open educational resources

Kwame Nkrumah University adopts CC Attribution for OER policy

Jane Park, May 11th, 2011

KNUST OER production workshop team
KNUST OER production workshop team by bagaball / CC BY

The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) has adopted a university-wide open educational resources (OER) policy with CC Attribution as the default license for university material. KNUST’s “Policy for Development and Use of Open Educational Resources (OER)” (pdf) outlines the purpose, role, and process of OER production at the university, and specifically states that,

“Materials produced which do not indicate any specific conditions for sharing will automatically be considered to have been shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license.”

The policy is available at the KNUST website and, in line with their policy, is available for use under CC BY.

KNUST is a partner institution in the African Health OER Network and works closely with the University of Michigan Medical School and Dental School to develop and distribute health OER. KNUST OER is hosted at but is also duplicated for use at the Open.Michigan and OER Africa sites.

You can help us improve the case study on KNUST here.

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

Timothy Vollmer, March 28th, 2011

Paul Stacey by BCcampus / CC BY

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

Foundation-funded vs. publicly-funded OER

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

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

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

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

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

BC Commons and suggestions for Creative Commons

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

Paul offered several recommendations for Creative Commons:

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

Future of OER

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

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

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

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Creative Commons CEO Cathy Casserly receives President’s Award for OpenCourseWare Excellence

Jane Park, March 23rd, 2011

Cathy Casserly by Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching

The OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC), a community of over 250 member institutions worldwide committed to sharing their courses online, has voted to present Creative Commons CEO Cathy Casserly with the President’s Award for OpenCourseWare Excellence, a special recognition of her extraordinary contributions to the open courseware community. Prior to Cathy’s role as the CEO of Creative Commons and Senior Partner and Vice President of Innovation and Open Networks at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Cathy,

“served as director of the Open Educational Resources Initiative at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and guided more than $100 million in support to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of knowledge sharing worldwide. Casserly’s work helped raise global awareness of resources, participants and their projects.”

We are thrilled for Cathy to receive this honor and for her continuing work supporting open educational resources (OER) at Creative Commons. Cathy, along with other distinguished recipients, will be presented the award at the upcoming OCWC meeting in May, celebrating 10 years of open courseware.

The Open CourseWare movement has taken off around the world, powered by CC licenses. Materials from 2,000 MIT courses are available for reuse, translation, and remix under the CC Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license (CC BY-NC-SA) and nearly 800 MIT OCW courses have been translated into other languages. The Open Courseware Consortium contains over 250 global member institutions and affiliates, including the African Virtual University, Japan OCW Consortium, Open University Netherlands, and China Open Resources for Education.


New federal education fund makes available $2 billion to create OER resources in community colleges

Timothy Vollmer, January 20th, 2011

The Department of Labor and the Department of Education today announced a new education fund that will grant $2 billion to create OER materials for career training programs in community colleges. According to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (TAACCCT) will invest $2 billion over the next four years into grants that will “provide community colleges and other eligible institutions of higher education with funds to expand and improve their ability to deliver education and career training programs.” The full program announcement (PDF) states that all the resources created using these funds must be released under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license:

In order to further the goal of career training and education and encourage innovation in the development of new learning materials, as a condition of the receipt of a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant (“Grant”), the Grantee will be required to license to the public (not including the Federal Government) all work created with the support of the grant (“Work”) under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (“License”). This License allows subsequent users to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the copyrighted work and requires such users to attribute the work in the manner specified by the Grantee. Notice of the License shall be affixed to the Work. For more information on this License, please visit

The program supports President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020 by helping to increase the number of workers who attain degrees, certificates, and other industry-recognized credentials. The first round of funding will be $500 million over the next year. Applications to the solicitation are now open, and will be due April 21, 2011.

Cathy Casserly, incoming CEO of Creative Commons, said, “This exciting program signifies a massive leap forward in the sharing of education and training materials. Resources licensed under CC BY can be freely used, remixed, translated, and built upon, and will enable collaboration between states, organizations, and businesses to create high quality OER. This announcement also communicates a commitment to international sharing and cooperation, as the materials will be available to audiences worldwide via the CC license.”

Beth Noveck, professor of law and former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative, said, “The decision to make the work product of $2 billion in federally funded grants free for others to reuse represents a historic step forward for open education. The Departments of Labor and Education are to be congratulated for adopting more open grantmaking practices to ensure that taxpayer money funds the widest possible distribution of this important job-training courseware.”

Congratulations to The Department of Labor, The Department of Education, and others involved in crafting this important, innovative program. Creative Commons is committed to leveraging this opportunity to create a multiplier effect for public dollars to be used on open, reuseable quality content.

