CC Talks With

CC Talks With: Innerviews’ Anil Prasad – Music Without Borders

Meryl Mohan, October 14th, 2013

Anil Prasad
photo by: Jeremy Harris

“Could you please print out your website on company letterhead and mail it to me to process your request?” This is the kind of question Anil Prasad received from music industry professionals and publicists when he began Innerviews in 1994—the internet’s first and longest-running music magazine.

The internet has evolved since then, but the concept of Innerviews remains the same as it did 20 years ago: to share and bring attention to outstanding musicians. Innerviews is Prasad’s labor of love—a site dedicated to long-form, in-depth interviews of musicians. Coming up on its 20th anniversary, Prasad has interviewed 400+ artists to date, with the site averaging 1-1.5 million visitors a year. Despite this success, Innerviews remains a not-for-profit venture, allowing Prasad to spend weeks, and sometimes months ensuring pieces are meticulously researched and edited.

Coincidentally, Prasad is also the author of the best-selling book, Innerviews: Music Without Borders, now available as an eBook under a Creative Commons BY-ND license.

Below, Prasad shares his thoughts on his recent decision to adopt Creative Commons licenses for Innerviews and his eBook, and delves deeper into how musicians can incorporate Creative Commons into their work.


Where do you hope Innerviews will be in the next 5 to 10 years? Are there any new directions for its immediate future?

The ultra-long-form content format will remain the same, but the site’s ability to adapt to the new universe of devices and screens will radically alter. The next version of the site, going live in 2014 to coincide with Innerviews‘ 20th anniversary will be totally adaptive, meaning no matter what device you view it on, it will be the same experience. Having said that, the current site works well on mobile devices as is. But it will be significantly optimized in the near term. It’s interesting to contemplate the idea of Innerviews being 25- or 30-years old. The concept of the audience extending for a ride that long is very gratifying. If you had told me that this site, started as an experiment in 1994, would turn into a life’s work and legacy, I would never have believed you. The truth is, I would like this site to live forever in one form or another. It’s a key reason for why I adopted a Creative Commons license for the entirety of the site. It means the content can be mirrored anywhere, anytime, by anyone. I’d like the site’s content to remain as snapshots of these incredible musicians’ thought processes 25, 30 or even 100 years from now. Creative Commons has created a way for that to happen.

Innerviews Book Cover

You framed the adoption of Creative Commons licenses as a “major decision.” Why did you decide to adopt CC licenses for Innerviews as well as your eBook?

It reflects a decision to totally let go of this content that I have slaved over across 25 years. It’s an acknowledgement that all of this work belongs not to me, but to the world at large. Innerviews has always been a not-for-profit endeavor, so why not formally codify it in the unique way that Creative Commons enables? Through the Creative Commons license, the content will go further than it ever has before. I had previously been rather protective of the content. I would police other sites that “ripped off” the work and get it removed, thinking Innerviews needed to be a little fortress that exclusively housed the writing. That view was misguided. Over the years, many people have asked permission to use the work in a wide variety of commercial, nonprofit, and academic environments. There are often a lot of those requests, so this decision also frees me from having to respond to each individual enquiry. Now, everyone can do whatever they want.
It’s also a major decision because I used Creative Commons to transform the for-profit Innerviews book into a not-for-profit, Creative Commons—based entity, too. As my friend, the author Robin Slick, put it, “Books have the lifespan of a cup of yogurt.” It’s true. You get maybe a year, perhaps a couple, before things totally drop off, sales wise. So, why not just release it to the world in the same way? Perhaps it’s a new model for authors and artists to consider—sell your product for a year or two to recoup or make some money via people that want to support it and want it rapidly. Once the inevitable fall-off occurs, freely release it like a pigeon into the wind.

Why did you pick a CC Attribution – No Derivatives license?

I want people to be able to distribute my writing freely, even to the point of reprinting it for commercial purposes. However, I remain protective of the integrity of the content itself. I want the features to remain completely intact. The pieces cannot be pulled apart. They represent a conversational flow that is meticulously architected. They are the equivalent of a long-form concept album in that way. You can’t just take parts out of them and still have them make sense.

Have you seen any financial or other benefits to making the switch to CC licenses for Innerviews and/or your eBook?

I just made the switch a few weeks ago [in September 2013], but already I’ve approached to have content run in magazines all over the world, as far away as The Netherlands and Russia. I’ve also seen the number of downloads of the eBook jump 1,000-fold since the decision, which has given it a totally new life, which is fantastic. At the end of the day, the goal is to get the work in the hands of as many people as possible and Creative Commons helps make that a reality.

“I’ll never have an idea of the totality of the penetration that will occur as a result of this decision, and that’s a great thing. More albums will be sold. More music will be listened to. More attendees will show up at gigs.”

How does CC bring you closer to the goal you mentioned in a 15 Questions interview: “A desire to share and bring attention to what I believe are outstanding musicians.”

Creative Commons is the exact embodiment of that idea. Creative Commons licensing means many more people will find out about the artists I cover. It enables the content to propagate all over the world, working its way into nooks and crannies of the web and far beyond. I’ll never have an idea of the totality of the penetration that will occur as a result of this decision, and that’s a great thing. More albums will be sold. More music will be listened to. More attendees will show up at gigs. At the end of the day, what Innerviews does is about helping artists. By making this content available via a Creative Commons license, those artists get an even bigger potential, global boost.

How do you feel about musicians putting their music under CC licenses?

It’s one of many valuable ways a musician can release music in a way that can reap rewards, both immediate and long-term. These days, it’s next to impossible for artists to earn a living through recordings, either because of piracy or streaming services that pay in fractions of pennies. The important thing is that putting music under a Creative Commons license is a choice. It’s up to the musician whether or not they want to do it, as opposed to their music being unceremoniously ripped off legally via streaming services if they are signed to a label or illegally via piracy.
A Creative Commons license is an invitation for the world to not only explore, but interact with music. Some Creative Commons licenses enable other musicians to take music and remix or build upon it. That means music becomes a conversation between musicians, as opposed to a fixed expression cemented in a moment in time. It’s a very exciting concept that many more musicians should examine. However, the question of monetization always looms large in these discussions. One approach is to put certain tracks, EPs or album chunks out via Creative Commons to create interest and intrigue as a roadmap towards an album that is available via more traditional means that encourage payment. There are endless permutations for how an artist could use Creative Commons to promote their work. As we have seen through services like PledgeMusic and Bandcamp, people are still willing to pay and support artists, even though they already often have full access to the music. It’s all about being creative, encouraging goodwill, and being open to the possibilities.

“The choice to invoke a Creative Commons license is a choice to get your content or music to as many people as possible, without restrictions, filters or gatekeepers. It’s about taking your work directly to the people and experiencing and enjoying the unexpected connections that get created.”

You mentioned in an interview with Radio New Zealand that if an artist is not at the point of selling, maybe that’s where Spotify and Rdio can benefit you. How does that idea tie into musicians who choose to license their music under Creative Commons?

Creative Commons offers another valuable option for musicians that are trying to crossover to the point where they can monetize their music. And unlike Spotify or Rdio, it enables them to do it entirely on their own terms, specifying how the music can be shared and made available. Jamendo, Freesound, and SoundCloud are just a handful of the many options that now exist for an emerging artist to distribute their Creative Commons-licensed music at scale, worldwide. Adopting a Creative Commons license can be a key tool in promoting work to an audience interested in reaching beyond the mainstream for new sounds.

Can you explore the idea of CC licenses as a means of spreading knowledge, and how music works with that idea?

Creative Commons is about treating the entire planet as a single global community, in which media is a shared resource that benefits the human race as a whole. This is in stark contrast to the siloed mentality and digital land grab approach the power players of the corporate media attempt to enforce on society. The choice to invoke a Creative Commons license is a choice to get your content or music to as many people as possible, without restrictions, filters or gatekeepers. It’s about taking your work directly to the people and experiencing and enjoying the unexpected connections that get created. As for music, in a way, it’s the purest manifestation of Innerviews‘ tagline: Music Without Borders.

