OER

Teaching Open Source Software

Jane Park, April 7th, 2010

If you’re like me, then you don’t know much about software; if you’re not like me, then you know about software but not much about open source software (OSS). Regardless of which camp you fall into, there’s good news—you can learn about open source software (and help others learn about it) through open educational resources on OSS online. Practical Open Source Software Exploration: How to be Productively Lost, the Open Source Way is teachingopensource.org‘s new textbook to help professors, or anyone for that matter, teach or learn about open source software. “It’s a book that works like an open source software project. In other words: patches welcome.

For those needing something quick and simple to hand out to their classes, educators can contribute to or adapt this textbook (it’s licensed under CC BY-SA so you can share, translate, remix as long as you share alike) or search for other OER online. One K-12 educator developed this resource under CC BY, A K-12 Educator’s Guide to Open Source Software.

Via CC licenses, both resources enable a community of educators and learners to contribute to, edit, and improve them, especially Practical Open Source Software Exploration which invites people to edit the wiki directly. But fostering a community around open resources to keep them up-to-date and relevant isn’t something that just magically happens, which is why Red Hat, a successful business built around OSS, developed this meta-resource: The Open Source Way: Creating and nurturing communities of contributors. The book is available in wiki-form also under CC BY-SA, and “it contains knowledge distilled from years of Red Hat experience, which itself comes from the many years of experience of individual upstream contributors who have worked for Red Hat.” Basically, it’s a guide “for helping people to understand how to and how not to engage with community over projects such as software, content, marketing, art, infrastructure, standards, and so forth.” Of course none of this is set in stone (literally), since what works for some might not for others, but it’s worth taking a look and adapting to your own needs.

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Pratham Books uses CC to make children’s books accessible

Jane Park, April 5th, 2010

Nearly two years ago, I blogged about Pratham Books, a nonprofit children’s book publisher in India. “It was set up to fill a gap in the market for good quality, reasonably priced children’s books in a variety of Indian languages. [Its] mission is to make books affordable for every child in India.” At the time, Pratham Books had released six children’s books under a CC BY-NC-SA license, available on their Scribd page. Since then, they have changed the licenses on those books to Attribution Only (CC BY) and have expanded their offerings to books in the public domain. They have also been blogging extensively and encouraging remix of their CC licensed illustrations on Flickr.

Last month, the CC licenses enabled audio versions of Pratham children’s books for India’s National Association of the Blind. Three audio versions were recorded by Radio Mirchi, two in English and one in Urdu, with more in the works.

I asked Guatam John of Pratham Books why they moved towards more open licensing (from the books’ original CC BY-NC-SA license), and what else he saw for the future of Pratham’s CC licensed books.

“Pratham Books has taken the position that all our content will either be under a CC-BY or CC-BY-SA license because, to us, these are the only two truly open licenses that fit our needs. Radio Mirchi gave us the content with no terms attached but since it was done pro bono, we felt that putting it out under the CC-BY-SA license was the best available choice for both the community, Radio Mirchi and us. Also, the SA component serves to limit commercial use unless it is re-shared, as the license, and our philosophy, mandates.

We continue to release content under open licenses, for example: http://blog.prathambooks.org/2010/03/retell-remix-rejoice-with-chuskit-world.html. And we will continue to do so over time. We have been working with the Connexions project to build a platform for the re-use, remix and distribution of our content too. Our basic goal is a net increase in the available content for children to read from and we think we can catalyse this two ways: Seeding the domain with our content and building a platform to make it easy to re-use and re-purpose content.”

For more on CC licensed OER being adapted to accessible versions, see “U.S. Dept of Ed funds Bookshare to make open textbooks accessible.”

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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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WikiPremed makes money by giving away MCAT course

Jane Park, March 30th, 2010

Artists have been using Creative Commons licenses in interesting ways for a while, whether it’s to encourage interesting adaptations of their work or to help boost album sales. But it’s not only the visual artists and musicians diversifying the use of CC licenses—open education initiatives like Flat World Knowledge are experimenting with innovative business models by giving away digital content while charging for services added around it. WikiPremed is another one.

