policy

CC Talks With: Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, July 27th, 2011

Sir John Daniel has been working in open education from its earliest days. “Openness is in my genes,” he says. Sir John is President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, or COL. COL is an intergovernmental organization comprised of 54 member states. The overarching focus area for COL is “learning for development.” It aims to help its member nations—especially developing countries—use technology and develop new approaches to expand and approve learning at all levels. Sir John’s first interaction at COL happened over 20 years ago, when he chaired its planning committee. At that time, he was president of Canada’s Laurentian University. He went from there to lead the Open University in the UK, and then served as head of Education at UNESCO. Sir John’s colleague, Dr. Venkataraman Balaji, is Director of Technology and Knowledge Management, and led the efforts in crafting COL’s recent Open Educational Resources policy.

What were the primary motivations in developing an OER policy at COL? What hurdles (legal, social, cultural) did you have to overcome, both within the organization and among the member states?

We’re in the open business, so it made sense to communicate a formal open policy prominently on our website. It really wasn’t a problem, and there were few hurdles inside COL. We drafted the policy, it went through a few iterations within our staff, and then we adopted it. That said, we should be clear that we didn’t take this policy to the member states for review. We’re a small organization, and we do not have a general assembly of our membership. So, we didn’t have to wade through the politics of getting all the states to sign on. However, we didn’t develop the OER policy just pat ourselves on our back. We want to show the world that supporting open education is how we all should behave these days.

The work of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) is very important, but to the outside observer it is sometimes not apparent what IGOs do. What does COL do to “encourage and support governments and institutions to establish supportive policy frameworks to introduce practices relating to OER”?

If I may be so bold, I think your question reflects an American bias. The United States and other large, powerful countries tend to operate bilaterally. Smaller countries prefer the facilitative, collaborative approach of working via intergovernmental organizations. UNESCO is the extreme example, where 193 countries operate democratically, and everyone’s voice is at least in principle equal. When I worked at UNESCO, I was surprised how seriously the member states took the recommendations that were developed. They trust that sort of process more than directives that come at them bilaterally.

In general, the IGO process aims to get countries to work together to do things they cannot do separately. One example is a virtual university for small states within the Commonwealth. Since two-thirds of the 54 member states are nations with populations of 2 million or less, they have fewer resources to spend on content creation. You can imagine when the dot com boom came along the small states were worried how they could come to terms with all the potential benefits (and address the challenges) of this rapidly changing digital, networked world. So their ministers of education looked at the challenge and said, “if we can’t crack it individually, why not crack it collectively?” COL helped them start a ‘virtual university’, which is not a new institution but a collaborative network where countries and institutions can work together to produce course materials as OER that they can all adapt and use. This virtual university has developed curriculum in various areas, such as a diploma in sustainable agriculture for small states. You can imagine that agricultural practices in a place like the atolls of the Maldives are very different than agriculture in the volcanic islands of Dominica. However, developing a vanilla version of the curriculum and then allowing each region to tailor the resources to the specifics of their own agricultural ecosystem has proved much more efficient than each state starting from scratch. A condition of participating in the virtual university is that anything you create must be released as OER.

COL has chosen the CC BY-SA license for its own materials. Can you describe how the organization decided upon this license for its resources?

Well, our policy simply says COL will release its own materials under the most feasible open license, which includes the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. We understand why MIT OCW adopted a noncommercial license for its materials—they were the first to do it and didn’t know what was going to happen. But now, we encourage people to not use noncommercial if they can avoid it, and we follow our own recommendation. It wasn’t until Dr. Balaji arrived that we were able to sort through the legal and technical challenges that COL, as an intergovernmental organization, faced in adopting an open license.

Many of the COL member states are located in the global south. How does an OER policy affect global south states differently than the global north?

I’m exaggerating quite a bit here, but we’ve observed that in the north people are more focused on producing OER and that in the south people are more focused on how they can use OER. Just a few months ago I was at the Open Courseware Conference in Boston. Perhaps three-fourths of the presentations there focused on producing OER, while only a small number were about re-purposing and reusing OER content. This has to change for the OER movement to take off.

In the south, there’s a cautious attitude of “there’s lots of stuff available, why not use it?” We’ve been encouraging the north to take a more universal approach and think multidirectionally. This is why we’re delighted that a school like the University of Michigan is using OER from Malawi and Ghana in its medical programs. Why should the University of Michigan create OERs about tropical diseases when there are folks that live in the tropics that can do it better? So, we encourage people to see OER production and use as a multi-directional flow.