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CC Talks With: CC Talks With: David Liao: Open Courseware and CC Licenses

Billy Meinke, April 10th, 2013

Last week a researcher and educator by the name of David Liao contacted our team at Creative Commons about open courseware he had created, which we tweeted:

I sat down last Wednesday to speak with David about his course, motivations for using a CC-license, and about other challenges in scholarly communication and education that are being changed by new ways of “open.” He’s created a set of videos and curriculum titled A Mathematical Way to Think about Biology, released under a CC BY-SA license. David, an Analyst with the University of California, SF and a member of the Princeton Physical Sciences-Oncology Network, recognized that quantitative research is fundamental to hard science disciplines, but there are few openly licensed training resources on these methods that can translate to Biology as well as other non-scientific fields.

Udemy Screenshot of Math-Bio Course
Screenshot from David’s Udemy course

Already a proponent of Open Access (OA) to research publications, David sums up his view on how principles of OA can be applied to education:

”Speaking loosely along the same lines of sentiment [of Open Access], it is likewise preferable to release, as free cultural works, both scientific literature and the instructional materials by virtue of which that literature becomes readable.”

As David explained, there is a gap between the highly-technical aspects of training future researchers and the practical resources available; one that he hopes to begin to fill by making his materials available online. He has developed more than ten learning modules ranging from fundamental mathematical concepts of algebra and geometry to more complex areas of spatially-resolved models and cellular automata, all described in ways that apply to the biological sciences. The slide decks and tutorial videos have all been released under a CC BY-SA license, which allows reuse and remixing the content, so long as any adapted content carries the same copyleft license. David’s content has been structured as a course, is available on the Udemy online learning platform and has had nearly one thousand participants use the material.

An advocate of many things Open for some time, our conversation shifted from OER to OA. David offered his take on Open Access and how scholarly communication has reached a point where tools like CC licenses are needed to maintain progress in a digital age.

“Ten years ago, when it came to negotiating legal matters around copyright and intellectual property, we would need to be able to do some serious Jiu-Jitsu, and likely involve a team of lawyers. Creative Commons [licenses] makes this communication so much easier.”

Fort Worth MMA and BJJ_5896 by inronsidemma
Fort Worth MMA and BJJ_5896 / ironsidemma / CC BY 2.0

By making his content available on the web and applying a CC license to his work, David has taken steps to not only make his educational media openly accessible, but also explicitly describe how others can reuse his work. A longstanding problem in defining the core characteristics of “open”, digital media that is freely accessible but does not allow for reuse or remixing is often confused with open content. David has been pleased to see learners using the materials in his course, as well as having had fellow college professors contact him about using his content to supplement their own teaching. When asked about his thoughts on others who likely will be remixing and building upon his learning content, David welcomed it fully, and is interested to have others to contact with links to derivative works.

A case study on the CC Wiki for A Mathematical Approach to Biology can be found here.

David’s course can be found on Udemy here, and his personal website is here.
You can also follow David on Twitter here.

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CC Talks With: Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, July 27th, 2011

Sir John Daniel has been working in open education from its earliest days. “Openness is in my genes,” he says. Sir John is President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, or COL. COL is an intergovernmental organization comprised of 54 member states. The overarching focus area for COL is “learning for development.” It aims to help its member nations—especially developing countries—use technology and develop new approaches to expand and approve learning at all levels. Sir John’s first interaction at COL happened over 20 years ago, when he chaired its planning committee. At that time, he was president of Canada’s Laurentian University. He went from there to lead the Open University in the UK, and then served as head of Education at UNESCO. Sir John’s colleague, Dr. Venkataraman Balaji, is Director of Technology and Knowledge Management, and led the efforts in crafting COL’s recent Open Educational Resources policy.

What were the primary motivations in developing an OER policy at COL? What hurdles (legal, social, cultural) did you have to overcome, both within the organization and among the member states?

We’re in the open business, so it made sense to communicate a formal open policy prominently on our website. It really wasn’t a problem, and there were few hurdles inside COL. We drafted the policy, it went through a few iterations within our staff, and then we adopted it. That said, we should be clear that we didn’t take this policy to the member states for review. We’re a small organization, and we do not have a general assembly of our membership. So, we didn’t have to wade through the politics of getting all the states to sign on. However, we didn’t develop the OER policy just pat ourselves on our back. We want to show the world that supporting open education is how we all should behave these days.

The work of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) is very important, but to the outside observer it is sometimes not apparent what IGOs do. What does COL do to “encourage and support governments and institutions to establish supportive policy frameworks to introduce practices relating to OER”?

If I may be so bold, I think your question reflects an American bias. The United States and other large, powerful countries tend to operate bilaterally. Smaller countries prefer the facilitative, collaborative approach of working via intergovernmental organizations. UNESCO is the extreme example, where 193 countries operate democratically, and everyone’s voice is at least in principle equal. When I worked at UNESCO, I was surprised how seriously the member states took the recommendations that were developed. They trust that sort of process more than directives that come at them bilaterally.

In general, the IGO process aims to get countries to work together to do things they cannot do separately. One example is a virtual university for small states within the Commonwealth. Since two-thirds of the 54 member states are nations with populations of 2 million or less, they have fewer resources to spend on content creation. You can imagine when the dot com boom came along the small states were worried how they could come to terms with all the potential benefits (and address the challenges) of this rapidly changing digital, networked world. So their ministers of education looked at the challenge and said, “if we can’t crack it individually, why not crack it collectively?” COL helped them start a ‘virtual university’, which is not a new institution but a collaborative network where countries and institutions can work together to produce course materials as OER that they can all adapt and use. This virtual university has developed curriculum in various areas, such as a diploma in sustainable agriculture for small states. You can imagine that agricultural practices in a place like the atolls of the Maldives are very different than agriculture in the volcanic islands of Dominica. However, developing a vanilla version of the curriculum and then allowing each region to tailor the resources to the specifics of their own agricultural ecosystem has proved much more efficient than each state starting from scratch. A condition of participating in the virtual university is that anything you create must be released as OER.

COL has chosen the CC BY-SA license for its own materials. Can you describe how the organization decided upon this license for its resources?

Well, our policy simply says COL will release its own materials under the most feasible open license, which includes the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. We understand why MIT OCW adopted a noncommercial license for its materials—they were the first to do it and didn’t know what was going to happen. But now, we encourage people to not use noncommercial if they can avoid it, and we follow our own recommendation. It wasn’t until Dr. Balaji arrived that we were able to sort through the legal and technical challenges that COL, as an intergovernmental organization, faced in adopting an open license.

Many of the COL member states are located in the global south. How does an OER policy affect global south states differently than the global north?

I’m exaggerating quite a bit here, but we’ve observed that in the north people are more focused on producing OER and that in the south people are more focused on how they can use OER. Just a few months ago I was at the Open Courseware Conference in Boston. Perhaps three-fourths of the presentations there focused on producing OER, while only a small number were about re-purposing and reusing OER content. This has to change for the OER movement to take off.

In the south, there’s a cautious attitude of “there’s lots of stuff available, why not use it?” We’ve been encouraging the north to take a more universal approach and think multidirectionally. This is why we’re delighted that a school like the University of Michigan is using OER from Malawi and Ghana in its medical programs. Why should the University of Michigan create OERs about tropical diseases when there are folks that live in the tropics that can do it better? So, we encourage people to see OER production and use as a multi-directional flow.

Can you discuss the goals and outcomes of the Taking OER beyond the OER community project, organized by COL and UNESCO. What’s next?

This project has a long history, and really goes back all the way to the origin of the term Open Educational Resources. But more recently, in 2009 UNESCO hosted a world conference on higher education. That event didn’t ruffle feathers in the north so much, but influenced thinking in the south. It reiterated the importance of open distance learning, ICTs, and particularly emphasized the global sharing of OER to expand quality higher education. COL picked up the work with UNESCO. We realized that unless there is a much wider appreciation of what OER is, it’s not going anywhere. And as the name of the project implies, our goal was to advocate to those outside of the already-established open education community. We held six face-to-face workshops in Africa and Asia. These were mainly aimed at university presidents, quality assurance groups, and those interested in open distance learning.

