Seeking a Software Contractor

Jennifer Yip, October 21st, 2010

Creative Commons is seeking to fill a full-time contract position of approximately four months duration. The Software Engineer will help develop and improve software as part of the AgShare project. Must have excellent knowledge of Java, RDF, and software development best practices. Extensive knowledge of Linux and open source development tools (including Subversion, git, etc) is also essential. Experience with Apache Nutch and Lucene is desirable.

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Investigating CC’s welfare impact, the second step

Tal Niv, October 21st, 2010

CC has recently started thinking more rigorously about its contribution to the world. See the first and introductory posts in this series.

After I found what I believe to be a satisfactory formulation for what CC actually does, which divides the CC enterprise into three planes, transactional, institutional, and normative, as I described to you in the former post — another concern began to harass me in the shower, (and I mean this very literally).

This time the quandary had to do with the abundance of fields and activities which CC supports: CC operates to contribute to a wide variety of human endeavors. Part of its contribution can be classified under widely acknowledged topical fields, another part under budding fields, and yet another, which is slightly different than the other two, as a contribution to specific modes of creation.

In the first group I include art on all its types, basic science and open education. Among the second group I count user-generated-content enterprises, such as online commenting, blogging and contribution to knowledge bases like Wikipedia. The third group hovers the other two, since it pertains to the direct contribution to the method. In a nutshell, it refers to the welfare contribution of the improvement and suffusion of the new type of collaboration which is marked by the following attributes: (1) it involves many different individuals, usually a flexible group of people that changes dynamically with contributors leaving it and joining it (2) their product is thus highly flexible, transforming through time (3) the individual contributions are performed at different moments in time, and (4) the contribution can vary in size, from infinitesimally tiny to extremely extensive. Through the facilitation of this new type of collaboration, different interacting communities are being created, which in itself can be counted as a sphere of contribution.

So what’s the problem?

Clearly what one has to do in order to evaluate the contribution of each of these, is to scrutinize each in order to derive the proper metrics for quantification. But on closer inspection of the issue you necessarily come to realize that all of these fields of contribution have some unquantifiable quality which makes metrics-identification slightly complicated. Yes… unlucky me, CC has handpicked a set of fields that are quite resistant to measurement, each for its own reason:

Art. Nobody really wants to quantify art. Art in utilitarian terms… not very palatable, you have to admit. Thinking in pecuniary terms might imply that the contribution of art is merely its price, and would undermine the value of the very engagement in art, as well as the value of works which have not had the good fortune of being auctioned or sold.

Basic science is likewise a “tough cookie” for measurement. Not least because thinking just in terms of end products fails to account for the advantages of the learning process and some of the outputs of basic science are extremely hard to predict.

Open education… oh well, difficult to quantify in its own stead. How can one begin to account for the contribution that extended access has? That active over passive consumption of material has in terms of effectiveness of the learning and teaching process? And how does one discount the cost of degraded outputs which are invariably part of the contribution of educational material which has not undergone the same rigorous screening process that commerciality putatively mandates that it undergo?

Harder still, what’s the value of a collaborative encyclopedia? Is it that aggregation of the separate contributions, in many cases almost negligible? What is the contribution of a post that is published in the open? Of comments to these posts? Again, these are the same problems, overburdened by extrinsic costs that must be accounted for too.

All of these enterprises have a basic attribute which I considered as a separate issue and that is the contribution which ensues directly from increased collaboration. And how the (#*&(@&!# does one begin to analyze the beneficial impact that increased collaboration, cooperation and flexible creative communities has?

So, because hyperventilating in the shower is dangerous, I reminded myself that it cannot be that I am the first person who is attempting to tread this road. Except collaboration. I am pretty sure that I haven’t seen any separate consideration of the direct value of collaboration. So as an aside, let me just explain why I am resigned that it is quite necessary to think of collaboration as a separate matter: First, because there are new topical fields created by virtue of these new modes of interaction and these we will fail to consider, analyzing from a strictly topical angle. Second, collaboration itself has positive impact that goes much further than the benefits to the actual activity, creating immense positive externalities to an abundance of distinct enterprises that follow it.

To get back to what I was saying before, I did find out that I wasn’t the first one to try to find a similar path. So I’ll just describe the very first ideas I drew from other researchers.

