Open Policy #ioe12

At the heart of the movement to open educational resources is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general, and the World Wide Web in particular provide an opportunity for everyone to share, use and re-use it.

Kathy Casserly & Mike Smith, Hewlett Foundation

The course topic ‘readings’ consider the area of pushing for legislation within the US to increase public access to data generated by publicly funded grants. Examples being the expansion of National Institutes of Health Public Access policy. However, I have previously written about the Research Works Act H.R.3699 which would undo this approach if my understanding is correct.

In the UK the Research Councils are requiring research data to be made openly available as it’s a ‘public resource’. Increasingly there is a requirement for research institutions to have a Data Management Plan in place prior to funding being granted, as I’ve previously mentioned.

Brazil has a very interesting openness approach as outlined in the OER into federal legislation article.

The bill deals with three main issues: It

1) requires government funded educational resources to be made widely available to the public under an open license,

2) clarifies that resources produced by public servants under his/her official capacities should be open educational resources (or otherwise released under an open access framework), and

3) urges the government to support open federated systems for the distribution and archiving of OER.

When reading this for education I was minded of the robust approach taken by Brazil towards pharmaceutical patents for the good of the national public health that I have previously encountered. There does seem to be a will in that country to work for the educational benefit of its peoples.

But more generally across the globe there are problems in policy at different levels:

  • within institutions
  • in government
  • etc.

where they don’t understand the technologies and make decisions within existing parameters.

Most of the resources in higher education are digital, non-rivalrous and we just need to license them properly, using Creative Commons licenses for example. Cable Green argues that by licensing and opening work there can be greater leveraging of a global workforce that will take one’s work and maybe translate it, make it more accessible, or improve it in other ways.

Cable suggests that there are instances where the policies of institutions have been circumvented.

Where the faculty have come together and said “we are the Academy. Our job in the Academy is to advance knowledge. Our job in the Academy is to share knowledge to the extent that it’s what we are about. We will not only publish in the journals, but we will provide a free, accessible version of our research as well to anybody who would like to access it.”

Cable Green, Creative Commons, (video)

By following an openness policy there is increased potential for sharing and learning from each other:

  • across an institution (intra-openness)
  • and crossing institutional boundaries (inter-openness).

This also has the potential for financial savings. But Cable suggests that we need to move towards a ‘not invented here’ to ‘proudly borrowed from there’ stance so that resources can be shared. Additionally there are general advantages for society if people have increased access to education; good quality curricula and affordable up-to-date ‘textbooks’, constantly maintained and with use of the latest technologies.

There is a movement where some universities are proving resources and instruction openly. “The OER university (OERu) is a virtual collaboration of like-minded institutions committed to creating flexible pathways for OER learners to gain formal academic credit.

The OER university aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide using OER learning materials with pathways to gain credible qualifications from recognised education institutions.

There is a much reduced fee for assessment and credit from the institutions. Obviously there is an outreach and community mission to this approach, but there are potentially widespread general implications to the approach, meaning a shift away from the status quo in higher education provision.

Currently the ‘anchor’ partner institutions of OERu are:

Other interesting things happening in this area are the University of the People and Wikiwijs in the Netherlands. Athabasca University in Canada has a policy that prior to building a new course the academic must go out globally and look at what OER materials are already available.

But there is a challenge with all of this; existing structures are difficult to change. The current ‘preferred’ institutional model of higher education is one of gatekeeper and rivalrous resource model.