WikiPremed is the result of fifteen years of hard work, founded by John Wetzel, a graduate of Stanford University who has been helping “premedical students prepare for the MCAT in small group teaching through over fifty course cycles.” The site is comprehensive in scope, basically a course “in the undergraduate level general sciences,” consisting of textbooks, flash cards, test questions, images, and more that a premed student would need to prepare for the MCAT. All materials are available for free under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike, which means you can translate, improve, and republish it as long as you share alike.

What’s more interesting is that the site is sustaining itself by giving away digital content for free and charging for print materials, such as its Physics flashcards and print versions of its books. There is also an ask for a one-time $25 donation that then gives students an Organic Mechanisms Pocketbook and Advanced Physiology Crosssword Puzzle Book in return as a thank you. From Glyn Moody’s short interview of John Wetzel (which got picked up by techdirt),

“Students need printed study materials, and they get sick of the computer, so I definitely think there is room for creative commons educational content supported by print publications. I think there is an ethic to not holding content hostage to purchases, but I think there are commercial advantages to the open model as well. I don’t doubt that the average customer at WikiPremed has 1000 page views before purchasing anything.

I am sure that if there were registration walls and missing chapters I would have fewer customers.

I’m not getting rich or anything, at this point, but it is working.”

If you’re interested, you can help contribute to the WikiPremed case study.

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Google Code University

Cameron Parkins, March 23rd, 2010

Continuing with its commitment to open licensing, Google recently updated Google Code University, an educational resource that provides tutorials, lectures, and sample course content for CS students and educators. All the content is released under a CC Attribution license, allowing educators the ability to incorporate the resource in to their own courses. Educators can similarly submit their own course content for inclusion in GCU.

Google already boasts a number of fantastic CC integrations, a measure that is nicely expanded with this update to GCU.

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National Broadband Plan outlines recommendations to enable online learning; should continue to address content interoperability concerns

Timothy Vollmer, March 16th, 2010

Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its long-awaited National Broadband Plan. The plan aims to “stimulate economic growth, spur job creation, and boost capabilities in education, healthcare, homeland security and more.” The FCC has taken particular interest in the power of broadband to support and promote online learning. We applaud the FCC for working to make this a priority, especially in exploring how broadband can enable access to and participation in the open educational resources movement, empowering teachers, students, and self-learners.  In the plan, the FCC offers several recommendations in expanding digital educational content. A few of the recommendations are listed below:

Recommendation 11.1: The U.S Department of Education … should establish standards to be adopted by the federal government for locating, sharing and licensing digital educational content by March 2011.

While digital content is available currently, there are significant challenges to finding, buying and integrating it into lessons. Content is not catalogued and indexed in a way that makes it easy for users to search. It is also hard for teachers to find content that is most relevant and suitable for their students. Even if one finds the right content, accessing it in a format that can be used with other digital resources is often difficult or impossible. And if the desired content is for sale, the problem is even harder because online payment and licensing systems often do not permit content to be combined. These three problems—finding, sharing and license compatibility—are the major barriers to a more efficient and effective digital educational content marketplace. These barriers apply to organizations that want to assemble diverse digital content into materials for teachers to use, as well as to teachers who want to assemble digital content on their own. Digital content standards will make it possible for teachers, students and other users to locate the content they need, access it under the appropriate licensing terms and conditions, combine it with other content and publish it.

Recommendation 11.2: The federal government should increase the supply of digital educational content available online that is compatible with standards established by the U.S. Department of Education.

[ ... ] Whenever possible, federal investments in digital education content should be made available under licenses that permit free access and derivative commercial use and should be compatible with the standards defined in recommendation 11.1.

Recommendation 11.4: Congress should consider taking legislative action to encourage copyright holders to grant educational digital rights of use, without prejudicing their other rights.

In part due to a lack of clarity regarding what uses of copyrighted works are permissible, current doctrine may have the effect of limiting beneficial uses of copyrighted material for educational purposes, particularly with respect to digital content and online learning. In addition, it is often difficult to identify rights holders and obtain necessary permissions. As a result, new works and great works alike may be inaccessible to teachers and students … Increasing voluntary digital content contributions to education from all sectors can help advance online learning and provide new, more relevant information to students at virtually no cost to content providers … Congress should consider directing the Register of Copyrights to create additional copyright notices to allow copyright owners to authorize certain educational uses while reserving their other rights.

