Commons News

CC Talks With: Pete Forsyth and the Wikimedia Public Policy Initiative: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 6th, 2011

Pete Forsyth lives and breathes wikis. He is owner and lead consultant at Wiki Strategies, and has extensive experience in working within online peer production communities, specifically the production of open educational resources (OER) using wiki-based web sites like Wikipedia. Forsyth was the Wikimedia Foundation’s first Public Outreach Officer and key architect of the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, an innovative pilot project to support university faculty and students in the use of Wikipedia as a teaching and learning tool. With more than 17 million articles in over 270 languages, Wikipedia is the Wikimedia Foundation’s largest and most visible project.

Wikimedia Foundation Pete Forsyth
By Lane Hartwell CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wiki as a Vehicle for Self-learning

Forsyth became interested in wikis in Oregon, where he was an editor and community organizer for Wikipedia. While he had long been interested in Open Source Software, he didn’t know how to code. “Wikipedia was a natural entry point for me,” he says, “because you don’t have to be a computer programmer to contribute.”

Forsyth spent five years creating and revising Oregon-related content on Wikipedia, and during this time a group of similarly-minded people came together to form a wiki project in the Portland area. “Portland is home of the wiki,” notes Forsyth, referring to its invention in 1994 by Ward Cunningham.

The participants in the Oregon wiki project helped each other navigate their way around Wikipedia, mastered the art of good reference, and pieced together a better sense of the history of the state. Being in that group allowed Forsyth to explore intellectual pursuits he might not have explored if Wikipedia wasn’t there as a vehicle to nurture them. “The process was in its own way every bit as educational as the college degree I earned,” he said.

The Public Policy Initiative: Open Content, Open Practices

The Public Policy Initiative (PPI) is designed to engage professors in public policy programs at universities across the U.S. to work with their students and the Wikimedia community to improve articles on the English-language Wikipedia as part of their course curriculum. Forsyth notes that the PPI aligns with a set of Wikimedia’s long term goals: it cultivates more Wikipedians, champions subject matter experts, and works toward improving the diversity of its contributor base. He says that the public policy arena has been an exemplary pilot initiative because it is such an interdisciplinary field. “Public policy cuts across so many areas, such as law, economics, and philosophy,” says Forsyth, “and keeping this project open to people with different kinds of backgrounds was an important design consideration.”

The characterization of Wikipedia as an open educational resource platform is at once completely obvious and also a departure from many of the traditional OER delivery mechanisms. While Forsyth agrees that Wikipedia is as valuable an open educational resource as any encyclopedia, he thinks that open educational practices (OEP) is where the value of the Public Policy Initiative really shines. He believes that the really transformative outcome enabled by the technical and legal innovation of wikis and open licensing is the process of being able to collaborate with a broad group of people quickly and seamlessly. “By participating in that kind of community,” says Forsyth, “the student is learning skills from the process itself, rather than extracting information from a particular resource.”

Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia sites represent the largest collection of CC licensed works on the web. Forsyth believes that a project like the PPI–and Wikipedia itself–couldn’t exist without easy-to-understand open licensing. “Users clarifying their intent to work openly is the most important thing,” he says. “The existence of Creative Commons opens up a new avenue for individuals and organizations to do things in the public interest.”

Forsyth thinks that Creative Commons should attempt to provide more clarity about the consequences to using different CC licenses. “I’m not excited about the noncommercial condition,” he admits. “It all boils down to clarity, and attaching a noncommercial condition onto content immediately creates exceptions to that clarity.” He notes that many people new to open licensing are initially drawn to the more restrictive licenses, but don’t realize until later that the content they are licensing is incompatible with Wikipedia or other projects they’d like to engage with.

