OpenFiction [Blog]

I believe I quote myself…

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on May 5, 2006

Here’s another posting from the IIEP forum:

The debate, it seems to me, is whether you favor freedom or openness as being the most important aspect of OER. Both perspectives are valuable, but each perspective leads to different and often conflicting conclusions. The emphasis on freedom seems to be the more widespread perspective, and places high importance on open licenses of many flavors, interoperability, and what I call derivatibility–the technical and legal ease with which derivatives can be made. This perspective sees the most connections between the development of free/open source software and OER. The real potential of OER will be realized, the freedom perspective argues, when a critical mass of teaching materials is available under (insert you favorite license here) in a common format that supports easy manipulation. At this point, we can stack these materials like Legos (TM), or save ourselves duplication of effort by simply recontextualizing existing materials rather than creating new ones. From the freedom perspective, having correctly licensed and highly formatted materials either created collaboratively or from a relatively smaller number of sources will provide the raw materials from which OER will flourish (assuming fewer will both adopt the correct license and have the financial means to adopt the correct formats).

The openness perspective places the emphasis on making the greatest number of educational materials openly available under any license. The real scarcity, in this view, is not the availability of correctly licensed and formatted educational materials, but the the availability of these materials under any circumstance. For institutions dedicated to the creation and dissemination of knowledge, the perspective argues, universities are remarkably insular institutions, providing knowledge only if you have the ability to come to campus or pay tuition or afford expensive journals and books. Here, the internet provides an unprecedented opportunity to make available these stores of knowledge with many fewer barriers (though important ones still). The key goal in this perspective is to get as many schools sharing as many resources as possible in whatever format and under whatever license they choose. If, for instance, it becomes standard practice for every college and university to openly publish their teaching materials, even under full copyright, then an enormous amount of good will have been realized. Any movement toward shared and open (or free) licensing or shared formats will amplify the good, but the openness itself is most crucial.

These are of course both extremes. I think like most people, I became interested in OER from a freedom perspective, having struggled to navigate treacherous IP waters in developing a distance learning program for a small private college. I have, over time, begun to see the value in the openness perspective. I said before that something like 90% of MIT OCW use does not depend upon the creation of derivatives. The vast majority of people using our materials are self-learners looking for solutions to professional problems, keeping skills up-to-date, or planning for future study; students learning outside the bounds of their formal study, finding additional perspectives on concepts addressed in their classes, or choosing courses or programs of study. Even among educators, many uses–such as developing curriculum, advising students, and improving their own knowledge–do not require the creation of derivatives. Among those educators who do reuse content, two-thirds do make changes mostly to account for academic and technical differences between our materials and the formats and structures of their own institutions. For the other third, the materials are close enough to their needs that they can provide any (re)contextualizing information in class. When I cited this 90% figure earlier, Derek suggested that the goal should be tho change the use behaviors, but I’m not sure how that applies to the many uses above.

Even when you look at the narrow question of educators reusing materials for instruction, I think there are multiple paths. Down the freedom path, make relatively fewer materials more openly licensed and technically flexible, and then recontextualize them widely. Down the openness path, make as many materials as widely available as possible so that educators will be able to find near approximations of their needs (under licenses that are open enough) that require little or no recontextualization to begin with. I don’t think one approach is necessarily better or more correct than the other, but I do think it’s quite premature to be suggesting that either is the wrong direction.


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