This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba.
Open Educational Resources provide an opportunity for educators both individually and as collectives (such as institutions) to work collaboratively rather than competitively on the creation of knowledge and artefacts. These artefacts can vary ranging from topical content, lesson plans, and teaching approaches, to curriculum maps, and assessment tasks. The output of these collaborative efforts are then freely available under special copyright licensing for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing to a world-wide audience. So why a special copyright license? Consider the following very prolific Australian advertisement.
This advertisement is placed at the commencement of all (legally) purchased DVD and Blu-ray movies in Australia and has done-so for the past 10 years. Copyright provides a legal mechanism for creators of non-tangible goods based on intellect, to be protected in a similar way to tangible goods. You wouldn’t steal a car, right? Modern society in the 21st Century has seen an information revolution where knowledge and content has shifted from scarcity to abundance, making it a commodity that can be easily traded, shared and also stolen. But is it really stolen?
The concept of reuse, adaption and sharing through copying is quite a shift from the traditions that have held for so long. Ironically OER initiatives seek to use copyright law provisions to protect similar non-tangible goods from exclusivity and control. The creative commons licence states that any reuse of such licenced material must also be licenced the same way. An example of theft in this instance could be a company taking creative commons (non-commercial) work and selling it as their own.
The ultimate measure of whether there is any future for OERs is whether business models can be successfully built around it. Altruism alone in my view will not sustain the OER movement. A large part of the world economy is based on the capitalist model – a free and open market for trade in all manner of wares, including non-tangibles such as intellectual property. This is a competitive model of wealth creation where scarcity and exclusivity provide an edge or advantage. The principles of the OER movement shifts more towards a communist model where ownership is less important and collaboration is favoured over competition.
After reading about both the Cape Town and Budapest declarations, I am undecided as to whether I would sign. The declarations hold high ideals in the interests of the greater good, but when faced with the pressures of capitalism to return on investment, ideals are easily compromised. It would be a worthwhile exercise to follow-up on institutional signers and evaluate their performance against the strategies outlined in the declarations to see whether they are holding to their ideals.
The Cape Town Declaration’s 3rd strategy (Open education policy) makes specific mention of government funded educational resources, ideally being open in the vein of OERs. In the Australian higher education context, and despite a more left-wing government, there is a continual push towards a competitive model between institutions. While an OER approach among government funded universities would be quite advantageous in terms of pooling resources and sharing work, it does mean Universities will have to find other ways to differentiate themselves to again compete for market share and funding.
Considering the ideas expressed by Eric S. Raymond in the Cathedral and the Bazaar, there is evidence to suggest that sound business models have emerged in the open source software movement. Companies like Red Hat, and Canonical have managed to carve out a market and survive and prosper by bundling and supporting the open source operating system GNU/Linux. Educational institutions may well be able to innovative in other ways to give them an edge over their competitors, while sharing intellectual property through OERs.
Always interesting times.