Public Policy Initiative Ambassadors

In addition to partnering with interested faculty, the Public Policy Initiative involves members of both the university (via campus ambassadors) and the Wikimedia community (via online ambassadors) to provide assistance and guidance. Bonnie Mccallum volunteers as a campus ambassador for a participating class at Montana State University, where she is a web services technician at the University Library. Mccallum, who had no previous experience in creating or editing Wikipedia articles, teamed up with Mike Cline, a seasoned Wikipedian, to assist Professor Kristin Ruppel in her course on Federal Indian Law and Policy. While Mccallum and Cline worked as on-site campus ambassadors, various distributed online ambassadors helped mentor students on the ins and outs of editing Wikipedia.

WikiP-MSU-Boz-1-v2
By McMormor (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

“There was relatively little available on Wikipedia about the content taught in the course,” said Mccallum. Professor Ruppel had the graduate students create a new article around the general topic of the course, stepping through the process of publishing and defending their articles on Wikipedia. The undergraduate students were responsible for editing articles that were already on Wikipedia. One example of an article worked on by the students is the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

Mccallum notes that Professor Ruppel believes participation in the PPI is a more worthwhile writing exercise for her students than cranking out a term paper. Ruppel feels that her students had to learn how to collaborate and communicate in a neutral voice, and learn how to monitor issues and discuss changes with other editors. Mccallum said she’ll be continuing work with the PPI next year, and was excited that there were so many women participating in the project. There are a few things that she’d like to change for next year. She notes that some of the students got hung up on the technical issues around editing wikis, so they’ll be structuring that course module differently next time around.

Mccallum proudly recounts a story passed on by one of the older students in the course, who has a child in middle school. The child’s teacher discouraged her students from using Wikipedia at all. However, after the boy had gone back to the teacher and showed her how his mom was using and contributing to Wikipedia in her graduate school course at MSU, the teacher softened her position. According to Mccallum, those ‘it might not be so bad after all’ moments seem to become more common as teachers learn about the varied uses for teaching via Wikipedia.

Public Policy Initiative as a Bridge

Sometimes open source projects find it difficult to break into the mainstream, especially within the traditional higher education space. Forsyth says that one reason why the PPI has been initially successful in getting buy-in from faculty is because they tailored the project to the existing goals of the educators. He says that working with existing incentive systems as much as possible and providing support to faculty is an important baseline to making the project successful. Also bubbling around recently is the idea that a condition of tenure might be participating in an online community or contributing to a collaborative project like Wikipedia, in addition to the traditional publishing venues. “It will be a gradual shift,” says Forsyth, “but the reality today is that both teachers and students need to possess the cultural fluency and information literacy skills to engage online.” He thinks that these traits will come to represent a set of important skills that students will need to master in any field. “I believe that in time, tenure processes will come to reflect that.”

The Future

Forsyth thinks the Public Policy Initiative is well on its way. “Professors are the experts in educating their students, and with a little nudge and some support, they can do great things with a tool like Wikipedia,” he says. So far, the PPI has turned out to be an enlightening exercise and productive process. As it’s seed funding winds down this September, the Public Policy Initiative will continue to transition from a staff-led to a volunteer-led project. The PPI aims to expand its reach of the Ambassador program to work with faculty and students in other countries, languages, and topic areas.

Forsyth is continuing his involvement in leveraging wikis within the education space, working to start the Center for Open Learning and Teaching (COLT), to be hosted at the University of Mississippi. The center will support the study and implementation of effective and open Internet-based learning practices in formal education. “As institutions of learning are engaging with concept of OER and online learning communities, they’re going to want to figure out how to update their practices, reap the efficiency benefits of ‘open,’ and stay relevant as education evolves,” says Forsyth. He notes that the goals of COLT include 1) setting up a cohort-based research network investigating open, online collaboration in education; and 2) establishing a teaching and learning center that would partially fund faculty salaries to explore OER and open collaborative practices in their classrooms and share what they’ve learned.

Forsyth believes that teaching and learning has very suddenly changed in only a few years. “The education system used to exist in a world in which information was scarce and access to information was hard to come by,” he says. “Now, learning something about any topic is easy, and universities no longer have a monopoly on how we educate ourselves.” Forsyth thinks that libraries, museums, governments, and news outlets still provide great value, but they’re gradually waking up to the idea that they now have to compete. He thinks that these changes should be viewed as an exciting opportunity, not something to be disregarded because they challenge the status quo. “We need universities to embrace the changing landscape, not erect walls trying to protect the role they’re used to playing.”

