Paul Stacey

Starting Anew in the Landscape of Open

I’m thrilled to be starting a new job as Executive Director of the Open Education Consortium.  It is a tremendous honour to be chosen to lead a global network of educational institutions, individuals and organizations that support an approach to education based on openness, including collaboration, innovation and collective development and use of open educational materials.

For the final interview I was asked to:

  1. Map out how I see the current landscape of ‘Open’ and mention the most prominent challenges and opportunities.
  2. Define where the Open Education Consortium should be positioned within this landscape and propose a roadmap for getting there.

As a means of getting to know my views and an early indication of the direction I’d like to take the Open Education Consortium in I thought I’d share my answers here in two separate posts. This first post maps out how I see the current landscape of Open. In the next post I describe where I think the Open Education Consortium is positioned in this landscape and how I envision it getting there.

Current Landscape of Open

Before taking on this new role with the Open Education Consortium I spent five years working at Creative Commons supporting open initiatives all around the world. Through that work I developed a unique big picture view of the landscape of open.

For the Open Education Consortium I decided to depict my map of the current landscape of open as a big one page visual. Here it is, Paul’s <a title="LandscapeOfOpenStacey" LandscapeOfOpenStacey

As you can see I’ve adopted the landscape metaphor with a tree of open including roots below and branches bearing fruit above.

Lets focus on the lower left part of the visual first.


Cutting across the visual from left to right is a brown line representing earth. Above the brown line are established and growing components of the open landscape. Below the brown line are new germinating aspects of the open landscape. With this simple delineation I give a sense of what is already in place in the landscape and new emerging aspects of the landscape I think likely to grow.

Above the line I show an open tree from which are hanging major established and growing components of the open landscape.


Starting at the bottom left of the tree and going clockwise we have:

  • Open Source Software and Open Source Hardware
  • Open Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums
  • Open Science
  • Open Access
  • Open Data
  • Open Government
  • Open Policy, and finally
  • Open Educational Resources

As you can see the current open landscape is large and growing. I expect these kinds of open are well known so won’t expand on each with detailed explanations. Searching any of those terms will generate masses of follow-on information for those wanting to explore.

If you are in education you might be wondering what all these broader components of the open landscape have to do with education. I believe all these components of the open landscape are inter-related. They are all concurrently happening and successful for very similar reasons. They operate on similar principles and generate similar value. They all have potential for educational use.

I believe the combinatorial benefits of adopting multiple means of open are synergistic and generate a value greater than the sum of the individual parts. If your primary open efforts are around Open Educational Resources it is strategically beneficial to broaden your efforts to include open policy, open access, open GLAM, and other means of openness. Together they generate a greater value than they do apart and finding ways to connect and collaborate what you are doing with what they are doing can amplify impact and benefits.

Below the line, I show several aspects of the open landscape, colour coded to relate to growing components above the line on the tree, that are taking root now and have potential to germinate into something substantial.


While the growing components on the tree above the line are well known these germinating parts below the line likely need some explanation. So here goes.

  • Open technologies – There are a growing number of  software and hardware technologies that are open source and support open aspects of education. Equally important to me are the emerging technology tools aiming to enable citizen participation, help groups collaborate, and support processes for engaging people in collaborative decision making. Collectively these represent an emerging technology infrastructure for open. Going forward, I expect to see an open architecture of technologies integrating different tools and applications together to support the whole overarching open process.
  • Open education data – Open data is an established, growing and increasingly important part of the open landscape. Governments in particular, at the national and municipal level, are generating significant new and improved services to citizens through open data and stimulating entrepreneurial activity by making open data available for business use. However, education data remains largely locked down and closed. I see big opportunities for improved education services and teaching and learning itself through open education data. Key for me will be student control of their own data, privacy, security, and direct tangible benefits to those who choose to make their education data open.
  • Open institutions – Over the years we’ve seen Open Educational Resources start as small learning objects within a course, expand to include textbooks, expand again to encompass entire courses, and expand again, as we are seeing now, to include entire degrees (Z degrees). Going forward I anticipate a growing number of institutions will adopt openness as an underlying component of all their credential offerings transforming themselves into open institutions.
  • Open enterprises – Over an 18 month period I co-wrote, with my Creative Commons colleague Sarah Pearson, a Kickstarter funded book called Made With Creative Commons. This book examines the ways organizations are currently participating in open landscape activities while still generating  revenue and sustaining operations. Open enterprises embrace openness as a key strategy and look to use it as a means of generating social and economic good. In the education sector open enterprises are largely in the germination stage. Some have poked their heads up above the earth but many more are still working out how to be an open enterprise and how to ethically engage with and participate in the open community. I think this will work itself out in the next few years leading to even greater growth above the line.

