open educational resources

Boundless, the free alternative to textbooks, releases its content under Creative Commons

Jane Park, January 22nd, 2013

boundless logo

Boundless, the company that builds on existing open educational resources to provide free alternatives to traditionally costly college textbooks, has released 18 open textbooks under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA), the same license used by Wikipedia. Schools, students and the general public are free to share and remix these textbooks under this license. The 18 textbooks cover timeless college subjects, such as accounting, biology, chemistry, sociology, and economics. Boundless reports that students at more than half of US colleges have used its resources, and that they expect its number of users to grow.

Boundless has an entire section explaining open educational resources (OER) and how they use them. However, you can easily see how it works for yourself by browsing one of their textbooks directly. For example, see their textbook on Biology. At the end of each chapter, sources are cited as a list of links where you can find the original material:

boundless biology chapter

This chapter on Organismal Interactions references a Wikipedia article and several articles in The Encyclopedia of Earth. If you follow these links, you will find that the original articles are OER governed by the same CC BY-SA license.

From Boundless’ FAQ,

Is it really free? How does Boundless make money?

Absolutely. Boundless books are 100% free with no expiration dates like textbook rentals or buybacks at the bookstore. It starts with Open Educational Resources. In the future, Boundless will implement some awesome optional premium features on top of this free content to help students study faster and smarter.

As you can see in the screenshot above, Boundless is already rolling out some of those premium features, including flashcards, study guides, and quizzes. To access these features Boundless requires a free user account. The textbooks themselves are completely open, without registration required, and are accessible at

For further reading, we recommend Slate’s article entitled, “Never Pay Sticker Price for a Textbook Again – The open educational resources movement that’s terrifying publishers.” It does a fantastic job of placing the company’s aims in the context of the current publishing ecosystem.


U.S. News and World Report Examines the Growth of Open Education

Elliot Harmon, January 18th, 2013

Open as in Books?

Open as in Books? / Alan Levine / CC BY-SA

This week, U.S. News and World Report ran an excellent story about the rise of openly-licensed educational materials. Simon Owens’ article touches on many of the open education landmarks we’ve been celebrating over the past year, including the Department of Labor’s TAA-CCCT grant program and open textbook legislation in British Columbia and California. Owens interviewed CC director of global learning Cable Green as well as David Wiley, the Twenty Million Minds Foundation‘s Dean Florez, and several other experts in the space.

From the article:

Upon its launch a decade ago, Creative Commons was embraced by the artist and literary community, and its iconic logo began appearing on the sidebars of thousands of blogs, web pages, and Flickr photos. By 2005, the nonprofit estimated there were 20 million works that utilized the license, and by 2009 that number had climbed to 350 million. But while the organization has always embraced its grassroots enthusiasm, it continually sought recognition and adoption from larger, more traditional institutions.

The philosophy behind this goal is simple. “The public should have access to what it paid for,” says [Cable Green]. “Free access and legal access to what it bought. The tagline is ‘buy one get one.’ If you buy something, you should get access to it.” And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Creative Commons activists have identified education materials as a prime target for their view. Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York announced that student loan debt had surpassed auto loans and credit debt, coming in at an estimated $1 trillion. And a not-insignificant contribution to this burden has been the rising cost of textbooks.


David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham University in Utah, has been immersed in the OER community predating the creation of the Creative Commons license. He was inspired by a group of technologists who met in 1998 to rebrand the free software movement as “open source,” and he later worked to develop an “open content” license that would allow content creators to share and distribute their content easily. “The only difference was that all of us who were initially involved weren’t lawyers,” he recalls. “We were just making stuff up. It was scary, because there were hundreds of thousands of people who were using these licenses, and if any of them actually went to court, who knows what would have happened?” Imagine his relief then when the Creative Commons license was formed. “I put a big notice on our website saying, ‘please everyone, run away from our licenses as fast as you can. Here are real lawyers that have done something similar but way better.'”


São Paulo Legislative Assembly Passes OER Bill

Timothy Vollmer, December 21st, 2012

UPDATE: As of 15 February 2013 this bill has been vetoed by the Governor of the State of Sao Paulo.

