libraries a licensing fee to access the journal. However, librarian budgets have not been dramatically increasing and many libraries cannot afford to pay. The result has been decreasing access to research publications. The second force is the potential enabled by the world wide web. Digital publication means that it is now possible to publish a scholarly article and make it instantly accessible anywhere in the world over the Internet. The marginal cost of this distribution is $0.

Some academics and researchers open access publish through what is called self-archiving where authors place their article online in a place where it can be freely accessed by all. Some publishers are now doing open access journal publishing where they provide open access to their articles online, recouping their expenses by charging the author a fee for refereeing and publishing the article instead of the library for accessing the article.

At the University of Open all students and faculty are engaged in research and openly publish their research results through open access methods.

Open Government/Open Data

Open government/open data is a policy and legal framework to open up access to publicly held information, promote transparency, and enable wider economic and social gain. Open government aims to stimulate creative and innovative activities around the use of publicly held information to deliver social and economic benefits. Open government makes government more transparent and open in its activities, ensuring that the public are better informed about the work of the government and the public sector. And perhaps most importantly open government seeks to create more civic and democratic engagement often through social networking tools and voluntary and community activities.

The UK government is one of the leading practitioners of open government. Their data.gov.uk web site provides some great examples of the kind of economic and social gain possible. They have even launched competitions such as Show Us A Better Way in the hopes that new uses for public information in areas of criminal justice, health and education can be found. See the winning idea here. Similar initiatives are happening elsewhere such as Apps for Democracy.

Closer to home the cities of Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto have recently joined forces to collaborate on an “Open Data Framework“. The Open GovWestBC conference just took place in Victoria on November 10, 2010. The provincial government is increasingly making use of social media and is revamping public service with the first defining principle of the “Citizens @ the Centre: BC Government 2.0” paper being “We will empower citizens to create value from open government data.”

Open government/open data practices have yet to emerge in the context of educational institutions but in my alternative vision the University of Open operates in an open government/open data manner. The University of Open opens up access to public data it gathers and seeks to engage its members and the public in the creative and innovative use of that data to further the education it provides. One emerging area where this has tremendous potential is around learning analytics – the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning.

Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning materials that are freely available under a license that allows them to be:

  • reused – you can reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form
  • revised – you can adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself
  • remixed – you can combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new
  • redistributed – you can make and share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others

Implementation of an open educational resource approach involves licenses, software applications (store, search distribute, …), processes (design, development, …) and resulting content (full courses and course components such as learning objects, labs, textbooks, manuals, animations, simulations, and videos).

An emerging development in OER is open textbooks. An open textbook is an openly-licensed textbook offered online by its author(s). The open license sets open textbooks apart from traditional textbooks by allowing users to read online, download, or print the book at no additional cost. Open textbooks help solve the problems of the high cost of textbooks, book shortages, and access to textbooks as well as providing the capacity to improve local teaching and learning. Open textbook initiatives are making significant headlines these days as the education sector grapples with tight financial times. Here’s a sampling of the headlines:

Gov. Schwarzenegger Launches First-in-Nation Initiative to Develop Free Digital Textbooks for High School Students

Washington’s 2-year colleges out to beat high cost of textbooks.

Texas seeks open textbooks.

The University of Open develops new, and makes use of existing, open educational resources to create complete academic programs. University of Open credentials are based entirely on open educational resources. The University of Open educational resources are open to all including prospective students, existing students, and alumni students. Students, faculty and administrators at the University of Open all engage in developing open educational resources as part of their day-to-day activities. The University of Open provides credit to students for knowledge creation as the ChemWiki initiative does by giving students actual credit for contributions students make to the ChemWiki. Alumni are encouraged to continue their involvement with the University of Open by contributing new and improving existing open educational resources.

Open Pedagogies

I’ve deliberately called my alternative vision the University of Open to avoid confusion with what is now a long standing tradition of “open universities”. Historically, open universities have an open-door academic policy that entails no or minimal entry requirements. Open universities often base their teaching method on correspondence study or distance education where students autonomously pursue their learning in a self-paced way from home submitting assignments when ready to be marked by tutors.

In addition to minimal program admission requirements some open universities, such as BC’s own Thompson Rivers University Open Learning offer continuous enrolment, prior learning assessment and recognition credits for learning from life and work experience, and credit transfer to and from other universities. Many open universities were created to offer education opportunities to under-represented groups in higher education – school leavers who missed out on education while young, people in remote communities without the means or inclination to move to an urban setting to access a university campus, people with disabilities or mental health issues, retired people wanting to explore new interests, people wanting to change their career entirely, …

The University of Open embraces this tradition and extends it further. The University of Open is open to enrollment for students from anywhere around the world. The University of Open is open 24/7, has no place-based physical campus, and no residency requirements. Most significantly the University of Open moves the traditional correspondence model of education forward by adopting open pedagogies that leverage educational technologies, online instructional design, and emerging innovative ideas around open practices of teaching and learning.

Of all the “open” aspects of the University of Open, open pedagogies is the least developed. There is no “community” of open pedagogues for students and educators to participate in – yet. But here are some of the current explorations I see happening in the open pedagogies area.

Openly Public Teaching and Learning
I’m starting to see examples here in BC, and elsewhere, of educators teaching using blogs and wikis that can be seen by the public. The course syllabus, modules, activities, assignments and discussion are publicly visible. Students are officially enrolled as per any course but their learning is in the open, publicly viewable and in some cases the public is invited to interact, comment on, and contribute to student work. This moves education from a private matter to a public one. A good example is:
ETEC 522 Ventures in Learning Technologies

Massively Open Online Courses
Massively open online courses allow anyone to participate freely or you can register and enrol for formal recognition. Instructors only formally mark the course assignments submitted by for-credit students. Those freely participating can be as passive or active as they want and are encouraged to do all the readings and assignments, participate in discussions, and post papers for other students to view and comment on. George Siemens and Stephen Downes have been early innovators in this area. Examples of massively open onliine courses include:
Connectivism & Connective Knowledge
Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge 2010 and
Jim Groom’s Digital Storytelling which starts Jan 10, 2011 looks amazing.

Open Study Groups
Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) an online open education initiative that provides free and open courses outside of the traditional university model. P2PU courses are offered by volunteers who work with experts and community members to develop a comprehensive course using open materials and an accompanying social structure. They describe themselves as “an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses” or “online book clubs for open educational resources”.

The University of Open

I expect you, like me, have been aware of many of these “open” initiatives. But, as yet, no one has really put them together as an inter-related whole. Its a bit like the elephant parable where a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it is like, but with each only feeling a part their resulting understanding is fragmentary and incomplete. All I’ve done is assemble each of these different open components into a cohesive whole – the University of Open.

Open source software, open access publishing, open government/data, open educational resources, and open pedagogies all share a common underlying philosophy. I think there is potential for untapped synergy by combining them together and pursuing them collectively. If the traditional university is doomed is the University of Open a possible alternative?




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