Where new learning materials are created using grant funds, those materials must be made available under CC BY. However, it is not a requirement that all the TAACCCT grant funds be spent on the creation of learning materials. We’ve also updated the title of this post to reflect this clarification, which before read U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Education commit $2-billion to create open educational resources for community colleges and career training.

Second Addendum:
See our page about Creative Commons and TAACCCT for further information.


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

Timothy Vollmer, January 20th, 2011

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

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

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

Growth of R2RC

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

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

Federal open access advocacy

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

Student support for OA around the world

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

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

Access is crippled by cost; OA enables novel downstream benefits

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

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

Open access and Creative Commons

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

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

OA support via the university

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

OA and OER working together

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

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

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

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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: 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.


Hal Plotkin Releases Free to Learn: An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials

Timothy Vollmer, October 1st, 2010

Yesterday Hal Plotkin announced the release of Free to Learn: An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials. The guide explains how the flexibility and diversity of Open Educational Resources (OER) can improve teaching and learning in higher education, all while retaining quality and enabling resource sharing and collaboration. Free to Learn features case studies and highlights several interviews with leaders of the OER community. The 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.

“The tremendous promise of Open Educational Resources for advancing the mission of higher education is clear,” said Hal Plotkin, author of Free to Learn. “Higher education governance officials need only summon the will and enact governing board policies that institutionalize support for OER to move these activities from the periphery of higher education to its core, where the results would be truly transformative. We hope that this guide provides a starting point that builds understanding of OER and its incredible potential for transforming teaching and learning.”

Plotkin currently serves as Senior Policy Advisor to Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter at the U.S. Department of Education, and is a longtime supporter of community colleges and Creative Commons. He is the former president of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Governing Board of Trustees and penned one of the first articles about Creative Commons for SF Gate in 2002.

Catherine Casserly, Vice President for Innovation and Open Networks and Senior Partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (and a featured interviewee in Free to Learn) said, “Kudos to Hal for his visionary leadership in recognizing the enormous potential of OER for improving learning opportunities for community college students, and his tireless efforts to spread the word. His unique perspective as a former community college trustee provides the background to speak directly to higher education policy makers.”

Free to Learn is released under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, and available at The document will be distributed at the October 5 White House Summit on Community Colleges in Washington, DC. That event “is an opportunity to bring together community colleges, business, philanthropy, federal and state policy leaders, and students to discuss how community colleges can help meet the job training and education needs of the nation’s evolving workforce, as well as the critical role these institutions play in achieving the President’s goal to lead the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.”

Free to Learn was supported by a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Congratulations to Hal on publishing this important, timely document.

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CC Talks With: The Open University’s Patrick McAndrew: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, September 27th, 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. Patrick McAndrew is Associate Director (Learning & Teaching) at The Open University’s (OU) Institute of Educational Technology, Co-director of OLnet, the OER Initiative with Carnegie Mellon University, and affiliated with OpenLearn, OU’s OER portal. We talked with Patrick about OER research, the use of open social tools for collaboration around OER, and the role of CC as a flexible yet straightforward mechanism for communicating rights.

How did you come to be involved with open education projects? How do the initiatives you work on fit together?

I joined the Open University just over 10 years ago coming into the Institute of Educational Technology. The Open University has just celebrated its 40th anniversary and a key part of the University’s approach has always been to innovate in the way we think about helping people learn. In the past these innovations have been in the use of media such as broadcast television and methods to support distance learning; now they often focus on the online connections that can be made. The definition of openness has changed from one which focussed on low barriers to student entry, such as no need for prior qualifications, to allowing much more flexible study and free access. In 2005 we started working with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to see if we could release some of our own content, openly and for free. This became OpenLearn, launched in October 2006. Within OpenLearn, not only is open content made available, but it also uses an open learning environment that allows others to contribute. As part of OpenLearn I led a research strand looking at the various impacts OER were having on Open University activities and on users. That research focus has resonated with reflections across the wider OER movement as it matures so that, with Carnegie Mellon University, we are now supported as OLnet by the Hewlett Foundation to gather research findings and evidence across global activity in OER.

Patrick McAndrew, courtesy OER10 / CC BY-SA

Part of what the OLnet project aims to do is establish an evidence base and research framework for the emerging OER field. What are the most valuable research questions to investigate?

