OER

Letter from featured Superhero Andrew Rens, former Lead for CC South Africa

Allison Domicone, December 6th, 2010

I’m delighted to introduce Andrew Rens, one of our exceptional CC Superheroes, who will tell you in his own words why he supports Creative Commons and why you should too. Rens, the founding legal lead of Creative Commons South Africa – a volunteer position he held from 2003 to 2009 – possesses particularly adept superpowers when it comes to facing tough issues around intellectual property and education in Africa. Here is his story. Join Rens and become a CC superhero – donate today.


Andrew Rens

Andrew Rens

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“Since its inception Creative Commons has been instrumental in enabling so much diverse creativity, from music to design, from science to education, from business to philanthropy that I won’t attempt to refer to it all. Instead I’ll reflect on my personal experience of supporting CC, and why I think that you should seriously consider joining me in supporting Creative Commons.

From the day I first heard about Creative Commons I believed that it would be immensely helpful to two things which I am passionate about: Africa and education. Shortly thereafter I became the first legal lead for the Creative Commons South Africa project. I worked as legal lead, a volunteer position, from 2003 until 2009. What motivates someone to keep working as a volunteer for six years? What motivated me was the immense privilege of contributing to the work of others, of playing a part, however small, in some of the most inspiring initiatives I’ve ever seen.

One of those is Free High School Science Texts which offers curriculum compliant peer produced CC licensed school textbooks in math, physics, chemistry and biology. Another great project is Siyavula, a platform which enables teachers to co-create lesson materials. Then there is Full Marks, another teacher friendly site that enables teachers to co-create math and science quizzes. Astonishingly these three projects were all begun by one very smart and determined guy: Mark Horner. Yet another great project is Yoza, a self publishing platform that enables mobile access to novels and short stories, and so encourages literacy in a generation of Africans who have no ready access and whose only computers are mobile phones.

These are all good examples of the creativity of the open educational resources (OER) movement. The OER movement draws its inspiration from the Cape Town Open Education Declaration which speaks of “developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use.” Enabling sharing eliminates one barrier to education: highly priced learning materials. It also begins something else, described in the Cape Town Declaration as “planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.”

One of the first seeds to sprout is Peer to Peer University (P2PU), a volunteer driven project to create a peer to peer driven learning community. P2PU bills itself as the “social wrapper around open educational resources.” Peer learning may well be the key innovation that helps resolve the crisis which tertiary education is experiencing worldwide.

Each new development is only possible because of the development before it; peer learning is only possible with open educational resources; open educational resources are only possible with open licences such as the Creative Commons licences. Each layer relies on the continuing viability of the layer which it builds on. That is one important reason that I support the ongoing work of Creative Commons, because the fundamentals of easily understood, easily used, open copyright licences need to be maintained.

Another reason I support the ongoing work of Creative Commons is the urgent need for work on patents and databases to enable people to research collaboratively and share their results. Yet another reason is because Creative Commons is committed to expanding the network of Creative Commons projects in Africa, supporting Africans not just to port Creative Commons licences to their jurisdictions but also to provide trusted local expertise to their educational communities.

I’ve had the satisfaction of seeing that the time sacrificed as a volunteer to port the Creative Commons licences has been more than repaid; the South African CC licences have been used vastly more times than any other technical legal document I’ve drafted. This is typical of how Creative Commons has worked; for every license ported there have been thousands if not millions of works using that license. The outpouring of human expression and ingenuity enabled by Creative Commons has been a huge return on every hour of volunteer time and every dollar spent on the staff who support the volunteers and keep the website working. These investments of time and money are small only relative to the creativity they’ve enabled. Every dollar donated, every hour spent could have been used to another end, and yet without them the return would not have been as great.

Although I have been privileged to participate in these exciting developments, I don’t believe that my experience is exceptional. Everyone who contributes to Creative Commons has the opportunity to be involved with a plethora of fascinating individuals and world changing projects. Please join me in supporting Creative Commons today.”

