Open Ed Spottings Week 8

So recently I was “berated” (and rightly so) by one of the 50 or so people following my Introduction to Open Education course (not for credit) because a few weeks had passed since I had commented on their blog posts. I admit I have been focusing my reading / responding efforts on the few people signed up for credit, but s/he was right – I need to redouble my efforts and respond to all the stuff everyone is doing.

A few weeks ago I changed my first few weeks’ practice of posting highlights here to posting comments directly on people’s blogs. However, there have been several votes for bringing back the highlights here. So, that’s what I’m doing! Here’s some of what I’ve seen and thought recently.

Jennifer’s Comparison of Open Education Projects is something to see and thought provoking once again, as is Rick’s matrix, Antonio’s matrix

I wish I had known about Rick’s presentation on OERs for faculty a year ago.

Rick also bemoans “even one of the OpenEd enablers is inhibited since we don’t have the authority to assign CC licensing rights as the state owns all but a few kinds of things that a faculty produces.”

The somewhat obvious subversive end-run around this ridiculous policy is to have our faculty *start* from copylefted resources, like something licensed CC By-SA. The license will then require them to put their derivative works back out for the public under CC By-SA. If you can get this to happen, and provoke a battle with administration over it, you can force the administration to make a conscious, public choice in favor of or against open sharing. Remember, old policies will be based on the false binary of university owns or faculty owns. Open education introduces a third option. Someone should provoke this fight as soon as possible – alas, I come from a university with a much more enlightened policy where the fight is not possible.

Jon has an enlightening if brief discussion about the interaction of the notion of “producer surplus” and Creative Commons Noncommercial licenses.

In the aptly titled “one button to rule them all” Greg opines, “It seems to me that this would need several things to fall into place if it were to become widespread. First, technologies (including proprietary systems like blackboard) would have to widely adopt a “one button” functionality to take a course that is online from being closed to open.”

In my experience, the main problem with getting courses from closed to open systems is not the technical problem (and since this is a real problem, you know the main problem must be significant). The main problem is figuring out the copyright status of the individual bits of the course, and deciding what to do once you identify materials you aren’t allowed to share. The only way to remove this primary problem is for professors to commit to using only open resources, even in the classroom. Then you will know that everything you do is fair game to go up online. I made this commitment a few years ago, and it has made my participation in the open education movement significantly easier. Can we get other faculty to do this?

Greg continues, “There is still the question of courses that are not currently online or are only online as a supplement to face to face courses. Conversion of these courses to an online system such as Moodle or Sakai still takes an enormous amount of work and therefore, cost. The open educational resources movement does not have, to my knowledge, any tool that will help a professor who is not adept at technology to take their own face to face course and add it to Open CourseWare with a type of ‘one button’ function.”

The ‘one button’ would truly rule them all. Using iPod recording devices comes pretty close – push one button to record the audio of a lecture or other presentation, sync to iTunes, and upload. This is what we did with the Open Education Conference a few weeks ago, and the process is so simple that we trained volunteers to do the recording and had every single presentation at the conference online within 10 minutes of its ending. So maybe something like 51Weeks is the future of open education?

Jon draws some interesting comparisons between open education and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

There have been several arguments made as to why OpenCourseWare initiatives do not endanger the universities who participate in them. For example, I’ve argued that content alone is not enough, and if it were libraries would never have evolved into universities. Rob adds another interesting point to the argument: “Thinking back to my bachelors and my MBA, much of the material we learned was in textbooks (the same textbooks used at Harvard or other prestigious universities, it was pointed out to us). So if I have the same textbook as a student at Harvard, and I have the same ability as him or her to go to Google or Wikipedia and read or publish information or even collaborate directly with that Harvard student, what makes the Harvard degree so different from mine? The actual content being deposited into us is non-differentiating.” The verb deposit takes us back to the banking concept of education.

Rob then makes a point which seems clear on the surface: “It seems that everything would run smoother and more efficiently without having to worry about tracking all the IP issues inherent in creating closed content.” And yes, not having to worry about IP issues would be fabulous. However, it turns out that IP issues are not the sole province of closed content; there are plenty of IP issues to worry over in the world of open content as well. Problems related to license compatibility across different collections are one of these huge worries.

Which brings me to Stephen’s response (Understanding Me) to my recent post (Misunderstanding Stephen) And let me again publicly thank Stephen. I wish everyone in the world had a Stephen in their life – someone who pushed their thinking and forced them to write more than they would otherwise.

David writes, “When a group of learners who are in no way affiliated with a company or any other for-profit organization are prevented from remixing OERs by the copyleft provisions in the GFDL and the CC-By-SA or the CC-By-NC-SA, how is it that this is only a problem for commercial exploiters of open content?”

Leaving aside all the presumption packed implicitly into this statement with phrases like ‘group of learners’… Here is my counterexample:

“Are you saying it’s ok for these learners to violate the license terms, because no one will care since they’re not making any money?”

Yes. Because there is no reasonable interpretation of those terms that would see them applied against individual students creating their own learning content for their own personal (and sometimes shared) use.

I think Stephen is either making a “security by obscurity” argument or a “fair use” argument. The security by obscurity argument that says, “it’s ok to speed down this obscure country road because no police ever come out this far” is only safe most of the time and is right none of the time. The same is true of violating license terms on the assumption that no one will ever catch you – not being caught doesn’t make it right. But I don’t think this is really Stephen’s argument.

