Paul Stacey


The Economics of Open

Written for Open Education Week March 5-10, 2012

Open Educational Resources (OER) are materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, research articles, videos, and other materials used to support education. OER creators own the intellectual property and copyrights of the OER they create. However, they license the OER and make it freely available to others.

Every time I present the OER work I do at BCcampus I face questions from the audience:

“Why would a creator who holds copyright and intellectual property license it for others to freely access, reuse and modify for their own purpose?”

“Why would a creator give something away for free when it has inherent potential to generate revenue and income?”

“How does a creator earn a living giving away their work for free?”

“Why would an institution that relies on grants and student fees make core assets freely available to others?”

“Given the dire financial times countries, governments, and public education providers find themselves in why would we adopt this practice of open?”

“What is the business model of open?”

To those questions another one was added when David Porter and I were in Ottawa presenting the work of BCcampus broadly including the benefits of Open Educational Resources to Canada’s federal government.

The question we got asked there that stuck out for me is:

“How does open not only save money but act as an economic driver?”

The UNESCO / Commonwealth of Learning project Fostering Governmental Support for Open Educational Resources Internationally led by Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning and Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic is hosting a series of regional policy forums on OER for governments between now and the World OER Congress in June 2012. The purpose of these policy forums is to raise governments’ awareness of OER and their support for them, as well as getting input to the Declaration on OER and Open Licensing that will be put to the June OER Congress.

Shortly after returning from Ottawa Cable Green of Creative Commons sent out a request for responses to a question coming out of these policy forums:

“What is the business case for OER?”

I like all these questions.
Open needs to make financial and economic sense.
All of us involved in OER work need to be able to answer these questions directly.
We need to be able to state in simple, straightforward terms the economics of open.

So that got me to thinking that I should tackle these questions.
Someone needs to make a stab at generating answers.
So here goes.

Cable Green’s request for input into what the business case for OER is generated a flurry of responses and recommended readings on international OER list servs. I’ve gathered those readings into a What is the business case for OER? Collection which I’ve pasted at the end of this blog post. In addition my colleague Scott Leslie began assembling evidence of the economic benefits of many different kinds of open including open access research publishing, open source software, open standards, open data, and OER. I spent some time going through all these resources seeking to extract short straightforward statements that answer the question, “What is the business case for OER?” Here’s what I came up with.

OER:

  • increase access to education
  • provide students with an opportunity to assess and plan their education choices
  • showcase an institution’s intellectual outputs, promote it’s profile, and attract students
  • convert students exploring options into fee paying enrollments
  • accelerate learning by providing educational resources for just-in-time, direct, informal use by both students and self-directed learners
  • add value to knowledge production
  • reduce faculty preparation time
  • generate cost savings – (this case has been particularly substantiated for open textbooks)
  • enhance quality
  • generate innovation through collaboration

The business case for OER includes both cost savings and revenue generation. Making something open is not always a means of direct revenue generation. It often is indirect – because something is open it leads to a revenue opportunity that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Using OER as a means to market reputation and institutional prowess can convince students to enroll. While better quality learning resources may not directly generate revenue they can lead to faster learning, greater learner success, or reduce drop outs. By their very nature OER can lead to new ways of education through more cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships between institutions. OER make totally new forms of education possible and bring new players into the education market.

I expect many of you may have additional short straightforward statements that answer the question, “What is the business case for OER?”. Welcome your statements as comments to this blog. I expect many more elements of the business case to emerge as the practice of open in education matures.

While the above statements provide a business case for OER they don’t completely answer questions associated with financial rewards to creators who share, or the business models of open, or how open acts as an economic driver. With the business case established lets move on to defining these other economic aspects of open.

The economics of open can be described from multiple perspectives. If I am a creator I describe it one way. If I’m a consumer I describe it another.

In education the way I describe the economics associated with open differs depending on whether I”m describing it from the perspective of a student, an instructor, a college, the education system of a region, or government of a nation.

The economics of open also differ depending on whether you are taking a public or private perspective. Education is both a public service and a for-profit activity around the world. In the public service context there is a very strong business case that publicly funded goods be made freely available to the public that funded them.

In the current OER higher education context “creators” are faculty and/or institutions. When you look at a question like “How does a creator earn a living giving away their work for free?”, in a public sector context the answer is partly that those in the public sector are already earning a living via salary derived from public taxpayer dollars. If they are already being paid by the public shouldn’t the educational work they are being paid to develop, whether it be research or educational resources, be freely available to the public?

After thinking a lot about which persona I should describe the economics of open for and which sector, public or private, I decided to discard these differentiations and focus in on how the economics of open generates benefits that accrue to all players regardless of who you are and regardless of whether it be for public service or for profit. My aspiration is for short direct answers that make sense to everyone.

To derive answers I started looking at things like open source software business models, the sharing economy, and how digitization and the Internet affect supply and demand. There is a lot to explore! I’ve taken it on as my challenge to show how the economics of open, as it plays out in other sectors, applies equally well to education. The language of business and economics is not always used in education. However, for the purpose of generating direct short answers that everyone understands I have chosen to use the language of business and economics in my answers.

Here then are my answers.

Open enables rapid market entry, market penetration, and market share.

We are all creators. Some take photos, some make music, some paint, some write. Most creators are interested in having others experience their work. However default copyright and IP laws tend to constrain access, dissemination and use. Openly licensing work reduces barriers to access and dissemination friction. Going open is a good way to make the market aware that you exist. When something is open it can be disseminated quickly and widely to people everywhere. You may have created a great work but if no one knows about it then its not generating you, or anyone else value.

A central reason for developing and distributing free open source software is that it enables fast entry into the market, rapid market penetration, and generates market share. When Google made the source code for Android open they wanted to make sure that there would always be an open platform available for carriers, OEMs, and developers to use to make their innovative ideas a reality. They also wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure, so that no single industry player could restrict or control the innovations of any other. The single most important goal of the Android Open-Source Project (AOSP) is to make sure that the open-source Android software is implemented as widely and compatibly as possible, to everyone’s benefit.

Educational institutions who go open frequently report institutional impact in marketing terms.

Patrick McAndrew at the UK Open University in 2009 reported in his Learning from OpenLearn presentation that the the institutional impact from their OpenLearn initiative included:
– 3 million new “users”
– 232 countries
– 7700 “sign ups”
– 10 funded projects
– 30 collaborations
– established methods
– changed image
– won awards
– new plans

In October 2011 BBC News reported Open University’s record iTunesU downloads had reached 40 million and put the Open University alongside Stanford University for the most downloads.

In 2011 after ten years of open sharing MIT states it shared its OCW materials with an estimated 100 million individuals from over 200 countries worldwide. MIT’s goal for the next decade is to increase their reach to a billion minds.

The UK Open University, MIT, and Stanford all get that going open enables rapid market entry, market penetration, and market share. They’ve established first mover advantage in building up their market presence. For them going open is good business.

As the OER field moves forward I expect we’ll see data that shows increased enrollments where OER exists for courses and shows conversion benefits associated with students being able to try before they buy.

Open generates revenue through advertising, subscriptions, memberships, and donations.

When most people hear about open they find it hard to imagine how making something you own, open and free to others could possibly yield a financial benefit. Obviously you’re not going to generate direct revenue from a free resource. However, you can generate indirect revenue and there are lots of existing business models that already do so which education can emulate.

Advertising

Google makes a search engine available to all Internet users for free. It makes its revenue from advertising.

Facebook provides a free social network platform that supports personal networks, friendships, and social movements. It makes its revenue from advertising.

Given the market valuations for Google and Facebook it’s clear that the business model of generating revenue from making something you own, open and free to others can generate large financial benefits from advertising. Both Google and Facebook have worked hard to make the advertising tolerable by personalizing and targeting it to match your interests and needs as closely as possible.

Advertising and education tend not to mix. There is a tacit understanding that education should be pure and not unduly influenced by something so crass as advertising. However, given the success of ventures like Google and Facebook I expect this will change. Already sites like Udemy have emerged. Udemy’s goal is to disrupt and democratize the world of education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online. They’ve built a platform that makes it easy for anyone to build an online course using video, PowerPoint, PDFs, audio, zip files and live elements. Students can take courses across a breadth of categories, including: business & entrepreneurship, academics, the arts, health & fitness, language, music, technology, games, and more. Most courses on Udemy are free, but some are paid. Paid courses typically range in price from $5 – $250. Udemy features advertising in their third column (aka Facebook) and takes a percentage of each course fee.

Its important to point out that sites like Google, Facebook and Udemy are not open in the full sense that I established at the beginning of this blog. Open in its fullest sense means education resources that are freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone. While Udemy provides “free” access everything on the site is locked down by copyright and can not be reused or modified.