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IEEE teams up with Connexions to deliver high-quality, peer-reviewed engineering OER

Timothy Vollmer, December 3rd, 2010

Rice University’s Connexions and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Signal Process Society (IEEE-SPS) recently announced the release of a set of open educational resources on signal processing. The materials allow engineering instructors to mix and match to build customized courses, textbooks and study guides, and are useful for practicing engineers for their own education and career growth. The high-quality resources are peer-reviewed and available for free on the Connexions IEEE-SPS portal.

From the press release:

While the open-education movement has grown rapidly in recent years, critics have questioned how open-access publishers can ensure the quality of freely authored and edited materials. An oft-proposed option is adapting peer review — the process academic researchers have used for centuries to vet and certify research papers and books.

“All materials must pass thorough a rigorous quality evaluation before they appear on the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s branded portal in Connexions,” said Roxana Saint-Nom, chair of the society’s Connexions Lens Subcommittee.

This collaboration is one of the first between a major professional society and an open educational resource provider. Connexions is one of the largest repositories of OER in the world, and all its materials are available under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization, with over 395,000 members.

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Stories of people & projects using Creative Commons in education, government, and data

Jane Park, November 23rd, 2010

The significance of Creative Commons and its licenses is often overlooked, embedded as it is into the fabric of sharing culture on the web. The current superhero campaign attempts to bring CC’s role to the forefront, by highlighting people and organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to this culture. But there are many more excellent stories of people and projects employing our CC licenses for educational, humanitarian, scientific, artistic, and just plain interesting uses. Some of these are currently reflected in our Case Studies on the wiki, but there’s a lot of work left to be done in making these more accessible and useful to the rest of the world.

Part of that is improving the entry points for people new to CC, so we are highlighting case studies for different areas. We just added one for open educational resources (OER) case studies, focusing on the most compelling CC education project or implementation in policy from each country. Examples make the jobs of those advocating for OER at the policy level much easier, and we often notice a surprising lack of knowledge that many of the most compelling examples are to be found around the world. So we started this page to help everyone who is supporting OER advocacy efforts, and we encourage you to go ahead and add your own case study and write up its story; the more developed a case study is, the more likely it is to be featured and shared.

Other areas we have highlighted include Government use of Creative Commons and CC0 use for data. These case studies are also far from complete, so we encourage you to add to and improve them.

We’ve added a few more fields to the Case Studies template as well. For instance, have you ever tried to implement CC licensing into a publishing platform? Then you know that it would have been helpful to know how other platforms have done it. Alex mentions that we’ve gone ahead and added a field for technical implementations to Case Studies. See the Blip.tv case study as an example. In addition, we’ve added a field for “Impact”—what is the effect of this project or resource being under a CC license? What has it enabled that otherwise would not exist? Etc.

Like the rest of our content, the Case Studies are under CC BY, so do add, improve, remix, translate, print out and pass around, show them to your mom, or otherwise reuse them!

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Letter from featured superhero Gautam John of Pratham Books

Allison Domicone, November 16th, 2010

I’m pleased to introduce Gautam John, one of our exceptional CC Superheroes, who will tell you in his own words why he supports Creative Commons and why you should too. Gautam John is Manager of New Projects at Pratham Books, a children’s book publisher in India that truly embodies a spirit of openness and innovation on the web. They’ve now released 105 children’s books (in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Gujarati) as well as loads of delightful illustrations under a CC-BY license so they can easily be shared and even remixed to create new content relevant to other languages and cultures. Here is Pratham’s story. Join Gautam in supporting Creative Commons with a donation today.


Gautam John

Gautam John

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“As a children’s book publisher, we have always struggled to be as inclusive as we can. However, as a small non-profit, we do function under severe constraints of time, money and ability to live up to this ideal and it was the Creative Commons model of licensing that allowed us one of our biggest moments of joy — when our books were made available as Braille and Audio Books for print impaired children across the world. Without the Creative Commons licensing model and philosophy, we would not have been able to engage with multiple organizations to help build inclusion and scale.