Last December we held a policy forum at UNESCO in Paris to pull these threads together. We decided there that it would be helpful to develop a set of OER guidelines targeted at key stakeholder groups. These included governments, higher education institutions, teacher and student groups, quality assurance agencies, and qualification bodies. We’ve been iterating on these guidelines since then, and they are now being distributed for wide consultation. In October of this year there will be another policy forum where the OER guidelines for higher education will be put into final form. We hope to unveil these recommendations at the UNESCO general conference in November alongside an OER platform UNESCO will also be launching at that time.

Over the winter, we wish to conduct a rather extensive survey of governments around the world to find out where they are on policies related to OER, open access, open formats, and other related topics. Surveying governments is not an easy task, especially when they don’t always understand the questions you are asking. But, if all goes well, those survey results will be pulled together, to the end of working toward an update to the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. There’s a desire for COL and UNESCO to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the term “Open Educational Resources” with a conference in June 2012 at which countries can sign an updated declaration.

What do you predict will be the impact of the COL OER policy, and what would you like to see come out of this? What can you recommend to other IGOs that are beginning to think about developing an open education policy?

My advice is to just do it and don’t get too fussed about the license at the beginning. We hope that our small organization, which seems to have an influence larger than its size, will be the grain of sand in the oyster for other IGOs. UNESCO is working to get on the right page; given their name it would seem peculiar if they are not more in the ‘open’ business. But I understand the problem with large organizations. When you look at UNESCO, you’ve got general assemblies with lots of people that don’t like things unless they’re invented there. For example, everyone in the world wants for there to be standardization in electrical sockets, as long as the standard that is adopted is the one they use. Those organizations interested in adopting an open policy should start small, and work their way through the problems as they go. If you try to make your entire back catalog available, you’ll be lost. Those big intergovernmental organizations should say, “from now on, we’re going to be as open as we can be.” An important thing is to adopt the philosophy of openness.

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CC Talks With: Pete Forsyth and the Wikimedia Public Policy Initiative: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 6th, 2011

Pete Forsyth lives and breathes wikis. He is owner and lead consultant at Wiki Strategies, and has extensive experience in working within online peer production communities, specifically the production of open educational resources (OER) using wiki-based web sites like Wikipedia. Forsyth was the Wikimedia Foundation’s first Public Outreach Officer and key architect of the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, an innovative pilot project to support university faculty and students in the use of Wikipedia as a teaching and learning tool. With more than 17 million articles in over 270 languages, Wikipedia is the Wikimedia Foundation’s largest and most visible project.

Wikimedia Foundation Pete Forsyth
By Lane Hartwell CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wiki as a Vehicle for Self-learning

Forsyth became interested in wikis in Oregon, where he was an editor and community organizer for Wikipedia. While he had long been interested in Open Source Software, he didn’t know how to code. “Wikipedia was a natural entry point for me,” he says, “because you don’t have to be a computer programmer to contribute.”

Forsyth spent five years creating and revising Oregon-related content on Wikipedia, and during this time a group of similarly-minded people came together to form a wiki project in the Portland area. “Portland is home of the wiki,” notes Forsyth, referring to its invention in 1994 by Ward Cunningham.

The participants in the Oregon wiki project helped each other navigate their way around Wikipedia, mastered the art of good reference, and pieced together a better sense of the history of the state. Being in that group allowed Forsyth to explore intellectual pursuits he might not have explored if Wikipedia wasn’t there as a vehicle to nurture them. “The process was in its own way every bit as educational as the college degree I earned,” he said.

The Public Policy Initiative: Open Content, Open Practices

The Public Policy Initiative (PPI) is designed to engage professors in public policy programs at universities across the U.S. to work with their students and the Wikimedia community to improve articles on the English-language Wikipedia as part of their course curriculum. Forsyth notes that the PPI aligns with a set of Wikimedia’s long term goals: it cultivates more Wikipedians, champions subject matter experts, and works toward improving the diversity of its contributor base. He says that the public policy arena has been an exemplary pilot initiative because it is such an interdisciplinary field. “Public policy cuts across so many areas, such as law, economics, and philosophy,” says Forsyth, “and keeping this project open to people with different kinds of backgrounds was an important design consideration.”

The characterization of Wikipedia as an open educational resource platform is at once completely obvious and also a departure from many of the traditional OER delivery mechanisms. While Forsyth agrees that Wikipedia is as valuable an open educational resource as any encyclopedia, he thinks that open educational practices (OEP) is where the value of the Public Policy Initiative really shines. He believes that the really transformative outcome enabled by the technical and legal innovation of wikis and open licensing is the process of being able to collaborate with a broad group of people quickly and seamlessly. “By participating in that kind of community,” says Forsyth, “the student is learning skills from the process itself, rather than extracting information from a particular resource.”

Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia sites represent the largest collection of CC licensed works on the web. Forsyth believes that a project like the PPI–and Wikipedia itself–couldn’t exist without easy-to-understand open licensing. “Users clarifying their intent to work openly is the most important thing,” he says. “The existence of Creative Commons opens up a new avenue for individuals and organizations to do things in the public interest.”

Forsyth thinks that Creative Commons should attempt to provide more clarity about the consequences to using different CC licenses. “I’m not excited about the noncommercial condition,” he admits. “It all boils down to clarity, and attaching a noncommercial condition onto content immediately creates exceptions to that clarity.” He notes that many people new to open licensing are initially drawn to the more restrictive licenses, but don’t realize until later that the content they are licensing is incompatible with Wikipedia or other projects they’d like to engage with.

Public Policy Initiative Ambassadors

In addition to partnering with interested faculty, the Public Policy Initiative involves members of both the university (via campus ambassadors) and the Wikimedia community (via online ambassadors) to provide assistance and guidance. Bonnie Mccallum volunteers as a campus ambassador for a participating class at Montana State University, where she is a web services technician at the University Library. Mccallum, who had no previous experience in creating or editing Wikipedia articles, teamed up with Mike Cline, a seasoned Wikipedian, to assist Professor Kristin Ruppel in her course on Federal Indian Law and Policy. While Mccallum and Cline worked as on-site campus ambassadors, various distributed online ambassadors helped mentor students on the ins and outs of editing Wikipedia.

WikiP-MSU-Boz-1-v2
By McMormor (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

“There was relatively little available on Wikipedia about the content taught in the course,” said Mccallum. Professor Ruppel had the graduate students create a new article around the general topic of the course, stepping through the process of publishing and defending their articles on Wikipedia. The undergraduate students were responsible for editing articles that were already on Wikipedia. One example of an article worked on by the students is the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

Mccallum notes that Professor Ruppel believes participation in the PPI is a more worthwhile writing exercise for her students than cranking out a term paper. Ruppel feels that her students had to learn how to collaborate and communicate in a neutral voice, and learn how to monitor issues and discuss changes with other editors. Mccallum said she’ll be continuing work with the PPI next year, and was excited that there were so many women participating in the project. There are a few things that she’d like to change for next year. She notes that some of the students got hung up on the technical issues around editing wikis, so they’ll be structuring that course module differently next time around.

Mccallum proudly recounts a story passed on by one of the older students in the course, who has a child in middle school. The child’s teacher discouraged her students from using Wikipedia at all. However, after the boy had gone back to the teacher and showed her how his mom was using and contributing to Wikipedia in her graduate school course at MSU, the teacher softened her position. According to Mccallum, those ‘it might not be so bad after all’ moments seem to become more common as teachers learn about the varied uses for teaching via Wikipedia.

Public Policy Initiative as a Bridge

Sometimes open source projects find it difficult to break into the mainstream, especially within the traditional higher education space. Forsyth says that one reason why the PPI has been initially successful in getting buy-in from faculty is because they tailored the project to the existing goals of the educators. He says that working with existing incentive systems as much as possible and providing support to faculty is an important baseline to making the project successful. Also bubbling around recently is the idea that a condition of tenure might be participating in an online community or contributing to a collaborative project like Wikipedia, in addition to the traditional publishing venues. “It will be a gradual shift,” says Forsyth, “but the reality today is that both teachers and students need to possess the cultural fluency and information literacy skills to engage online.” He thinks that these traits will come to represent a set of important skills that students will need to master in any field. “I believe that in time, tenure processes will come to reflect that.”