Subscriptions

EdTech Frontier is built using WordPress open source software. Anyone can create a blog for free at WordPress.com. You get a whole array of free functionality – customizable design themes, ability to write posts, upload and embed photos and videos, stats dashboard, privacy options, complete hosting, … This free functionality is sufficient to get you going and may be all that you need. But for those who want more control you can subscribe to premium features. WordPress generates revenue from advertising so if you don’t want advertising you can remove ads from your blog for a low yearly subscription fee. Think about that for a minute – if its free you accept advertising, if you don’t want advertising you pay a fee. Additional subscriptions get you your own domain, extra storage, custom design, VideoPress, … The business model is very clear – basic for free, premium for a fee.

GoodSemester is an education platform that has adopted the same subscription model. GoodSemester is interesting in that it has been developed by students. They think that education deserves the collaborative power and ubiquity of the Internet, and they don’t understand how schools have gotten on for so long without some amazing tools we take for granted in other fields. GoodSemester is a course platform for students and teachers providing a means for developing and delivering online courses, notes, assignments, questions, discussions, groups and analytics. GoodSemester offers subscription plans for students and professors. While not exactly “free” GoodSemester is interesting for the way it has adopted business models from open source software entities like WordPress and applied them to education.

Memberhsips and Donations

Open initiatives like Wikipedia and Creative Commons are committed to the ideal of free and open with no restriction or influence from prospective advertisers. Accepting donations provides them with the independence they need to achieve their mission. Curriki the online community and wiki platform for teachers, learners, and education experts to share, reuse, and remix free quality K12 curricula uses both donations and memberships as a means of financing its work. Curriki membership is free to educators, but they ask a small annual membership fee from individuals who join Curriki representing for-profit entities. In exchange for a small annual membership fee, you can publish the Curriki logo on your Web site and let the world know you are a corporate member! Donations are welcome from anyone.

Open generates revenue through services.

Proprietary off-the-shelf software is funded through the sale of licenses to end users. Open-source software is given away for no charge. One of the main funding mechanisms for open source software is ancillary support services. Revenue is generated by value added resellers and integrators who specialize in supporting open. Consulting, selection of open source software, installation, configuration, integration, training, maintenance, customizing and tech support are examples of services used to generate revenue from open. The software is free but these fee-based services enable users to optimize use of the product and extract value from it. Its worth pointing out that proprietary off-the-shelf software often requires these support services too, so open source software typically provides a lower cost solution by not charging a license fee for the software itself.

Linux, Apache, Drupal, MySQL, MediaWiki, the list goes on and on of open source software available for free but whose full utilization is best achieved through support services. Red Hat provides services for Linux. O’Reilly Media has built a business around providing books, magazines, research, and training for open source software. Pick your open source software product and inevitably there is a local or global business providing support services for it.

There are a growing number of open source software applications in education. Moodle, Sakai, and recently Pearson entered the fray with OpenClass. As might be expected there are revenue generating business models around each of these.

Moodle has the Moodle Service Network.

Here’s how Pearson promotes it’s product.

OpenClass has no hardware costs, licensing costs, or hosting costs. Why would we do that? Because “free” enables the widespread adoption of new learning approaches that encourage interaction within the classroom and around the world. OpenClass is unbelievably easy to set up. It works with what you’re already using. Get set up with just a few clicks and instantly import content from other learning management systems such as Blackboard, Angel, or Moodle. OpenClass is simple to install, simple to use, and simple to support. We’ve provided a robust KnowledgeBase, up-to-date support forums, and numerous demos and instructional videos to help you get the most out of OpenClass. Of course, we know that self-service isn’t the right solution for everyone — we also provide 24/7 email, phone, and chat support to instructors, students, and administrators. (emphasis added by me)

The OERu is a more fascinating model. As described on its home page:

The OER university is a virtual collaboration of like-minded institutions committed to creating flexible pathways for OER learners to gain formal academic credit. The OER university aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide using OER learning materials with pathways to gain credible qualifications from recognised education institutions. It is rooted in the community service and outreach mission to develop a parallel learning universe to augment and add value to traditional delivery systems in post-secondary education. Through the community service mission of participating institutions we will open pathways for OER learners to earn formal academic credit and pay reduced fees for assessment and credit.

In each of these examples open has a fee for services built around it. Eric Raymond, in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar called this “Give Away the Recipe, Open A Restaurant.”

Almost all the early examples of Open Educational Resource initiatives – MIT OpenCourseWare, Connexions, Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative, UK Open University’s Open Learn, and even the new initiatives like MITx are based on a model I think of as “Content for free, Teaching & Credentialing for a fee”. Explicit in all of these OER initiatives is that contact with faculty and the actual credential or degree that is awarded are not part of the offer. Those are services that cost.

The OERu is looking at a business model where some teaching/tutoring services are provided through academic volunteers international see A Framework for Academic Volunteers International: Dec 5-16, 2011. In the absence of teaching services and faculty contact students will turn to each other through initiatives like OpenStudy. I personally see a tremendous opportunity around bolstering education globally through OpenStudy student to student peer mentoring and support.

Teaching and credentialing are two areas of service that are undergoing change in the open market. Institutions like MIT and Stanford have brand value. A credential from those institutions has cachet. Indeed all institutions tend to think of themselves as having a prestigious brand. In the open market brand prestige and its value is undergoing change.

Udacity is co-founded by Sebastian Thrun one of the Stanford University professors who co-taught the massively open Artificial Intelligence course last year that attracted over 160,000 students from more than 190 countries. After teaching this course Thrun left Stanford to found Udacity believing that university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Udacity aims to use the economics of the Internet, to connect some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth. Currently Udacity has investment funding and is offering its courses for free while it figures out its business model with several possibilities for revenue generation described in the article Massive Courses, Sans Stanford. Thrun is leveraging brand value out of his own name rather than Stanfords.

This idea that students will accept and appreciate a credential not from an institution but from a teacher has been done before in Massively Open Onlne Courses and is now emerging in the form of badges. The MITx initiative has put a new spin on this by devising a credential not exactly from MIT but associated with MIT. The extent to which these badges, letters and certificates of completion from an instructor or non-traditional institution have credibility and value in the market will be fascinating to see.

Open generates revenue through direct and indirect sales

In the economics of open there still are direct and indirect sales. Participants who receive free and open educational resources may still pay for teaching, assessment, and credentialing. The open textbooks being generated in the Washington States Open Course Library initiative aren’t completely free merely targeted to be less than $30 compared to $100-200. Open textbooks are often free in a .epub or .pdf format but cost for a physical print version. I think of this as “Digital for free, physical for a fee”. FlatWorld Knowledge, CK12 and others have all created an open business model around this new way of generating textbooks. The traditional print industry is scrambling to adapt. The economics of open still generates revenues but equally importantly generates cost savings. Take a look at the OpenStax Student Savings Calculator to see how big an impact this can have.

It has been fascinating to see Reuven Carlyle and Cable Green work together to establish the business case for open textbooks and create government policy that leverages the economics of open for Washington State. (Reuven Carlyle makes the business case here. Cable Green makes the business case here.) When you amplify cost savings at a state or national level the economics of open impact is huge.

Another variation on the digital for free, physical for a fee model, is software for free, hardware for a fee. In the rapid market entry section of this post I described why Google made the source code for Android open. Google’s end game was to generate revenue through direct sales, not of software but of hardware in the form of the Android phone itself. Lets see how well this tactic worked. As of February 2012 there were more than 400,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from the Android Market as of December 2011 exceeded 10 billion. Android is one of the best-selling smartphone platform worldwide with over 300 million Android devices in use by February 2012. According to Google’s Andy Rubin, as of February 2012 there are over 850,000 Android devices activated every day. I’d say this strategy works pretty well. Eric Raymond, in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar called this “widget frosting.” To date we’ve not seen hardware specifically designed and developed for the education market. But I see it coming and I bet it follows a similar model.

Another way of generating direct and indirect revenue from open is to build product add-on extensions and accessories. In the case of add-on extensions the base product is open and free, but additional more full-featured functionality costs money. Lots of apps work this way. You can download a basic app from Apple or Google but an “upgrade” is available for a fee that provides a more robust and full-featured version of that app. Product extensions can be modules, plug-ins or add-ons to an open source package. Indirect revenue can be achieved through accessories which provide users with an opportunity to customize something open in a way uniquely personal to them. The accessories market is huge. Ringtones, laptop covers, apparel, mugs, cards, the variety and range of accessories is endless.

It’s worth pointing out that in music, book, and photography markets some creators give their work away for free and simultaneously offer it for sale. Nine Inch Nails have a brand new 36 track instrumental collection called Ghosts I – IV. You can download the first 9 tracks for free. You can get all 36 track in a variety of digital formats for $5. You can get the tracks on two audio CDs for $10. You can get a a deluxe edition package which includes a blu-ray disc with the songs in high definition stereo and accompanying slideshow. You can get a $300 ultra-deluxe limited edition package (already sold out).

Giving away songs for free can generate more sales.