At Pratham Books, we have a very simple mission – “A Book in Every Child’s Hand” and this drives all of our work and we constantly test what we do against this goal. The mission has two parts, one is to create more reading matter such that there is more available for children to read and the second really is a corollary – that we need to be able to get books to where children need it the most and that the books need to be culturally and linguistically relevant as well.

This is where our challenge lies – to massively scale the production of high quality, low-cost children’s books for a massively multi-lingual and multi-cultural market. Looking at this challenge it is fairly obvious that this is not a problem that any one organization can solve. The solution has to be scalable, flexible and catalyse our fundamental mission as well.

At this point, we realised that there were several internal questions to answer and some of them painfully introspective. Questions as to whether the books we create and distribute have to be a Pratham Book, whether it implied that every book must be paid for by either the reader or an intermediary and, from being a publisher, questions as to whether we are gatekeepers of content or content curators, how we could create infinite good with finite time and resources and most importantly, how we can create more value than we capture?

Having answered most of these questions using “openness” (whereby, we asked ourselves whether allowing unrestricted access to use and re-use our content furthered our mission) as a test and finding that it did fit our mission, the second set of questions to answer was more technical – how, as a small non-profit, do we do this and not find ourselves overwhelmed. It was at this point that we had a moment of realization – that reading is an extremely social activity and that there are communities and organizations who were more than ready to help us achieve our goals.

It was at this juncture that we hit upon the Creative Commons licensing model as one that would help us achieve many of our aims of flexibility, scalability and being able to help catalyse our mission of a book in every child’s hands. In particular, three things stood out – a shared value system of sharing and openness, a community that was deeply embedded in these ideals and, from our perspective, it was scalable because it allowed us to license content to multiple organizations and individuals, both known and unknown, with a one time effort of releasing them under a Creative Commons license as opposed to the traditional model which involves time consuming negotiations and discussions with each known organization or individual who wants to use our content.

As an organization, we did spend some time choosing a license and, from our perspective, a choice between openness and sharing which reduced to a choice between the Attribution and Attribution-Share-Alike license. We have decided that the Attribution license will be our default license with a fall-back to the Attribution-Share-Alike license in cases where needed. It is best said by P2PU “it emerged that our choice lay between two licences: Creative Commons Attribution and Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike …chose to use Creative Commons licences because Creative Commons have become a global standard and are supported by a large international community. Both licences are Free Culture licences and are more permissive than any of the other Creative Commons licences. In other words, the choice was not between two extremes but between two open licences at the same end of the licence spectrum.” Given that our goal was being as open as possible, it followed that our license choices were essentially around licenses that allowed for the greatest possible use and re-use because our initial hypothesis was, and continues to be, that being open allows us to fulfill our mission better than a traditional copyright model allows.

We now use Creative Commons licenses everywhere! We license entire books under CC-BY and CC-BY-SA licenses, we license our illustrations similarly and even photographs and other publicity material too. Over the last year we have been building the foundations for a social publishing model – where we curate communities that are passionate about reading and help us create content. Such a model rests on the idea of a participatory culture and an essential ingredient is a permissive licensing strategy – Creative Commons licenses offers us this, a large community with shared values and an ecosystem to tap in to.

While this licensing and publishing model works well in theory, it has been extremely heartening for us to see it come to life – our communities have created multiple derivative works ranging from iPad and iPhone applications, to porting our works to OLPC laptops, to creating entirely new books from existing illustrations and, my personal favourite, creating versions of our books for the print impaired – from DAISY and Braille books to rich audio books such that our mission truly does encompass every single child.

I firmly believe that we would not have been able to achieve what success we have had without the help of Creative Commons licensing. These licenses and the values that they stand for are vital to building and strengthening a digital commons from which we all benefit. I hope you will consider supporting Creative Commons and licensing content that you own or control such that we all benefit from the growth of the commons.”


