Open courseware an ‘opportunity’ for education publishers

I can hear Stephen now… eSchoolNews reports on a speech given today by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which they summarize with the byline, “Secretary calls federal investment in open courseware an ‘opportunity’ for education publishers.” From the article:

To support technological innovation in learning, President Obama has proposed investing $500 million over ten years in an Online Skills Initiative designed to produce free and open online courses that contribute to post-secondary success, Duncan said. These courses can be used by students, schools, and self-directed learners, and they also will be freely available to commercial publishers.

“Our commitment to open educational resources includes a commitment to you: That they will be fully open, including open to commercial producers of learning materials who want to add value to these resources and sell enhanced, proprietary versions,” he told the publishers.

“We see this step as both an investment in our students and an opportunity for your industry.”

This open courseware initiative “will create new demand from colleges and universities for online courses,” Duncan said. “It will open a new market for supplementary materials—one that you are uniquely positioned to fill. Our online skills program will create new opportunities for you as publishers and software developers—and will deliver the best possible education for students in the 21st century.”

While it doesn’t make an explicit statement, we now know an answer to a question many have been asking – “How will AGI-funded OER be licensed?” We now know that the resources created under the AGI funding will either be licensed CC BY or placed in the public domain. We know this because no CC licenses with SA or NC clauses live up to the promises made in the above statements. And the GFDL has been relegated to the realm of the OPL.

I am surprised by this announcement – but pleasantly so. As I’ve stated before in discussing open access to federally funded research, I believe that resources produced with taxpayer dollars belong to the taxpayers. Since corporations pay taxes, they deserve both access to research they help fund (e.g., through NIH and NSF funding) and to the OERs whose production they help fund (through AGI funding). And if other taxpayers can reuse, redistribute, revise, and remix OERs, they should be able to as well.

The primary reason the AGI program (Online Skills Initiative) interests me is that it represents a desperately needed national investment in a new kind of infrastructure. For many years now I have argued that content is infrastructure:

I believe we must view the vast body of open educational resources as “content infrastructure.” By “content infrastructure” I mean that instead of thinking about open educational resources as being the educational opportunity we are trying to share with people (the end of our work), we should think about them as the basic resources necessary for doing our job (a means to the end of our work). A vast collection of open educational resources is, of course, the first milestone in our work, not the end of our work….

Content is infrastructure, and as the OCWs and Connexions continue to come online, the next great wave of work for those of us interested in bringing educational opportunity to the developing world will focus on building instructional design capacity so that this content infrastructure can be successfully leveraged and utilized locally.

OER should be available for everyone to leverage and use in creating and providing the most innovative educational services imaginable, just as other infrastructure like roads, power, and water are available to entrepreneurs. Because OER differ from other infrastructure projects by being nonrivalrous, access to this infrastructure can be truly free and open to all.

Call it “Infrastructure 2.0″ or “Knowledge Economy Infrastructure” or any other kind of buzzword you can come up with, if you like. The point is that a broad, openly licensed pool of OERs ar desperately needed to spur innovation in the education space. As Linus said in one of my all time favorite quotes:

And don’t EVER make the mistake that you can design something better than what you get from ruthless massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle. That’s giving your intelligence _much_ too much credit.

Our education system is currently running an exceptionally small number of experiments, not engaging in massively parallel anything. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of schools and universities across the country, but as a group they don’t really differ from each other significantly. This is why there is so little true innovation in education – when everyone is doing (largely) the same thing, no one is innovating!

We’ll only have massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle when institutions are providing their students with significantly different experiences. By providing a large collection of OER, the government significantly decreases the cost and risk of running one of these experiments, thereby encouraging innovation. (Of course, there are some policy changes they could make that would also decrease the risks / make it possible to run an institution on a truly different model, as well.)

Anyway, I believe it’s great news about the AGI-funded courses. Since the Obama administration has shown a preference for CC BY in the past, I would guess that’s what we’ll see, and that’s great news.

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  • Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    I am very glad that I had been supporting Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan for the last almost 2 years.
    They are on the right track., supporting OER .

    Regarding OER I have one reservation. Don’t make everything free. Free things are not appreciated and people think they are worthless. So charge $ 10-20 per course like Carnegie Mellon University. And one can assure the sustainability as well.
    Good luck. mgozaydin@hotmail.com from Turkey