Cory Doctorow is an author who lets you download his books for free or buy them. He provides a great explanation on why he does this.

Open Generates Innovation

What makes open different is not so much what it derives economic returns from, but “how” it does so.

Open disaggregates supply chains into constituent parts and makes one or more of those parts open and free.

Here’s the OERu logic model:

Although it wasn’t designed for this you can see education supply chain parts revealed – textbooks, journals, curriculum, design & development, pedagogy, student support, ICT infrastructure, assessment, credentialing, … The OERu is looking at how open makes one or more of those parts free or substantially lower in cost.

Open diversifies and democratizes both the production and use of goods and services.

The innovation around open is not based on hoarding knowledge or building monopolies and locked-in proprietary models but instead on freeing knowledge, building collaborations, and finding flexible shared ways of generating economic benefits.

If I give you something and you give me back a new and improved version of that thing, we have engaged in mutual exchange. There has been no financial transaction but we both have mutually benefited. If we have a shared educational need, lets say we have common curricula across a range of courses. Using the economics of open we can divvy up the effort associated with creating that curricula and openly license the curricula for mutual use.

One of the ways the economics of open drives the economy is through reciprocity – by granting you rights I too gain.

Innovation is an economic driver. While the business case for open can be made within traditional frameworks its greatest impact is felt through new business models. When representatives in Canada’s federal government ask me how open acts as an economic driver I’m tempted to ask in reply, “How important the digital economy is to Canada?”

While the business model of open can work with physical goods, its effect as an economic driver is compounded when digital goods are involved. The economics of physical goods is predicated on supply and demand. If I have a physical good and I give it to you, I no longer have it. However, if I have a digital good and I give it to you, I still have it. This fundamentally changes the economics of supply and demand.

In a traditional economy based on supply and demand, scarcity generates premium prices. Supply emphasizes mass produced solutions that are just good enough to attract a large segment of users without being optimized for anyone. The power of the marketplace lies more with suppliers than customers. In contrast, the open marketplace, especially the digital open marketplace, massively diversifies and expands supply. In the open marketplace we all become suppliers and power shifts toward customers.

The open market reduces supplier lock-in and offers lower costs, more choice, and personalization options.

In the open marketplace you can choose what best meets your needs, customize the solution to a much greater extent, and flexibly integrate pieces into more complete solutions.

One of the greatest innovations in the open economy is the formation of communities of developers and users who collectively work on and continually enhance creative work for mutual benefit. So when I see Washington state developing an open course library of their top 81 high enrollment courses and a series of <$30 open textbooks I think about how this could scale by working with other states and regions. I think about the formation of an open consortia of others who collectively use the same courses and improve them together. I think about coordinating and building out through collectively planning and distributed effort.

Almost all successful open initiatives have a vibrant and active community built up around them. An intriguing innovative aspect of this is that frequently the community that forms around open is global not regional.

Leveraging open as an economic driver involves developing and delivering open products and services in partnership with others around the world.

Open leads to collaborations and trading partners within a global context.

Open Makes Better Use of What We Already Have

As I’ve thought about and worked through the economics of open in this blog post its occurred to me that the biggest opportunity open brings to all of us is making better use of what we already have. We are all creators. What if we adopted a default of sharing instead of not sharing?

On January 24-26, 2012, one hundred thought leaders from all over the world were invited to come together in Austin to mark the tenth anniversary of the NMC Horizon Project. They engaged in discussions around ideas of where technology is going and how it is impacting learning and education worldwide. From those discussions megatrends emerged. A number of those trends directly relate to the economics of open including:

  • Openness — concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information — is moving from a trend to a value for much of the world.
  • The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.
  • The Internet is becoming a global mobile network — and already is at its edges.
  • Legal notions of ownership and privacy lag behind the practices common in society.
  • Business models across the education ecosystem are changing.

At BCcampus, where I work, we’re committed to being open in everything we do. We decided to proactively state that position and openly share the work we produce through a corporate statement on our “open agenda”. It starts out saying:

We are a publicly-funded organization serving British Columbia’s post-secondary sector. The goal of higher education is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge, and as such we have an essential responsibility to distribute the results of our work as widely as possible.

Our open agenda corporate statement goes on to describe our commitment to publishing all BCcampus reports, web content, and other media resources using Creative Commons licenses. We describe how our events will be open and use open communication practices. At BCcampus open is a default practice. We belief there is collective value in proactively publishing organizational statements regarding committment to open. We hope more organizations follow suit and welcome others to adopt or use ours as a starting point.

In Mark Zuckerberg’s masterplan for the ‘sharing economy’ the CEO of Facebook believes he is not changing human nature but enabling it. Zuck’s Law decrees that every year, we will share twice as much as we shared the year before, because we want to and because we now can.

I’m fascinated by the emergence of the sharing economy. As Fast Company notes in their article on The Sharing Economy:

Spawned by a confluence of the economic crisis, environmental concerns, and the maturation of the social web, an entirely new generation of businesses is popping up. They enable the sharing of cars, clothes, couches, apartments, tools, meals, and even skills. The basic characteristic of these you-name-it sharing marketplaces is that they extract value out of the stuff we already have. The central conceit of collaborative consumption is simple: Access to goods and skills is more important than ownership of them. Botsman divides this world into three neat buckets: first, product-service systems that facilitate the sharing or renting of a product (i.e., car sharing); second, redistribution markets, which enable the re-ownership of a product (i.e., Craigslist); and third, collaborative lifestyles in which assets and skills can be shared (i.e., coworking spaces). The benefits are hard to argue — lower costs, less waste, and the creation of global communities with neighborly values.

Making better use of what we already have generates economic benefit by increasing utilization.

Given the worldwide demand for education shouldn’t we be doing a better job of using what we already have? Don’t the principles we see at play in the sharing economy apply equally well to education? If we really want to address the world wide shortage of education an obvious first step is to open up the education resources that already exist within education institutions around the world.

The economics of open drives the economy through better utilization of what we already have.

Economic development is driven by skilled labour. Better use of existing educational resources increases access and skill development. The economics are simple.

The economics of open allows us to increase the skills and knowledge of all.

Too many of our educational resources sit on a shelf unused or behind password protected systems. Open makes better use of what we already have.

Open works don’t end, they expand and evolve on and on through others.

This post is for everyone who has been grappling with the business case for open.
My hope is that you’ve had a few aha moments and that some of your questions have been answered.
I expect many of you have additional insights and examples of the economics of open.
I invite you to share your insights and examples by leaving comments at the bottom of this post.
The more we can collectively expand and evolve a global understanding of the economics of open the better for all.

Paul Stacey March 4, 2012


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References for What is the business case for OER? Collection (from OER list serv Feb 2012)

Case Study – January 2012 – Also published in other places in 2011
Catherine Anne Schmidt-Jones
An Open Educational Resource Supports a Diversity of Inquiry-Based Learning
For teachers and students as well as self-directed learners, one function of OERs is as a resource for just-in-time, inquiry-based learning. the present case supports the conclusion that direct, informal use by both students and self-directed learners is the main use of OERs. Education researchers, policy-makers, and OER developers may want to consider the best ways to understand and support this type of use and take steps to make it truly available to all learners.

Case Study March 2011
Santally Mohammed Issack
OERs in Context – Case Study of Innovation and Sustainability of Educational Practices at the University of Mauritius
Conclusion: the inclusion of OERs helped maintain a good quality level, sustain a viable economic model with reduction of tuition fees for learners, increase access and achieve the intended learning outcomes without any negative impact on the learners’ experience.

Nottingham University February 2011
Title: “It turns out that students do use OER and it does save time”
This was a very limited study of 51 students and several faculty using a single repurposed resource.

Case Studies approximately 2009
Ms Rebecca Ngalande, Kamuzu College of Nursing, University of Malawi, Malawi
1) The Use of Open Education Resources at the University of Malawi (UNIMA) — Kamuzu College of Nursing
2) OER Basic Competencies in Midwifery, University of Malawi
The major findings of the pilot project were that OER are significant in higher education as they benefit both Faculty and students in many ways like faculty preparation time is reduced, produced materials are of high quality and faculty learn and share from others. It shed new knowledge on methods for accessing academic information, creation and production of such materials; teaching and learning; publishing as well as sharing. Faculty felt they can become more confident when they know that their work is of high quality.

The Policies for OER Uptake did substantial literature search (LUOERL) of the learner experience of OER last summer for the UK Higher Education Academy as part of the overall JISC/HEA OER Programme in the UK. This work will be updated again in early 2013 for the EU project POERUP.