Many of these recommendations can help to enable the sharing and downstream reuse of Open Educational Resources (OER) via public licenses that grant broad permissions. And as we wrote last week, the Department of Education–through the National Education Technology Plan (PDF)–has already offered suggestions for how open licensing can aid teaching and learning by making content created by the federal government available for use or adaptation.

One recommendation, however, misses the mark – the suggestion that Congress direct the Copyright Office to create a new copyright notice to allow rightsholders to authorize specific education uses of their content while reserving all other rights. While the suggestion for this (e) mark is a good first step in recognizing the need for educational content to be shared widely, its utility will be limited and its implementation confusing. To begin with, it’s difficult to determine what will qualify as “educational” content and use. Creative Commons considered this 7 years ago and has revisited the question since, as an “education license” sounds very appealing. The reality is that allowing educational uses, or worse allowing only certain educational uses, adds to the growing problem of non-interoperable content silos whose contents cannot be intermingled without running afoul of copyright. These qualifiers are counter-productive in that they inhibit rather than incentivize use by teachers, learners, and others of the resources stored and isolated in the silos.  “Education only” uses would dampen innovation by publishers and other content creators that otherwise would be enabled under an open license granting broad permissions.

Additionally, narrow permissions break the promise of a widely interoperable commons. Public licenses that grant broad permissions for the use and reuse of content provide the most clear path forward in solving the interoperability problem. Creative Commons supplies a standardized framework for such public lienses, and has been adopted by many in the education community. It is important that any future initiative intended to increase sharing of eudcational content–legislated or otherwise–consider interoperability with existing OER as a design requirement.

The FCC has recognized that robust broadband infrastructure is crucial for citizens to participate effectively in the 21st century digital environment. Open licensing is a piece of this critical infrastructure. Creative Commons hopes to continue to work closely with the FCC, the Department of Education, and the OER community in order to implement the infrastructure necessary to support and promote online learning.

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Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources in the U.S. National Education Technology Plan

Mike Linksvayer, March 6th, 2010

The United States Department of Education 2010 National Educational Technology Plan (pdf) includes the following:

Open Educational Resources (OER) are an important element of an infrastructure for learning. OER come in forms ranging from podcasts to digital libraries to textbooks, games, and courses. They are freely available to anyone over the web.

Educational organizations started making selected educational materials freely available shortly after the appearance of the web in the mid-1900s. But MIT’s decision to launch the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative to make the core content from all its courses available online in 2000 gave the OER movement a credible start (Smith, 2009). Other universities joined the OCW Consortium, and today there are more than 200 members, each of which has agreed to make at least 10 courses available in open form.

Many of these materials are available not just to individuals enrolled in courses, but to anyone who wants to use them. The power of OER is demonstrated by the fact that nearly half the downloads of MIT’s OpenCourseWare are by individual self-directed learners, not students taking courses for credit (Maxwell, online presentation for the NETP Technical Working Group, 2009).

Equally important to the OER movement was the emergence of the Creative Commons, an organization that developed a set of easy-to-use licenses whereby individuals or institutions could maintain ownership of their creative products while giving others selected rights. These rights range from allowing use of a work in its existing form for noncommercial purposes to the right to repurpose, remix, and redistribute for any purpose.

Additional advances in our understanding of how to design good OER are coming out of the work of the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University. OLI has been developing state-of-the-art, high-quality online learning environments that are implemented as part of courses taught not only at Carnegie Mellon, but also at other universities and at community colleges. The OLI learning systems are submitted to rigorous ongoing evaluation and refinement as part of each implementation. (For more information on OLI, see the Assessment section of this plan.)

The Department of Education has a role in stimulating the development and use of OER in ways that address pressing education issues. The federal government has proposed to invest $50 million per year for the next 10 years in creating an Online Skills Lab to develop exemplary next-generation instructional tools and resources for community colleges and workforce development programs. These materials will be available for use or adaptation with the least restrictive Creative Commons license. This work is expected to give further impetus to calls for open standards, system utilities, and competency-based assessments. (For more information on the Online Skills Lab, see the Learning section of this plan.)