Follow Gautam on Twitter.
Special thanks to Maya Hemant from Pratham Books for getting all content (books, images) up online and for managing the Pratham community.

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CC to talk at Global Education Conference

Jane Park, November 10th, 2010


CC BY by Joi

The Global Education Conference is a week-long, online event hosting keynotes and various education tracks to “significantly increase opportunities for globally-connecting education activities and initiatives.” CC board Vice Chair, Esther Wojcicki, will give a keynote on “How to Spread Your Ideas Globally Using Creative Commons Licenses,” focusing on how CC licenses promote global sharing in education. The keynote is scheduled for November 15 at 10am PST and will be broadcast live via Elluminate. There is no need to register for the conference which will be held all next week, November 15-19. For a preview of Esther’s and other talks, see http://www.globaleducationconference.com/keynotes.html.

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Barcelona Events Wrap-up

Jane Park, November 9th, 2010


CC BY by mozillaeu

Since we last blogged about CC in Barcelona, we’ve been very productive. Two weeks worth of open events have yielded several talks around open educational resources (OER) search, discovery, and policy at Open Ed, recommendations and tools for greater open content reuse at the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, and a 12 month plan for the future of the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU).

Open Ed 2010

In addition to an excellent talk by board member Cathy Casserly, CC staff members Nathan Yergler and Timothy Vollmer both gave talks that led to fruitful side conversations that will be helpful going forward. Nathan’s talk on “Search and Discovery: OER’s Open Loop” spurred conversations about one of the underlying issues of OER search, which is, “how do you (software, crawlers) know what’s an OER and what is not?” Timothy Vollmer’s talk on the “iNACOL survey: An inquiry into OER projects, practices, and policy in U.S. K-12 schools” identified how OER is being used in K-12 online education and investigated the existing OER models at the state, district, and school level. The survey revealed the widespread knowledge of OER among the respondents, but also ongoing questions about the funding models and professional development needs to alert other teachers and administrators about the process and benefits of exploring OER. On the whole, survey respondents were optimistic about the potential for OER, wanting to see it implemented for a wide variety of functions, including the development of digital textbooks to replace hard copy texts, as a component in building better assessment mechanisms, to augment learning materials for struggling students, credit recovery, independent study, college prep and tutoring, special education, library tutorials, and to provide opportunities for students to engage in content and classes that the school doesn’t offer.


CC BY by tvol

Mozilla Drumbeat Festival: Learning, Freedom, and the Web

CEO Joi Ito gave a keynote and CC’s International Project Manager (and Drumbeat Festival program co-chair) Michelle Thorne worked closely with Mark Surman and other Mozillans to make this event happen–a huge shout-out to all the Mozilla volunteers! The Peer Learning Lighthouse tent, organized by CC Superhero Delia Browne, Alison Jean Cole (P2PU), and myself, focused specifically on overcoming barriers to reuse of CC licensed content and a future School of Copyright & Creative Commons at P2PU. One of the coolest outcomes of this tent was tech specifications around a CC attribution generator, a browser and platform plugin that would export the metadata around a CC licensed work to produce a formatted attribution. University of Michigan’s Molly Kleinman and our CTO Nathan Yergler, in collaboration with Mozilla, are working to make this tool a reality. Discussions on the School of Copyright & Creative Commons revolved around increasing global and linguistic reach of the Copyright for Educators courses, and also adapting the course for librarians, policymakers, and creators.

P2PU Workshop

All P2PU-produced content is under CC BY-SA. In order to more effectively educate P2PU participants and course organizers, the P2PU community are planning to integrate copyright and CC license education into its orientation process, in addition to emphasizing the P2PU value of openness as part of a “social contract” at the beginning of every course, which will be revised to explicitly call out the license. Additionally, the revamped P2PU platform will introduce values and licensing in the latest stage at the sign-up phase.