Last year we wrote about the introduction of an OER bill in Brazil. Yesterday, the State of São Paulo approved PL 989/2011, which establishes a policy whereby educational resources developed or purchased with government funds must be made freely available to the public under an open copyright license. The Governor must sign the bill for it to become law. You can view the bill text (Portuguese) linked from the State Assembly website.

State-funded educational materials must be made available on the web or on a government portal. They must be licensed for free use, including copying, distribution, download and creation of derivative works, provided that the author retains attribution, the materials are used non-commercially, and the materials are licensed under the same license as the original. Essentially, the legislation language suggests a CC BY-NC-SA license, even if not specifically stated.

Congratulations to the State of São Paulo for passing this law. We’ve seen similar policies enacted in Poland, Canada, and the United States. PL 989/2011 will set a powerful positive precedent for other countries to follow, and São Paulo will be contributing to the worldwide movement to create a shared commons of high-quality Open Educational Resources.

For more information on these developments see the Recursos Educacionais Abertos site.


TAG 2012 Keynote: Growing Into Mission-Supporting Technology

Cathy Casserly, November 13th, 2012

Today, I’m honored to be a keynote speaker at the Technology Affinity Group conference in Monterey, CA. I’ll be talking about my career and my experiences in the open space, and sharing three suggestions for the foundation community:

Technology deserves a bigger place at the table. Technology is what drives the big innovations in the philanthropic world, but all too often, the technology people don’t have enough of a voice in a foundation’s leadership. That’s a problem that I think foundations need to address before they can work at full potential.

Share by default. When foundations share their data, it’s often the exception rather than the rule. What if foundations made sharing the default? Yesterday, we blogged about a group of foundations making a commitment to share their grant data regularly, openly, and in a usable format. I’ll be applauding the Reporting Commitment and urging other foundations to get onboard.

Bake open into philanthropy. Every foundation wants to get the most good for its money. There’s a strong argument that grant dollars go further if they go toward openly-licensed work and resources.

Do you have any questions or thoughts from the session? Share them in the comments.

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CC Europe urges European Commission to support Open Education

Timothy Vollmer, November 6th, 2012

In August we wrote about the European Commission’s request for information on the topic Opening Up Education. The point of the consultation is to gauge the need for EU action to promote the adoption and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in education. Several Creative Commons affiliates in Europe have submitted a joint response to the survey. The jurisdictions signing onto the response include Luxembourg, Denmark, Greece, Germany, Belgium, United Kingdom, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Portugal, Serbia, Poland, Netherlands, Finland, Bulgaria, and Ireland.

The joint response urges the Commission to support the recommendations in the 2012 Paris OER Declaration, which was unanimously supported by UNESCO member nations at the World Open Educational Resources Congress on 20-22 June 2012. As described in the consultation document (PDF), “the EU will use the tools at its disposal (policy guidance, EU regulation whenever relevant, funding mechanisms, exchange of good practices and innovative pilots).” By leveraging these various tools in alignment with the suggestions laid out in the Paris Declaration, the Commission can be very effective in promoting the development and use of OER. Those recommendations urge UNESCO member nations to:

  1. Foster awareness and use of OER.
  2. Facilitate enabling environments for use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).
  3. Reinforce the development of strategies and policies on OER.
  4. Promote the understanding and use of open licensing frameworks.
  5. Support capacity building for the sustainable development of quality learning materials.
  6. Foster strategic alliances for OER.
  7. Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts.
  8. Encourage research on OER.
  9. Facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER.
  10. Encourage the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds.

The European Commission is in a position to help coordinate, promote, and support most — if not all — of these recommendations. In addition, these recommendations align with the Europe 2020 priorities, especially in increasing effective investments in education by encouraging free open access to publicly funded educational content.

The Paris Declaration reaffirms OER as “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” The EC should support this definition of OER so that users of OER know the rights available to them and so that producers of OER get the credit they deserve. Since a clear legal framework is crucial to the success of OER, we strongly suggest that the EC consider promoting the use of Creative Commons licenses and public domain tools like the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. CC licenses are globally applicable and are seen as the gold standard for open content licensing. It would be beneficial for the EC to adopt CC licenses because they are already established and understood, instead of creating customized licenses that may not interoperate with existing solutions.