On the fair use side, I think he’s saying, ‘Yes it’s ok to break copyright law if individuals are doing it for their own personal use, because this use should be protected under the notion of fair use.’ I have two problems with this argument. First, very much hangs on the word “should.” It may be hard to provide proper incentives to people when all we can tell them is that, even though they’re breaking the law, their breaking of it will probably be protected because it occurs in a legal grey area. But the much more troubling problem with the fair use argument is that all fair uses are black holes – no adaptations or improvements made under the assumption of fair use protection can ever come back out to be shared with the broader OER community.

Moving on, Erik says the only way to avoid the analysis paralysis possible when looking for OER sustainability models is to jump right in. “Once again it all comes down to trial and error. Someone has to be willing to take the first step. At this time the ball is rolling so either get moving or be prepared to be flattened.” Currently, lots of universities are giving away OERs. None are looking to create sustainability models that don’t involve grants and gifts. Someone has to get in this space, even if they do it wrong. Spoiler: COSL will have a piece of software available next summer that will provide on pool for universities who want to sustain their OCWs to jump into.

Jessie says when it comes to sustainability, the more the merrier. “Besides money, other key factors such as participation and ownership, government policies, social, gender and culture, technology, external political and economic factors and so on should also be put into count. OER’s target group is a wide range of people so a sustainable business can be build on something participated with wide range of people.” While this is true for a handful of major projects (i.e., Wikipedia), how many times can this model be replicated simultaneously?

Bobbe looks at new or alternative CC licensing options from the perspective of Ockham’s Razor, encouraging us to take the simplest path possible: “Creative Commons ought to have a completely different section of works for OER or get out of the picture. Licensing OER should not be complicated or available on multiple levels. It is time for us to work together on this issue. If you are going to submit work to OER, submit it freely.” I feel for the frustration in her writing here, but I’m not sure I agree with where her post ends: “The hard work of this global community is for free use – not for commercial use.” Given that commercial use can mean such seemingly innocent things as running ads next to OERs, this attitude might make long-term sustainability even more challenging than it already is.

Jennifer cuts right to the heart of the issue (as usual), with one of the best quotes of the semester so far: “While it is hard to criticize altruism, altruism for the sake of altruism does not guarantee need by the recipient”. Her color-coded matrix of OER projects and sustainability models is also a must see. In the past I’ve argued that a producer-driven model isn’t necessarily bad. I wonder what she’ll have to say to that.

Apparently . Stian tells us, “I used to boast about how in Norway even a street-sweeper (if we still had those), or a homeless person, could follow all the lectures of a given course for free (and legally – not by sneaking in), get a library card at the university library and check out all the books he or she wanted, etc. There is no reason why this shouldn’t be extended into the virtual space (as for access, luckily most Norwegian small cities have libraries that offer free access to the internet nowadays).”

He then goes on to propose a kind of specialization with universities that could make inexpensive credentialling possible: “With the incredible amount of options for learning autonomously and the need for continuous learning, and the eventual and necessary reform of university as an institution, this view could hopefully change. Until then, one interesting model is one that the Economist has been advocating (and unfortunately I cannot find the article in their archives – full-text search is failing me) of having world-class universities like Harvard or MIT separate their teaching arm from their evaluation arm. So that anyone in the world willing to pay a small administrative fee, could take a comprehensive Harvard exam, and if they passed, get a Harvard degree that was just as valid as any “Harvard” student. The neat thing about this is that it would force the education arm to really compete on education, not on name recognition.” If you’ve ever heard of the Western Governors University, you know that there’s at least one fully accredited, evaluation-only online university in the world.

Yu-Chun looks at donation and public-private partnership models, and suggests a specific public-private model: “Funding is important for the basic operation of OER websites. Users who use contents for commercial use will need to contribute at least 5 % of what they have earned from those contents.” Enforcement would be a bear, but perhaps we can make this work. Spoiler: I’ll have more to say about this approach and licenses in a month or so

Megan provides a review of the Easterly book, saying, “I think this idea – that we should focus on Searching for specific answers, instead of Planning the big plan – is a particularly important concept for the Open Ed movement. Flooding the world with generic blueprint OERs will not necessarily bring prosperity or learning to all. However, targeting the needs of certain groups of learners (the needs of learners, not of the educators) might result in several really great OERs. One size does not fit all.” This extends a drum that I’ve been beating a lot lately – it’s not sustainability, but localization that is the final frontier of open education, and “only a local can localize an OER.”

Megan also pulls two fabulous quotes from the Easterly: “A well established public health principle is that you should save lives that are cheap to save before you save lives that are more expensive to save.” (p. 253), and
“Public policy is the science of doing the best you can with limited resources.” (p. 256)

Thieme has a go at providing highlights of the recent course posts and does a fine job, and also points out why sustainability is so hard: “Sustainability involves many aspects. A “solution” does not only depend on the goals of a project or organization, but also on the environmental factors and opportunities. Clearly a hybrid form must be sought.” So that even if one OER project could find a sustainability model that worked for them, it likely would not work for another project unless that project existed in a very similar environment of opportunities.

Edocet gives us a photo and the sound of his voice, which makes his other writing instantly feel more personal somehow.