Carnegie Foundation

OpenCourseWare economics in the New York Times

Mike Linksvayer, March 31st, 2010

In As Colleges Make Courses Available Free Online, Others Cash In the New York Times writes about how universities are funding OpenCourseWare programs as well as how businesses have sprung up around CC licensed Open Educational Resources (OER) from such programs. Regarding the latter, our CEO is quoted:

On a philosophical level, the idea of making money from something available free might seem questionable. But Joi Ito, chief executive of Creative Commons, which issues the licenses defining user rights to most OpenCourseWare materials, supports the mixing of free and for-profit: “I think there’s a great deal of commercial infrastructure that needs to be created in order for this to be successful,” Mr. Ito said: “It can’t all just be free.”

As readers steeped in knowledge of free culture/open content (and before it free and open source software) will recognize, this means three things.

First, sharing does not preclude making money. To the contrary, artists have long been making CC licensing part of their business strategies, and recently some OER creators and companies are following suit. Examples include WikiPremed, Flat World Knowledge, and Bloomsbury Academic. See Eric Frank explain how Flat World Knowledge gives away CC licensed open textbooks and profits from print materials and services rendered around the content in a video just uploaded from CC Salon NYC.

Second, there needs to be an ecosystem built around open materials, and businesses are an important part of that ecosystem. In the OER space the article mentions Academic Earth. Consider the many businesses providing services around CC licensed materials more broadly (e.g., Flickr, and Fotopedia, which leverages CC licensed works from both Flickr and Wikipedia) and the legion of businesses build around free software (e.g., Red Hat). Consider how huge education is. The opportunity and need for businesses that provide distribution, curation, and a plethora of other services around OER are huge.

Third, free can refer to price and freedom. Businesses, universities, and others can charge a price for access or services around OER. The ecosystem works due to the freedoms that have been granted to use and build upon OER.

The article also mentions the values of OER, one of which is to “[create] an incentive for universities to improve themselves.” It quotes Cathy Casserly, who recently joined the Creative Commons board of directors:

“I think that by putting some of the spectacular professors, and putting their approaches and pedagogical instructional strategies that they use with their students in front of the world, it sets a new benchmark for all of us to learn from,” she said. “And I think that’s actually one of the incredible powers of this open educational resource.”

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“Opening Up Education”

Jane Park, September 18th, 2008

is the new publication by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and MIT Press exploring “the potential of open education to transform the economics and ecology of education.” Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge is a collection of thirty essays written by leaders in the open education movement. From the press release:

[They] reflect on current and past open education initiatives, offer critical analyses, share the strategic underpinnings of their own work, and delve into open education’s implications in three areas: technology, content, and knowledge. Together, they address the central question of how open education can improve the quality of education.

Co-editor M. S. Vijay Kumar is also quoted:

A look at the landscape tells us that efforts with open education so far have been largely confined to attempts at improving what we already do. While this is certainly valid, we encourage consideration of approaches that transcend traditional practices, organizations, disciplines and audiences.” 

John Seely Brown agrees in his Foreword, “We need to reconceptualize twentieth-century education models, and at the same time reinforce learning outside of formal schooling. This book provides real leverage for open education, and is a major step toward creating a culture of learning for this century.”

The book is also edited by Toru Iiyoshi and is available for download at MIT Press under CC BY-NC-ND.

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