The full response is available here.

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Keeping MOOCs Open

Timothy Vollmer, November 1st, 2012

MOOCs — or Massive Open Online Courses — have been getting a lot of attention lately. Just in the last year or so, there’s been immense interest in the potential for large scale online learning, with significant investments being made in companies (Coursera, Udacity, Udemy), similar non-profit initiatives (edX) and learning management systems (Canvas, Blackboard). The renewed interest in MOOCs was ignited after last year’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course offered via Stanford University, when over 160,000 people signed up to take the free online course. The idea of large-scale, free online education has been around for quite some time. Some examples include David Wiley’s 2007 Introduction to Open Education; Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, led by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008; Open Content Licensing for Educators; and many others.

A central component to these earlier iterations of the MOOC was the dual meaning of “open.” Justin Reich writes in EdWeek,

The original MOOCs…were “open” in two respects. First, they were open enrollment to students outside the hosting university. That is open as in “open registration.” Second, the materials of the course were licensed using Creative Commons licenses so their materials could be remixed and reused by others. That is open as in “open license.”

These dual characteristics of “open” are also core to Open Educational Resources (OER). Hewlett’s updated OER definition begins: “OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” That is, for an educational resource to be “open” it must be both gratis (available at no-cost) and libre (everyone has the legal rights to repurpose the resource). An OER cannot be freely available or openly licensed – it must be both freely available and openly licensed (or in the public domain) to be an OER.

The new cohort of MOOCs are distinct from the original MOOCs in that they are “open,” thus far, in only one respect: they are open enrollment. The new MOOCs have not yet openly licensed their courses. As MOOCs continue to develop course content and experiment with various business models, we think it’s crucial that they consider adopting open licenses as a default on their digital education offerings. In general, the value proposition can be enhanced for the new MOOCs and their users if the MOOCs openly license their courses. A few ideas about why this is important:

  • One goal of MOOCs is to serve tens / hundreds of thousands more people with high-quality educational content. By adopting Creative Commons (CC) licenses, MOOCs:

    • can increase the reach of their materials by making the rights to use and adapt them crystal clear from the start;
    • will be able to serve even more learners because they’ll be granting legal permissions to use their course content in other educational settings; and
    • do not have to respond to individual permissions requests from users and can instead focus on delivering quality educational content to the largest number of students.
  • Commercially-focused MOOCs can adopt CC licenses to make their MOOCs truly “open” (free of cost and free of most copyright restrictions) and still leverage the scale of these courses (with potentially tens of thousands of students) and the MOOC platform to charge for value-added services, such as the coordination of study groups, course certification, secure assessments, employee recruiting, and print-on-demand textbooks.
  • MOOCs can provide features their users want by incorporating open licensing options. Recently, the education technology company Blackboard has permitted users to upload educational content under the Creative Commons Attribution license. Since many MOOCs want to support individuals who want to share their creations as well as open collaboration between course participants, it may be worthwhile for the MOOCs to support users with this easy-to-implement feature.
  • By supporting open licensing, MOOCs will be positively contributing to the Open Educational Resources movement, reaffirmed in the 2012 Paris OER Declaration. MOOCs can be leaders and innovators for OER, increase their enrollment numbers, and receive the goodwill that comes along with being an active participant in this global open education movement.
  • Online education knows no language barriers, and a large percentage of MOOC participants are logging on from outside of North America (where most of the new initiatives are based). For example, in a recent MIT MOOC course with 155,000 registrations, students came from 160 countries (PDF). If MOOCs want to continue to attract and serve an international audience, they might focus on multilingual course delivery. It should be noted that MOOCs that release course content under Creative Commons licenses (at least the licenses that do not contain the “NoDerivatives” condition) automatically grant permission for users to make translations of the materials. MIT Open CourseWare courses have been translated into at least 10 languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, French, German, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian. Coursera and Udacity have already partnered with the crowdsourced captioning service Amara.
  • Openly licensed MOOC resources can give rise to interesting new courses and educational products and services. For instance, materials released under a license like CC BY can be repurposed and reused on sites like Wikipedia and hundreds of Open CourseWare projects. Adopting CC licensing can support the conditions necessary for innovation that is difficult to predict (or plan for). In the long run, supporting the open ecosystem is beneficial both for commercial and non-profit MOOC initiatives. In addition, many educators and learners want to be able to use the resources outside of the MOOC environment, and open licensing grants this permission in advance. CC licensing opens up a much broader range of pedagogical approaches that enable all MOOC participants, instructors and students alike the ability to generate, use, and share content with each other.
  • Many MOOCs are concerned that their content will be “stolen” by competitors. However, this fear is speculative. There are features of the CC licenses that can help assuage the fears of MOOCs. For example, all the CC licenses provide for attribution to the original author, preservation of any copyright notice, and the URL to the original work. When MOOC material are licensed under a CC license permitting the creation of adaptations, the adapted resources must be clearly marked to indicate that changes have been made, and a credit — reasonable to the means and medium being used — that the MOOC material has been used in the adaptation. Also, CC licenses do not grant permission to use anyone’s trademarks or official insignia, nor do the licenses affect other laws that may be used to protect one’s reputation or other rights — those rights are all reserved and may be enforced separately by the MOOC. Finally, it should be noted that the original educational materials remain intact and preserved, exactly as released (most typically) on the MOOC website. So, there will be a record of the original publishing of the content. But beyond these features of the CC license, community and business norms make it very unlikely that competitor MOOCs will “swoop in” and republish full courses simply because the open license technically makes this a possibility. Norms of academic practice typically carry more weight than any legal restriction made possible through use of an open license.