The first one I choose to denominate as the devil’s advocate approach, which is basically: Don’t even try. Don’t try to measure; It’s all good; Its art; it’s science; it’s learning; its collaboration; these are fantastic things. And measuring will just downgrade the general awe with which everybody considers these human activities. I was tempted, but thought I’d better think of something else.

So my first real attempt to stand on the shoulders of giants was to think in terms of strict macroeconomic gauges. After all, this is the natural direction for the measurement of the contribution of any enterprise to welfare. Also, so many before us have chosen this path: The US copyright industries, for example, have come up with their report (Look, for example, for Stephen E. Siwek’s Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy: The 2006 Report, prepared for the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), Nov 2006) after WIPO produced its Guide on Surveying the Economic Contribution of the Copyright-Based Industries, and after many different countries produced such similar reports. This has likewise been the method employed for the preparation of the US fair-use industries report, analyzing the fair-use industries contribution to the revenue, value added, employment, productivity and exports.

So why don’t I believe that this is the solution for CC? Well, I have both general and practical reasons:

As for the general incongruence –

First, most of the macroeconomic measures are nation-centric, while CC is a global enterprise which sets to advance global welfare. Pure aggregation of the macroeconomic contributions of CC to each country is not a solution because it can’t show us whether CC manages its goal to obtain global optimization.

Second, macroeconomic measures do not account for non-market transactions. In other words, activities that are not directly paid for will not contribute to these measures. And yet the promotion of non-market interactions is at the core of CC’s contribution, which means that we can’t settle for measures that are not set to estimate these contributions directly.

In truth, I am not the first to note these shortcomings of macroeconomic measures. The World Bank, for example, despite being content with measuring the total wealth as the net present value of future consumption, came up with a measure for what it deems “intangible capital”. This measure is calculated as the difference between total wealth and the sum of produced and natural capital. According to the World Bank, this number “necessarily includes human capital—the sum of knowledge, skills, and know-how possessed by the population. It also includes the institutional infrastructure of the country as well as the social capital—the level of trust among people in a society and their ability to work together toward common goals.”

I realize this sounds promising. Still, I don’t think it is the answer for CC. First, because intangible capital contribution is a primary area of its contribution, which means that it requires a gauge that measures it directly and vicariously, as a complement. The second and related reason is that CC is contributing to both monetary and non-monetary interactions and the calculation of value must consider the mutual influences. My third qualm with this measure is more fundamental than practical: even when we are coming to evaluate CC’s contribution, it seems pertinent to remember that the very foundations on which CC has been established have to do with the presumption that the consumption stream cannot fully account for human and social capital or for an optimal institutional infrastructure. This means that even these measures would fail to represent the range of contribution of the CC enterprise, because they are complementing measures that do not account for all the relevant welfare dimensions.

As for the practical incongruence –

First, Macroeconomic measures are so broad and all-encompassing that it makes one wonder how she can possibly isolate the separate contribution CC has on the sum of Consumption, Investment, Government Spending and Net Exports, (and, by the way, the former reports on other enterprise do not seem to bridge this difficulty.)

Second, the norm category of contribution (3rd pillar of contribution from the previous post in this series) seems to be almost categorically at odds with macroeconomic estimation in the sense that they stand on distinct foundations: The macroeconomic set of measures is strictly utilitarian, whereas the norm pillar has both a utilitarian aspect as well as one which creates the proper environment against which utility will later be estimated.

To repeat, CC is operating in the norm space to recalibrate the creative space in a way that will induce more value from a utilitarian perspective, but it is also acting according to a set of beliefs with respect to how the fields of its operation ought to operate from a different moral perspective; in a way that is more collaborative and free. So although it is sensible to ask whether this recalibration of norms is beneficial to the aggregate welfare, it is a question, the answer to which will fail to expose the entire picture. If that makes sense.

What to do instead?

Well… good question. Any ideas?

I can only tell you where I decided to venture, and you can tell me what you think about it: I have come to notice that more often than not, CC’s contribution is fully captured by value measures which can then be translated to the more general macroeconomic sphere (if one is so inclined). In other words, I realized it is not my job, or not part of this project to look beyond CC’s direct impact, because that will do nothing to promote the efficacy, specificity, soundness or integrity of the evaluation. If anything, it might add an unnecessary level of complication and this is one circumstance in which you simply do not want to do that.