The OER movement begun in higher education should be more fully adopted throughout our K-16 public education system. For example, high-quality digital textbooks for standard courses such as algebra can be created by experts and funded by consortia arrangements and then made freely available as a public good. Open textbooks could significantly reduce the cost of education in primary and secondary as well as higher education. Textbooks constitute a significant portion of the government’s K-12 budget as well as the student-borne cost of higher education.

Also see the plan’s sidebar on the California Free Digital Textbook Initiative, the first phase of which has been dominated (15 of 16) by CC licensed textbooks.

The plan also directly demonstrates effective reuse — it includes and properly attributes two CC-licensed illustrations.

Congratulations to the U.S. Department of Education and the OER movement!

Addendum: See open education pioneer David Wiley’s reaction to a speech by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan given the day before the National Education Technology Plan’s publication. Wiley highlights OER’s role as infrastructure for education innovation. Those aren’t just buzzwords — read Wiley’s post.

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ccNewsletter January-March 2010: update from CEO Joi Ito

Allison Domicone, March 5th, 2010

CEO Joi Ito gives an update on how Creative Commons has hit the ground running in 2010, with big plans for expanding our efforts in education and open educational resources (OER). You’ll also read about new jurisdictions, government adoption of CC licenses, how CC licenses have played a role in the Haiti earthquake relief effort, and more. Happy reading! This quarterly version of the newsletter is in beautifully-designed PDF format (download), designed for your reading pleasure by the CC Philippines team!

Subscribe to receive our monthly e-news updates and quarterly PDF newsletters by email, and stay on top of the inspiring stories coming out of the Commons.

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CC Talks With: The Open Course Library Project

Jane Park, March 4th, 2010

cable green
Copyright and related rights waived via CC0

Late last year, I caught wind of an initiative that was being funded by the Gates Foundation—it had to do with redesigning the top 80 courses of Washington State’s community college system and releasing them all under CC BY (Attribution Only). The initiative was called the Washington State Student Completion Initiative and the specific project that was dealing with redesign and CC licensing was the Open Course Library Project. I decided to find out more, so I set up a Skype date with Cable Green, the head of the project.  Below is the transcribed interview, edited for clarity and cut as much as possible for 21st century attention spans.

Tell me a little bit about who you are, where you come from, and what your role is in open education.

Sure, my name is Cable Green. I’m the eLearning Director for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. Our system consists of 34 community and technical colleges and those colleges teach roughly 470,000 students each year. Our enrollments are growing fast in this recessionary period as people are looking to enhance their work skills and go back to college to get degrees and certificates.
Read More…

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Contribute to our open database of educational projects

Alex Kozak, March 2nd, 2010

At Creative Commons, we are always looking for new and interesting ways to find out just how much CC licensed content is out there on the web. Our latest project, the Open Database of Educational Projects and Organizations (or ODEPO), needs your help!

In 2008, ccLearn (now fully integrated into Creative Commons core) conducted a survey of educational projects online for its report to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation entitled “What Status for Open? An Examination of the Licensing Policies of Open Educational Organizations and Projects” (pdf). Several months later it was followed up with a data supplement (pdf) that visualized some of the findings.

The report was developed in conjunction with ODEPO, which is a Semantic MediaWiki-based database of organizations involved in providing educational content online. Currently, ODEPO includes 1147 sites affiliated with various organizations, the majority of which were provided to us back in 2008 by educational repositories involved in the creation and expansion of Open Educational Resources (OER).

We’d like to continue supporting this database to help researchers, advocates, and learners find educational projects, analyze trends in online education, and become more effective advocates for open education. We hope that increased awareness of the digital education landscape will increase communication between consumers, producers, and curators of educational content which can lead to more open practices.

How to help: Browse ODEPO. If your favorite educational project or organization is missing, incomplete, or incorrect, please log in to or create a CC wiki account and follow these instructions. Alternatively, you can simply browse to your educational project and click the “Edit this data” button on the page.

Addendum: There is now an Open Tasks tracker for ODEPO where you can find lists of pages that need more data.

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