Cable on Free vs Open

Cable Green sent a frustrated email today to the Educause Openness Constituent Group. Here’s the key point:

The Babson Survey Research Group has released a new report: Growing the Curriculum: Open Education Resources in U.S. Higher Education.

This sentence is of particular concern to me: “One concept very important to many in the OER field was rarely mentioned at all – licensing terms such as creative commons that permit free use or re-purposing by others.”

I think I’ll run a webinar series (as many as it takes) for Chief Academic Officers to help them better understand: (1) OER and (2) the difference between “free” and “open.”

I share his frustration. Here’s one humble contribution to making it easier to understand the difference between free and open.

A word about each quadrant.

On the Fence. 99% of content on the internet probably falls into this category. Completely free for you to access and read, but fully copyrighted – no permission for you to republish NYT articles on your own website or translate that CNN article into Swahili.

Old School. A small but growing amount of online content fits this category, like the articles behind the Chronicle’s paywall.

Open. Free to access and read, with free permissions to do the 4Rs – reuse, redistribute, remix, revise. Like the videos in Khan Academy or the text in Wikipedia.

No Man’s Land. I’m not aware of anything in this space. The first person to purchase the material would start legally distributing it outside the paywall, defeating the purpose.

As I’ve been saying, the real risk of the On the Fence MOOCs (aka xMOOCs) is that they confuse people about “open.” “Open” does not “mean free to access but copyrighted,” like Udacity and Coursera are. Open means free access plus free 4R permissions. The On the Fence MOOCs are drawing energy and attention away from where the real battle is happening – in open educational resources. OER is the only space where everyone has permission to make and redistribute the changes necessary to best support learning in their local context. Consequently, OER is the only space where continuous quality improvement is possible, as I’ve been saying for years now. You can have all the analytics in the world telling you where your course needs improving, but without 4R permissions you’re not allowed to make those improvements.

Being open is key to driving quality, and we need to help Chief Academic Officers who are desperately trying to improve student success get the message.