CC BY-SA by kiyanwang

Of course licensing was far from the only issue that was talked about. Governance, nonprofit incorporation, sustainability, course formats and content, quality control, research, and more were heavily workshopped, and all outcomes from the workshop are available at the P2PU wiki, under CC BY-SA of course. Immediately after the workshop, the P2PU techsprint, involving volunteer developers and designers, produced the next iteration of the P2PU platform–which you can preview here.

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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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CC in Barcelona

Jane Park, October 25th, 2010


CC BY-NC-SA by Paco CT

CC is making a strong presence in Barcelona at the many open culture and education events that are taking place in the next couple weeks. Board members Catherine Casserly and Esther Wojcicki, CEO Joi Ito, CTO Nathan Yergler, International Project Manager Michelle Thorne, Open Society Foundation (OSF) Policy Fellow Timothy Vollmer, myself, and a slew of CC Affiliates from all over will be participating in the Open Ed Conference, first Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, Free Culture Forum/oXcars, and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) Workshop. Some preview highlights and invitations to join us at specific events:

Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival (3-5 Nov)
The Mozilla Drumbeat Festival “will gather teachers, learners and technologists from around the world who are at the heart of [the open] revolution.” It will consist of designated spaces, or “tents”, with specific focuses, like building peer-2-peer courses (part of the Peer Learning Lighthouse), designing badges to recognize informal learning (Badge Lab), and fusing Wikipedia with education (Wikipedia lounge). You can check out the evolving schedule here, but we’ll be hosting the following spaces, where we encourage you to join us:

Encourage Content Reuse: Educate your users! (4-5 Nov)
This session addresses the lack of education around openly licensed content and its associated freedoms–how to use, adapt, and remix content to realize the full collaborative potential that is enabled by CC licenses. We will discuss, collaborate, and create educational resources for users of open content. Specific outcomes include a reuse/remix guide for P2PU or other content and DIY license tutorials. The reuse/remix guide will lay the foundation for a “reusable” template that other initiatives can customize to educate their users. DIY license tutorials can be on the “open” subject of your choice, whether it’s a particular CC license, open educational resources (OER) in general, what is “open” anyway?, or org-specific policy (ie. why did P2PU choose CC BY-SA?) in the form of short video, pictures, or design—basically, how would you explain open licensing to your parents?

Building a School of Copyright & Creative Commons (4-5 Nov)
Building on P2PU’s Copyright 4 Educators courses, this is a planning session to discuss how to extend the current network of educators of copyright and Creative Commons. This may involve issues such as recruitment for more course facilitators, collaboration with CC affiliates around the world, and building a “School of Copyright and Creative Commons” at P2PU that would serve as the umbrella for all related courses and programs around copyright education. What other audiences besides educators should we focus on, and how do we leverage the international network of CC affiliates to reach more jurisdictions?

In addition to the above, Joi will be giving the opening keynote to the festival. The full (also evolving) list of drumbeat activities is available at https://wiki.mozilla.org/Drumbeat/events/Festival/program/activities.

Open Ed 2010 (2-4 Nov)
The annual Open Ed conference is “the world’s premiere venue for research related to open education” and this year’s theme is “OER: Impact and Sustainability”. Board member Catherine Casserly will present “Open Educational Resources and the Bull’s-Eye: Opening Access to Knowledge AND Improving Teaching and Learning,” CTO Nathan Yergler will lead a session on “Search and Discovery: OER’s Open Loop,” which focuses on DiscoverEd, a prototype for scalable search of educational resources online, and OSF Policy Fellow Timothy Vollmer will present the “iNACOL survey: An inquiry into OER projects, practices, and policy in U.S. K-12 schools.”

P2PU Workshop 2010 (27-30 Oct)
The second P2PU workshop will focus on the future of the Peer 2 Peer University, including issues of education around open licensing, accreditation, community norms and review processes, governance, sustainability, larger “schools” of courses, and general peer-produced mayhem. Active workshoppers include Neeru Paharia (former CC Executive Director) and myself, in addition to a “friends of P2PU” day where CC board member Catherine Casserly will contribute her expertise and support.