Particularly, what I suggest is to measure the incremental contribution of CC in terms of quality, quantity and variability of collaboration enterprises. All three should be measured across the different fields, under the different value categories, (transactional, institutional and normative), and as they pertain to both productive and consumptive use. What I mean by quality, quantity and variability will be described in more length in the coming posts, but what’s relevant here is that once we have these estimates for CC’s contribution, others should be able to use them to instruct their studies of wider economic measures. At least that’s the idea.

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Featured Superhero: Robin Sloan

Allison Domicone, October 20th, 2010

This year we’re letting some of our exceptional CC Superheroes tell you in their own words why they support Creative Commons and why you should too. The first is Robin Sloan, a writer who works at the intersection of storytelling and technology. Here is his story. Join Robin in supporting Creative Commons with a donation today.


Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan

Donate

“I’m a writer you probably haven’t heard of. But if I’m right about Creative Commons, and about the way books and culture work — and if I’m a little bit lucky — then your kids will read my stuff. And their kids too.

Let me bring you up to speed:

Just about a year ago, I used a site called Kickstarter to gather a posse of patrons and, in the span of about two months, wrote and published a short novel. It featured a character named Annabel Scheme, a sort of Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century.

After it was finished, I mailed the books off to my backers — about a thousand copies, total — and then put the PDF online, for free, with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Often, that’s where this story ends. Triumph! Success! Righteous sharing! Right?

I actually think there’s another step. So I’ll explain what I did next, and then I’ll explain why.

I had a chunk of change left over from the printing — around $2,000 — so I turned it into a Remix Fund. I polled my patrons for interesting ways to reimagine the story I’d just published, and interesting people to do the reimagining. I got a small avalanche of suggestions, each with a small budget attached, and so we all voted on it. The winners included a singer/songwriter and a 3D artist. They did their thing, and now there’s an Annabel Scheme song and a stunning set of images of her alternate San Francisco. (And, in true CC spirit, the raw 3D models can be downloaded and reused, as well.)

But why bother? Why not just wait for people to discover the book, get inspired, and remix it under their own steam? Isn’t that more legit?

Maybe. But for me, Creative Commons is a survival strategy.

I think the most important thing about a book is not actually the book. Instead, it’s the people who have assembled around it. It’s everyone who’s ever read it, and everyone who’s ever re- or misappropriated it. It’s everyone who’s ever pressed it into someone else’s hands. (That’s another thing about Creative Commons: it supports not just remixing, but sharing, too. I publish in Amazon’s Kindle store as well, and I love it — but if you buy one of my stories over there, you can’t ever give it to anyone else.)

Anyway, it’s that group of people that makes a book viable, both commercially and culturally. And without them — all alone, with only its author behind it — a book is D.O.A.

So I’m utterly intent on assembling that group, on nurturing it, making it passionate and resilient, and I’ll use every tool at my disposal to do so: Kickstarter, my site, Twitter, a Creative Commons license, and a Remix Fund to boot.

Did it work for “Annabel Scheme”? It’s too early to tell. There’s been more remixing since that first flurry — there’s this software project, and I just learned last week that there’s a comic in the works, too.

If you aspire to create culture today, in the year 2010, you cannot escape the vastness of it all — the sheer quantity of stuff that is being produced, and the sheer quantity of stuff that is being forgotten. In a world like this, Creative Commons is not just a license — not just a passive agreement with some theoretical public. Instead, I think it’s an active, urgent signal to a posse of potential allies.

It says: I want this thing to succeed, but I need your help.

And it says: join me. Make this yours, too.

So please join me in supporting Creative Commons. After all, we’ve got a lot of kids and grandkids to entertain.”

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CC and Open Access Week 2010

Jane Park, October 19th, 2010

This week is the fourth annual Open Access Week, and starting yesterday Oct 18, the official kick-off date, the CC community has been participating in various open access events around the globe. “Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” Taking place the same week everywhere, Open Access Week brings together people from all ends of the academic and research communities at various worldwide conferences, workshops, and other events to “continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.” Below is a (not exhaustive) list of what CC jurisdiction leads, open culture and open education advocates, and the Creative Commons staff are doing to inspire open access.