To the right of the open tree I’ve highlighted and expanded on aspects I believe most relevant for the Open Education Consortium. For open government I simply list a few different government related organizations currently active advancing the open landscape particularly as it relates to Open Educational Resources – UNESCO, the Commonwealth of Learning, and the Open Government Partnership. There are many more that could be added. The Open Education Consortium has an advocacy and advising role to play on behalf of its members with government.

Open government often results in open policy at the national, regional, and institutional level. The Open Education Consortium brings to the table existing open policy examples, templates, and tools fostering adthat can be adapted for use in any particular country or initiative.

Given the Open Education Consortium members are primarily involved with Open Educational Resources (OER) I have built out that aspect of my open landscape the most.


Above the brown line I show the large and growing aspects of Open Educational Resources including open courseware, open textbooks, open courses / MOOCs, open degrees (Z degrees), and open research. Each of these can be thought of as a young plant sown from seeds off the large open tree. If I was to summarize I’d say there is a lot of of really great stuff happening across the Open Educational Resources landscape. When I think back to my beginnings in this space in 2003 the transformation and growth is amazing.

But there are still a lot of things germinating below the line.


I could say a ton about all these aspects above and below the line but I won’t. If you want to hear more about my views and what I’m seeing related to each of these components contact me. We can have that conversation.


From a big picture open landscape perspective, and especially looking at the members of the Open Education Consortium, a key observation is that Open Educational Resources work is being done in both the global north and the global south. OER are not some new form of colonialism, rather they are a new form of community empowerment – affordable, participatory, and powerful.

Growing above the line are OER at the university and college level. Germinating below the line are OER initiatives at the K-12 level and for vocational trades related areas. As the use and benefits of OER expand to these broader academic contexts the membership and advocacy role of OEC can expand too.


Over the years the range of people participating in OER has broadened. Todays open landscape has a growing number of participants including:

  • Faculty
  • Government
  • Librarians
  • Administrators
  • Students

Below the line still germinating are:

  • communities
  • bookstores, and
  • citizens

But these are fast coming. At the end of January 2018 I’ll be speaking to Campus Stores Canada about open business models at their annual conference. The Open Education Consortium needs to be a place for all of these participants.


The final part of the Open landscape I have on my visual are the sun and rain growth enablers for the whole OER space. These are:

  • Funding
  • Open advocacy
  • Open conferences
  • Open events
  • Open awards

OEC is playing a key role in all of these. Nominations for OEC’s Open Education Awards for Excellence are open now. Awards will be given out at their OEGlobal Conference in Delft Netherlands in April.

Somewhat surprisingly there isn’t a lot of collaboration between different open organizations so I’ve put open partnerships below the line as something germinating but something I think OEC could play a lead role in generating. Formal means of becoming an open leader or ambassador are just now being developed so I’ve placed them below the line as germinating too.

Well there you have it, Paul Stacey’s one page visual of the current Open Landscape. I hope you find it useful as a framework for seeing the big picture.

The very top part of my one page visual depicts my answer to  where the Open Education Consortium should be positioned within this landscape and proposes a roadmap for getting there. In my next post I’ll explain and expand on what I show there proposing a rather unique view of OEC’s position and potential role.


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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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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.

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

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 ( 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.

Sips From An Open Firehose

It’s great to be immersed in all things open at Creative Commons. My colleagues are very tapped in to open efforts around the world and a steady stream of news and developments flow across my screen every day. Actually steady stream is an understatement – it’s like drinking from a firehose. Let me share with you a few of those sips.

Open Textbooks

Open Textbooks are hot. At a time of economic and financial constraint with students are taking on more and more debt it’s worth seeking solutions that save governments and students money. There is an economic argument for open.

Earlier this year we saw OpenStax College release Physics, Sociology, Anatomy & Physiology, and Biology free open textbooks targeted for use with high enrolment undergraduate intro courses. See:
Rice University And OpenStax Announce First Open-Source Textbooks
Why Pay for Intro Textbooks?

Online released a great info graphic Open Source (The Affordable Future of College Textbooks)

The Saylor Foundation’s Open Textbook Challenge Wave I Winners were announced. Saylor open textbooks are now available on their Saylor iTunes site and via sites like Good Semester.

In late September California 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. The textbooks developed will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY) allowing others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.

20 Million Minds created a fascinating info graphic Embracing the Future: Free College Textbooks showing the benefits associated with this initiative.

