Wayne Mackintosh

CC Talks With: WikiEducator’s Wayne Mackintosh: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 23rd, 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 a new Education landing page and our 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. As such, we recently caught up with Wayne Mackintosh. Wayne is the Director of the International Centre for Open Education based at Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, member of the Board of Directors of the OER Foundation, and founder of the WikiEducator project. In our interview with Wayne, we discussed Creative Commons and openness as a “competitive advantage” to closed systems, how OER “levels the playing field” through open licensing and file formats, and New Zealand’s unique context and approach to teacher empowerment and experimentation using OER.

Can you explain your role and how these organizations are tied to the mission of open education in New Zealand and internationally?

I’m an educator – by choice. I have spent the majority of my career in the academy, but started life as an accountant. Realising that I would not be able to spend forty years of my life pushing numbers around, I made a career change and decided to follow my vocation and become a teacher. The act of teaching is fundamentally about sharing knowledge. OER embodies the purpose of teaching and is today’s most compelling manifestation of the core values of education in a digital world, that is, to share knowledge freely.


Wayne Mackintosh by Mackiwg / CC BY

WikiEducator is by far the most rewarding project of my professional career. I founded the WikiEducator prototype in February 2006 as a social software experiment for educators to collaborate on the development of open source teaching materials. WikiEducator’s formative years were nurtured by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. Today, WikiEducator is a flagship project of the OER Foundation. As a philanthropic organisation, the OER Foundation is responsible for raising and administering the funds for the purpose of supporting the adoption and implementation of OER for the benefit of education institutions and the learner communities they serve. The OER Foundation also maintains the technical and operational infrastructure of the WikiEducator community in accordance with the policies approved by the open WikiEducator Community Council. In short the OER Foundation is nurturing the development of sustainable ecosystems for the OER movement.

In our search for fertile ground to host the headquarters of the OER Foundation, we decided on a global leader in Open Education, Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand. Otago Polytechnic is the first New Zealand tertiary education institution to sign the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, the first tertiary education institution in the world to approve and implement an intellectual property policy that by default uses the Creative Commons Attribution license. Otago has an institutional commitment to education for sustainability embodied in their strategic plan. Otago Polytechnic is serious about collaboration and sustainable OER futures, as demonstrated by the Council’s decision to establish the OER Foundation as an independent entity rather than hosting yet another institution-based project.

It is not easy for smaller institutions to reap the benefits of reducing the costs of provisioning and participating in global OER networks due to the inertia of getting open content projects started. The OER Foundation provides a viable and effective solution for education institutions to stake their claim in OER, to test the open education waters and derive immediate benefits while contributing to the global sustainability of education.

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

Creative Commons is the air that the OER movement breathes. It is the legal enabler that eases the complexities of intellectual property in education, helping us move from a restrictive culture to a free culture. Creative Commons fuels the efficiency and effectiveness of the OER movement by avoiding redundancy and unnecessary duplication of legal tools that facilitate collaboration in education.

As the OER landscape evolves, I believe the nodes in the free culture network should focus their energies on core competencies and prioritise areas of collaboration where collective effort enables each initiative to better achieve their own objectives. For example, education is not the core business of Creative Commons, however educating users on making informed choices with regard to Creative Commons licenses is potentially a productive area of mutual collaboration among mainstream OER projects and Creative Commons. Similarly, the OER Foundation is not necessarily well positioned to provide solid legal advice on intellectual property issues in education. Creative Commons could, for instance, leverage its networks to establish a global network of pro bono legal counseling services, or develop an array of draft intellectual property policies published as OER that can be reused and remixed by education institutions around the world. In this way, all projects benefit from the core expertise and tacit knowledge of our respective organisations.

In responding to these needs, the OER Foundation has launched the CollabOERate project. CollabOERate is the OER equivalent of research and development (R & D) for new “product” design in open content and open education. CollabOERate is an “OER remix” of industry’s “co-opetition” model where individual OER projects agree to collaborate on areas that allow them to “compete” better for their own sustainability and attainment of their own strategic objectives.

The uncharted territory, and arguably the biggest point of difference for OER lies in the remix. The open education movement is yet to master the remix, but I concede that this is a challenge riddled with complexity. At the OER Foundation we subscribe to free cultural works licensing. These licensing schemes provide legal compatibility for the essential freedoms and also provides a commitment to ensuring access to source files using open file formats. In this way, no educator is restricted from participating in the OER remix because they have to purchase software licenses or sacrifice their freedoms in software choices.

Creative Commons licenses do not cater to the challenges associated with open file formats or digital rights management. Perhaps the free culture movement can learn from our industry counterparts. Today, a growing number of chocolate manufactures apply the “Fair Trade” logo on their products, communicating to the consumer that they pay cocoa producers a fair living wage. Similarly, most processed food items we purchase at the grocery store supply the details of the ingredients used in the manufacturing of the product. Clearly there are degrees of openness in digital OERs, and I believe the OER movement should work toward consumer awareness and branding of our OER artefacts, particularly insofar as free cultural works licensing and open file formats is concerned. In a similar vein I think we should be doing more in educating users on the implications of their license choices, most pertinently in relation to Creative Commons licensing. We can collaborate with mainstream projects in the free culture community to help in this work.

The precondition for building sustainable OER ecosystems lies in our distinctive “competitive advantage” when compared to closed systems. Our advantage is openness. Effecting real social change is facilitated through open philanthropy where we focus on achieving our respective aims through the principles of openness, transparency and networked collaboration. At the OER Foundation we believe in radical transparency and all our planning documents, projects and funding proposals are developed openly in WikiEducator, using Creative Commons licences. This has worked very well for us and we encourage all non-profits working in the open education space to do the same. This will reduce duplication of effort and scale our growth and success in the free culture movement by an order of magnitude in ways that simply cannot be replicated through traditional closed approaches.

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