CC Colombia
CC Colombia is kicking things off at a CC Salon in Cali today with the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente (UAO). Tomorrow (Oct 20), they are holding a training activity on copyright and CC licenses for teachers at the Universidad de la Sabana (Chia), and they’ll end the week with a conference with the research group of students at the National University (Bogotá) on Oct 21. More info can be found at CC Colombia’s blog, the heart of which was kindly translated by CC Colombia Project Lead Carolina Botero.

CC Aotearoa New Zealand
CC New Zealand will be focusing on open education this week, holding a webinar on Friday entitled, “Remixing Aotearoa,” as part of the Open Education Resource Foundation’s OA Week’s webinar series. If you’re in a manageable timezone, you can sign up to attend the webinars via WikiEducator. CC NZ will also be featuring a series of interviews and profiles of individuals using CC. For more info, visit their site.

CC Spain
CC Spain Project Lead Ignasi Labastida i Juan, also the head of the Office for Knowledge Dissemination at the Universitat de Barcelona, has organized several talks on open journals and open repositories following last year’s events. More info about the program in Catalan can be found at the University site and in English at the OA Week site. Ignasi himself spoke on Monday about OA policies and developments, and today will be speaking about research repositories.

CC board and staff
Founding board member and professor at American University, Michael Carroll, will be speaking at the University of Maryland later this week (Oct 21) to “discuss the growing open access movement, why access to information is so important, and what you can do to promote open access to your research.” Science Commons Vice President, John Wilbanks, started the week yesterday at the University of Utah, and will be speaking at UC Davis again on Friday, in addition to a webinar for open access participants in Portugal on Thursday. CC Fellow Greg Grossmeier is speaking at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale on Wednesday, and will also give a talk on open educational resources (OER) at berlin8 in Beijing, China next week (Oct 26). Myself, Jane Park, am participating in a panel today at NYU on open access for education, following the recent launch of NYU’s Open Education Pilot. Also stay tuned for Open Society Foundation (OSF) Policy Fellow Timothy Vollmer’s interview with SPARC’s Right to Research Coalition this week; the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is also a major organizer of OA Week activities.

Creative Commons and Open Access — Doing our homework: Science @ Creative Commons, Open Access, and Lessons for OER
To further celebrate open access week in your part of the world, check out our brief analysis of Creative Commons’ contribution to the Open Access movement. We cover university access policies, the NIH Public Access Policy, the protocol for implementing open access data, and more, drawing comparisons and lessons from the development of the movement to how the open educational resources (OER) movement is progressing today. This is how we’re thinking about open access and open education, and we’d love your feedback.

Digitally Open: Innovation and Open Access Forum in Qatar
Lastly, we’d like to point you to a major event that’s going to happen this Saturday in Qatar. This day-long forum celebrating open access features CC CEO Joi Ito, Science Commons VP John Wilbanks, CC Collecting Societies Liaison Paul Keller, CC Creative Director Eric Steuer, and CC Arab World Media and Development Manager Donatella Della Ratta (who is involved in organizing the event). For the full line-up of open access superstars, check out the event page.

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CC Talks With: Lulu

Cameron Parkins, October 18th, 2010

Our fall campaign is in full swing and superheroes are giving at all levels – as such, it’s a great time to shine the spotlight on some of our most significant donors.

Lulu, the fantastic open publishing platform, is one such organization. Beyond offering creators of all types the means to publish their own work, Lulu offers a CC-licensing option for authors when they are creating their books. Over a million creators have used the service to date with approximately 20,000 titles to Lulu’s catalog each month.

We caught up with founder and CEO Bob Young to talk about Lulu generally, why they’ve chosen to support CC, and how our licenses have helped Lulu grow in the past decade.


Bob Young by Lulu / CC BY

Can you give our readers some background on Lulu? What is your role there?

Lulu’s mission is nothing less than to accelerate the transfer of knowledge from one generation of humans to the next. We are doing this by empowering authors of all stripes to bring their knowledge and expertise to their markets without having to ask permission of anyone.

Harnessing the power of the Internet and the free market, our goal is to ensure authors and other creators, as well as the publishers who serve them, are rewarded for creating and documenting the knowledge and expertise that they have accumulated from their research, experience and expertise.