Turning up the heat the Association of American Publishers put out a This Road to “Free” is Paved with Misinformation news release and AAP’s Roadmap to Misleading Infographics giving their analysis of the 20 Million Minds infographic. Leading to the PR Newswire story Publishers announce roadblocks to CA’s Open Road to Free College Textbooks where 20 Million Minds replies.

Clearly the publishing industry is in the midst of change similar to that of movies and music. I’m amazed that the publishing industry does not see open as an incredible business opportunity. The publishing industry’s historical role is to select expertise, support content creation which they then vet, edit and assemble into well designed, engaging formats, with high production values which they then market, sell and distribute. The publishing industry is being handed a gift – millions and millions of dollars of vetted high quality content available to them to freely use for business purposes. Sure this is a disintermediation of parts of the publishing industry supply chain. However, there is still a huge need for the curating, assembling, designing, creating engaging activities around content, and the assembly of content into formats that are then marketed, sold and distributed. I’d like to see the publishing industry stop bemoaning their fate and be less adversarial to these innovations. The publishing industry has a huge opportunity in front of them and ought to embrace the greater diversity of expertise being made available to them for free and innovate new forms of publishing that better support market needs.

In the K-12 space open textbooks are emerging in a slightly different context. In Sept 2012 the State Educational Technology Director’s Association (SEDTA) released Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age. This fascinating report describes how digital formats impact student learning and engagement and support personalized learning. Profiles of how different States are adopting digital policy and practices are outlined including initiatives that seek an approach that modular, flexible digital resources that don’t lock the entire class into a rigid sequential learning structure. In K-12 there is the potential, especially around Common Core curriculum to develop new digital resources that are used for subjects like Math and English Language Arts across many states.

And open textbooks aren’t just happening in the US other parts of the world are making similar initiatives. See Digital School program with open textbooks approved by Polish government! for a European example.


This past summer has seen a flurry of activity around MOOC’s as new education initiatives like Coursera, EdX, Udacity and others seek to reach thousands of learners by providing free access to education. Consider this ambition for large class sizes against long traditions of strike action by teachers over class sizes and enrollment limiting practices – proximity, marks, and money.

For me MOOC’s are a form of open pedagogy and I found George Siemens’ MOOCs are really a platform of interest for the way it differentiated connectivist cMOOCs from the newly emerged xMOOCs. While both MOOC types provide free access cMOOCs emphasize creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning while xMOOCs emphasize a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing. As George puts it “cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication”.

MOOC’s have generated a slew of analysis and critique related not just to pedagogy but to credentialing (here, here, and here for example), and completion rates (here and here for example).

In September 2012 Sir John Daniel, during his time as a Fellow at the Korea National Open University (KNOU), wrote a research paper Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility. In this paper Sir John examines the state of MOOCs today across a range of dimensions. Sir John makes a number of wonderfully provocative observations particularly around credentialing where he notes the MOOC dilemma that what decides whether or not a student can obtain a degree is determined not by their mastery of the courses, but by the admissions process to the university, which he calls “untenable nonsense”.

MIT Challenge

A little over a year ago Scott Young set himself a challenge. He committed to learn the entire 4-year MIT curriculum for computer science, without taking any classes. How is this possible? Well Scott tapped in to MIT’s OpenCourseware. You can see the rules he set for himself and his learning progress here.

On September 26, 2012 after 11 months and 26 days Scott finished the last project and exam for the MIT Challenge. Over that period of time he completed 33 courses including passing final exams and completing the programming projects. Check out The MIT Challenge is Complete to hear his summary of what he learned.

Given the discussion around the MOOC credentialing it is interesting to contemplate whether Scott should receive or even wants some certification/credential recognition from MIT.

When it comes to learners engaging in study using Open Educational Resources and formally receiving academic credit for their accomplishments the OERu and its growing list of academic partners are leading the way. I expect the OERu will be the first to solve this conundrum in a way that works for students around the world.

Year of Open Source

Scott Young’s story is an interesting example of someone pursuing personal and professional development through intensive immersion in open educational resources. Here’s another story of someone setting themselves a year long open challenge.

As described in his press release, Berlin-based filmmaker Sam Muirhead is abandoning all copyrighted products and switching to open source software, hardware, and services for one year, as the subject of his own series of online documentary videos. He aims to raise awareness of open source projects and methods, and get people from outside the tech world interested and involved in Open Source.

Over the course of his year of open source Muirhead will make his own Open Source shoes, jeans, toothbrush and furniture (and release the designs for others). He’ll be using Open Source educational methods to learn Turkish, avoiding food grown from copyrighted seed strains, and abandoning Apple software.