Over 250 papers were analysed for the LUOERL study. The report is linked from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/oer2/LearnerVoice.aspx
You can also directly check their online bibliographies (on Mendeley) – see in particular http://www.mendeley.com/groups/1074991/learner-use-of-oer/papers/

The Case for Creative Commons Textbooks (2005)
Two early papers that compare the cost of developing open textbooks with that of commercial textbooks.
http://zope.cetis.ac.uk/content2/20050407015813
http://inews.berkeley.edu/bcc/Fall2005/opentextbook.html

Economics of Open Content
Audio from Fred Beshears lecture for PBS and NPR forum at WGBH on January 2006.
http://forum-network.org/lecture/economics-open-content-open-text

A Sustainable Business Model for Open Electronic Textbooks (April 13, 2007)
The slides from Fred Beshears presentation to a US House subcommittee looking into the price of textbooks.
http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/acsfa/txtbkpres/beshearspresent.pdf

The Case for Openness, an African Perspective

A short briefing paper for a meeting of the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) late last year when they held a meeting to develop scenarios for the future of African universities.

Dramatically Bringing Down the Cost of Education with OER – How Open Education Resources Unlock the Door to Free Learning by David Wiley, Cable Green, Louis Soares February 7, 2012

A range of OER Knowledge Cloud Resources.



2011 The Year of Open

The “open” space is expanding.
2011 has been a watershed year with open gaining traction and acceptance.


photo by Paul Stacey

Governments in Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the US have all adopted Creative Commons licenses to communicate broad reuse rights to the content, data, and educational materials they create. By doing so these national governments are seeking to:

  • promote creative and innovative activities, which will deliver social and economic benefits
  • make government more transparent and open in its activities, ensuring that the public are better informed about the work of the government and the public sector
  • enable more civic and democratic engagement through social enterprise and voluntary and community activities

This move to more open government is not just happening at the national level. Here in British Columbia the provincial government has established a Ministry of Labour, Citizen’s Services and Open Government and became the first provincial government in Canada to launch an open data portal.

Its even happening at the city or municipal level. The city of Sao Paulo in Brazil has decreed that all educational resources paid for by the city need to be Open Educational Resources (OER) licensed using Creative Commons license.

Its not just happening at the national, provincial, and municipal levels its happening at the organizational and institutional levels. The National Autonomous University of Mexico, better known as UNAM, has said it will make virtually all of its publications, databases, and course materials freely available on the Internet over the next few years. This is to include all magazines and periodicals published by UNAM, research published by UNAM employees, and online access to theses, dissertations and its approximately 300 undergraduate and graduate courses. The UNAM Online initiative seeks to achieve open access, public and free to all products, collections and digital developments of the university. This move is seen as part of the university’s mission. A way to give back to society what it is doing with its financial support. A way of being open, accountable and transparent.

Its not just publications, research, theses and other content that is going open, 2011 was the year that open pedagogies including Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) were adopted by mainstream big name institutions. A Massively Open Online Course is typically taught by faculty at an established institution to tuition paying regular students but is also open to enrollment by anyone interested for free. Only the tuition paying students receive accreditation. MOOC’s have been around for a while (see here and here) but this year saw the following fascinating examples:

Digital Storytelling DS106 – Jim Groom’s University of Mary Washington DS106 is an open, online course free to anyone who wants to take it. You can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. Participants develop skills in using technology as a tool for creative self-expression, building a digital identity, and critically examining the landscape of communication technologies. The 2011 version of this course invented a free form live streaming course radio station as a new form of teaching and learning. This course starts up again in January 2012 in case you’d like to sign up.

In the fall of 2011 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 generated over 100,000 enrollments and had to be capped. Students taking the course for free watch video lecture recordings, read course materials, complete assignments and take quizzes and an exam. What online students don’t receive, however, is one-on-one interaction with professors, the full content of lectures – or a Stanford degree.

In late December MIT announced MITx which aims to let thousands of online learners take laboratory-intensive courses, while assessing their ability to work through complex problems, complete projects, and write assignments (see FAQ). 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 (yet to be defined) students can take an assessment which if successfully completed will provide them with a certificate from MITx. Whether this turns out to be anything more than the form letters Stanford’s faculty provide non-enrolled students who complete the course remains to be seen. But, imagine this scenario. A student signs up for a free MITx course, completes the assignments, pays the assessment fee and receives a certificate indicating successful completion. That student then decides to apply to and enroll in MIT proper. Would that certificate be accepted by MIT as transfer credit or would they force the student to retake the entire course?

Museums and libraries are going open. Check out the Commons on Flickr to see how libraries and museums are openly sharing what have been hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, and how they are openly sourcing public input and knowledge into making these collections even richer. The Commons on Flickr openly shares photos where “no known copyright restrictions” exist, such as:

  • The copyright is in the public domain because it has expired;
  • The copyright was injected into the public domain for other reasons, such as failure to adhere to required formalities or conditions;
  • The institution owns the copyright but is not interested in exercising control; or
  • The institution has legal rights sufficient to authorize others to use the work without restrictions.

I think of these collections as partially open. The rights statements of participating libraries and museums are full of statements like; “It is your responsibility to determine what permission(s) you need in order to use the Content and, if necessary, to obtain such permission.” Not particularly helpful or encouraging of reuse. No where near as clear as Creative Commons licenses. However, I do really like the way they are seeking public input into the cataloging and data associated with these images. See No. 47. Crew member taking a movie of ice berg from the ship, Greenland, 1939 for an example of how Smithsonian images are being shared through the Commons on Flickr and how public input is improving the collection. It’s particularly heartening to see the Smithsonian directly interacting with end users.


Photo from Smithsonian Institution’s Photostream

In November 2011 Wired announced that all Wired.com staff-produced photos will be released under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC) license in high-res format on a newly launched public Flickr stream. In making the announcement Wired notes; “Like many other sites across the web, we’ve benefited from CC-licensed photos at Wired.com for years — thank you, sharers! It seems only fitting, and long overdue, to start sharing ourselves.”

Its great to see these examples of open leadership happening at the national, provincial, municipal, institutional, and organizational level and it makes me wonder – Is open going viral? Is open going mainstream?

There is growing government interest in seeing resources produced through tax dollars be publicly accessible. Governments at all levels are using policy and legal frameworks to open up access to publicly held information, promote transparency, and enable wider economic and social gain. These are all factors every government and their electorate are interested in.

I can’t wait for the day when more and more government officials recognize the benefits of open and establish themselves as proponents. Washington State representative Reuven Carlyle gets it in spades. See $64 million for out-of-date and educationally generic textbooks? Here’s a new approach, and Beginning of the end for $100 college textbooks: Legislature, colleges, Gates Foundation partner for examples of how a politician can make a difference by understanding and leveraging open.

I think of open textbooks as low hanging fruit. One of the most compelling open education initiatives to undertake. Open textbooks have a clear value proposition for students, parents, educators and public funders. CK-12’s flexbooks are totally impressive for the fact that they are Creative Commons licensed and for the simple way you can assemble a book as a .pdf, an e-book, or html and embed it in an LMS. And then there is Saylor’s Open Textbook Challenge which is offering a “bounty” of $20,000 if you submit your textbook to them and it is accepted for use in their course materials. I expect we’ll see open textbooks for high enrollment undergrad courses across the board.

While I’m interested in the full range of ways in which open principles are being used I’m particularly interested in how they apply to education. Governments could establish policy that requires public funds for education to result in education resources openly accessible to the public. Some governments have provided funding for development of educational resources under agreements that have the IP and copyright for those resources resting with the government. Governments could easily convert all these legacy educational resources to Open Educational Resources (OER) by simply using an open license like Creative Commons.

UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) published the UNESCO-COL Guidelines for Open Educational Resources (OER) in Higher Education this year providing a set of guidelines to support governments, teaching staff, higher education institutions/providers, and quality assurance/accreditation and recognition bodies adopt and support OER.

The guidelines for government include:
a. Support the use of OER through the revision of policy regulating higher education
b. Contribute to raising awareness of key OER issues
c. Review national ICT/connectivity strategies for Higher Education
d. Consider adapting open licensing frameworks
e. Consider adopting open format standards
f. Support institutional investments in curriculum design
g. Support the sustainable production and sharing of learning materials
h. Collaborate to find effective ways to harness OER.

I look forward to seeing these policies adopted around the world, used at the national, provincial, municipal, and institutional level, and applied across all of education.

For public government, public service agencies, and not-for-profits open policy is a perfect fit. For the most compelling and articulate description of its obviousness I highly recommend you listen to Cable Green’s Sloan-C presentation The Obviousness of Open Policy which he gave in November 2011 (advance to time index 10:25 and click on the 4 arrows in the upper right corner to go full screen). In a digital world the potential is there for open to become a widespread win/win de facto policy with benefits for governments and citizens. The most amazing thing of all is that government support for open can happen at the policy and guidelines level without any additional funding. It’s hard to imagine why any entity serving the public interest wouldn’t adopt open policies when open can clearly generate social and economic benefits.