The Future

Forsyth thinks the Public Policy Initiative is well on its way. “Professors are the experts in educating their students, and with a little nudge and some support, they can do great things with a tool like Wikipedia,” he says. So far, the PPI has turned out to be an enlightening exercise and productive process. As it’s seed funding winds down this September, the Public Policy Initiative will continue to transition from a staff-led to a volunteer-led project. The PPI aims to expand its reach of the Ambassador program to work with faculty and students in other countries, languages, and topic areas.

Forsyth is continuing his involvement in leveraging wikis within the education space, working to start the Center for Open Learning and Teaching (COLT), to be hosted at the University of Mississippi. The center will support the study and implementation of effective and open Internet-based learning practices in formal education. “As institutions of learning are engaging with concept of OER and online learning communities, they’re going to want to figure out how to update their practices, reap the efficiency benefits of ‘open,’ and stay relevant as education evolves,” says Forsyth. He notes that the goals of COLT include 1) setting up a cohort-based research network investigating open, online collaboration in education; and 2) establishing a teaching and learning center that would partially fund faculty salaries to explore OER and open collaborative practices in their classrooms and share what they’ve learned.

Forsyth believes that teaching and learning has very suddenly changed in only a few years. “The education system used to exist in a world in which information was scarce and access to information was hard to come by,” he says. “Now, learning something about any topic is easy, and universities no longer have a monopoly on how we educate ourselves.” Forsyth thinks that libraries, museums, governments, and news outlets still provide great value, but they’re gradually waking up to the idea that they now have to compete. He thinks that these changes should be viewed as an exciting opportunity, not something to be disregarded because they challenge the status quo. “We need universities to embrace the changing landscape, not erect walls trying to protect the role they’re used to playing.”

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CC Talks With: Paul Stacey from BCcampus: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, March 28th, 2011


Paul Stacey by BCcampus / CC BY

Paul Stacey is the Director of Communications, Stakeholder and Academic Relations at BCcampus. Headquartered in Vancouver, BCcampus provides services in support of educational technology and online learning to British Columbia’s 25 public colleges and universities, their students, faculty and administrators. The BC Ministry of Advanced Education provides funding for curriculum development. In 2003 they shifted funds to support a new thematic direction—online learning. Through this shift in priorities, BCcampus saw the opportunity to connect to the rising open education space, seeing interesting examples of other OER projects like MIT OpenCourseware and Connexions. Paul supports the strategic development of for-credit online curricula, in the form of OER, via partnerships among BC’s public post secondary institutions. He also helps coordinate a range of open online communities that support academic growth and faculty development in BC and beyond.

Foundation-funded vs. publicly-funded OER

Last year, Paul presented a paper called Foundation Funded OER vs. Tax Payer Funded OER–A Tale of Two Mandates at the Open Ed Conference in Barcelona. In that presentation he compared the goals and attributes of foundation-funded and publicly-funded OER projects. Private philanthropic foundations have provided the largest investments in OER over the last 10 years, but there are increasing examples of taxpayer-funded OER policies. Stacey observes that foundation and public sector goals are similar in wanting to expand access to education, but the means by which they do this differs. “The foundation’s primary responsibility is to the founder, while a government ministry’s primary responsibility is to its tax-paying citizens,” says Paul. While foundations often have global and humanitarian mandates and goals, government ministries, on the other hand, tend to be more geographically local to a specific nation, province, or state. They focus on providing a public service that benefits all citizens of that region rather than the entire world. “Public sector support for OER often has economic efficiency goals more than humanitarian ones,” says Paul. With public sector funding so tight, government bodies want to leverage its money in the most effective ways possible, and provide access to education to as many members of its public as possible. The ongoing question for OER is, can it do both?

Paul notes other differences between foundation-funded and publicly-funded OER. Foundation grants have primarily gone to single prestigious institutions and have been used for publishing existing lectures, course notes, and learning activities associated with campus-based classroom activity. Foundation grants have a defined start and end date and are generally not provided for ongoing operations. Government Ministries have primarily invested in OER for formal credit-based academic purposes that fulfill the education access, societal, and labor market needs of their region. Government grants are given, not to single prestigious institutions, but to collaborative partnerships of schools and institutions in their jurisdiction, often for development of new curricula intended for online delivery. Government Ministries oftentimes concern themselves with both start-up and ongoing operations funding.

A spectrum of licenses: To choose or not to choose?

Paul has constructed an interesting chart that plots various OER projects with their associated licensing terms.

Stacey notes that foundation-funded OER projects generally require a single Creative Commons license (usually CC BY or CC BY-NC-SA). But, for publicly-funded OER, there are usually more license options available. One recommendation Paul makes is for OER projects to offer a range of licensing options along the “open” continuum. “Multiple options provide greater buy-in and lower the threshold for OER participation,” suggests Paul. He concedes that there are downsides to permitting individual projects to choose their own license: a variety of licenses make remixing and adapting OER more complex, and can create interoperability issues and siloed content. While he’s noticed that no OER project places content into the public domain, Paul thinks that this approach could be tested.

BC Commons and suggestions for Creative Commons

Stacey says that Creative Commons has played a central role in making OER possible in the first place. The current licensing solution used by BCcampus intuitions, BC Commons, is modeled on Creative Commons. The BC Commons license is different than CC licenses. Where the Creative Commons licenses are applicable worldwide, the BC Commons license is applied to content for use and sharing between institutions, faculty and students affiliated with the BC public post-secondary system. BCcampus adopted the BC Commons license to support educators gradual entry into the waters of openness. “If you say to a faculty member that you want them to share their resources with everyone, they worry that they might lose control of the integrity of the resources they create,” says Paul. “Even with the BC Commons license, these concerns do not go away entirely, but fears are mitigated because the sharing is contained within the province.” Stacey thinks that the more convincing reason for rallying around the BC Commons license is the local collaboration generated by its use. “When you create a license that supports local sharing, it creates a local commons,” says Paul. The local ties among educators are oftentimes much stronger than ties outside of the community. And, BCcampus actively cultivates partnerships to encourage multiple institutions to work together on developing content—“we collectively develop and collectively reuse the resources,” says Paul.

Paul offered several recommendations for Creative Commons:

  • Develop a tracking piece of code embedded in each CC license that reports back to the OER creator on reuse. We know from social media that seeing use is a motivator for doing more.
  • Encourage CC licensing choice along the open continuum and make it simple for people to start with one license and then transition or migrate a resource to more open licenses along the continuum as they get comfortable with sharing.
  • Work with those trying to create regional versions of CC licenses, (like we’ve done in BC with the BC Commons license), to craft the regional license to be as similar to CC as possible. In our experience its been crucial to complement global sharing choices with local regional ones.
  • Refine the decisions associated with CC license choices. Attribution, commercial/non-commercial, derivatives, and share alike go a long way but could be complemented with other decision-making points specific to OER.
  • Consider adding metadata fields to the CC license to allow the creator to add additional information about the resource including their interest in collaborating with others on improving and modifying it.
  • Work with national, state and other public sector institutions and organizations to incorporate Creative Commons license options into education policy that governs IP and copyright so that educators have CC choices built into their agreements.
  • Continue work with software companies that develop applications used to create and deliver educational resources to incorporate CC licenses as default options within the application.

Future of OER

Stacey speculates that while government Ministries have yet to be convinced that making all their publicly funded educational resources open to the world is in the best interests of its citizens, he predicts that this will eventually prove to be the case. “Foundations and public sector entities will work together to define the OER value proposition in a way that meets both sets of mandates and goals and is mutually beneficial regionally and globally,” says Paul.

Paul thinks that both foundation and public sector funding will increasingly look to achieve a formal learning outcome where credit is associated with OER,” he says. OER will be help spur other changes in our education system too, and continue to affect the dynamics of the teaching/learning environment. Stacey predicts: “Student-to-student and network-based learning will generate global OER education networks that will eventually prove to provide a better education than is currently available through existing traditional education providers.” Stacey reinforces the need to include students in the OER creation process, as they are the primary beneficiaries of open learning materials. “We’ve tended to see students as consumers of OER,” says Paul, “but I believe students will ultimately produce more OER than educators.” He predicts that someday students will get credit for producing course content OER. But, the demand for well-trained and credentialed educators isn’t going away. The role of a teacher will continue to evolve. Lecturing is out. Facilitating, mentoring, connecting students together in ways most productive for their learning is in. And critically important is the need for professionals to take on the role of assembling OER into sensible curriculum, and delivering it in a way that allows for ongoing assessment to take place.