When asked what he hoped to achieve by only using Open Source solutions for everything in his life, Muirhead stated, “Open source is a fascinating way of collaborating, of creating, and working together for common goals, but it’s seen by most as something only relevant to software. By bringing it into ‘real life’ and adapting it to everyday purposes, I hope to get people thinking about how Open Source could work in their lives.”

Open Knowledge Festival

In September 2012 the first ever Open Knowledge Festival was held in Helsinki Finland. I didn’t attend but I found the topic streams of particular interest:

  • Open Democracy and Citizen Movements
  • Transparency and Accountability
  • Open Cities
  • Open Design, Hardware…
  • Open Cultural Heritage
  • Open Development
  • Open Research and Education
  • Open Geodata
  • Open Source Software
  • Data Journalism and Data Visualization
  • Gender and Diversity in Openness
  • Business and Open Data
  • Open Knowledge and Sustainability

I like this expansive and comprehensive list of the way open is manifesting itself and impacting so many dimensions of society and culture.

Open Policy Institute and School of Open

On October 3-5, 2012 Creative Commons hosted a convening of open experts from around the world on an Open Policy Institute and School of Open. I was fortunate enough to be a participant along with colleagues from a range of organizations such as Mozilla, Wikimedia, OECD, SPARC, FSF, OKFN, P2PU, OCWC, and others. Thought people might find these initiatives of interest so here’s a snippet about each.

Creative Commons developed an Open Policy Institute one page description that says:

“Open policy advocacy efforts are generally tied to specific institutions or bodies of government, and as a result are decentralized and disconnected from similar initiatives. Moreover, there is little emphasis on sharing knowledge between these entities, despite their common goals.

Institutions and governments around the world frequently reach out to Creative Commons, seeking assistance to develop strategies to increase the adoption of open policies. The need for support and leadership around open policies was amplified at Creative Commons’ 2011 Global Summit, when affiliates from 35 countries called for a central hub where open policies could be shared and discussed.

Early adopters of open policies have created knowledge resources that could be broadly useful, but because these resources are not widely disseminated, momentum for adoption in other locales is hindered. Open policy advocates and supporters are calling for centralized access to existing open policies, sample legislation, and action plans for how they were created and enacted.”

Input into the Open Policy from participants was wide and deep. While much work remains to be done it’s clear the Open Policy Institute will bring together best practices, policy models, effective strategies and resources to help governments, institutions and advocates make the case for why and how to implement open policies.

Two repositories of open policy already exist. The ROARMAP is a registry of open access policy and the Open Educational Resources (OER) Policy Registry, is a database of current and proposed open education policies from around the world.

It would be great if the Open Policy Institute develops/showcases policy for each of the following:

  • national government
  • state/provincial government
  • municipal/city government
  • school district policy
  • college/university/school policy
  • organizational policy (e.g.. libraries, museums, galleries, …)
  • technology/platform policy (eg. terms of use)

I’d even like to suggest there is policy that can be adopted at the individual level, but then your target audience starts to include everyone. However, there is a tendency to see policy as the responsibility of government only. By providing policy for a broad target audience we can empower all entities no matter what level to take some initiative around policy. This creates a scenario where policy is happening top down, bottom up, and diagonally at the same time.

My colleague Jane Park at Creative Commons is doing an awesome job of creating a School of Open in partnership with Peer2Peer University. Jane developed a one pager on the School of Open that says:

“The School of Open will provide online educational resources and professional development courses on the meaning and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, research, and beyond. Individuals and organizations will learn how to use free technology and tools, such as Creative Commons licenses, to achieve their goals. Participants will also learn how to overcome barriers they run into everyday due to legal or technical restrictions.

Universal access to and participation in research, education, and culture is made possible by openness, but not enough people know what it means or how to take advantage of it. We hear about Open Source Software, Open Educational Resources, and Open Access… But what are these movements, who are their communities, and how do they work? Most importantly—how can they help me?

Learning about “open.”
The School of Open will offer courses on the meaning and application of “open” on the web and in offline environments. Courses will be powered by mentors and learners like you, and will be organized into study groups that leverage free and open resources and tools for collaboration. Artists, educators, learners, scientists, archivists, and other creators already improve their fields via the use of open tools and materials. So can you. A long-term objective for the School of Open is to offer certification on the skills learned, so that you can help others take full advantage of what the digital age has to offer. Current courses include Teach someone something with open content and Get CC Savvy.”