We enable authors to publish their books for free, to create books as printed paper books and as ebooks in all formats and for all devices, and sell those books across the globe.

As Founder and CEO I get much more credit for the success of Lulu to date than I deserve. I prefer my Lulu title of Coffee Mug Washer. At least when I wash dishes in our break room I know I’m creating value.

What is the link between Lulu and CC? Do you all use our tools in your various projects

As Sir Isaac Newton pointed out, all knowledge is the result of “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Creative Commons is doing critically important work helping our society understand that without an active public domain of knowledge and content future generations will not be able to stand on the shoulders. Even more importantly CC is building the tools that enable the protection and expansion of that public domain of knowledge and content.

Lulu is all about giving our authors control over their content. We offer both standard copyright licenses as well as CC licenses and other options in the “select your license” step of the publishing process on Lulu.com. This allows Lulu authors to contribute back to the same public domain of knowledge they benefited from when they learned the knowledge that allowed them to write their book.

Lulu is a corporate sponsor of Creative Commons – what was the motivation behind this generous giving? What is it about CC that you find important?

It was mostly a selfish instinct to protect my own ability to succeed. I doubt I’ve ever had an original thought. All of my success has come from borrowing ideas from people smarter and more knowledgeable than me. But if every idea or thought is someday going to be subject to a copyright or patent owned by some individual or some corporation then where am I going to get my next good idea?

I use the term “borrowing ideas” in the sense Thomas Jefferson meant when he said passing along knowledge was like letting someone light their candle from his. The person who now had the light from the newly lit candle benefited, while Jefferson still had all the light from his own lit candle.

Besides the specific licenses and tools it offers, CC has built a powerful brand that communicates everything Lulu wants to say about how authors should be in control of the content they create, and about how a robust public domain of knowledge contributes directly to improving our lives, liberty, and our pursuit of happiness.

Join Bob Young and Lulu in supporting the future of good ideas by donating to CC today!

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ccNewsletter: Campaign Launches! Become a CC Superhero!

Allison Domicone, October 14th, 2010

https://creativecommons.net/donate

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

Our annual fundraising campaign has launched! Help us reach our $550,000 goal!

Creative Commons is recruiting a legion of superheroes to help us raise money for our fall fundraising campaign. We already have an all-star team of leaders in education, science, and entertainment who are sharing their stories and advocating for openness on the web and beyond. They include Neeru Khosla, founder of CK12 Foundation and champion of open education; Salvatore Mele and Jens Vigen, pioneering open access to physics data from CERN and the Large Hadron Collider; writer Robin Sloan; and open video advocate Elizabeth Stark. Join the legion of Creative Commons Superheroes. Donate today.

[ Neeru Khosla ]Neeru Khosla, Creative Commons Superhero

Textbooks are like dinosaurs: clunky, archaic, and not readily available. That's why Neeru Khosla founded CK12 Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to lowering the cost of educational materials and making them more freely accessible around the world. Khosla recruited teachers from all over America to help write CK12 textbooks and published all the material under Creative Commons licenses.

By August 2009, she had a complete repertoire of original high school science, engineering, and math course materials available on her web site. "We distributed it online so that anybody could use it," she says. "If you can access the Internet, you can download as much of the book as you need." Khosla also encourages the remixing of educational materials — instead of schlepping through pedantic chapters of a heavyweight hardcover, she wants teachers to have the freedom to mix, match, and redesign content and build on what teachers from prior years may have left behind. "Too often I've seen teachers leave the institution, forcing the next teacher to start fresh. If you want to customize content and mix and match content, an open model makes much more sense than having copyrighted material." Join Khosla in the legion of CC Superheroes. Donate today.

In other news:

Esther Wojcicki, an award-winning teacher, is CC's new board Vice Chair and will focus on openness and innovation in learning and education. Read the full story.

The US Department of Education released an official guide to how open educational resources (OER) can improve teaching and learning in higher education. Read the full story.

Support CC We rely on our supporters to continue our work enabling stories like those above. 

Follow us on Twitter.
Join us on Facebook.
Find out about upcoming events.

Donate to CC or peruse the cool swag available at the CC Store.

Subscribe to the CC Newsletter.

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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.

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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.