Stacey believes there’s no one-size-fits-all vision for the future of OER. Open education can be transformative in a variety of ways, and it should be able to fit alongside more traditional environments too. He thinks it’s exciting to imagine the various possibilities, and has described one vision for how this might look as the University of Open. He also points to the work Wayne Mackintosh is leading around an OER University. Paul thinks that a quality education is a shared aspiration for everyone around the world. “We’re seeing OER change education from something defined by scarcity to something based on an idea of plenty,” he says. “OER, together with the ability to form global learning networks, makes education for all an attainable goal.”

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CC Talks With: The Right to Research Coalition’s Nick Shockey: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, January 20th, 2011

Nick Shockey is the Director of the Right to Research Coalition (R2RC) and the Director of Student Advocacy at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).  The R2RC is an international alliance of 31 graduate and undergraduate student organizations, representing nearly 7 million students, that promotes an open scholarly publishing system based on the belief that no student should be denied access to the research they need for their education because their institution cannot afford the often high cost of scholarly journals. We spoke to Nick about similarities in the open access and open educational resources movements, the worldwide student movement in support of access to scholarly research, and the benefits of adopting Creative Commons tools for open access literature.

Nick Shockey
Nick Shockey by Right To Research Coalition / CC BY

“It all started in a hotel room in Paris,” explains Shockey, who while studying abroad at Oxford and on a brief trip to France happened to catch a CNN special about MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) program. Nick was immediately impressed by the idea of OCW, and upon his return to Trinity University campaigned to get his school to implement a similar program. For a number of reasons, OCW didn’t catch on at Trinity, but the experience Shockey gained in advocating for it provided him with two crucial pieces that led to his work at SPARC: a deep interest in opening up the tools of education, and an introduction to Diane Graves, Trinity’s University Librarian and then SPARC Steering Committee member. Shockey began advocating for open access to research at Trinity, and convinced the student government to pass a resolution supporting the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), as well as a later resolution endorsing the Student Statement on the Right to Research. The statement calls for students, researchers, universities, and research funders to make academic research openly available to all. These principles formed the foundation for what was to become the Right to Research Coalition.

Growth of R2RC

In the summer after Shockey moved to Washington D.C., he was able to add new signatories to the Student Statement on the Right to Research, including the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) and the National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students. It soon became clear that a larger impact could be made by organizing as a coalition that actively advocated for and educated students about open access, and Nick joined SPARC full time to lead the Right to Research Coalition.

R2RC has grown to include 31 member organizations and now represents nearly 7 million students worldwide. “The incredible diversity of our membership speaks to how important access to research is to students,” says Shockey. R2RC’s members range in size from groups with less than a hundred students to organizations with more than a million. But Nick notes that all the member groups have two things in common: they believe students should have the benefit of the full scholarly record (not just the fraction they or their institution can afford), and they recognize that the Internet has made unfettered access possible by driving down the marginal cost to distribute knowledge virtually to zero.

Federal open access advocacy

SPARC and the Right to Research Coalition have been supportive of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), a law which would require 11 U.S. government agencies with annual output research expenditures over $100 million to make manuscripts of journal articles stemming from research funded by that agency publicly available via the Internet. While FRPAA didn’t pass in 2010, Shockey’s very happy with the remarkable progress made, which culminated last year in the Congressional hearing on the issue of public access to federally funded research. Shockey, colleague Julia Mortyakova, and R2RC members have been advocating in support of FRPAA in various ways, such as letter-writing campaigns and in-person office visits. Shockey estimates his membership has reached out to well over two hundred Congressional offices.

Student support for OA around the world

Shockey describes that the current situation of limited access to academic research is a widespread problem that affects students all around the world. But, he explains that the real difference isn’t between the United States and the rest of the world, but between the developed and the developing world. “Paying $30 for access to one article is expensive even for many researchers in the U.S.,” says Nick, “but when you realize that $30 is an entire average month’s wage in Malawi, you can see the huge disparities in access faced by huge swaths of people around the world.”

At the end of last summer, R2RC began a concerted effort to expand their coalition to incorporate international student groups, and launched their Access Around the World blog series to feature stories and activities from students across the globe. In fall 2010, Shockey pitched the importance for student access to scholarly research to the European Medical Students’ Association’s General Assembly in Athens and the European Students’ Conference in Berlin. “The students understood the issue right away and have gotten involved immediately,” says Nick. The President of the European Medical Students’ Association has already made a presentation on Open Access and the R2RC at a major international medical conference, and just this month, the coalition welcomed the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), the world’s largest medical student organization, which operates in 97 countries around the world.

Access is crippled by cost; OA enables novel downstream benefits

The high cost to users to access academic journals and educational materials is a criticism shared by advocates of open access (OA) and open educational resources (OER). Scholarly journal prices have increased at 200% the level of inflation, similar to that of college textbook prices. Shockey believes that the that the greatest value of open access is to help knock down the prohibitive barriers that high prices pose to individual users. “A singe U.S. university we studied spent about $900,000 for only 96 journal subscriptions–and that was at a well-funded school,” says Shockey. “At less wealthy institutions, or those in the developing world, the price barriers often prove insurmountable. Students and researchers must make do with what their school can afford rather than what they need.”

Nick explains that through open access, the entire scholarly record could be available for anyone to read and build upon, leading to innumerable public benefits.  But he’s most excited by the uses of open access scholarship we can’t even think of at the moment. “Lawrence Lessig points out that the real ‘secret sauce’ of the Internet is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to innovate on it,” says Shockey, “and I believe open access will finally bring this ability to academic research.” Nick describes a world of open access in which researchers will not only be able to read any article, but also be permitted to perform semantic text mining to uncover trends no one person could discover and connect together. But for this promise to be fulfilled, he reinforces that researchers need access to the entire scholarly record, not just a selected subset, and the rights necessary to reuse these articles in new and interesting ways.

Open access and Creative Commons

Shockey explained that Creative Commons plays a crucial role within the OA movement by providing a standard suite of prepackaged open content licenses. “To make an obvious point,” he said, “very few researchers are also copyright lawyers, and the CC licenses make it simple for scholars and journals to make their articles openly available. CC also helps prevents a patchwork system where it’s unclear which uses are allowed and which are not.”  Nick notes that this sort of ambiguity can be very harmful–particularly to reuse of content, so it’s important that the open access community leverages CC to ensure access and communicate rights.

Shockey says that the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license has become the gold standard for open access journals. In general, scholars want recognition for their work, and the CC BY license ensures attribution to the author while allowing anyone to read, download, copy, print, distribute, and reuse their work without restriction. Shockey notes that several studies have shown a strong increase in article views and citations when an article is made openly available. “This makes intuitive sense,” Nick says. “If an article is available for more people to read and build upon, it’s unsurprising that it will also tend to be cited more often. Given the importance of citation counts in academic advancement, the citation increase can be an important benefit that flows from open licensing.”

OA support via the university

Open access (and increasingly, OER) initiatives at universities have been promoted in part through the university library. For example, at some schools librarians help educate faculty and students about the options available to them for scholarly publishing, including administering the Scholar’s Copyright Addendum. Shockey thinks that the library is a natural central organizing venue for OA and OER work, and meshes well with the library’s fundamental mission to provide their community with access to the educational resources they need.  Nick also noted that libraries are perfectly positioned to play an OA/OER organizing role because they are one of the only institutions that reaches every department and every member of the campus community. Shockey said that some libraries have already taken the lead by supporting initiatives such as the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity (COPE), which sets aside money to pay for the publication fees that some open access journals charge, in order to help transition to an open model.