Big thanks need to go out to the international participants who all contributed great ideas for the future development and enhancement of the Open Policy Institute and the School of Open.

Creative Commons Canada Vancouver Salon

Before I left BCcampus to join Creative Commons I helped relaunch the Creative Commons Canada Affiliate. I’m thrilled to see the Creative Commons Canada web site launch and look forward to participating in the Creative Commons Salon Vancouver – October 15th featuring a panel of practicing artists who will share how and why they chose to use Creative Commons licenses for their works including a discussion on the changing landscape of creative practice, intellectual property and participatory culture.

This event if free and open to anyone interested in attending. Hope to see you there!

Open Education Conference

I’m super pumped for the 9th annual Open Education Conference taking place in Vancouver this year October 16-18, 2012. It has been a privilege this year to be part of the planning and program committee along with a bunch of people I admire. The theme this year is Beyond Content which is reflected in the program micro themes:

  • Alternative Credentials
  • Business Models
  • Data and Analysis
  • Developing and using OER
  • Institutional Adoption
  • Legal Aspects of OER
  • Librarians and OER
  • Open Assessment
  • Open Textbooks
  • Social Media & OER
  • Student Perspective
  • The Unexpected
  • Theoretical Underpinnings
  • Transformation, and
  • World Views

In addition to some outstanding keynotes this year we’re trying a couple of experiments – the Remixathon and the Pitchfest.

The Remixathon brings focus to a relatively untapped aspect of OER – the fact that open licenses allow for remixing and creation of derivative works. We thought it might be interesting in the spirit of hackathons to organize a remixathon. Conference attendees were asked to submit OER for the opportunity to be remixed. We got lots of great submissions so from October 12 through Oct 18 we’re hosting a remixathon in SCoPE. The remixathon kicks off with a Blackboard Collaborate webinar where each person who submitted OER describes the resource along with envisioned enhancements. The SCoPE discussion forums will allow face-to-face and virtual participants to discuss and share enhancements over the ensuing week. We’ll showcase the before and after OER on the last day of the conference.

The Pitchfest idea is similar to that of someone making a pitch to venture capitalists (think SharkTank or Dragon’s Den). The basic idea is that many people are looking for others to adopt, utilize or otherwise invest social or financial capital in their Open Education initiative. At 3:45pm on Tuesday October 16th at the Open Education conference people representing projects, companies and ideas will have 4-5 minutes a piece to make their best pitch to the audience. You can see a list of who is making a pitch and what their pitch is about here.

To cap it all off this years Open Education Conference is having an OpenEd12 Jamcamp on a special boat cruise we’ve organized. I’m expecting to shake a leg and maybe even sing or play. I’d love to be the brass section for this bunch – where is my old trumpet anyway?

BCcampus OER Forum

I’m proud to be facilitating the BCcampus OER Forum for senior BC post-secondary institution representatives in Vancouver on the afternoon of October 18, 2012. The objectives of the session are to develop a common understanding of what OER could mean for BC and build a shared vision of how to develop and use them. The session will also consider ways BC can take advantage of the promise of open educational resources and open textbooks.

Having worked on open initiatives at BCcampus from 2003-2012 prior to joining Creative Commons I really hope that this event builds out a strong interest and direction. We’ve organized a fantastic key speaker (David Wiley) and panel (Alan Davis, Cable Green, Brian Lamb) asking them all to suggest “action plans” for BC. The BCcampus OER Forum is a wonderful opportunity to put on the table real action plans for institutions, heads of teaching and learning centres, VP’s/Presidents, and government. Action can be small or big, policy or practice, cost or no-cost. Action can be something an institution pursues autonomously or done in collaboration with others across the BC system and globally. This event provides us with the opportunity to move BC forward so hearing action plan recommendations will be very helpful for the Ministry, for institutions, and for BCcampus. Can’t wait to see what emerges.


For me, across these events, open is a gathering force. Not just in education. I sense a greater strength in breadth of impact across cities, design, culture, research, democracy, journalism, and business. Perhaps not a fire hose, a rising tide?

Copyright and Personal Transformation

Packed up my office at BCcampus, took down the artwork, threw away the small amount of paper archives I had, loaded up the pickup truck, and closed the office door behind me. Thus ends almost 9 years at BCampus – the longest I’ve worked anywhere.

Judging by whats in the truck it’s amazing how small a footprint I’ve had. A rug, an odd ToDo chair that has been my place of work (instead of a desk), and a lamp that I like beside me – especially in the dark rainy days of winter.