I’m highlighting these government developments around policy and open as I see them as an essential complement to the grass roots way open adoption has happened to date. Individuals, on their own, have embraced open. Photographers have uploaded over 200 million images to Flickr tagged with Creative Commons licenses. Wikipedia’s more than 3.8 million entries are openly licensed using Creative Commons. In June 2011 YouTube added the Creative Commons Attribution license as a licensing option for users and launched a Creative Commons video library containing 10,000 videos under CC BY from organizations such as C-SPAN, PublicResources.org, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera. There are now hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos that users have posted with Creative Commons licenses.

People who tweet and use social networks appreciate openly engaging others in solving problems or providing advice. The New Einsteins Will Be Scientists Who Share explores this potential for science. Even Scientific American is in on the act with their citizen science site. I expect we’ll soon see national organizations responsible for research establish open innovation as an essential aspect of research agendas.

As might be expected there are a growing number of practices and technologies emerging to support this kind of open engagement. Knowledge in the Public Interest is using the concept of a JAM‘s for open engagement. A JAM is a a non-linear moderated discussion of fixed duration that is part creative brainstorming, part active dialogue, and part focus group. In a JAM participants share experiences, knowledge, and ideas, and collaborate in search of actionable responses to complex issues. It’s interesting to note that Knowledge in the Public Interest’s customized version of Moodle and its JAM process are similar to what BCcampus has been doing for years with its customized Moodle SCoPE seminars.

Idea Scale is another interesting example. The recently launched US initiative Digital Promise is using Idea Scale to generate and tackle “grand challenges” to spur breakthrough technologies that can help transform the way teachers teach and students learn. You can see grand challenge ideas submitted so far in Idea Scale here.

In education, Learning Management Systems are largely closed walled off online learning environments that require passwords and logins for entry. It was a welcome surprise then when in October 2011 Blackboard announced a series of new initiatives to provide greater support for open education efforts. Working with Creative Commons, Blackboard now supports publishing of open educational resources (OER) across its platforms. Support for OER enables instructors to publish and share their courses under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY) so that anyone can easily preview and download the course content. Blackboard also updated its policy around fees so that there are no extra charges associated with sharing courses with outsiders such as other educators, auditors, or prospective students. Blackboard says it wants to help institutions share the content of their courses with larger, online audiences. When a technology vendor like Blackboard starts to support open then you know open is past the idea stage and going mainstream.

Given the growing personal use of open licenses by end users it makes sense for governments to do the same. Open will flourish when bottom-up grassroots efforts toward open take place in an environment supported top-down by policy.


photo by Deborah Stacey

My own work at BCcampus around OER has been an example of that synergy. Government Ministry of Advanced Education support for faculty development of online learning resources has been provided with the caveat that the resources be open and shareable. I’ve written about this initiative extensively elsewhere in this blog (see here, and here, and here) so thought I’d shine the light on a couple of other 2011 developments that add credence to the growing sense of open going viral and the synergy between policy and grassroots adoption.

In the US the Obama administration initiated the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grants Program out of the US Department of Labor. The first round of TAACCCT grants made available and awarded in 2011 totals $500 million but a total of $2 billion over four years has been committed. This example of government commitment to open is the largest I know of and I hope others are inspired to follow suit. TAACCCT provides eligible institutions of higher education with funds to expand and improve their ability to deliver education and career training programs that can be completed in 2 years or less, and that result in skills, degrees, and credentials that prepare program participants for employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations, and are suited for workers who are eligible for training under the TAA for Workers program. TAACCCT funds are capacity building grants strategically targeted to assist workers adversely affected by trade agreements. All TAACCCT initiatives are expected to meet accessibility and interoperability standards and produce OER licensed using Creative Commons (CC-BY).

Wayne Mackintosh and the Open Educational Resource Foundation (OERF) in New Zealand have been doing just an amazing job of bringing to life the OER university (OERu). Here’s how the OERu is described:

The OER university is a virtual collaboration of like-minded institutions committed to creating flexible pathways for OER learners to gain formal academic credit.

The OER university aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide using OER learning materials with pathways to gain credible qualifications from recognised education institutions. It is rooted in the community service and outreach mission to develop a parallel learning universe to augment and add value to traditional delivery systems in post-secondary education. Through the community service mission of participating institutions we will open pathways for OER learners to earn formal academic credit and pay reduced fees for assessment and credit.

The concept of an OERu gained widespread support and made incredible progress over the 2011 year. Institutions from around the world have become OERu founding partners including:

These founding partners represent Canada, USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and India. For OERu to have attracted the interest and involvement of this many partners in a one year period is impressive. I’m particularly encouraged with the breadth, depth and reputations of these partners. It’s worth pointing out that the OERu openly invites other institutions to join. I expect many additional institutions from all around the world will join the OERu and follow the early leadership these founding anchor partners have shown.

Over the course of 2011 the OERu:

Perhaps the most impressive thing of all with OERu is that all of this has been planned and published openly on Wikieducator with invited and included participation from people all over the world. Got ideas you’d like to contribute to the OERu? Log on to the wiki and add them – input from all is welcome. OERu is not only about opening education its modelling how to do planning and development in an open and inclusive way. For the OERu, open is not just about content – its about all aspects of education, it seeks to engage and benefit all people everywhere, it’s a way of working. Outstanding!


photo by Deborah Stacey

Against this backdrop of growing global momentum and critical mass around open, 2011 has been a pivotal year of open for me personally too. Here’s my own personal 2011 top 10 open highlights:

#1. The University of Open articulates a vision of a new kind of university that strategically chooses to use and contribute to the code of Open Source Software, publish research openly using Open Access principles, teach openly in the public using Open Pedagogies, share data on it’s activities using Open Data, and involve faculty and students in developing and using Open Educational Resources (OER). This vision of an alternative ‘university of open’ serves as an inspiration for me. I’ve been thrilled to find this idea picked up and promoted internationally by Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning (Open Courseware, Open Content, Open Practices, Open Learning: Where are the limits?Tertiary Education: How Open?Open Universities: what are the dimensions of openness?Publishing with Public Money for Public Benefit)

#2. Award of grants for the 2010 BCcampus Online Program Development Fund which supports partnerships of BC public post secondary institutions in their development of online learning curricula as OER. This was the eighth consecutive round, the longest running publicly funded OER initiative I know of, bringing the cumulative 2003-2010 investment to $9 million. Kudos to BC’s Ministry of Advanced Education for its early foresight and willingness to back open over all these years.

#3. One of OER’s holy grails is reuse by others. I think there is a dearth of understanding about just what people think this means but this past year several significant events happened around OER developed in BC being picked up and expanded by others elsewhere. I find these examples fascinating as they represent real-life examples of what happens as OER mature. The University of British Columbia’s Virtual Soil Science Learning Resources are a great example of an OER initiative that started in BC and has expanded. The additional institutional partners brought on over time contribute to improving existing learning resources, developing new learning resources, and use existing virtual soil science learning resources for courses in their own institutions. I enjoyed helping bring together soil scientists in India with the core UBC team to further expand the work through an international partnership.

When someone says to me OER reuse I think about this – the formation of distributed social networks of faculty and students collectively working on shared curriculum.

Royal Roads University has a wonderful Open Educational Resources site and Mary Burgess, the lead for this initiative sent me an e-mail in November 2011 saying:

“We’ve had some exciting developments on our little OER project of late that I just had to share with you!

Last week, we found out that a consortium of Chinese institutions is using our Instructional Skills Workshop Online (shared from our OER site) – you can see it here.

And today, we found out that 2 of our Moodle customizations are being made part of Moodle core in version 2.3.

Finally, I had an email from a guy at the University of Madrid yesterday who is using another one of our Moodle patches.

We are over the moon that our work is of use to others!”

I love that last statement. It is exciting to see the work you openly share be of use to others.

#4. Consortium of BCcampus, WICHE, CCCS, North Island College, College of the Rockies and institutions in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado awarded Gates Foundation funded Next Generation Learning Challenges Wave I $750K grant for the North American Network of Science Labs Online. Especially momentous for me was the workshop we did at North Island College in Courtenay BC where over 50 educators, faculty and edtech specialists participated in a demonstration of the Remote Web-based Science Lab and in discipline panel discussions around the biology, chemistry and physics OER courses and labs this project is creating. This project is exciting and yet another example of an OER project that has been unfolding over several years in BC expanding outward and increasing impact through additional partners.

#5. Moodle Moot Canada 2011 keynote “Talking About All Things Open” with Terry Anderson, Stephen Downes, Gavin Hendrick and myself. Terry Andersons’ description of open scholarship was a key idea for me. I also got a blast out of openly engaging all conference attendees in crowdsourcing the Future of E-Learning.

#6. Open4Learning Educational Technology Users Group Workshop in Nelson BC. An awesome program exploring the diverse aspects of open in education from a BC perspective.

#7. OERu. I’ve described this initiative in some detail earlier in this post. It’s been fascinating to see this initiative evolve over 2011 and to be an active participant and facilitator in helping define what it is.