OA and OER working together

Open access advocates argue that access to scholarly literature should not be limited to scientists and academics, but available to patients, parents, students at all levels, entrepreneurs, and others. Shockey believes that since the OA and OER movements are both working to enable free access to the tools of education, it’s important to explore the ways in which these movements can work together. Even though the R2RC is centered on open access, it’s begun to weave OER into its messaging alongside open data and open science. Nick thinks it’s important for R2RC members to see the larger network in which they work. “When we hit roadblocks in one area,” said Shockey, “there are often opportunities in others, and advancing one of these pieces (be it OA, OER, open data, open video, etc) opens the door for further progress in other areas. Furthermore, once you’ve convinced someone about one of these issues, be it a friend, colleague, or the U.S. Congress, it’s much easier to engage them on the others.”

Shockey is optimistic with regard to the future of the student open access movement, but stresses the need to move ahead with the clear vision that advancements in education, science, and scholarship require access to raw research materials. “We must always remember what it is we’re fighting for,” said Shockey, “academic research is the raw material upon which not only education but also scientific and scholarly advancement depend. When we allow these crucial resources to be locked away, it hinders the entire mission of the Academy – student learning suffers, scholarly research is impeded, and scientific discoveries are slowed.” Nick says that widespread open access promises to benefit science and scholarship in radical ways that are almost unimaginable today. “Open access will improve how we teach, learn, and solve problems in ways that are impossible within a closed system.”

While there are many ways to get involved with the Open Access movement, Shockey stressed that the most important was simply to learn about this issue of access to research and start conversations with friends, colleagues, mentors, and students to raise awareness.  The R2RC website has an individual version of their Student Statement on the Right to Research open for anyone to sign, as well as a host of other education and advocacy resources for those interested in Open Access.

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CC Talks With: Mark Surman from the Mozilla Foundation

Cameron Parkins, December 13th, 2010

The Mozilla Foundation is unabashedly committed to a free and open web. They see it as a vital part of a healthy digital ecosystem where creativity and innovation can thrive. We couldn’t agree more. And we couldn’t be prouder to have Mozilla’s generous and ongoing support. We were recently able to catch up with Mark Surman, the Foundation’s Executive Director, who talks about Mozilla and its myriad projects, and how his organization and ours are a lot like lego blocks for the open web.

Mark Surman
Mark Surman by Joi Ito / CC BY

Most people associate Mozilla with the Firefox but you do much more than just that – can you give our readers some background on the different arms of Mozilla as an organization? What is your role there?

Mozilla’s overall goal is to promote innovation and opportunity on the web — and to guard the open nature of the internet.

Firefox is clearly the biggest part of this. But we’re constantly looking for new ways to make the internet better. Our growing focus on identity, mobile and web apps is a part of this. Also, we’re reaching out more broadly beyond software to invite people like filmmakers, scientists, journalists, teachers and so on to get involved.

Personally, I’m most active in this effort to reach out more broadly and to get many more people involved in our work. Much of this is happening through a program I helped start called Mozilla Drumbeat. As Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation, I also manage the overall umbrella legal structure for all of Mozilla’s activities.

What is the connection between Mozilla and CC? Do you use our tools in your various projects?

At the highest level, Mozilla and CC are both working for the same thing — a digital society based on creativity, innovation and freedom. And, of course, we use CC licenses for content and documents that we produce across all Mozilla projects.

Mozilla has given generously to Creative Commons – what was the motivation behind donating? What is it about CC that you find important?

I think of both organizations as giving people ‘lego blocks’ that they can use to make and shape the web. Mozilla’s lego blocks are technical, CC’s are legal. Both help people create and innovate, which goes back to the higher vision we share.

What do you see as CC’s role in the broader digital ecosystem? How does CC enable Mozilla to better innovate in that space?

We need an organization like CC to make sure that the content layer of the web is as open and free as the core tech upon which it’s all built. It’s at this content layer that most people ‘make the web’ — it’s where people feel the participatory and remixable nature of the web. Keeping things open and free at this level — and making them more so — is critical to the future of the open web.

Help ensure a bright future for the open web and donate to Creative Commons today.

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CC Talks With: Jeff Mao and Bob McIntire from the Maine Department of Education: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, December 8th, 2010

Maine has been a leader in adopting educational technology in support of its students. In 2002, through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), the state began providing laptops to all students in grades 7-8 in a one-to-one laptop program. In 2009, Maine expanded the project to high school students. The one-to-one laptops paved the way for open education initiatives like Vital Signs, empowering students to conduct their own field research in collaboration with local scientists, and make that research available online. Recently, Maine has been engaged in some interesting and innovative projects around OER as a result of federal grant funds. For this installment of our series on open education and policy, we spoke with Jeff Mao and Bob McIntire from the Maine Department of Education. Jeff is Learning Technology Policy Director at MLTI, and Bob works for the Department’s Adult & Community Education team.

One part of the $700 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was dedicated to creating technology-rich classrooms. This funding was distributed through the existing No Child Left Behind Title IID program. With their one-to-one student laptop program, Maine was already ahead of the game with regard to technology in the classroom, so they decided to focus the ARRA funding on OER projects. “We wanted to create something that had a longer shelf life,” said Bob. Maine’s grants were broken into two initiatives: research to identify and annotate high quality OERs, and the creation of professional development models using OER.

Curate metadata, don’t stockpile resources

Maine is a “non-adoption” state, which means that teachers at the local level determine the educational resources they wish to use in their classrooms. Most other states adopt educational materials at the state level. For instance, for a class like 9th grade world history, states will approve multiple textbook titles from multiple publishers, and schools will be able to choose from among the state approved list. Since it’s up to local teachers to determine which educational resources are good for their teaching, part of the Maine OER grants is devoted to researching the rough process that teachers step through when evaluating content. MLTI has been working on a type of educational registry. This registry will be a website that can house the metadata teachers collect around the resources they wish to use. This website–still in development–will help teachers to be able to find, catalog, categorize, and add other informative data to quality resources. Perhaps as important, it will allow teachers to share with others what they did with the content, whether the material worked (or bombed), and other sorts of useful descriptive information. Right now the team is using the social bookmarking service delicious to add metadata to high quality OERs that they find online. This project is coordinated by the Maine Support Network, a professional development and technical assistance provider, and all the resources are linked through one delicious site at http://www.delicious.com/syntiromsn.

Weaning teachers off of printed textbooks

Jeff talked about a way to restructure the traditional textbook adoption cycle that would result with an end product of 100% OER. Currently, the Maine textbook adoption process goes something like this: After six years of using the same textbook, teachers realize their turn is coming up to place an order for a new textbook. In the springtime, they call publishers and ask for demo copies of new books to potentially be used the following fall. Teachers peruse the books sent to them, and settle for the one that is the least flawed. Teachers use the book for five and half years, after which the process repeats itself. Jeff hopes this inefficient process can be changed. He suggests that rather than waiting until the final year to seek out new, pre-packaged educational materials, why not spend the interim years seeking out individual learning objects to replace every piece of their static textbooks?

Such a process could work to improve some of the content that teachers don’t like (and don’t use) in their traditional textbooks. And, through this iterative, piecemeal process, they can share their illustrative discoveries (and dead ends too) with other teachers. The Department itself could pitch in providing the tools, software, and other infrastructure to help teachers keep track of which resources have been reviewed, replaced, or modified. Jeff thinks that enabling teachers to operate in a constant revision mode is a better way to structure the acquisition of teaching and learning materials, rather than reviewing textbooks only once every five or six years.

As most open educational resources are digital, Jeff said there’s an increasing need to be able to deal with strictly digital materials. Digital materials can be leveraged better because Maine students and teachers already have the laptops to access and manipulate the content (which can’t be done with physical books), digital materials can help integrate other best-of types of technology and interactive pedagogy into their lessons, and digital materials helps set up the conditions to support embedded assessment mechanisms.

Share your process as OER; everything is miscellaneous

Maine hopes its work on OER can be used by other states and communities, considering the research and resources will be produced using federal dollars. They will publish their process and offer the resources they create as OER itself online. Jeff said, “the more we can demonstrate this process is effective, the better it speaks to the efficacy of OER.” And, publishing information about resources and processes should be something natural to share. “If a teacher expends six hours finding a great OER for teaching students polynomials,” said Jeff, “it just needs to be done once.” But at the same time, with the diversity of resources available online–and with clear rights statements through the use of Creative Commons–variations on the sets of resources can be nearly infinite. Teachers can have their own educational “iMixes,” just as iTunes users create playlists of their favorite music.