We set out in the OLnet proposal issues of design, reach, and the cycle that brings open content into use for learning. These remain key elements, but we have also gone through a process of reflecting on our findings from year one and seeing how the environment has changed. We have expanded the focus areas to policy, design, approaches to learning, the impact of content, and the tools that help support research. Candace Thille (co-director of OLnet) made a very useful observation that we were watching OER move from an end it itself to being a means to an end. The potential impact of openness is significant, so we are paying more attention to the way it can act as a change engine and influence individuals, institutions, and policy. Many of our questions can be phrased in two parts, first as “What is the evidence … ?”, such as “What is the evidence that OER can help learning systems change?” The second element is “What conclusions can we draw about …?” This can challenge us as researchers where it is natural to find balancing arguments, but is an important part of helping the future direction for OER. Overlying this is the idea of different contexts, an aspect that OLnet is in a good position to contribute to through its international OLnet Fellows.

The Open University and OLnet develop and champion the use of open social networking and knowledge sharing tools such as Cloudworks and Cohere. What do these open source tools do, and who is the intended audience? How do they support teaching and learning via OER?

For OLnet these tools have come to the fore in helping us carry out and reflect on research in OER. In Cloudworks we have an open social platform that provides a base for discussion, asking questions and supporting events. It has been very effective in giving more impact to what are otherwise local and often transient events. It was developed at The Open University but can be used by anyone, with OLnet’s own use being just one strand. Cohere is a Web tool to enhance collaborative learning, sense-making and critical thinking. Cohere helps reasoning and is designed to help us cope with the challenge I mentioned above of drawing some conclusions while also knowing that there are arguments for and against. Cohere allows these situations to be visualised and explored in a collaborative way. In its current state of development, I think it is a tool for researchers, but its usability and the models for its use are developing rapidly. Similar to a previous knowledge mapping tool, Compendium, Cohere could well find a role for learners, especially in presenting arguments. Compendium was released as part of OpenLearn and is now used informally by learners to build connections and also in a simplified version by learners on some of The Open University’s own courses.

How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the OER movement? How can CC help?

Creative Commons has helped enormously. At the simplest level in OpenLearn we had originally put aside £100,000 for legal fees in writing a viable licence, none of that was needed as we adopted CC. Having a licence that is accepted across the world matters very much in the education system as people are trying to do the right thing, which can mean a reluctance to use free systems unless they are also clearly open systems. CC makes it easy to be clear. The CC licence also gave us a good way to work with our third party providers – we did not want to just strip out that content, but they also did not want to enable anyone to build a free rival to their content. This was a case where the varied licences of CC helped, in particular the non-commercial clause. Challenges do remain about compatibility though; at one stage it looked like incorporating a variety of licenses would get in the way, but guidance about compatibility and a layer of commonsense is helping. CC assists by tracking the take up in education and has also set up a good area for sharing information about the use of CC in education. OLnet was looking at how to attract such a community, and the presence and impact of CC achieved that for us.

OpenLearn’s 2008 research report highlighted a thesis of OER scholar and advocate David Wiley–“the sustainability of OpenLearn will be achieved by making OER part of the normal fabric of the University’s business, whether that is around teaching and learning, research and/or business and community engagement activities.” How does OpenLearn see its role in relation to the broader Open University?

OpenLearn is being sustained and is continuing now without direct external funding as we increasingly embed and integrate it into the University’s way of operating. OpenLearn itself now comprises three related sites, while we also use other channels such as YouTube and specialist sites for very specific OER work. As such OpenLearn has a broader scope around all open media work that encompasses other outward looking activities such as reflecting the research of the University, the links that we have with broadcast television and the very successful use of iTunesU (where incidentally The Open University now has more downloads than any other university). OpenLearn’s role through Explore and LearningSpace is primarily as a route to Open University outputs and continues to support the communities around it. But it has another important role as a catalyst for activity involving others. OpenLearn has also been the spark for a range of other major grant funded activities, notably OLnet, SCORE (Support Centre for Open Resources in Education), OPAL (Open Education Quality Initiative), SocialLearn, as well as many other smaller projects linking to OpenLearn’s LabSpace.

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?

The power of OER lies in its openness; this gives it great flexibility so that material that we might release in the Moodle based OpenLearn environment can be used on WordPress or Slideshare or YouTube or whatever. What we do at the moment certainly is helping people–oftentimes some of the most disadvantaged–learn. However, there is a larger opportunity to build an environment that helps to track what people are trying to accomplish in their learning, assist them to link up with others, and share the evidence of their learning. Some of this is being looked at in a companion project, SocialLearn, for use inside The Open University. But again, in an open world we should not be expecting only one solution.

