Down on Openness

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I’m feeling grumpy today. Must be the jet lag.

Why do people think that open source licenses are a kind of magic pixie dust? Here’s a little thought…. Let’s call it Wiley’s Anti-openness Thought Experiment (WATE):

A major publisher publishes a beginning algebra textbook which is not very effectively designed. Most faculty avoid using it; those who do find that their students perform more poorly than the last few semesters’ students. The word gets out on the street about the poor quality of the book, and sales suffer.

One day, the publisher has a brilliant idea. The publisher releases the second edition of the book, which changes in only one way: the standard copyright statement in the front of the book is replaced with a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Now I ask you: is the second edition of the textbook more educationally effective than the first?

The answer is, obviously, No. So why is it that PhD students looking for dissertation topics keep proposing to gather evidence to establish their hypothesis that “open educational resources are more effective than proprietary resources?” Why is it that very smart people I know from prestigious universities in the OER world keep falling into this same trap in their thinking? AN OPEN LICENSE DOES NOT MAKE A RESOURCE MORE EFFECTIVE!!!

Now, obviously, I am not anti-openness. In fact, I am the most pro-openness person I know. But what you have to understand is that what increases the quality of a resource is when someone **improves** the resource, not when someone **openly licenses** a resource. The improvement is partially made possible by an open source license, but is not accomplished by the license.

Someone once said that a person who doesn’t read is no different from a person who can’t read. In the same sense, and open educational resource that has never been adapted or localized is no different from a fully copyrighted resource.

Please, please, please, let’s learn this lesson.

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