On the other hand I’ve been sent e-mails by many people across BC’s post-secondary system expressing thanks and saying I’ve been an inspiration. Oh my, maybe that footprint is bigger than I think. To be honest I’ve been surprised by what many people have said in their e-mails to me. I had no idea they felt that way or thought those things – in some respects I wish I’d known!

BCcampus has been an amazing learning experience for me and I’m grateful to my senior management team colleagues, the entire BCcampus staff, the Ministry of Advanced Education, and the broader network of connections I’ve made across higher education. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to help create BCcampus and believe it has become a world class innovation that is both an inspiration and an accomplished provider.

My career has followed an adult learning and educational technology trajectory, for which there has been no career path. All of us in educational technology are inventing our own careers and so I’m particularly delighted with this most recent turn as my career path leads me to Creative Commons. I’m taking everything I’ve been doing at BCcampus and moving it up onto an international level where I hope to have more impact. I look forward to engaging with others who are adopting open willingly, strategically, and with some excitement.

I’ve written extensively in this blog about my own personal experiences with Open Educational Resources and with the open movement more broadly. I’ve come to see “open” as a fundamental change not only for education but for society and the world at large. I can imagine a world where the sharing efforts of all raise the bar on standards of living and create a new global economic future based not so much on growth but on better global use of collective works.

This blog has been quiet over the last few months as I’ve been dealing with the practicalities of wrapping up BCcampus work and making arrangements for my new role at Creative Commons*. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have some off grid time at Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island where life was barefoot in nature, walking the beach, and riding boogie boards in the big surf. Time immersed in nature with no phone, no e-mail, no computer, no TV is wonderfully liberating and I came back rejuvenated and raring to go.

While I haven’t written much I have been following with great interest a number of significant developments including:

  • AUCC, ACCC, and Canadian university and college settlements with Access Copyright
  • Passing of new Canadian copyright legislation
  • Canadian supreme court ruling on copyright cases
  • UNESCO Paris OER Declaration
  • Adoption of MOOC’s by elite universities and for profits – edX, Coursera, Udacity, …
  • UK and European adoption of open access requirements for publicly funded research
  • developments around Creative Commons version 4 and release of new Creative Commons license generator

Thought I’d get back in to the swing of things by writing a short synopsis on some of these:

AUCC, ACCC, and Canadian University and College Settlements with Access Copyright

Most countries have copyright collectives – organizations which collect royalties or payments from licenses, performances, and even blank media, for the ostensible purpose of distributing it to copyright holders, creators, or engaging in activities which benefit copyright holders or creators. In Canada we have Access Copyright. Back in June 2010 Access Copyright proposed new interim tariffs that would raise the fee they collect from post secondary institutions across Canada from about $5/student to $35/45 per student. Amazingly this was proposed without business case financial justification and without any disclosure of the catalog of works in both print and digital form that they represent. In addition Access Copyright expanded definitions of what a copy is in highly contentious ways and mapped out extensive reporting and access requirement expectations.

Access Copyright’s proposed interim tariffs, new copyright definitions and reporting requirements were met with widespread objections from CAUT, ACCC, AUCC, CLA, Canadian Alliance of Students, and others. I wrote about this development in Jan 2011 Access Copyright’s Royalty Demands Spark Interest in OER. By May 2012 at least 34 Canadian colleges and universities had opted out of Access Copyright.

In January 2012 the University of Toronto and the University of Western struck special deals with Access Copyright agreeing to an interim tariff rate of $27.50. This was met with considerable dismay Critics say universities paying to hyperlink is ludicrous such that the UofT Faculty Association Questions the Access Copyright Agreement.

In April 2012 the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) reached an agreement with Access Copyright agreeing to interim tariff rate of $26. Amazingly this deal was struck secretly, behind closed doors, without communication with AUCC’s own members.

At the end of May 2012 Access Copyright Announces Agreement With the Association of Community Colleges of Canada on a Model Licence for $10 per student.

OK, let me see if I have this right, Access Copyright starts out saying the fee per student will be $35-45. They then negotiate agreements with various organizations for rates of $27.50, $26, and $10. The variation in rates is puzzling. There was no business case explanation for the initial interim tariff fee and there has been no explanation for the reduced fees. On what basis are these rates being set?

These agreements continue to be widely questioned – The Best Possible Outcome for Universities, Really?, Why Universities Should Not Sign the Access Copyright – AUCC Model Licence, A Bad Deal: AUCC/Access Copyright Model License Agreement with many calls for universities not to sign the agreement. Some universities, like the University of British Columbia had taken bolder more principled positions.