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YouTube launches support for CC BY and a CC library featuring 10,000 videos

Jane Park, June 2nd, 2011

You may have already heard the great news—YouTube has added the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY) as a licensing option for users! Now when users upload video, they can choose to license it under CC BY or to remain with the default “Standard YouTube License.” Users may also change the license on existing videos by editing each video individually.

In conjunction with the implementation, YouTube has launched a Creative Commons video library containing 10,000 videos under CC BY from organizations such as C-SPAN, PublicResource.org, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera. The library will serve as a base catalog of videos for users to access, edit, and incorporate into their own video projects. The YouTube Video Editor now contains a CC tab that allows users to search the Creative Commons video library and select videos to edit and remix. Users may remix videos directly on the editor platform, and any video that is created using CC BY-licensed content will automatically display the linked source videos’ titles underneath the video player. Since CC BY is enabled as a licensing option, the library will grow as more users choose to license their work under CC BY.

Blogs are buzzing with the news! From boingboing to TechCrunch, Mashable, and GigaOm, people are commenting on Why YouTube Adopting Creative Commons Is a Big Deal.

For more info, see YouTube’s blog, YouTube and Creative Commons – Raising the Bar on User Creativity. Also check out YouTube’s help center on Creative Commons.

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Creative Commons Qatar launches today!

Donatella Della Ratta, May 31st, 2011

On Tuesday, 31st May at 6pm local time, Creative Commons Qatar will celebrate its official birth with a reception in a unique venue, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

The CC Qatar launch will be a celebration of Qatari and Arab creativity. Qatar has a flourishing and rapidly expanding creative scene, which will be featured at the launch through the works of more than 20 local artists—including photographers, bloggers, fashion designers, web developers and writers—that are currently releasing their creations under CC licenses.

Al Jazeera, which in 2009 became the first broadcaster in the world to launch a CC-licensed broadcast-quality online footage repository (under CC BY), will present a video with the latest updates about their CC-released works and exciting projects.

ictQATAR, which in October 2010 successfully hosted the “Digitally Open” summit and the second CC Arab world regional meeting in Doha, will serve as the public lead for outreach in Qatar, with the help of a vibrant and very active community of Creative Commons advocates, artists and content creators, as well as institutions and organizations.

The launch party will be livestreamed at Livestream.com/ictQATAR from 6 pm to 8 pm local time (GMT + 3). The festivities will include a live remix by visual artists Naeema Zarif and Lina Merhej from the CC Lebanon community, and a live DJ/VJ set from Celine Seeman and Colin Brown from CC’s Canadian community.

Following the launch, Creative Commons Qatar will host a series of workshops for content creators, as well as support and other community engagement activities. The first series of workshops will take place on June 1-2 at Virginia Commonwealth University, Doha Campus. It will be led by Naeema Zarif and focus on how visual artists can leverage Creative Commons licenses with their works.

For more information about Creative Commons Qatar activities, you can visit www.creativecommons.qa and follow their updates on Twitter @ccqatar.

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Improving the CC Legal User Interface

Mike Linksvayer, May 29th, 2011

Last month at the New and Emerging Legal Infrastructures Conference I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on Interface Design for Legal Systems. See my presentation on slideshare or as a pdf.

This led to some reflection upon and discussion of Creative Commons’ “Legal User Interfaces” (LUIs). Each of the “layers” (the legalcode or license itself, the “human-readable deed” explanation of the license, and a “machine-readable” description of the license) of CC licenses serve both as user interfaces and opportunities to build upon to create further user interfaces, as are CC license buttons, the license chooser, and search. I focused on the deeds, which probably most transparently serve as LUIs, and as they are highly visual and subject to obvious critique, make for good presentation and discussion material.