The future classroom

As Maine continues its work on OER research and professional development, Jeff and Bob offer a vision of a classroom where students gather in small groups, talking, exploring and building projects and investigating ideas together. There is no lecturing, and open educational resources integrate with classroom instruction seamlessly. As most kids are naturally inclined to try to find information online, teachers can guide students in using high quality, adaptable OER. Jeff also suggests that we should be investing time and effort into more direct support for students, building or extending the tools being built for teachers, and proactively including students in the resource evaluation and review process.

The success of Maine and others’ OER projects is not assured. Dwindling budgets will remain an ongoing challenge, and while there’s been some recognition of OER in policy initiatives such as the National Education Technology Plan, Jeff and Bob question whether current budget woes will derail national and state efforts for change. Teachers are increasingly overburdened, and the development and support for a hands-on process like Maine’s requires ongoing teacher participation, feedback, and practice.

In the long run, Jeff thinks that OER will challenge the educational content industry in much the same way that the music industry was challenged by–and eventually succumbed to–Apple’s “buy-whatever-you-want” model of music distribution, where users could break apart the album format and simply purchase the songs they wish. Jeff predicts that the textbook industry will be forced to break apart their offerings too, and sell individual chapters or lessons, where before they offered only packaged content to a captured education audience. And Jeff says the benefits apply to publishers too–“If they sell you Chapter 1 and it’s really good,” he said, “maybe you’ll want to buy the whole book.”

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CC Talks With: Robert Cook-Deegan of the Center for Genomics at Duke

Cameron Parkins, November 11th, 2010

Sharing becomes a slippery slope when it comes to genomics: we need massive amounts of data in order to understand the human genome, but issues of privacy, abuse, and the distrust of institutions stand in the way. So how do we resolve this?

We talked to Robert Cook-Deegan, the director of the Center for Genomics, Ethics, Law & Policy at Duke University, about how the field of genomics is poised for takeoff, the challenges it faces as it scales, and how CC can step in as a neutral institution that will save the day.


Robert Cook-Deegan
by Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy / CC BY

What is the link between GELP and CC?

Genomics is completely dependent on a healthy mutualism between discovery science and practical application, yet the field is rife with conflict and deeply held ideologies and is rarely fertilized with empirical facts. Creative Commons is all about finding solutions that reduce friction in the intellectual property (IP) system and facilitate sharing of data and materials. So our roles are complementary and mutually dependent.

GELP is a corporate sponsor of Creative Commons–why do you think CC is important?

There are many academic centers with talent–we publish our own research at Duke, but we’re just not that good at putting things into action–but Creative Commons is the only place that is actually trying to get things done as a trusted nonprofit intermediary and catalyst.

I’m reminded of the epitaph on Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s grave: “She Saved the World. A Lot.” That’s what CC has begun to do in the world of art and writing; it’s helping save our culture from some of its own worst pathologies. It has the potential to do the same in science.

What do you see as CC’s role in the broader digital ecosystem? How does CC enable GELP to better innovate in that space?

The field of genomics is poised for takeoff. This is not pure hype. In 1999, there was no published human genome; by 2003 we had a reference human genome; by 2007 Craig Venter and Jim Watson’s genomes were on the Internet. Nature estimates that today, several thousand people have been fully sequenced.

But that information is useless if it is not compared to sequences of other people and organisms. What matters is genetic variation and how that maps to phenotype–whether a person is likely to get a disease or is prone to certain risks. If there was ever a field that depended on network dynamics, this is it. I can’t predict who will make the most valuable contributions to understanding my genome, but I sure want them to do a good job. And they can only do a good job if they have access to lots of other peoples’ genomes. This is hard because many people have the same concerns for privacy, fears of abuse, and distrust of institutions that I do.

How in the world are we going to solve this problem? I don’t know. But I do know that most research institutions and private firms are more concerned with mining what’s under their control already, rather than sharing and creating value collectively. The real value of genomic data is going to require information vastly beyond the control of any single institution.

We need Creative Commons because it is a trusted intermediary non-profit institution that will enable the dangerous dark innovation jungle to thrive despite the entrenched ideologies and conflicting interests of all the critters that live in it. We’re depending on you. May the force be with you.

Join Robert and GELP in supporting Creative Commons and help ensure a bright future for sharing in the field of genomics by donating to CC today!

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CC Talks With: Flat World Knowledge’s Eric Frank: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, November 4th, 2010

At the beginning of this year we announced a revised approach to our education plans, focusing our activities to support of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. In order to do so we have worked hard to increase the amount of information available on our own site – in addition to an Education landing page and the OER portal explaining Creative Commons’ role as legal and technical infrastructure supporting OER, we have been conducting a series of interviews to help clarify some of the challenges and opportunities of OER in today’s education landscape.

One major venue for the advancement of OER is through the development and support of businesses that levage openly licensed content in support of education. Eric Frank is Founder and President of Flat World Knowledge, a commercial publisher of openly-licensed college textbooks. We spoke with Eric about faculty perceptions of open textbooks, customization enabled by open licensing, and the future of “free online and affordable offline” business models.


Eric Frank by Flat World Knowledge / CC BY

Why did you start Flat World Knowledge and how did you decide to approach this business using open content?

My co-founder Jeff Shelstad and I come out of a long history in textbook publishing. We left a major textbook publisher because of what we perceived as exceedingly-high dissatisfaction levels among the primary constituents in that market—students, faculty and authors. These groups were scratching their heads wondering if the print-based business model was going to be able to serve them going forward. When we began thinking about how to build a new business model, we didn’t actually know that much about open educational resources and open licensing. We started to bake a business model based on bringing prices down and increasing access for students; giving faculty more control over the teaching and learning experience; and providing a healthier and more sustainable income stream for authors. And then we started to meet people in the open community. We spoke to Open Education scholar and advocate David Wiley (and Flat World’s Chief Openness Officer) who said, “It’s funny, you sound a lot like me, except we use different words.” This pushed us a little bit further. Ultimately, through a very pragmatic approach to solving real problems that customers were facing, we arrived at this open textbook model.

The cost of textbooks is something that’s very tangible to students. Flat World Knowledge recently released information that 800 colleges will utilize Flat World open textbooks this fall semester, saving 150,000 students $12 million in textbook expenses. And, the Student PIRGs’ recent report A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are The Path To Textbook Affordability found that adopting open textbooks could reduce textbook costs by 80%–to $184 per year, compared to the average of $900. Beyond the important outreach on cost savings, what are the primary questions you hear from faculty and students around “open”?

For the most part, when the average faculty member hears “open textbook,” it means nothing to them. In some cases, it has a positive connotation, and in other cases, it’s negative. When it’s negative, the primarily concern is one of basic quality and sustainability. Faculty question the entities making these open textbooks, and wonder whether the textbooks could be worth their salt if they’re available for free under an open license. And of course, they confuse ‘free’ and ‘open’ all the time. “If it’s free,” educators say, “It can’t be good. What author would ever do that?” Sometimes we see the opposite problem, such as when people know a little something about the publishing ecosystem and say, “It’s too good to be true.”

Through our marketing programs, we spend a lot of time educating faculty that we are a professional publisher, and that we focus on well-known scholars and successful textbook authors. We start by talking about what’s not different from the traditional approach: we sign experienced authors to write textbooks for us, and we develop the books by providing editorial resources, peer reviewing, and investment. The end product is a high-quality textbook and teaching package. There’s a real focus and emphasis on quality. What we change is how we distribute, how we price, and how we earn our revenue. We walk faculty through this process and let them know that ‘open’ is just about loosening copyright restrictions so that they can do more with the textbooks. We explain that free access is about getting their students onto a level playing field. We explain that affordable choices is about making sure students get the format and price that works for them. Once faculty understand these things and are reassured that we have a quality process in place, and that we are a real and sustainable enterprise that will be around to support them in the future, then it all starts to come together. We have to overcome either a total void of knowledge, which we prefer, or some other baggage that they carry into the conversation.

Customizability of digital textbooks is a key feature of Flat World Knowledge, enabled by the open license. How do teachers and students use this feature? And, how is Flat World’s approach to remix different than other platforms and services that allow some adaptability of content without actually using open content as the base?