#8. Interview with Timothy Vollmer at Creative Commons resulting in Open Education and Policy

#9. University of Northern British Columbia Opportunity Side of Open talk, workshop on Finding and Using OER, and ABC Copyright Conference Especially enjoyed the conference Talkshop session exploring issues related to recent Access Copyright efforts to increase tariffs which caused many institutions to withdraw from Access Copyright and giving a keynote, the Opportunity Side of Open Part 2 which includes suggestions for actions faculty, students and institutions could pursue if they embrace and adopt open as a key aspect of their work.

I’ve received some inquiries from people as to whether I’ve evolved the University of Open concept. The answer is yes. Some of what I’ve been working on are these suggestions for actions faculty, students, and institutions could pursue if they embrace and adopt open as a key aspect of their work. I’ve been thinking about what people would do, how they’d behave, if they were committed to the University of Open. Here’s a brief synopsis of possible actions:

Open Faculty:

  • Make intellectual projects & processes digitally visible & open to criticism/comment
  • Do open research
  • Publish in open access journals
  • Self archive work for open peer and public review
  • Create a new type of education work maximizing social learning, participatory pedagogies, global connections
  • Teach open courses
  • Develop OER with communities of professional peers & students
  • Use open educational resources developed by others
  • Assign and author open textbooks

Open Students:

  • Use OER to select institutions & courses of study
  • Use OER for self-study
  • Engage in open study around OER with global peers of students
  • Assemble OER and open/free software tools into personal learning environments
  • Customize, enhance and develop OER (for credit)
  • Actively participate in social learning and form networks and connections
  • Track and use open data on learning to plan and manage learning process
  • Create open e-portfolios making learning projects, processes, and outcomes digitally visible

Open Institutions:

  • Work in consortia to develop and use OER for academic programs
  • Use OER to market & promote programs & coursesof study
  • Use Open Source Software and contribute to developer community
  • Reward (performance) and support (policy & funds) open access research publishing
  • Generate and publish open data around learning, scholarly activities, and outcomes/achievements
  • Create unique identity and establish value by extent of open activity and global benefits

#10. BCcampus Opening Education event. It’s really great to see in followup to this event that BC’s Electronic Library Network at their December meeting began planning initiatives around OER, open textbooks and a copyright course for faculty and students in 2012. I think librarians can make a huge impact on open and will play a much more central role in the way it plays out in education over the coming years.


photo by Paul Stacey

Going in to 2012 I see big opportunities for open to unfold on a larger scale. Summarizing calls for action from the above I hope:

  • Governments, municipalities and institutions adopt open policy and licenses
  • Legacy resources held by governments, municipalities and institutions are openly licensed
  • New grant funds for development of educational resources use open licenses
  • Faculty and students at the individual level automatically license their resources openly
  • International consortia form around the development and enhancement of open educational resources

For many “open” is not even on their radar screen. For others open is present but fragile. Still others think ‘Open-ness’ is growing, but in ways that are not quite what was anticipated by the more dedicated proponents of OERs. I agree with this last statement and hope I’ve depicted some of the breadth of ways open is growing in this post. I think open is past the tipping point. This year even institutions who were not early adopters began to find ways to be participants. I think there are even more people and organizations on the sidelines looking for a way to enter the field.

As is apparent from this blog Creative Commons licenses are critical enablers of open. 2012 will be Creative Commons’ tenth anniversary. I’ve been imagining ways I’d improve Creative Commons. Everyone in the Open Educational Resource (OER) space has been wanting some way for tracking reuse. I think this could be enabled through the license although I’d frame it differently. I think we should be tracking attribution which is a condition of all Creative Commons licenses. Ideally creators receive attribution notification when others reuse their work – like pingbacks, or trackback in social media. Its motivating for creators to know that their work is having an impact and valued by others. Tracking attribution will generate a means of showing impact akin to research citations. My colleague Scott Leslie has done some work around tracking OER reuse and I’m also intrigued by the Total Impact work Heather Piwowar is involved with.

I’ve also been thinking of the potential to go “beyond permissions to intentions”. Let me explain. Creative Commons licenses do a great job of complementing copyright by providing a mechanism for creators to express permissions they accord others in terms of use of their work. However, what is missing is any expression of creators intentions. Are they giving permissions and don’t really care how its used? Would the creator like to see derivatives of their work that others create? Is the creator really interested in finding others who want to collaborate with them on the continuous improvement of the work? This latter intention is in my view critical to the long term success of OER. All open initiatives succeed over the long term based on the size and vibrancy of the open community that gets built up around it. I really wish there was some means of expressing creator intentions so that others reusing the work can do so in ways that fulfill creator aspirations.

So in summary I see Creative Commons licenses as having three components:

  1. Permission – this component exists already. It’s how creators express the permissions they are according to creators in terms of attribution, creating derivative works/or not, allowing commercial use/or not, and requiring share alike/or not.
  2. Attribution – this component would make explicit how users are to provide attribution to the original creator and send the creator a trackback indicating attribution/reuse.
  3. Intention – this component would express the creators intention in making the work available through Creative Commons and provide a means for subsequent users to support those intentions.

I’d like to see each of these three functions embedded in the license and available to creators and subsequent users with one click. One of my big interests is in increasing the value proposition for creators.

This blog post provides a body of evidence on the many ways open expanded in 2011. I’d like to close this blog by celebrating one form of open that happens every year at this time – the way Christmas opens the human heart. Merry Christmas all.


photo by Deborah Stacey



Opening Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you can join us.

Paul Stacey



Open Educational Resource University (OERU)

Today the Open Educational Resource Foundation (OERF) is hosting a face-to-face meeting in New Zealand to explore the creation of an Open Educational Resource University (OERU). For instructions around virtual participation see:
http://wikieducator.org/OER_for_Assessment_and_Credit_for_Students/Virtual_participation

As outlined in the meeting information pack the purpose of this inaugural meeting is to collaboratively:

  • Consider inputs and leading questions from meeting participants, anchor partners, the pre-meeting SCoPE seminar and international agencies
  • Develop a shared understanding of a logic model for the OER university concept
  • Review and refine the OER university logic model
  • Identify the key questions for each component of the logic model
  • Gauge interest and identify volunteers for leading and coordinating the constituent components of the logic model
  • Commence identification of the key activities required for each component of the logic model, including inputs, outputs and
    outcomes
  • Specify the next steps for the way forward.

This is a bold move looking at what it might take to create free and open learning for tertiary education credentials using OER.

The information package distributed in support of this meeting describes the OER University concept and presents a logic model as follows:

OER University Concept


The OER university concept. Adapted from Taylor 2007.

The OER university is a sustainable international system which will provide free learning to all learners with pathways to gain academic credit from formal education institutions around the world. It is rooted in the community service and outreach mission of tertiary education providers to evolve parallel delivery systems (now possible with the open web and free content licensing of learning materials) that will augment existing educational provision. The OER University is an open network and public-private partnership (PPP) including post-secondary institutions, the private sector, non-profits, government and international agencies.

The OER university concept is based on the strategic enablers where it is more effective to collaborate on selected components of the OER university concept, for example shared course design and development. However, collaborating institutions retain their core operational services associated with assessment and credentialisation. This OER ecosystem aims to serve both formal and informal learners by creating more flexible pathways for diverse student needs.

Logic model for the OER university


High-level logic model providing a systemic perspective of main initiatives for building a participatory OER ecosystem that aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide with pathways for credible academic qualifications

The design, development and implementation of a sustainable and scalable OER university concept is an ambitious international collaboration project. The logic model provides a framework for structuring and organising the range of activities, processes and constituent components necessary to achieve the desired results.

The Problem

Individuals are free to learn from OER hosted on the open web. The problem is that learners who access digital OERs on the web and acquire knowledge and skills either formally or informally, alone or in groups, cannot readily have their learning assessed and subsequently receive appropriate academic recognition for their efforts.

The Solution

The core mission of any modern university is to contribute to society as a community of scholars through the pursuit of education, learning and research. Many post-secondary institutions also incorporate the mission of community service, as publicly funded institutions, to serve the wider interests of the communities in which they operate by sharing expertise and scholarship for the benefit of society. By combining OER with the community service mission, it is possible to create what Taylor[6] has called a “parallel universe” of higher education delivery to complement and augment existing provision, especially for those who lack the means to follow traditional learning paths. Moreover, the OER university concept is a means whereby education at all levels can be more accessible, more affordable and more efficient by reinvesting savings of shared course development back into the formal teaching operations.

—-

As part of my work at BCcampus I’ve been facilitating an OERU online seminar in our SCoPE online community in advance of today’s OERU meeting in New Zealand. This SCoPE seminar has been planned to stimulate discussion in advance of todays meeting and to provide a forum for follow-on discussion after today’s meeting. I promised meeting organizers I’d provide a short summary of our discussions and drop-in think tank web conference as an input into today’s face to face meeting.