Free Culture Forum and oXcars 2010 (28-31 Oct)
The Free Culture Forum is “an international arena in which to build and coordinate action around issues related to free/libre culture and access to knowledge.” It “brings together key organizations and active voices in the spheres of free/libre culture and knowledge, and provides a meeting point where we can find answers to the pressing questions behind the current paradigm shift.” oXcars 2010 is the free culture awards ceremony that will take place at the beginning of the forum, recognizing international artists and performers, including those of Spanish culture.

Barcelona was also host to the sixth COMMUNIA workshop earlier this month, which focused on “Memory Institutions and Public Domain.”

We hope to see you at one or all of these events, and if not, stay tuned for updates in November.

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CC and Open Access Week 2010

Jane Park, October 19th, 2010

This week is the fourth annual Open Access Week, and starting yesterday Oct 18, the official kick-off date, the CC community has been participating in various open access events around the globe. “Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” Taking place the same week everywhere, Open Access Week brings together people from all ends of the academic and research communities at various worldwide conferences, workshops, and other events to “continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.” Below is a (not exhaustive) list of what CC jurisdiction leads, open culture and open education advocates, and the Creative Commons staff are doing to inspire open access.

CC Colombia
CC Colombia is kicking things off at a CC Salon in Cali today with the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente (UAO). Tomorrow (Oct 20), they are holding a training activity on copyright and CC licenses for teachers at the Universidad de la Sabana (Chia), and they’ll end the week with a conference with the research group of students at the National University (Bogotá) on Oct 21. More info can be found at CC Colombia’s blog, the heart of which was kindly translated by CC Colombia Project Lead Carolina Botero.

CC Aotearoa New Zealand
CC New Zealand will be focusing on open education this week, holding a webinar on Friday entitled, “Remixing Aotearoa,” as part of the Open Education Resource Foundation’s OA Week’s webinar series. If you’re in a manageable timezone, you can sign up to attend the webinars via WikiEducator. CC NZ will also be featuring a series of interviews and profiles of individuals using CC. For more info, visit their site.

CC Spain
CC Spain Project Lead Ignasi Labastida i Juan, also the head of the Office for Knowledge Dissemination at the Universitat de Barcelona, has organized several talks on open journals and open repositories following last year’s events. More info about the program in Catalan can be found at the University site and in English at the OA Week site. Ignasi himself spoke on Monday about OA policies and developments, and today will be speaking about research repositories.

CC board and staff
Founding board member and professor at American University, Michael Carroll, will be speaking at the University of Maryland later this week (Oct 21) to “discuss the growing open access movement, why access to information is so important, and what you can do to promote open access to your research.” Science Commons Vice President, John Wilbanks, started the week yesterday at the University of Utah, and will be speaking at UC Davis again on Friday, in addition to a webinar for open access participants in Portugal on Thursday. CC Fellow Greg Grossmeier is speaking at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale on Wednesday, and will also give a talk on open educational resources (OER) at berlin8 in Beijing, China next week (Oct 26). Myself, Jane Park, am participating in a panel today at NYU on open access for education, following the recent launch of NYU’s Open Education Pilot. Also stay tuned for Open Society Foundation (OSF) Policy Fellow Timothy Vollmer’s interview with SPARC’s Right to Research Coalition this week; the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is also a major organizer of OA Week activities.

Creative Commons and Open Access — Doing our homework: Science @ Creative Commons, Open Access, and Lessons for OER
To further celebrate open access week in your part of the world, check out our brief analysis of Creative Commons’ contribution to the Open Access movement. We cover university access policies, the NIH Public Access Policy, the protocol for implementing open access data, and more, drawing comparisons and lessons from the development of the movement to how the open educational resources (OER) movement is progressing today. This is how we’re thinking about open access and open education, and we’d love your feedback.