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Improving Access to the Public Domain: the Public Domain Mark

Diane Peters, October 11th, 2010

Today, Creative Commons announces the release of its Public Domain Mark, a tool that enables works free of known copyright restrictions to be labeled in a way that allows them to be easily discovered over the Internet. The Public Domain Mark, to be used for marking works already free of copyright, complements Creative Commons’ CC0 public domain dedication, which enables authors to relinquish their rights prior to the expiration of copyright.

“The Public Domain Mark is a further step on the path towards making the promise of a digital public domain a reality,” said Michael Carroll, a founding board member of Creative Commons and a law professor at American University.

Europeana—Europe’s digital library, museum and archive—is the first major adopter of the Public Domain Mark. Europeana estimates that by mid-2011, the Public Domain Mark will be used in connection with millions of out-of-copyright works made available through its portal.

“An important part of our mandate is to ensure that digitized works made available through Europeana are properly labeled with rights information, including when a work is free of known copyright restrictions so that teachers, students and others can freely use it in their work, changing it and remixing it as they wish,” noted Jill Cousins, Executive Director of Europeana.

The Public Domain Mark in its current form is intended for use with works that are free of known copyright around the world, primarily old works that are beyond the reach of copyright in all jurisdictions. We have already started mapping the next phases of our public domain work, which will look at ways to identify and mark works that are in the public domain in a limited number of countries.

A final note about design. We took this opportunity to revise the CC0 deed, to align it more closely with the Public Domain Mark deed. We think the design changes will help everyone recognize the difference between our licenses, which apply to works restricted by copyright, and our public domain tools.

For more information, read the full press release.

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On CBC podcasts and CC-licensed music available for commercial use

Mike Linksvayer, October 10th, 2010

On Friday, Michael Geist broke the story that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had apparently banned use of CC-licensed music in its podcasts. This seemed odd, given that the CBC’s Spark podcast has long used, promoted, and done interesting projects with CC-licensed music.

It is always gratifying to see CC supporters (superheroes even!) quickly respond — see stories on Boing Boing, Slashdot, and Techdirt.

CBC Radio’s program director responded with a comment on several of those stories, excerpted here:

The issue with our use of Creative Commons music is that a lot of our content is readily available on a multitude of platforms, some of which are deemed to be “commercial” in nature (e.g. streaming with pre-roll ads, or pay for download on iTunes) and currently the vast majority of the music available under a Creative Commons license prohibits commercial use.

In order to ensure that we continue to be in line with current Canadian copyright laws, and given the lack of a wide range of music that has a Creative Commons license allowing for commercial use, we made a decision to use music from our production library in our podcasts as this music has the proper usage rights attached.

Everyone can rest easy– there are no “groups” setting out to stop the use of Creative Commons music at the CBC, and we will continue to use Creative Commons licensed music, pictures etc. across a number of our non-commercial platforms.

It is good to know that the CBC will continue to use CC-licensed works in some cases, and their explanation of why not in others. And it is true that only a minority of CC-licensed music is released under a license that permits commercial use — for example, about 26% of the nearly 40,000 CC-licensed albums on Jamendo.

However, as Michael Geist, Cory Doctorow, and many others have subsequently pointed out, CC-licensed music that does permit commercial use ought be allowed. Geist:

A better approach – one that respects the choices of both artist and producer – would be to require that programs only use music with the appropriate rights, which could include some CC licenced music.

Bigger picture: finding, sharing, and supporting music under CC licenses permitting commercial use

Hopefully the CBC will listen to the feedback of Geist, Doctorow (both Canadians, as it happens), and others. However, the incident is a good reminder of the opportunity for music under CC licenses permitting commercial use, sites and curators that facilitate finding and sharing such music — including letting people know about the many that do exist.

(Note that many musicians have chosen to release music with CC licenses containing the NonCommercial term with good reason; this post is meant to point out the opportunity for others, not a critique of those who have chosen to limit commercial use.)

Jamendo may host the largest current collection of CC-licensed music permitting commercial use. See (and contribute to) our wiki article with tips on finding commercially usable CC-licensed music for much more at sites ranging SoundCloud to Wikimedia Commons to Libre.fm.

If you’re an artist with experience sharing music, including for commercial purposes permitted under an appropriate CC license, or the developer of a site or other service for discovering, distributing, supporting such music, or otherwise add to this ecosystem, please let us know — and thank you!

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