MOOCs should address copyright and licensing early on so they are clear to users how they can utilize and reuse educational materials offered on the site. MOOCs should choose to adopt an open license that meets their goals, but at minimum it is recommended that they choose a public, standardized license that grants to its users the “4Rs” of open content: the ability to Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute the resources. The more permissions MOOCs can offer on their content, the better. Online peer learning community P2PU has provided some useful documentation about how to choose a license. And CC maintains easy-to-understand information about how to properly implement the CC license on websites and platforms. Of course, it is important for MOOCs and users of MOOCs to understand some of the copyright and intellectual property considerations that they should know about before they adopt an open license for educational content.

MOOCs have captured the public mindshare as an interesting way to deliver high quality education to huge numbers of online learners. In order to maximize the educational benefits that MOOCs promise to provide, they must be “open” in both enrollment and licensing. MOOCs should seriously consider applying CC licenses to content they build, asking contributing Universities to openly licnese their courses, and making CC licensing part of their MOOC platforms. By doing so, they’ll be best positioned to serve a diverse set of users and support the flourishing open education movement.

For more information, see this Association of Research Libraries issue brief on MOOCs (CC BY) by Brandon Butler.


British Columbia Government Lends Support to Open Textbooks

Cable Green, October 16th, 2012

The government of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, has announced its support for the creation of open textbooks for the 40 most popular first- and second-year courses in the province’s public post-secondary system. The texts will be available for free online, or at a low cost for printed versions, to approximately 200,000 students. The first texts under this project could be in use at B.C. institutions as early as 2013 for courses in arts, sciences, humanities, and business.

BCcampus, a publicly funded collaborative information technology organization serving the higher-education system, will engage B.C. faculty, institutions, and publishers to implement the open textbook project through an open request for proposals.

David Porter, executive director for BCcampus, explained why CC licenses are crucial to this project. “Open licenses are integral to making textbooks free for students, and flexible enough for instructors to customize the material to suit their courses.”

B.C.’s minister of advanced education, John Yap, announced the project at the Open Education Conference in Vancouver. He said students could save up to $1,000 a year on textbooks if free, open versions were available for many of their courses, and he challenged other jurisdictions to follow British Columbia’s lead and support open educational resources: “By taking advantage of technology, more people can get the learning they need in the knowledge economy and access to new or better jobs.”

You might remember that a few weeks ago, we celebrated a similar piece of legislation in California. The British Columbia legislation was actually based on California’s version. Taken together, these are exciting steps for the OER (open educational resources) movement. Since the textbooks produced in B.C. and California will be licensed under the CC BY license, their impact has the potential to spread far beyond the US and Canada, being reused and adapted by educators around the world.