While I (and many others) are critical of the way Access Copyright is handling its mandate I want to be perfectly clear that I personally believe writers, artists, musicians and other creators should be fairly compensated for their work. An artists life is frequently one of poverty (aside from the mega hit makers) which I think undervalues their cultural importance. However, I question whether collection agencies like Access Copyright are really serving the needs of creators – a view somewhat substantiated by Brian Brett Speaks Out: An Open Letter on Access Copyright and the Canadian Copyright Emergency. Third party middle men intermediaries seem more intent on funding their own activities over those of the creator. As William Patry notes in his book How to Fix Copyright “The largest problems facing authors today are not unauthorized uses but the obstacles put in the way of buyers willing to pay for access to or copies of the work. I hope this changes as new web-based business models emerge that allow creators to get paid directly.

Passing of New Canadian Copyright Legislation

In June 2012 the Canadian House of Commons passed the Copyright Modernization Act Bill C-11 reforming Canadian copyright law. The new law has a significant impact on education expanding the conditions under which educators can use a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder. Changes in the new act include:

  • Expansion of fair dealing to education, satire and parody. (Am I the only one who finds it deliciously amusing to find education lumped with satire and parody? I”m sure Canadian comedy shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report are pleased at the inclusion of satire and parody). Fair dealing allows educators to use copyrighted works for private study, research, criticism, review, and news reporting. There is no explicit definition of what fair dealing means. Essentially you have to use the Supreme Courts six criteria for evaluating fair dealing – 1. the purpose of the dealing, 2. the character of the dealing, 3. the amount of the dealing, 4. alternatives to the dealing, 5. the nature of the work, and 6. the effect of the dealing on the work. While these six criteria are useful, the lack of a clear definition means that for most educators fair dealing is, and will continue to be, vague and ambiguous.
  • Non-commercial user generated content. The new act distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial use. Non-commercial user generated content gives educators greater liberty to create instructional materials (within the parameters of fair dealing) as long as the use is non-commercial.
  • Internet publicly available materials. This exception gives educators permission to reproduce and communicate works that are publicly available on the Internet. This will be a major relief for educators who are increasingly tapping in to digital web-based content. Under the new act this educational use of publicly available Internet materials is allowed as long as the audience is comprised primarily of students and the works in question are 1. legitimately posted by the copyright holder, 2. not accompanied by a statement prohibiting such reproduction, and 3. not protected by digital locks. This provision makes Access Copyright’s assertion that even a hyperlink is a copy for which users must seek permission seem bizarre.
  • Public performances in schools. The new act allows instructors to display films and other media works in class, provided that the works have been acquired legitimately. This amendment lifts restrictions that required educators to acquire rights for public performance before they could show such materials. Coupled with the Internet publicly available material exception educators will now be free to include videos and other materials from sites like YouTube in their instructional materials.
  • Technology neutral display exception in schools. The old act limited allowable technology reproduction to an overhead projector. The new act is more technologically neutral allowing for display via video projectors and other technological devices.
  • Online transmission of lessons. The new act allows educators to create “fixations” (weird terminology given that a fixation often refers to someone with an obsessive attachment) of lessons and transmit these fixations to students over the Internet. In addition to weird language this exception has some strange requirements that are not particularly in line with pedagogical practice. The institution must destroy the fixation within 30 days after students have received their final course evaluations. And students are to be prevented from reproducing more than a single copy of the lesson for personal use which they too must destroy by the 30-day deadline.

For additional information BCLA has provided a Bill C-11 Guide for Academic Instructors that outlines how the new bill affects education. Michael Geist provides a good summary of the overall outcome including a side-by-side table comparing the old act to the new act The Battle over C-11 Concludes: How Thousands of Canadians Changed The Copyright Debate.

While these changes give educators more permissions and clarity on what is allowed and not allowed I still think the best way to avoid the copyright minefield is to use Creative Commons openly licensed materials whereby the copyright holder explicitly gives permission. Using Creative Commons licensed resources removes the fear of litigation that shrouds copyright.

Canadian Supreme Court Ruling on Copyright Cases

In July 2012, amidst the tumult of copyright deals and reform, the Canadian Supreme Court made rulings on five copyright cases. These rulings were made using the old copyright act not the new one which has yet to come fully in effect. Reading these rulings was a breath of fresh air – clear lucid thinking well argued.