Digitally Open: Innovation and Open Access Forum in Qatar
Lastly, we’d like to point you to a major event that’s going to happen this Saturday in Qatar. This day-long forum celebrating open access features CC CEO Joi Ito, Science Commons VP John Wilbanks, CC Collecting Societies Liaison Paul Keller, CC Creative Director Eric Steuer, and CC Arab World Media and Development Manager Donatella Della Ratta (who is involved in organizing the event). For the full line-up of open access superstars, check out the event page.

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CC Talks With: Student PIRGs’ Nicole Allen: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, October 14th, 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 policy change at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Nicole Allen is the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) Campaign Director for Make Textbooks Affordable. In our interview, Nicole discussed the Student PIRGs approach to advocacy and education with regard to open textbooks, their latest report on college textbook affordability, and the necessary role of CC and related groups to raise awareness about open licensing in the academic community.

Can you briefly describe the history of your involvement in Student PIRGs and the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign?


Nicole Allen / CC BY

As a lifelong environmental activist, I originally got involved with the PIRGs in college on a campaign to stop water pollution. But I was compelled to make higher education advocacy my career after Congress cut $12 billion federal student aid to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy during my senior year. I first worked as an organizer with WashPIRG (the “PIRG” in Washington state), and after passing a state law mandating textbook price disclosure, I took over as head of the Student PIRGs’ Make Textbooks Affordable campaign in 2007. Since then, I have worked with students across the country to run the campaign and conducted research and advocacy at the federal level (including work on legislation that reversed the cuts to student aid!).

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) passed in 2008, and a provision relating to textbook affordability and access to pricing information recently went into effect. Furthermore, bills supporting the development of open textbooks have been introduced in both the House and Senate. What would you say are the primary characteristics of an open textbook? How does the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign relate to open education?

We’re excited how rapidly open textbooks are gaining momentum, and the HEOA price disclosure law will help accelerate the pace. When we talk about open textbooks, we mean college texts that have been published online under an open license that allows free digital access, low-cost printing and customization by instructors. In most ways, open textbooks are quite similar to the texts seen on bookshelves today – they have a table of contents, exercises, and they’re written by expert authors. In most cases, they even can be printed to look exactly like any other textbook. The big difference is the open license, which enables a wide variety of affordable textbook formats, including free web-based versions, printable PDFs, and printed and bound hard copies for $20-40 (traditional textbooks usually cost $100-200!). Increasingly, more innovative formats such as audio and e-reader versions are becoming available. Another notable difference is that open textbooks can be customized. Instructors can remove the chapters they don’t plan to cover, or they can add in other materials, homework questions or annotations.

Our goal is to get more open textbooks adopted in place of expensive traditional textbooks, so we think of ourselves as part of the “transition team” for open education. We’re getting more professors to use OER as textbooks, the format they feel most comfortable with, which will pave the way for future exploration of more innovative forms of open course materials. So far, it’s been going well. Since 2008, we’ve generated more than 2,500 signatures on a faculty Statement of Intent to consider using open textbooks and more than 500 news stories citing open textbooks as a potential solution. Early this year, we launched a student marketing force consisting of hundreds of grassroots activists on a mission to promote the top open textbooks directly to professors. Already, at least 50 professors we’ve contacted have switched to open textbooks, and we hope to continue this trend throughout the rest of the school year.

The textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge offers free online access to textbooks under a Creative Commons license, and charges a modest amount for printed copies and supplemental materials. What are some things to consider to ensure the sustainability of such new publishing models? What are some of the primary benefits for professors and students in using open textbooks?

Our experience in the field has been that many professors are concerned that students fall behind on reading and homework because they haven’t purchased the text (it’s true – our recent study found that about 10% of any given class hasn’t bought the book). Furthermore, professors are frustrated that publishers unnecessarily revise textbooks to undermine used book sales, creating extra work to keep syllabi and homework questions up to date. Open textbooks offer relief from both of these problems, because the text is accessible free online or at a low-cost in print, and it always remains open even if a new edition comes out. Open textbooks also offer the increasingly attractive benefit of customization, so that instructors can tailor the text to their class.