Can you discuss the goals and outcomes of the Taking OER beyond the OER community project, organized by COL and UNESCO. What’s next?

This project has a long history, and really goes back all the way to the origin of the term Open Educational Resources. But more recently, in 2009 UNESCO hosted a world conference on higher education. That event didn’t ruffle feathers in the north so much, but influenced thinking in the south. It reiterated the importance of open distance learning, ICTs, and particularly emphasized the global sharing of OER to expand quality higher education. COL picked up the work with UNESCO. We realized that unless there is a much wider appreciation of what OER is, it’s not going anywhere. And as the name of the project implies, our goal was to advocate to those outside of the already-established open education community. We held six face-to-face workshops in Africa and Asia. These were mainly aimed at university presidents, quality assurance groups, and those interested in open distance learning.

Last December we held a policy forum at UNESCO in Paris to pull these threads together. We decided there that it would be helpful to develop a set of OER guidelines targeted at key stakeholder groups. These included governments, higher education institutions, teacher and student groups, quality assurance agencies, and qualification bodies. We’ve been iterating on these guidelines since then, and they are now being distributed for wide consultation. In October of this year there will be another policy forum where the OER guidelines for higher education will be put into final form. We hope to unveil these recommendations at the UNESCO general conference in November alongside an OER platform UNESCO will also be launching at that time.

Over the winter, we wish to conduct a rather extensive survey of governments around the world to find out where they are on policies related to OER, open access, open formats, and other related topics. Surveying governments is not an easy task, especially when they don’t always understand the questions you are asking. But, if all goes well, those survey results will be pulled together, to the end of working toward an update to the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. There’s a desire for COL and UNESCO to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the term “Open Educational Resources” with a conference in June 2012 at which countries can sign an updated declaration.

What do you predict will be the impact of the COL OER policy, and what would you like to see come out of this? What can you recommend to other IGOs that are beginning to think about developing an open education policy?

My advice is to just do it and don’t get too fussed about the license at the beginning. We hope that our small organization, which seems to have an influence larger than its size, will be the grain of sand in the oyster for other IGOs. UNESCO is working to get on the right page; given their name it would seem peculiar if they are not more in the ‘open’ business. But I understand the problem with large organizations. When you look at UNESCO, you’ve got general assemblies with lots of people that don’t like things unless they’re invented there. For example, everyone in the world wants for there to be standardization in electrical sockets, as long as the standard that is adopted is the one they use. Those organizations interested in adopting an open policy should start small, and work their way through the problems as they go. If you try to make your entire back catalog available, you’ll be lost. Those big intergovernmental organizations should say, “from now on, we’re going to be as open as we can be.” An important thing is to adopt the philosophy of openness.

1 Comment »

The Open Society Foundations encourage grantees to use CC licenses

Jane Park, June 30th, 2011

The Open Society Foundations (OSF) have adopted a new copyright policy that encourages its grantees to release their outputs under CC licenses. The OSF have long been releasing their own work products under a CC BY-NC-ND license, but now they have introduced a new clause to encourage OSF grantees to do the same:

“We believe that OSF’s mission is enhanced when our grantees’ Work Product is also made widely available to the public, with appropriate protection of legitimate interests. To that end, OSF is introducing a new clause into its grant agreements, whereby our grantees must advise OSF whether or not they will broadly license all Work Product created with OSF funds using a Creative Commons license, or otherwise.”

The Public Health Program, Information Program and Media Program are piloting this new policy with their grantees this year. For more information, read the OSF copyright policy.

For more information about funder policies and Creative Commons licenses, see our wiki.

1 Comment »

Brazil introduces OER into federal legislation and adopts local government policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 15th, 2011

IMG_0309
OER seminar at the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly by reanetbr / CC BY

There’s been some exciting announcements in support of open educational resources (OER) in Brazil over the last few weeks.

First, legislation was introduced into Brazil’s House of Representatives. The bill deals with three main issues: It 1) requires government funded educational resources to be made widely available to the public under an open license, 2) clarifies that resources produced by public servants under his/her official capacities should be open educational resources (or otherwise released under an open access framework), and 3) urges the government to support open federated systems for the distribution and archiving of OER. Last week in São Paulo, a group of educators, journalists, policymakers, activists, and OER experts held an event at the Legislative Assembly to discuss open education projects and promote OER policies. In addition to this federal legislation, a similar bill will be introduced at the São Paulo state level.