BY-SA deed before and after treatment (full size). See my presentation for images of BY-SA deeds going back to 2003.
After the conference, my colleagues Diane Peters, Alex Roberts, and Chris Webber made two (or three, depending on how one counts; see this bug for the action) improvements to the deeds based on feedback we’ve gotten or frequently give that are in hindsight pretty obvious:

  • Under the “You are free:” heading, “to make commercial use of the work” had been dropped in late 2006 from deeds for licenses without the NonCommercial (NC) condition in preparation for adding “share” and “remix” icons (a “commercial use” icon would have constituted icon overload and pushed important conditions further down the page). While the absence of NC on such licenses is telling, bringing a call-out of commercial use permission back to the deeds seems appropriate given occasional criticism that some associate CC only with NC use.
  • Speaking of icon overload, one thing I often notice when someone has an idea along the lines of “CC for X” (where X is most frequently related to privacy) is a tendency to invent a whole bunch of icons to represent a complex space. But lots of icons means most won’t be widely recognized and many won’t be intuitive. It’s really hard to come up with an intuitive icon to represent often abstract concepts! This reflection made it easy to drop the “share” and “remix” icons (keeping the text) from CC deeds while adding commercial use text (see above). Now the only icons on CC deeds are for license conditions, which are reinforced by their presence on CC license buttons on millions of web pages and that the concepts they represent are reflected in CC license names.
  • Occasionally someone will complain about the mere existence of CC deeds, as it is the licenses that have legal force, or a softer version, that the deeds may provide a useful overview, but people should really read the licenses (example). Such criticism has always been swamped by appreciation of the value of the quick “human readable” explanation that the deeds provide. Still, we realized a very simple change would put the full licenses more front and center for anyone who wants to read them in full (please do; more CC expertise in the world is of great help) — move the notice “This is a human-readable summary of the Legal Code (the full license).” from the bottom to the top of CC deeds!

Initial reaction to these changes has been very positive, but we welcome criticism and suggestions for further improvement. One nice thing about these changes is that they did not require any new or changed text, thus creating no new work for translators. However, if you see anything that could be improved in your language, joining a CC translation team is a really valuable way to get involved.

Although we don’t usually post about small tweaks to the various CC layers and tools (again, all of which serve as LUIs and building blocks for further interfaces), we’re constantly on the lookout for improvements and have worked particularly on the With the understanding that: section of the deeds over the past year or so.

The ability to make such explanatory improvements as use cases, the law, and technology all change is indeed a benefit of having human readable deeds as an interface to our licenses (all of this also applies to CC0, our public domain dedication), which can only change when introducing a new version, which must be done very rarely. We’re building up to public discussion of just that, version 4.0, so now is a great time to critique, give feedback and make suggestions with respect to all aspects of CC tools.

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Response to “Publishers Criticize Federal Investment in Open Educational Resources”

Cable Green, May 27th, 2011

On Tuesday, the Chronicle of Higher Education posted the article, “Publishers Criticize Federal Investment in Open Educational Resources.”

We strongly support the U.S. Department of Labor including a CC BY requirement in their recent TAACCCT grant which makes available $2 billion to create open educational resources (OER) for career training programs in community colleges. As we announced earlier, Creative Commons will actively assist the winning grantees by providing expertise in open licensing, adoption and use, and more, to help ensure that the OER created with these federal funds are of the highest quality.

Having just joined Creative Commons this week as its new Director of Global Learning, I look forward to leading these efforts and also to help clarify Creative Commons’ role in the education space. Below is my response, originally posted in the comments section of the Chronicle article:

(1) The US Federal Government has, for decades, provided grants to higher education to produce new research and educational content. To say it is “dangerous for [the Federal Government] to be in the product business” is irrelevant. The Department of Labor (DOL) is exercising rational, responsible public policy that more efficiently uses public tax dollars to improve education opportunities.

The DOL has put forth a simple, effective public policy: Taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources.

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.