Here’s what I submitted:

OER University – A Summary of SCoPE Seminar Inputs

The following notes are summarized from SCoPE OERu online discussions and an OERu drop-in think tank web conference session held over the period 4-21-Feb-2011. The summary has been distilled from contributions made by participants from Israel, United States, New Zealand, India, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Portugal, and Brazil.

OER University Model and Ideas

The OERu:

  • is a a consortium of partner universities – a university of universities. Participating colleges/universities are given an OERu logo to post on their web-sites designating them as participants.
  • un-bundles the package of services traditional universities provide: recommending (and selling) learning materials, forming learning groups, arranging learning experiences, supplying teachers, certifying
  • provides a search service for OER materials and maintains a repository of credit based OER approved by the consortium
  • brings together currently separate OER initiatives to generate collaboration between them for development and assemblage of OER into mutually credentialed outcomes.
  • creates a framework within which existing OER can be assembled and new OER development positioned.
  • establishes a world OER credit bank and trans-national qualifications framework. Institutions developing OER can register their OER with the credit bank specifying what credit they are willing to accord those who successfully complete the learning outcomes associated with it. OERu assembles or creates the transfer/articulation aspects of assembling OER into a credential. Each OERu university partner can link existing OER courses of other partner universities to its OER degree programmes
  • facilitates creation of an OER learning path, learning plan, and/or PLAR documentation template for students ideally through consultation with advisor or mentor
  • helps learners systematically pursue learning plan and create a portfolio that can be assessed
  • provides student support resources to help students navigate their learning paths and compile portfolios. Partners with institutions who provide options for student support possibly on a fee for service basis. A 24×7 call center for assisting students.
  • creates a social learning context for OER reinserting or applying pedagogy to OER. Utilizes mass collaboration approaches combined with social networking to establish peer-to-peer and tutor-student support potentially with senior students receiving credit for tutoring juniour students. Provides a brokering/marketplace where those who want to facilitate learning can meet those who want to learn. Emphasizes peer-to-peer social learning over teacher/student traditional learning. Students as teachers solidifies learning.
  • prioritizes low-cost / low-bandwidth solutions for learner support and uses mobile technologies for these interactive components
  • provides continuous entry points throughout the year with entry by exams rather than prerequisite courses or degrees. A 365 days online registration and evaluation process.
  • supports individual pace of learning, multiple exit points, including instant certification by testing
  • removes affiliation requirements, residency or citizenship requirements, age restrictions (make OERu undergraduate and graduate programs open to children)
  • provides certification or links to colleges and universities who do a PLAR like assessment of the portfolio
  • awards the degree with logos of universities who participated in the validation process displayed on the certificate or alternatively the universities themselves confer the credentials
  • maintains a registry of graduates

OERu Users and Use Cases

  • a student using OER could literally study anywhere in the world for free and transfer his/her learning to a “receiving institution” for conversion to transfer credit
  • personally designed pick and choose model where students formulate their own learning pathway (likely favoured by working professionals)
  • structured degree model where templates of predefined OER are assembled into a curriculum leading to a credential (younger students looking for qualifications to move into professional area in labour market)
  • OER-U could also work in K-12 sector to establish elementary and secondary programs leading to post-secondary so someone could presumably begin at the primary/elementary level and progress seemlessly to undergraduate or even graduate degrees

OERu Questions & Challenges

How to develop the course materials for learners globally?

Providing not only free education but free authentic, valid and reliable certification too. Leaners may need to pay for credential services unless national governments provide grants to cover these costs through the state education system.

Finding a free online platform or specifying that learning materials for the OER university be developed (or converted) into open file formats that are equally accessible by a variety of Learning Management Systems (LMSs).

OER have to be available or at least readily convertible to low tech, pencil and paper, or print-based materials.

Institutions will not move toward an OERu strategy unless they see a clear benefit for themselves. Does OERu need to be a parallel higher education universe?

Develop low-overhead quality and accreditation systems building an entirely new model rather than adapting the old one.

The concept of an OER-university is an innovation and a major one for the education globally. Individual and organisational adoption will depend on the current concerns and benefits of this innovation for them.

Be more creative. Start without thinking about existing systems and courses. Rethink units of learning.

OERu needs to be younger and bolder. We need to get our heads into being 15 to 25 again.

We already have a critical mass to at least get one degree operational.

——–

This summary is available for the New Zealand participants and anyone else as a .pdf download in the OERU Meeting Agenda.

Its always a challenge to distill and coalesce rich online discussions but I think this summary is a great start to defining an OERU. I’ll be briefing the New Zealand participants on our activities and this summary via phone later today.

Hope many of you will contribute to the concept of an OERU and look forward to seeing what emerges.



Access Copyright’s Royalty Demands Spark Interest in OER

Here in Canada a Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency called Access Copyright has been operating since 1988. Access Copyright establishes licensing agreements that provide users with the ability to copy from millions of copyright protected materials while ensuring over nine thousand creators and publishers are fairly compensated. Access Copyright license agreements have traditionally been for the rights to photocopy books, magazines, newspapers and other publications. Access Copyright licenses this content through a combination of agreements with other rights licensing agencies and the Canadian divisions of global publishing companies.

These rights have been essential to education institutions where instructors photocopy either parts of publications or entire articles and provide them to students as course materials. Access Copyright estimates that 250 million pages of textbooks and other materials are being copied every year in Canada’s primary, secondary and post-secondary sector.

Access Copyright has been charging Canadian provincial governments, school boards, colleges and universities an annual tariff amounting to over $30 million a year. As per Copyright Board of Canada the tariff is charged on a per student basis and works out to about $5.16 per student.

All of this is subject to major change in the context of the digital age where reprography via photocopying is becoming increasingly obsolete. Copyright is a hot topic and organizations like Access Copyright, who have not traditionally been securing digital rights from creators and publishers, are faced with some significant challenges.

In the digital age there is a growing belief that rights are better handled directly by creators without using third party intermediaries like Access Copyright. In addition, in the US and Canada, there are allowable exceptions to copyright called fair use in the US and fair dealing in Canada. Access Copyright cannot charge licensing fees to content that educational institutions have a right to access for free.

All this hit the fan when in June 2010 Access Copyright submitted to the Copyright Board a Statement of Proposed Royalties to be collected by Access Copyright from post-secondary institutions for the years 2011-2013 for the reprographic reproduction in Canada of works in its repertoire. This statement covered digital copies and proposed a tariff of $45 per student for universities or $35 per student for all other educational institutions. The statement specifies conditions regarding digital copies and details extensive reporting requirements.

The statement caused an uproar on many fronts.

The Canadian Federation of Students together with the Canadian Association of University Teachers objected.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations objected.
The Association of Canadian Community Colleges objected.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada objected.
The BC Association of Universities and Institutes objected.
The Government of Alberta objected.
And on and on.

In all over 101 objections were submitted. Interestingly Access Copyright response to the objections was to ask the Copyright Board of Canada to dismiss all of the objectors except AUCC and ACCC.

For some a key objection was the dramatic increase in per student charges.

Dave Molenhuis, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students said in a press release. “The proposal treats students as cash cows and ignores the fair dealing rights granted through the Copyright Act and affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Amazingly, from my point of view, in asking for the increase in tariff from $5.16 to $45/$35 per student Access Copyright hasn’t submitted any financial justification or business case rationale for the increase. Nor have I seen anything that says they have acquired the digital rights to works or that the creators and publishers they represent want them to act as digital work intermediaries on their behalf.

If this is a cash grab its worth following the money. How does Access Copyright collect and distribute royalties?

Access Copyright publishes a schedule of distribution payments. Of the $30 million it collects Access Copyright holds back 20% (~$6 million) to cover its own administration and a further 1.5% (~$450,000) which goes to Access Copyright’s cultural fund which goes to promote and support Canadian culture through the provision of grants intended to encourage the development and dissemination of published Canadian works.

Howard Knopf notes that Access Copyright budgeted $3.1 million for lawyer and other professional fees in 2010 and that with 1.5 million students registered in universities and colleges in Canada if the new tariff goes through Access Copyright’s revenues from universities and colleges alone jumps to about $60 million.

Access Copyright’s distribution of royalites specifies that two thirds of Access Copyright royalties go to the rightsholder based on Access Copyright having actual knowledge that their copyright protected work was copied under an Access Copyright license. Licensees (eg. colleges and universities) are required to provide full reporting including complete bibliographic information on all the works they copy, including the number of pages they copy and the number of times they copy these pages. Royalty payments are made to rightsholders of the works appearing in these reports.

One third of Access Copyright royalties are collected for copying impossible or impractical to collect information. This portion of the tariff is calculated based on the number of full time employees or an operating budget scale. Access Copyright distributes these royalties 50/50 to publishers and creators.

I don’t think anyone objects to publishers and creators getting fair compensation for their work. However, colleges and universities are currently operating in highly constrained financial circumstances. Furthermore tuitions and student debt has been rapidly escalating. Going digital ought to reduce costs not increase them but Access Copyrights tariff seems intent on going in the other direction forcing institutions and students to bear the burden of costs for which its made no justification.