One possible worry is that education will close down around its existing models. However, the world has changed in that there is no controlling interest that can stop open content having an impact in some form. The hope is that the flexibility gained from openness will assist so many projects, as it has with the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA), by adopting an “everything in the middle” philosophy to sharing that helps address real needs for education. These sorts of predictions are always difficult. I suppose a fairly safe one is that the Internet will become a stronger base for learning without costs, and that a sense of achievement and advancement can grow alongside a sense of distraction!

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Summary of OER-related comments on U.S. Department of Education Notice of Proposed Priorities

Timothy Vollmer, September 10th, 2010

We previously wrote about the U.S. Department of Education’s (Department) Notice of Proposed Priorities (NPP) for discretionary grant programs. The Department offered 13 proposed priorities, specifically mentioning Open Educational Resources (OER). Essentially, if the priorities are adopted, grant seekers could receive priority if they include OER as a component of an application for funding from the Department. OER is included in Proposed Priority 13–Improving Productivity:

Projects that are designed to significantly increase efficiency in the use of time, staff, money, or other resources. Such projects may include innovative and sustainable uses of technology, modification of school schedules, use of open educational resources (as defined in this notice), or other strategies that improve results and increase productivity.

As mentioned, the NPP includes a Department definition of open educational resources:

Open educational resources (OER) means 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 or repurposing by others.

Comments were accepted through September 7. There are 228 public submissions listed in the docket folder at (note that some of these items are essentially duplicates, as contributors who submitted comments via a document attachment were given two unique IDs if they also included an introductory note in the text field on the submission portal). There are a few submissions that commented on the OER provision of the NPP. The following is a brief breakdown of these comments, based on relevant keyword searches of the docket.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons appreciates the inclusion of OER, and highlights the importance of public, standardized legal and technical tools for OER to be successful:

The OER movement is poised to greatly further global access to and participation in education, but only if a critical mass of educational institutions and communities interoperate legally and technically via Creative Commons. Why is interoperability important? Because in its absence, content such as OER cannot be aggregated or mixed and then shared further in a legal or efficient manner without securing special permission from the original creators. Interoperability requires standardized, public licenses that grant rights in advance. Creative Commons licenses are the global standard for open content licensing, grant rights in advance, and are easy to understand and use. Institutions, teachers, and policymakers in all arenas should be required to implement and recommend use of CC’s tools for educational resources.

Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, International Association for K-12 Online Learning, State Educational Technology Directors Association, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, The Student PIRGs, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges

The signing organizations appreciate the inclusion of OER, and suggest strengthening the definition of OER described in the NPP by: (1) replacing the conjunction “or” with the conjunction “and” to ensure that derivative use is clearly allowable; and (2) replacing the phrase “permits their free use or repurposing by others,” with the phrase, “permits sharing, accessing, repurposing (including for commercial purposes) and collaborating with others.” Under this approach, the revised definition would read as follows:

Open educational resources (OER) means teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain and have been released under an intellectual property license that permits sharing, accessing, repurposing (including for commercial purposes) and collaborating with others.

The signing organizations also encourage the Department to make the innovative development, use, expansion and dissemination of OER an element of several other priorities, including Priority 2 (Implementing Internationally Benchmarked College and Career-Ready Elementary and Secondary Standards), Priority 4 (Turning Around Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools), Priority 5 (Increasing Postsecondary Success), and Priority 7 (Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education).

State Educational Technology Directors Association

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) appreciates the inclusion of OER, and echoes the suggestion made in the joint comment above for the strengthening of the definition. In addition, SETDA endorses the inclusion of OER in Priority 2 (College/Career Ready Standards), and suggests OER be included in a new proposed priority entitled, “Technology, Innovation, and School Reform”:

We believe that investments in technology for learning represent a new baseline infrastructure for education, including investments in the human resources necessary to make best use of the new tools and services enabled by this infrastructure. Under this priority, projects designed to support innovative approaches to school reform could focus on one or more of the following priority areas … (a) Transitioning from print to digital instructional materials, including especially those employing open educational resources …

Council of Chief State School Officers

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) appreciates the inclusion of OER, and highlights the importance of OER as a way to providing quality resources to students:

The nation’s chief state school officers are committed to ensuring that all students have access to high-quality instructional materials and other resources and OER represents an important tool for reaching this goal. Many states are already leading in this important area and welcome the opportunity to seek federal support for furthering their work, particularly as it contributes to supporting cost-effective implementation of the CCR standards. We urge you to preserve this priority in the final rule.

1105 Media

1105 Media strongly supports SETDA’s recommendations for strengthening the NPP, especially the addition of its proposed new priority, “Technology, Innovation and School Reform”, which suggests that projects designed to support innovative approaches to school reform could focus on one or more of the following priority areas … (a) Transitioning from print to digital instructional materials, including especially those employing open educational resources …

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