Information that is designed, developed and distributed through the generosity of public tax dollars should be accessible to the public that paid for it — without undue restrictions or limits.

If you think about this open policy, it makes sense. We, the American taxpayers, should get what we paid for.

(2) Karen Cator is correct: the commercial publishers (textbook, journals, etc.) should be embracing and supporting this new public policy. When publicly funded digital content (courses, textbooks, data, research, etc.) is openly licensed with a CC BY license, everyone can use and modify the open content to meet their needs — including the commercial publishers.

Moreover, the CC BY license does not restrict commercialization of the open content. To be clear, the commercial publishers can take all $2B of content created in this DOL grant, change it, make it better, add value, and sell it. The consumer (states, colleges, students) will then have a choice: (a) use the free openly licensed version(s) or (b) purchase the commercial for-a-fee version. If the commercial content / services are worth paying for, people will pay. If not, they won’t.

Next step? We should applaud the Departments of Labor and Education for their work and encourage all US Federal agencies to follow suit: require CC BY licenses on all content produced with federal funding.

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Libre Graphics Meeting 2011: Year of the Innovative Libre Graphics Desktop

Chris Webber, May 26th, 2011

Faces of Libre Graphics Meeting 2011 image
Faces of Libre Graphics Meeting 2011 by Tom Lechner / CC BY-NC-SA

In 2007, Jon Phillips wrote this about Libre Graphics Meeting:

I wanted to underline how key it is for all those in Open ____ (Open Content, Open Source, Open etc) get together at some point to see each other physically, as often it’s only virtually.

It’s now 2011 and Jon Phillips is a CC alumnus but still active in Libre Graphics Meeting every year. This year Jon Phillips invited me to attend and speak as CC representative and community member about Blender and about free network services. I spoke three times:

  • At the Montreal Python usergroup giving a talk on Blender and Python very similar to the talk I gave at PyCon this year and similarly well received (slides here). I also gave a lightning talk on my new project, GNU MediaGoblin.
  • Another talk on Blender, this one focused more on artists and advocacy animations.
  • An autonomo.us panel on free network services. I strongly believe that licensing that permits copying and modification is essential to the success of free network services and we addressed this a bit but not as strongly as I’d hoped. Aside from this, the conversation was very good, especially in the second half of the talk which was mostly driven by audience participation. It seems clear to me that the Libre Graphics Meeting community understands why distributed free software network services matter, even to artists. GNU MediaGoblin was introduced formally to Libre Graphics Meeting during this talk also.

If I were to describe Libre Graphics Meeting 2011 in one phrase it might be “2011 is the year of the innovative libre graphics desktop.” Of course, in saying this I am making a joke, but there is some truth to it. It’s unfortunately true that libre graphics are unlikely to become the dominant software tools for graphics authoring in the near future, but even still, Libre Graphics Meeting demonstrates that people are clearly doing great and innovative things in the libre graphics world.

And just as Free Software Needs Free Tools, free culture also needs free tools. If culture is going to be reworked, remixed, and even simply survive the dangers of obsolescence, we need unencumbered formats and tools to empower current and future authors and artists. And so the libre graphics community plays a critical role here.

Free culture and free software don’t mix often enough, but when they do the result is powerful. In few places does this mixing happen as clearly as it does in the libre graphics community, and so it’s good that we have Libre Graphics Meeting as a gathering point for powerful intersections such as these.

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1,200 screenings of CC-licensed documentary “An Island”

Jane Park, May 26th, 2011

AnIsland2_by_Antje_Taiga_Jandrig
by Antje Taiga Jandrig / CC BY-NC-SA

When Vincent Moon and Efterklang completed “An Island” earlier this year, they launched public-private screenings of the film, encouraging the public to host free screenings under the CC BY-NC-SA license. Over the next two months, 1,200 screenings took place at various locations around the world; this Google map and Flickr stream demonstrate the reach and scope of the film.