Second, the municipality of São Paulo Department of Education has now mandated that all its educational and pedagogical content will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial Share-Alike (BY-NC-SA) license. From the translated announcement:

“We didn’t have an appropriate way to license our content”, says Alexandre Schneider, Secretary of Education. “We hold the rights to our content because we created it, and we realized it would be right to release it under a license that allows everyone to use and adapt what was created with public money.”

Congratulations to the REA-Brasil (OER-Brazil) team on these recent successes and ongoing commitment to supporting open education in Brazil.

 

Comments Off

Commonwealth of Learning adopts CC BY-SA as part of new OER policy

Jane Park, June 14th, 2011

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL), an intergovernmental organization that “helps governments and institutions to expand the scope, scale and quality of learning,” has defined a new policy on open educational resources (OER). In addition to recognizing the importance of OER for teaching, learning, and collaboration among institutions and governments, the Commonwealth of Learning states that it will “encourage and support governments and institutions to establish supportive policy frameworks to introduce practices relating to OER.”

The new policy specifies that COL will “release its own materials under the most feasible open licenses including the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license.” The CC BY-SA license is currently used for more than 17 million Wikipedia articles in 270 languages, not to mention a plethora of other Wikimedia Foundation projects. Furthermore the CC BY license is compatible with CC BY-SA, and CC BY is used by OER platforms like Connexions and Curriki.org.

We are thrilled at this new development by COL, one of the leading intergovernmental organizations in education! Read the full policy here, and learn more about how IGOs benefit by adopting Creative Commons licenses for their own works.

Comments Off

CC News: $2 billion fund available for open education

Jane Park, February 3rd, 2011

Stay up to date with CC news by subscribing to our weblog and following us on Twitter.

CC heads into February with exciting new developments in policy, science, and journalism.

A new U.S. education fund makes available $2 billion to create open educational resources in community colleges

The U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Education announced a new education fund that will grant $2 billion to create open educational resources (OER) materials for career training programs in community colleges. 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.” What’s more, 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. 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. Read what our incoming CEO, Cathy Casserly, has to say at the full post.

Nature Publishing Group announces a new open access journal and support for CC

nature reports logo

Nature Publishing Group has long been a leader in scientific and medical publishing. Last month, the company announced a brand new online open access journal called Scientific Reports. With this launch, a full 80% of NPG academic and society journals and 50% of all journals the company publishes offer open access options to authors. Additionally, NPG is going to make a donation to Creative Commons for every publication in Scientific Reports. We are thrilled to have this financial support that will help us continue to provide the legal and technical infrastructure of open systems. Read more.

Al Jazeera adds Egypt and Tunisia coverage to its CC video repository

Since the beginning of the Egyptian uprising on January 25th, Qatar-based all-news Arabic channel Al Jazeera has been feeding its repository of CC-licensed video with up-to-date footage from Egypt and Tunisia. With a powerful network of journalists and reporters on the ground who can provide footage that is sometimes very difficult to obtain, “Al Jazeera has decided to make its content available for other news sources to use through their Creative Commons website” (Wired). The footage released on Al Jazeera’s Creative Commons repository is under the CC BY license, which makes it legally available to be downloaded, shared, re-mixed, translated and even re-broadcast without asking for further permission as long as the original source is credited. Read more.

In other news:

  • Open data is huge this year. Read about CC’s open data strategy and what you can do to help.
  • Belgian and Israeli Courts granted remedies to CC licensors.
  • Director Vincent Moon (of the Take-Away Shows) announced public-private screenings for his new film, “An Island.” The film, like all his work, is available under CC BY-NC-SA.
  • We launched a new blog series on Creative Commons and Public Sector Information for the ePSIplatform.
  • We talked with Nick Shockey of the Right to Research Coalition (R2RC) about the benefits of adopting CC tools for open access literature, and the similarities between the open access and open education movements.
  • We changed our website!
  • We also created CC REL by Example in an effort to make CC license metadata much easier to implement. It includes many example HTML pages, as well as explanations and links to more information.
  • Finally, we rounded out the month by holding our first board meeting of 2011 and completing three CC license 3.0 localizations in Estonia, Costa Rica, and Chile.
Comments Off

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.