Of course, the license itself carries its own rights and permissions. People are able to do a lot more with open content than they can with all rights reserved materials. We keep building out our technology platform so that it ultimately enables faculty to take full advantage of that open license—to do all the things that educators might want to do to improve the quality of the material for their own purposes. Today, the most popular customization is relatively simple. For example, educators reorganize the table of contents by dragging and dropping textbook chapters into the right order for their class, and delete a few things they don’t cover. This is easy and helps them match the book to their syllabus.

Then you move into exploring other areas. For example, instructors may want to make the textbook more pedagogically aligned with their teaching style. In that case, a teacher might integrate a short case study and a series of questions alongside the textbook content. Teachers may want to make the references and examples more relevant to their students by using the names of local companies. Timeliness is certainly important—something happens in the world and educators want to be able to integrate it into their teaching materials.

Educators have different teaching styles and approaches too. An adopter of one of our economics textbooks swapped out some models for other economic models that he prefers to use. An adopter at the University of New Hampshire added several chapters on sustainability and corporate social responsibility into an introduction to business book. Now, he’s teaching the course through his prism and from his perspective. These are the kinds of things that people want to be able to do. The critical thing for us is to make the platform easy to use so that customizing a book is as effortless as opening up a Word document, making some changes, saving it, and delivering it to students.

Regarding how our approach differs from other platforms and services because we begin with openly-licensed content, at one level, the ability to take something and modify it is largely a technology question. We go further, and allow people to edit text at the word level. You don’t see this sort of framework in other services because most of the time you’re dealing with the all rights reserved mentality. Most authors sign up to write traditional textbooks with the understanding that, “This is my work and you can’t do stuff with it.” I think the first big difference is when the author says, “I want people to be able to do stuff with this.” Having authors enter into a different publishing relationship by using open licenses allows us to go much further with the platform. That said, there’s nothing really stopping another company from doing this with some kind of unique user license.

We see other benefits of open access when we think about outputs. You might be able to go onto a publisher’s site and make modifications to a text, and maybe even integrate something that’s openly-licensed on the Web. But ultimately, it’s going to get subsumed into the all rights reserved framework, and won’t propagate forward, so no one else can change it. And generally, these digital services are expensive and access expires after a few months, so the user no longer can get to the content. Things like digital rights management and charging high prices for print materials are fundamentally business model decisions around dissemination, but they’re important.

I think the other big difference is what can happen away from the Flat World Knowledge site. Somebody could arguably come in and take our content and do something with it somewhere else. We’re not locking it down and saying, “The only thing you can do is work with the content on our site, and only use our technology.” We happen to make it easy to do this sort of thing on the Flat World site, but the open license allows others to use the content away from the original website. This leads to many more options that aren’t possible with content that is all rights reserved or served under a very unique license.

Flat World Knowledge licenses its textbooks under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license. What were the considerations in choosing this license? How do you see the role of Creative Commons in open textbook and open education?

One of my pet peeves about this community that we’re a part of is the frequent and sometimes contentious debates over licensing. The principle of enabling a range of licenses recognizes that copyright holders have different objectives for their creations. I have my objectives and you have yours, so we may choose different licenses to reach those objectives. That’s perfectly fine. This is the way the world should be. For us, the choice of a license was very much predicated on building a sustainable commercial model around open. We invest fairly heavily with financial resources, time, and intellectual capital to make these textbooks and related products something that we think can dominate in the marketplace. If we didn’t use the non-commercial condition, in our view, we’d be making all the investment and then someone else could sell the content at a dramatically lower price because they didn’t make the initial and ongoing investment. The non-commercial condition is the piece of the model that enables us to give users far more rights, to provide free points of access, and protect our ability to commercialize the investment we made. The ShareAlike clause ensures that this protection continues forward.

Our decision to use this license also relates to authors. The sustainability and financial success argument starts with the people who have the most value in the market: the authors who create the books. Our discussions with authors always include a financial component. They want to know how we are going to capitalize on this venture. Authors want to do good, but they also want to earn income and be fairly compensated. When we explain our model and how the licensing works, they feel very comfortable.

Last month Hal Plotkin released the paper Free to Learn: An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials. That document suggests that community colleges are uniquely positioned to both take advantage of OER opportunities and to become pioneers in teaching through the creative and cost-effective use of OER, including through the adoption of open textbooks. How are Flat World’s approaches different in working with universities as opposed to community colleges? What are the differences in terms of the benefits and challenges to faculty, students, and administration within each institution?

This is a great question, but it’s a little hard to answer, because we must consider another variable—the book itself. Sometimes a book is aimed at a community college course and demographic, and sometimes it’s aimed at a four-year research university. For example, our Exploring Business book has a big community college market, while our Introduction to Economic Analysis title out of Caltech has very much a top-50, Ph.D.-granting institution market. So, this confuses things a little bit. That said, I think it’s fair to say that there is generally a correlation between where the financial pain is greatest (which tends to be at community colleges and state institutions) and where the faculty are closest to that pain (where teaching is their primary emphasis, and they spend more time with students). This is where we see the greatest pull for this solution. There’s less of a pull from wealthier demographics and/or with faculty who spend more time doing research than teaching. While there’s more ideological and intellectual understanding of the value of sharing on the research side, pragmatically, the financial pain tends to be on the community college side.

In the recent First Monday article, A sustainable future for open textbooks: The Flat World Knowledge story, Hilton and Wiley suggest that in testing Flat World’s textbook model (“free online and affordable offline”), nearly 40% of students still purchased a print copy of the textbook. And Nicole Allen mentioned in our interview with her that the research of the Student PIRGs shows that “students are willing to purchase formats they value even in the presence of a free alternative.” So, print materials are not going away overnight, as long as the resources can be tailored in ways that teachers and students want to use them. But, as powerful digital technologies offer so many new ways to interact with educational content, how do you foresee the distant (or near) future in which print-on-demand may no longer be a core part of your business model?

We agree with the findings in those reports that print is going away more slowly than pundits proclaimed it would. We’re totally committed to what I think of as platform agnosticism. We never want to be in a position of having to guess which technologies or trends will win or lose. Part of our solution was to build a very dynamic publishing engine which could take a book—which is really a series of database objects and computer code that gets pulled together—and transform it through computer software programs to a certain file format. Today, one format goes to a print-on-demand vendor to make a physical book; another is an ePub file to be downloaded to an iPad or other mobile device; another is a .mobi file for a Kindle. We can afford to be on the leading edge and make formats available that may have low penetration today. And if they grow faster, we’ll be there with a salable format for those devices that will proliferate.

The most important improvement we can make to learning outcomes across our society right now is access. People sometimes ask me, “Isn’t the textbook itself a dead paradigm?” I tell them no, because billions of dollars per year are spent on textbooks. Right now you could create a really killer learning product, and I could take the one that’s already being used by millions of people and make it much more accessible. Enabling greater access is going to have much bigger short-term impact. Going forward, improvements in learning outcomes beyond access will come from things that aren’t content. They will come from experiences—whether it’s an assessment I take and get immediate feedback to inform a specific learning path, or whether it’s a social learning experience in which I’m dropped into a community of learners with a challenge and we draw upon each other to come up with solutions. Content supports those things, but isn’t as important in some ways as the experience.

Our view of the world is to get into the market where there’s pain today, establish a large base of users, and then keep evolving the product to be an increasingly better learning tool. That will inevitably take the form of integrating more unique services that can’t be copied. That’s the long-term goal for us, and probably critical for any business operating in the digital medium, to be financially successful. Kevin Kelly, the technology writer and founding executive editor of Wired, said it best: “When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.” I believe that.

What does a successful teaching and learning environment implementing the power of open textbooks and OER “look like”? Do you have any lingering thoughts — worries, hopes, and predictions?

I don’t worry too much because if we keep our finger on the pulse of what people want to do, we’ll figure it out. One potential danger is the expense of providing this abundance of integrated tools, formats and options for users. It’s easy to imagine the expense of systems that incorporate things like an assessment engine built on adaptive learning and artificial intelligence to guide users to the best resource, all the while connecting them to other users to foster a richer learning experience. This has the potential to be very expensive, and ratchets up the imperative for players in the open community to help figure it out.

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