Unreasonable royalty fees were not the only objections. For me the best summary of objections have come from the Canadian Library Association (CLA). CLA’s objections include:

  • Failure to recognize existing user rights and exceptions
  • Overly inclusive and inapplicable definitions
  • Unreasonable royalty fees
  • Unwarranted anti-circumvention provision
  • Unreasonable conditions placed on the use of repertoire works
  • Unreasonable reporting requirements
  • Unreasonable requirements of access for Survey purposes

CLA’s letter of objection concludes:

“Access Copyright‟s tariff seeks to require payment of an unreasonable amount of royalties for the use of works well beyond its previous licenses, beyond the scope of their legitimate remit under the current law and without regard to the rights of education institutions under the Copyright Act and applicable case law. In addition, it imposes onerous and often unenforceable new conditions on educational institutions and requires actions from them which may well be in contravention of existing legislation and contracts. CLA urges the Copyright Board not to approve any tariff without substantial changes in accordance with these objections and without a significant reduction in the royalty rates.”

I’m not going to go into every one of these objections but let me highlight just a couple more. In addition to unreasonable royalties another area of contention is around the breadth of Access Copyright’s definition of a copy. The three most contentious definitions of a copy Access Copyright included in their statement are:

  • projecting an image using a computer or other device
  • displaying a Digital Copy on a computer or other device, and
  • posting a link or hyperlink to a Digital Copy

Claiming that a hyperlink is a digital copy is a good example of how excessive Access Copyrights claims are. Linking and displaying are not part of Canada’s copyright act and as such are not subject to copyright tariff. Teachers, students, institutions and taxpayers should not have to unnecessarily pay millions of dollars per year to exercise rights that they already have. It appears that Access Copyright is overstepping its mandate as it tries to move in to the digital sphere.

In an era where everyone is used to acquiring digital works through services like iTunes it seems ludicrous, at least to me, that the process Access Copyright proposes to use for tracking and collecting tariffs is essentially manual, labour intensive and place the onus entirely on the licensee to fully disclose every copy it makes. For example if an instructor emails students a digital copy of a document the educational institution is required to compile a record and report back every such e-mail.

One can only hope that the Copyright Board of Canada will bring some reason to all this and balance Access Copyright’s efforts to generate dollars for the creators and publishers they represent with the rights of the Canadian public for fair access. However, in December 2010 they approved Access Copyrights request for an interim tariff and amazingly conclude this announcement by saying: “This decision is being issued without reasons because the Board considers this matter to be urgent.” Yikes that doesn’t come across as a good example of public accountability.

In light of all this some institutions are deciding to no longer be Access Copyright licensees and instead to go their own way. Athabasca University has announced it will not renew the Access Copyright license and in doing so says they plan to “make more extensive use of open educational resources (OERs), material such as lectures, texts, lessons and podcasts produced by other universities and made freely available for use. Where the use of OERs isn’t possible, the university will approach copyright holders directly for permission to make use of their work.”

Here in British Columbia the University of British Columbia’s position regarding Access Copyrights new tariff can be found here. As part of its response and its desire to take a lead on promoting responsible use of copyrighted material UBC is developing a License Information Database which answers many questions students and instructors have about using the Library’s resources.

The University of Northern BC, like Athabasca, has decided they will not renew the Access Copyright license. UNBC has invited me to give presentations there in early February helping faculty and staff explore the alternatives. I’ve agreed and submitted the following as what I propose to do.

Presentation #1
Title: The Opportunity Side of Open
This presentation will explore the opportunities associated with converging forces of open source software, open access research publishing, open government/data, open educational resources, and open pedagogies. The combined impact of these “open” initiatives is of growing strategic importance in higher education as institutions look for alternative and creative ways of enhancing their education offerings through digital technologies. (For more on this see my University of Open blog post.)

Within this larger strategic context of open particular emphasis will be placed on the potential of open educational resources as a creative alternative to traditional Access Copyright sourced course materials. Intellectual property, copyright and licensing aspects of open educational resources will be described and demystified. Open educational resource examples from within BC and from around the world will be used to illustrate the rich and diverse range of resources already available for free and immediate use.

Tips on sourcing open educational resources and using them in whole or in part will be provided including urls, web sites and search engines. This presentation will conclude with opportunities for Q&A and dialog with the presenter about the opportunity side of open. An applied/hands on session will follow providing more in depth opportunities for participants to explore, discover, and dissect open educational resources pertinent to their academic domain of interest.

Presentation #2
Title: Finding and Using Open Educational Resources
This session takes concepts and ideas from the first presentation and moves them into a practical and applied context. It is structured as a guided exploration of how to find and use open educational resources. Using web-based open educational resource aggregators and repositories participants will be invited to find and select resources pertinent to their academic field of study and instruction. Searching, previewing and downloading resources will all be demonstrated. The potential to use open education resources for everything from a course supplement, to a course component, to a complete course, to curricula for an entire credential will be explored. Benefits associated with open education resource use from student, instructor and institution perspectives will be discussed. Open education resource license obligations such as attribution, and share-alike will be described. Open educational resource technical format, instructional design, and quality aspects will be considered. This session will conclude with an overview of current trends and directions associated with open education resource development and use around the world.

Its important to acknowledge that going your own way is not an effort to avoid paying appropriate rights fees. It simply means that the model being proposed by Access Copyright is not appropriate, especially for digital works.

So what are the alternatives? Here are the ones I see:

  • Not all copying is a contravention of the copyright act. The Fair Dealing copyright exception allows copying portions of works for the purpose of study.
  • Use site database licences that librarians already have in place
  • Use open access licences to scholarly research
  • Negotiate licenses directly with creators or publishers
  • Use open educational resources and public domain materials

I’ve written widely about open educational resources elsewhere in this blog and think that openly licensed materials hold great potential as a significant alternative.

What do you think about Access Copyrights statement of proposed royalties?

Are there additional alternatives to the ones I’ve listed above?



The University of Open

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

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

End the University as We Know It

The Impending Demise of the University

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

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

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

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

I’ve started imagining a University of Open.

The University of Open:

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

Let me contextualize these bullet points with particulars.

Open Source Software (OSS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Access

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

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

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

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

Open Government/Open Data

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

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

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

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

Open Educational Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas seeks open textbooks.

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

Open Pedagogies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The University of Open

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

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



The 8th Annual BCcampus Online Program Development Fund – building OER through partnerships

Yesterday I announced the 8th annual round of the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund Open Educational Resource (OER) initiative through a call for proposals to BC’s public post secondary institutions.

Launching the fund each year is a major undertaking and one of the highlights of my year each time it occurs. I’m particularly excited about a couple of things that are receiving special emphasis in this years call. Here are my top two highlights:

  • This years fund is very focused on supporting development of OER through multi-institutional partnerships that produce for-credit OER leading to a credential. We’ve mapped the OER coming out of our earlier rounds of funding to the credential, field of study and subject area classification scheme used for BC’s public post secondary system. Proposals this year are being asked to map against the same schema and provide information on expected enrolments.
  • This years fund is giving preference to proposals that incorporate the use of existing OER, either from previous rounds of our fund or from other OER initiatives around the world, into their proposal. In other words we’re looking to see development of new resources be integrated with existing OER to create course and credential offerings. We are intentionally incentivizing reuse. I’m hoping this will be precedent setting in terms of what we see come forward in proposals and as a model and approach Foundations and other OER initiatives around the world adopt. To the best of my knowledge no other OER initiative has tried to do this.

In parallel with the announcement we launched some new and improved sites:

  • The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund OER workspace wiki was launched to provide a comprehensive source of information about the current call for proposals as well as providing historical information about the previous seven rounds.
  • OPDF OER reports by year, by institution, and by field of study are now available to support searching the awards made in the first seven rounds 2003-2009. See the 2003-2009 OPDF History page of the workspace wiki to try them out.
  • A new BC Commons web site was launched to provide a place where developers can learn about and access the licenses we are using for our OER.
  • A revamped BCcampus Shareable Online Learning Resources (SOL*R) repository has been launched to support the review, revision, remix and redistribution of our OER. A huge thanks go out to Scott Leslie and Victor Chen for their work on this new version of the site. I’m especially keen about all the additional academic context the repository is now providing for the resources and the availability of a single record for each project that provides access to all the resources that project developed.

At the end of the day on Tuesday I gave a webinar titled “OERder out of Chaos – creating credentials with OER” as part of the Open Education Resource Foundation Open Access Week series of webinars. Recordings of this webinar and the other excellent ones happening during this week are all available from their web site.

Phew, thats enough for now. Lots of activity.

I’m especially hopeful that OER are reaching a tipping point in terms of acceptance, that we’ll see lots of partnerships form around OER development, and that we’ll have an incredibly impressive set of proposals submitted in response to this years call.

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