B.C. is leveraging 21st-century technologies and licensing to ensure that its citizens have affordable access to high-quality post-secondary textbooks. Open licensing on publicly funded content ensures the greatest impact for the public dollar.

Read the full press release.

There was an OER Forum later that week. Videos and images.


Ada Lovelace Day: Women, Tech, and OER

Cathy Casserly, October 15th, 2012

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace / Kaldari / CC0

Ada Lovelace — widely considered the first computer programmer — famously said, “I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand.” That quotation brings to mind the axiom that a curious mind is always asking more questions and learning is never complete. Every day, like Lovelace, I am all too aware that my knowledge is dwarfed by what I have yet to learn.

Around the world today, the technology community is celebrating Lovelace and the many women in technology who’ve followed in her footsteps. Here at Creative Commons, we think a lot about women in science and technology and the untapped potential we have yet to realize. In his speech to the United Nations a few weeks ago, President Obama spoke of the importance of women and girls in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The White House identified Creative Commons as a key member of an emerging community of practice supporting girls in STEM.

A few days later, Creative Commons and the OpenCourseWare Consortium announced that we’d formed a task force to determine how open educational resources (OER) can support the success of girls and women in STEM fields. As I said in that announcement, the challenges of the future will require bright, ambitious, well-educated people of both genders.

Many people reading this probably know that the OER movement played a pivotal role in my career. When I was at the Hewlett Foundation, we made a gamble in starting our OER initiative. At that time, OER was an untested idea. Today, those early investments are paying off, with open-licensed resources benefitting women, men, boys, and girls around the world, many of whom wouldn’t otherwise have access to high-quality educational materials that can be localized and improved for teaching and learning.

But like Lovelace, we’re not yet satisfied. Last month’s groundbreaking open textbook legislation in California was a huge step in the right direction, but it was just one step. We must keep the end vision in mind: together, we can democratize education through openly licenses resources, tools and processes. While we can’t create future Ada Lovelaces in a lab, we can provide for a culture of education that rises to the challenge of its most curious learners.

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US Department of Labor Invests in Open Educational Resources

Cable Green, October 2nd, 2012

In September, the Obama administration announced $500 million in grants to community colleges around the country for the development of professional training programs under the new Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative (TAA-CCCT), run by the US Department of Labor in coordination with the Department of Education. This is the second round of grants in a four-year initiative totaling $2 billion.

For the first time in a federal initiative of this size, grantees are required to license the training materials they produce under the Creative Commons Attribution licence. In her speech announcing the grants, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis stressed that the open-licensing requirement will make it easier for education providers to build on each other’s work.

It’s striking that this announcement comes within days of California’s first-of-its-kind open textbook legislation. As more government agencies begin to require publicly funded learning resources to be openly licensed, the more impact those resources will have. As Ms. Solis put it in her speech, “‘We’re stronger when we work together’ [is] not just a statement of American values. It’s also a winning strategy for growth.”

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California passes groundbreaking open textbook legislation

Timothy Vollmer, September 27th, 2012

It’s official. In California, Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills (SB 1052 and SB 1053) that will provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges. The legislation was introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and passed by the California Senate and Assembly in late August.

A crucial component of the California legislation is that the textbooks developed will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY):

The textbooks and other materials are placed under a creative commons attribution license that allows others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.

The CC BY license allows teachers to tailor textbook content to students’ needs, permits commercial companies to take the resources and build new products with it (such as video tutorials), and opens the doors for collaboration and improvement of the materials.

Access to affordable textbooks is extremely important for students, as textbook costs continue to rise at four times the rate of inflation, sometimes surpassing the cost of tuition at some community colleges. So, in addition to making the digital textbooks available to students free of cost, the legislation requires that print copies of textbooks will cost about $20.

This is a massive win for California, and a most welcome example of open policy that aims to leverage open licensing to save money for California families and support the needs of teachers and students. We’ll continue to track this initiative and other Open Education Policies at our OER registry.


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