The benefits for students are obvious. Our latest report, A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are The Path To Textbook Affordability, found that using open textbooks could reduce costs 80% – that’s $184 per year, compared to the current average of $900!  But cost isn’t the only advantage. In our survey, student preferences were split 75% for print and 25% for digital, and two out of five said they’d be comfortable using both. Students listed readability, convenience and cost as their top factors in choosing a format, although there was no consensus on which format represented these qualities best. Given such variance in student preferences, open textbooks are a far more effective solution than conventional options like rentals and e-books, since students can choose from a wide variety of affordable options.

This raises an important question: if open textbooks are free online, why would students buy anything at all?  Actually, our research shows that students are willing to purchase formats they value even in the presence of a free alternative: more than half of the students we surveyed said they would rather buy a reasonably priced print copy than use the book free online. Student spending on optional products could be the foundation of sustainable models, such as the model used by Flat World Knowledge.

College professors want to use the best textbook available, regardless of price. The Making Textbooks Affordable campaign supports the adoption and use of open textbooks, and encourages faculty to sign a statement indicating their intent “to include open textbooks in their search for the most appropriate course materials, and declare declare their preference to adopt an open textbook in place of an expensive, commercial textbook, if the open textbook is the best option.” What can the OER community do to make it easier for faculty to discover and adopt open textbooks? How do we continue to address the issue of quality?

Open textbooks are available for dozens of common college subjects, but the challenge is making professors aware of them. Despite nearly universal willingness to consider more affordable options, we’ve found that instructors typically hear about textbooks through publisher marketing efforts, not by seeking books out themselves. Therefore, simply posting open textbooks online is not enough; they need active promotion. We encourage the rest of the open education community to join our efforts to get the word out to professors.

As for quality, I think the issue is different for open textbooks than other OER. Quality is inherently subjective, so it is challenging to establish on a large scale. However, there is already a notion of what is “high quality” for traditional texts, so it’s less abstract for open textbooks. Since most of today’s professors will use traditional standards, creating high quality textbooks is a matter of developing models that can emulate (and hopefully improve upon) the outcomes of traditional peer review and classroom testing. Great examples are Flat World Knowledge, which follows the standard publishing process to the letter, and Writing Spaces, which uses a peer review system similar to scholarly journals. Likewise, demonstrating quality is a matter of vetting books with respect to traditional textbooks through institutions, organizations and adopters. For example, both College Open Textbooks and our own Open Textbook Catalog offer editorial reviews of open textbooks. Traditional concepts like publisher branding and author reputation are important too.

How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the open textbook and open education? How can CC help?

Open licensing is the essence OER. It gives authors the confidence to grant worldwide access to their works while still reserving some of their rights. It enables instructors to customize and expand OER to better meet student needs. And it allows students to choose from a wide range of affordable textbook formats. We are grateful to Creative Commons for everything it has done already to create, promote and defend open licenses.

Sharing and customizing course materials (legally) is a foreign concept in academe. We can gloss over the details in the short term by emphasizing affordability, but a deeper understanding of open licensing will be necessary to broaden the use of OER beyond open textbooks. Therefore, we encourage CC to expand its educational and awareness efforts in the academic community, particularly among faculty.

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

I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of OER’s potential to transform teaching and learning. Although the pedagogical benefits are virtually limitless, we come from the consumer perspective. To us, OER means choice, and the ideal learning environment is one where students can take part in shaping their own experience as the “consumers” of higher education.

As for the future, I think the next few years are going to be a turning point. On one hand, we have the growing momentum of open textbooks and other OER. On the other, we have the traditional publishing industry, which has begun to diversify its offerings to include e-books, e-readers and even programs that imitate OER in a non-open environment like DynamicBooks and Create. It is imperative that the open education community help open textbooks gain a foothold before the market settles for less effective solutions. To do that, we need to call on government, foundations and institutions to fund the supply-side, and we need to fuel demand by actively promoting open textbook adoption.

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