To follow the success of their initial distribution, Vincent Moon and Efterklang have announced a limited edition DVD package of “An Island” and a digital download that follows the Pay What You Can model used successfully in the past by bands such as Radiohead. You can pay what you can for the documentary and download it under CC BY-NC-SA at the website, where you can also order one of the limited edition DVD packages with a run of 5,000.

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U.S. Department of Labor seeks reviewers for TAACCCT applications

Timothy Vollmer, May 23rd, 2011

The U.S. Department of Labor continues to seek qualified peer reviewers to evaluate the first round applications for the agency’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program.

The Department is seeking a pool of education and training professionals that includes individuals with experience in providing or administering fully online or technology-enabled programs, individuals who have knowledge of or experience with evidence-based learning, and individuals with reasonable knowledge in both areas to help evaluate these applications in mid to late summer, 2011.

Detailed information and instructions for consideration is contained in this information page (PDF). Interested volunteers should contact the Department by May 27, 2011.

Creative Commons will not participate in the review process. For more information about how CC is involved in supporting grant winners, see our TAACCCT page.

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Kwame Nkrumah University adopts CC Attribution for OER policy

Jane Park, May 11th, 2011

KNUST OER production workshop team<br />
KNUST OER production workshop team by bagaball / CC BY

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

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

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

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

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

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CC News: Creative Commons Global Meeting 2011

Jane Park, May 6th, 2011

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

Creative Commons Global Meeting 2011

Since the last global meeting of the Creative Commons community in Sapporo, we’ve seen the launch of CC0 and the Public Domain Mark, and a half-dozen more CC affiliate jurisdictions with many more in the works. To celebrate this and many other CC milestones, we are holding our next global meeting on the 16-18th of September this year in Warsaw, Poland. Co-hosted by our CC Poland team led by Alek Tarkowski, the event will bring together affiliates from more than 70 jurisdictions, CC staff, and a number of CC Board members. In addition to gathering requirements for version 4.0 of the CC license suite, the meeting will consist of workshops and forums on CC community building and adoption efforts in key sectors such as education, public sector information, and data. Learn more.

CC Attribution required in government policy

We are excited to announce that Creative Commons has been awarded a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide support to successful applicants of the U.S. government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program. All grantee outputs will be released under the CC Attribution (CC BY) license. To assist grantees, Creative Commons, along with several partnering organizations, will provide expertise in open licensing, adoption and use, and more. Our technical services will offer a competitive advantage for organizations seeking TAACCCT grant funds and ensure that the open educational resources created with these federal funds are of the highest quality. Learn more.

More exciting developments in government and foundation policy

In addition to requiring CC BY for TAACCCT grantee outputs, the U.S. Department of Labor has also required CC BY for outputs of the Career Pathways Innovation Fund. The fund makes available up to $122 million to "continue DOL’s support for community colleges, with a particular focus on career pathway programs implemented by community colleges in partnership with other organizations in the community."

CC BY is also the chosen license for non-software outputs of the Next Generation Learning Challenges grantees, a multi-year program dedicated to improving college readiness and completion in the United States. You can see the full list of the Wave I winners here.

In other news:

  • The MIT Media Lab has named Creative Commons Chairman and former CEO Joi Ito as its new executive director.
  • The Free Software Foundation recommends CC0 if you want to release software into the public domain.
  • We now offer plaintext versions of CC licenses and the CC0 public domain dedication.
  • SimpleGeo and ChEMBL have jumped on the open data bandwagon.
  • The latest in CC music includes the bittersweet end of Learning Music Monthly (36 albums) and Nighty Night by 8in8, an all-star collaboration between Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, and Damien Kulash from OK Go.
  • CC Salon Palo Alto on Open Services Innovation featuring Henry Chesbrough is now up for viewing. Keep an eye out for the next CC salon in June!
  • Lastly, you can still vote for Stormy Mondays' "Sunrise Number 1" (licensed CC BY-NC-ND) to be the first CC song played in outerspace on NASA's Endeavour mission!

Banner photo by x-ophCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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