One area of ruling was around the nature of fair dealing. As described above fair dealing lacks a clear concise definition. Sam Trosow does a nice job of analysing pertinent Supreme Court considerations and findings related to fair dealing – see SCC decisions provide clear guidance on fair dealing policies. The ones that stick out for me are:

  • fair dealing is an important users right
  • teachers share a symbiotic purpose with students/users who are engaged in research or private study. Photocopies made by a teacher and provided to students are an essential element in the research and private study undertaken by those students.
  • “Private study” does not mean in solitude or geographically separate from the school. Students in a classroom can be engaged in private study.
  • Research can be piecemeal, informal, exploratory, or confirmatory. It can in fact be undertaken for no purpose except personal interest.

Howard Knopf seems equally proud of the Supreme Courts rulings and provides a comprehensive summary at A Proud and Progressive Pentalogy Day in Canadian Copyright Law.

These Supreme Court rulings affect Access Copyright and the negotiated deals it has struck with various organizations. Clearly those deals are far more restrictive than necessary and in some cases have institutions paying fees for activities they are fully allowed to do under law. Michael Geist provides an interesting take in Why the Supreme Court’s Copyright Decisions Eviscerate Access Copyright’s Business Model.

Who knew that copyright had such high drama! Great potential for a TV series.

In tracking all of these copyright related activities I’ve come to appreciate the increasing involvement of the public and emergence of outspoken voices. I’m particularly thankful for the coverage and analysis the following people have provided:
Michael Geist
Howard Knopf
Sam Trosow
Ariel Katz

Expect I’m not the only one who has learned a lot from these people.

While I admire and appreciate the analysis the above people are providing I’ve been surprised by the lack of coverage of open licensing using Creative Commons licenses as a means of cutting through the complex and often vague rights and permissions of copyright. If educators want to completely free themselves from being encumbered by copyright complications they should use and produce Creative Commons licensed resources instead. Doing so simplifies matters enormously.

As more and more organizations develop copyright guidelines and tools for faculty and staff to use (such as this one at the University of British Columbia I look forward to side-by-side workflow diagrams that compare the process you must go through to ensure you are allowed to use something under copyright vs the work flow process you must go through to ensure you are allowed to use something that is openly licensed via Creative Commons. The copyright workflow will inevitably be comprised of innumerable steps with many if/then branches leading to stop signs or legal counsel interpretations of possible risk. The Creative Commons license workflow will be one step or, in the case of non-commercial and share-alike versions, two or three steps, after which it’s clear sailing with no legal counsel intervention and no risk.

UNESCO Paris OER Declaration

I’m not the only one seeing the potential for open licenses and open educational resources to create new models of education. In June 2012 the World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress took place in Paris, France. Organized by UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the World OER Congress brought together Ministers of Education, human resource development representatives, senior policy makers, expert practitioners, researchers, students and others to:

1. Showcase the world’s best practices in OER policies, initiatives, and experts
2. Release a 2012 Paris OER Declaration calling on Governments to support the development and use of OERs
3. Celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2002 UNESCO Forum that created the term OER

UNESCO member States unanimously approved the Paris OER Declaration (pdf).

This Declaration is the result of a yearlong process, led by UNESCO and the COL with regional and online meetings and final negotiations at the Congress. The Declaration recommends UNESCO member States:

a. Foster awareness and use of OER
b. Facilitate enabling environments for use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)
c. Reinforce the development of strategies and policies on OER
d. Promote the understanding and use of open licensing frameworks
e. Support capacity building for the sustainable development of quality learning materials
f. Foster strategic alliances for OER
g. Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts
h. Encourage research on OER
i. Facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER
j. Encourage the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds

Having received unanimous approval it will now be interesting to see how governments, institutions and other organizations adopt policies and practices in support of these goals. This is a whole new business model for education – one that brings with it social and economic benefits.

The Creative Commons Opportunity

Before going to start my new job with Creative Commons I thought I’d map out what I see as the opportunity sectors which are undergoing change through use of open licenses. I tend to think visually and create representations as one page visuals – here is what I came up with (you can click on this to make it bigger if you want):

Essentially I’m seeing activity and new public and business models emerge across:

  • Open Educational Resources
  • Open Access
  • Open User Generated Creative Works
  • Open Data
  • Open GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, & Museums)
  • Open Government
  • Open Policies, Practices & Guidelines
  • Open Licenses
  • Embedding open license tools (like Creative Commons) in authoring and search engine platforms
  • Open Standards, and
  • Open Source Software

That’s a lot of open. The opportunity is large. Use and impact has only just begun. I’m looking forward to doing my part to grow the commons and by so doing generate global social and economic benefits.

(* 0941176 B.C. Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Creative Commons, the sole activity
of which is to provide services to Creative Commons and is operated separate from the Creative Commons Canada affiliate.)