Comments Off

Apply for the 2011 Google Policy Fellowship with Creative Commons

Timothy Vollmer, November 23rd, 2010

We’re happy to announce that for the third year Creative Commons will take part in the Google Policy Fellowship program.

The Google Policy Fellowship program offers undergraduate, graduate, and law students interested in Internet and technology policy the opportunity to spend the summer contributing to the public dialogue on these issues, and exploring future academic and professional interests. Fellows will have the opportunity to work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and trademark reform, consumer privacy, open government, and more.

Aurelia Schultz was Creative Commons’ 2009 Fellow, and worked on a project to analyze the WIPO development agenda in relation to its affect on access to public domain materials. She also developed draft strategic plans for CC’s engagement with WIPO as well as outreach in Africa. Aurelia is now Counsel at Creative Commons. Tal Niv was CC’s Fellow last summer, and she’s been continuing work as a Research Analyst on a key investigation into CC’s welfare impact. The 2011 Google Policy Fellow will receive a substantial grant to work at Creative Commons’ San Francisco office. Potential topics may include, but certainly not limited to:

  • Analyzing trends in license adoption, including identification and development of relevant metrics.
  • Coordinating with counsel to critically analyze the current state of public domain policy in U.S. and abroad. Develop a framework to help Creative Commons’ deploy messaging regarding public domain policy in U.S. and abroad.
  • Researching how the contemporary discourse of copyright, sharing, reuse, and remix has been shaped over the last eight years as a result of the Creative Commons project.
  • Investigating new opportunities for Creative Commons implementation in ‘uncontacted’ communities, institutions, artists, and mediums.
  • Working with Creative Commons’ international community and jurisdiction project leads on projects, research, and outreach.

Check out more details and the application, which is due by January 17, 2011.

Comments Off

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.

3 Comments »

Gates Foundation announces $20M for Next Generation Learning Challenges; CC BY required for grant materials

Timothy Vollmer, October 11th, 2010

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $20M investment in the Next Generation Learning Challenges, an initiative to improve college readiness and completion through technology. The first request for proposals (RFP) was released today (PDF). The RFP specifically solicits proposals that address the following challenges:

  • Increasing the use of blended learning models, which combine face-to-face instruction with online learning activities.
  • Deepening students’ learning and engagement through use of interactive applications, such as digital games, interactive video, immersive simulations, and social media.
  • Supporting the availability of high-quality open courseware, particularly for high-enrollment introductory classes like math, science, and English, which often have low rates of student success.
  • Helping institutions, instructors, and students benefit from learning analytics which can monitor student progress in real-time and customize proven supports and interventions.

The RFP lays out the grant guidelines with regard to open licensing, and requires the use of CC BY:

So that the knowledge gained during NGLC-funded projects is promptly and broadly disseminated, all documents, written materials, and other content submitted to EDUCAUSE during the period of Grantee’s NGLC grant application and grant (e.g., website postings, pre-proposals, proposals, findings, and information generated by Grantee) will be made available to the community under a Creative Commons Attribution license. In addition, all open educational resources and related work product (manuals, integration formats, hosting environments, faculty development guides, or curricula, etc.) created in connection with the Open Interactive Core Courseware challenge must be made available under this license.

Adopting CC BY is precisely aligned with the overarching goals of foundation funding and initiatives such as the Next Generation Learning Challenges. Last year, the Berkman Center’s study on foundation copyright licensing policies said that open licensing “ensures[s] the broadest and fastest dissemination of the valuable ideas, practices, works, software code and other materials the foundation’s funding helps to create.” That report went on to suggest that the impact of funding is even greater when permissive licenses (such as CC BY) are applied, allowing the resources “to be freely tested, translated, combined, remixed, repurposed or otherwise built upon, potentially by many subsequent researchers, authors, artists or other creators anywhere in the world, as the basis for new innovation, discovery or creation.”

Proposals for the first RFP are due November 17, 2010. The Next Generation Learning Challenges are a collaboration between several organizations, including the Gates Foundation, EDUCAUSE, iNACOL, CCSSO, The Hewlett Foundation, and The League for Innovation in the Community College. Congratulations to the Gates Foundation and partnering organizations on this fantastic effort.

2 Comments »

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!

Comments Off


Page 6 of 7« First...234567