open content

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.

open content

A New Kind of Media Comparison Study

I’ve written about this before, but here we go again…

In educational research there is a long and storied history of people conducting studies along the lines of “is video-based instruction more effective than audio-based instruction?” or “is text-based instruction more effective than audio-based instruction?” or “”is video-based instruction more effective than text-based instruction?,” etc. This pointless family of research has a name, the “No Significant Difference Phenomenon,” and even has it’s own website: From the website:

This website has been designed to serve as a companion piece to Thomas L. Russell’s book, “The No Significant Difference Phenomenon” (2001, IDECC, fifth edition). Mr. Russell’s book is a fully indexed, comprehensive research bibliography of 355 research reports, summaries and papers that document no significant differences (NSD) in student outcomes between alternate modes of education delivery…. The primary purpose of the NSD website is to expand on the offerings from the book by providing access to appropriate studies published or discovered after the release of the book.

Hundreds of “horse race” studies comparing alternate modes of education delivery show us that nothing interesting happens in these studies. Indeed, careful forethought will demonstrate that we should expect to find nothing interesting in these kinds of studies. And yet eager graduate students and younger faculty continue to conduct them.

Unfortunately, I’m hearing more and more people talk about a new generation of media comparison studies – “License Comparison Studies.” These absolutely pointless studies would ask questions like “do CC BY-NC-SA licensed materials teach more effectively than traditionally copyrighted and licensed materials?” or “do CC BY-SA licensed materials teach more effectively than CC By-NC-SA materials?” Again, careful forethought will demonstrate that we should expect to find nothing interesting in these kinds of studies. Please, if you’re in a position to discourage these kinds of studies, save all of us the trouble and embarrassment by steering your students and colleagues in another direction.

open content

Opting Out of Berne

I’ve newly met a number of people at the annual family reunion that is Open Education 2009 (#opened09). And while you’re never supposed to single people out (esp. because doing so means you’re passing over many others), I must admit that meeting Dave Cormier has been one of the highlights of this year’s conference for me.

After the film screening tonight we got to talking… Warning: poor summary of Dave’s thinking coming up here:

Dave finds himself in a quandry – in order to share things with others he first has to claim ownership in order to assert his legal right to share (via an open license). Most of the things we “make” are really amalgams of so much that’s come before, can we even rightly claim ownership? The current system forces us to if we want to share. The fact that so many of us use an open license so readily just shows how subservient we are to the copyright overlords, and perpetuates and strengthens the very system we believe is so horribly broken.

Leigh made some related comments, but didn’t join us for our evening saunter across Van City.

Dave’s quandry got me to thinking… When your country is a signatory to Berne, everything you create is automatically copyrighted to the full extent of the law whether you desire that “protection” or not. That’s the law. Creative Commons acknowledges and accepts the law, and promotes a way of thinking that says, “Ok, you’ve copyrighted my work without my asking, and now I’m going to have to go to the trouble of formally licensing it so I can share it with others.” One person might see CC as a brilliant hack of the copyright / licensing system against itself; I can also appreciate the perspective that says our use of CC simply perpetuates the brokenness without making progress toward an improvement in the system.

But this whole problem is due to Berne. If the government didn’t automatically copyright my works for me – whether I wanted them to or not – I wouldn’t need a CC license. I could just share with people.

Now, in the US CC offers a public domain dedication (which is NOT a license). The dedication is a mechanism for undoing what Berne has done and placing your work back in an uncopyrighted state so that you can share it without the need for licensing agreements, etc. So it occurred to me tonight walking through Vancouver with Dave… if a person can undo Berne on a case by case basis using the CC domain dedication or a similar legal mechanism… couldn’t you do it with respect to all works you create from a certain point in time forward, indefinitely?

In other words, can’t an individual opt out of Berne?

What would a legal instrument that accomplished this opting out look like? Perhaps rejecting the (c) paradigm one work at a time (by CC licensing individual works) isn’t sending a strong enough message to the people who make policy. Perhaps if people rejected the entire paradigm by completely and permanently opting out of Berne someone would notice that we’re highly dissatisfied.

(Note: What would the unintended consequences be of opting out of Berne? Could the instrument that accomplished the opting out be written in such a way that, if a person occasionally decided they wanted copyright protection, they could still choose to receive it (e.g., by registering their work with the Copyright Office)?)