Week 2: Introduction to Open Educational Resources (OERs)

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.


Google’s terms of service for Picasa just stink!

I am looking for an option for sharing my photos with family and friends.  I like the licence agreement afforded by flickr, but sadly I would also like a client interface that provides simple and efficient synchronisation of my photo albums.  I want to be able to add my tags, captions, titles, descriptions and photo albums in a local application, and then replicate that to an online presence with a single click.  I have yet to find this for flickr.  Picasa on the other hand provides this functionality in conjunction with Google Web Albums, and I was all but ready to sign up until I read their terms of service.

Point 11.1 states:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

As pointed out by  Sam, it is abhorrent to think that by simply using their services, you are granting them a “perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free” licence to your images to “promote” their services.  Even if you cancel your agreement with Googe in using their service, they still have perpetual access to your content.

By contrast, Yahoo!7 has this to say regarding their services (including Flickr):

With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Service other than Yahoo!7 Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Service and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo!7 removes such Content from the Service.

Note that if you remove the content from their service, you also revoke their licence to use it.  Furthermore, the licence only applies to contact you make publicly available – perfectly reasonable and necessary for them to carry out the service.  So your private photos that you share only with your friends and family are off limits.  Congrats to Yahoo for taking such a fair and reasonable approach to their terms of service.

Come on google, don’t be so greedy.