Commons News

Investigating CC’s welfare impact, the first step

Tal Niv, October 3rd, 2010

CC has recently started thinking more rigorously about its contribution to the world. See the first post in this series for an introduction.

Alright. So a few months back, on my second day at CC, I sat excitedly at a CC desk, opened a new document, and expected myself to outline a general plan for the impact project. Nothing happened. And you can trust me, I was really aching to begin, since by the second, I could see with increasingly radiant lucidity that this project could potentially pave the way for a brand new field of thought, crucially important in terms of the impacts that it can instantiate. After all, a rigorous analysis of the value contribution could expose how effective collaboration and sharing is, and how distinctly important it is to promote it. This in turn could strengthen the creative capacity of the creative communities, on their artists, scientists, educators, learners, content generators, readers through the auxiliary platforms, providing technical and legal assistance.

But I am babbling. The point is that I very much wanted to start, but that found it very difficult. The roadblock, I came to realize, was that I had an essential primary step before me, which was to offer an initial description of the CC enterprise, one which would be manageable enough for effective evaluation. CC, after all, is a varied enterprise, which operates on many levels to promote its goal of promoting the creative commons. Where the analyst really starts sweating, is the point it becomes clear to her that on each level, CC contributes to welfare in a way that must be taken into account, and that these levels are inextricably interrelated. Or in other words, the contribution on one level, promotes the contribution stemming from the others and so on and so forth.

So after carefully analyzing what CC actually does, I came up with a three-part categorization of the range of CC activities. This categorization is based on size really, and I came up with it thinking about what CC does through a contribution lens. First, I thought that every time someone uses a CC-tool, a license or a mark, a range of advantages, potential and actual, is being accrued. Then, I thought that the support of a platform of tools creates a set of advantages, potential and actual, in its own stead and on a slightly higher level. Second, I thought that CC, by its very existence as an institution is promoting a set of advantages on a more macro level, by virtue of offering institutional support. Thirdly, it seemed to me that there is a way by which CC is operating as a pure power in the even higher space of how cultural enterprises take place, trying to nurture the existing motivations to share and to collaborate into standard practices in each of the communities which it supports.

To recap, what I am offering is to think of CC as an enterprise operating on three separate spheres, each with its distinct, although definitely not independent, value contribution. The first is the contribution to transactions between actors in the creative fields, the second is the institutional contribution and the third is the contribution in the normative field.

The idea is that this can serve as the baseline for analysis, a fundamental categorization which lends itself to further sub-categorization, by field, by activity, by actor and by CC tool, but that doesn’t lose track of the way all of these tie into the one primary goal.

To say just a little bit more about each:
1. transactional contribution
The transactional contribution: the fields in which CC operates are fields where many actors of many different types are operating. The ability of these actors to collaborate is, therefore, very sensitive to costs of search, of recognition and of cooperation. CC, by offering a range of legal and technical tools, is equipping these actors with legal and technical capacities to reduce these costs substantially. In some cases, the reduction is so meaningful as to permit an enterprise to take place, and in other cases, it just makes it better. Relatedly, the availability of tools and platforms might promote the introduction of new entrants to the fields, which in turn varies and augments the range of collaborative enterprises of all types. Under this proposed analysis, CC’s transational contribution ranges between micro advantages created by each usage of the tool, and a slightly higher level contribution which is instantiated through the existence of the full platform of tools.

2. institutional contribution
Many Economists have pointed out that the efficiency of modern markets is promoted by the existence of a stable and certain legal framework. CC is clearly operating within the Intellectual Property framework to enhance it, relying on its own institutional framework, in a way that facilitates the optimization of social production markets.

3. norm contribution
As an organization, which is active in the space of creation and its regulation, CC influences it by weighing in on the evolution of its norms. There is a distinct difference between this and the other two spheres of contribution; What through the lens of the other two spheres appears as an independent factor existing as the environment to which CC sets itself to contribute to, is under the third pillar the actual target that it sets out to influence.

Again, this is not to say that when it comes to value creation these categories are clear-cut. In fact, there are constant cross-influences between the spheres of operation which impacts greatly CC’s contribution under each. For example, a shift in the norm space directly influences the extent of the reliance on the CC institution in the different social markets, and the ensuing benefits that can be derived through usage of each CC tool. In addition, an institutional move increasing the certainty of the collaborative legal Intellectual Property environment increases the benefits stemming from each usage of a CC tool, and in turn facilitates a normative move in the direction of a tighter community of cultural actors inside the different fields. I could go on and on.

Still, the fact that the value areas are co-dependent does not suggest that the categorization is faulty nor that it is ineffective. Instead, interdependency is the attribute of a clear goal which is being pursued using more than one strategy. Yet importantly, there is nothing mandatory or essential about this categorization. In fact, it is just one out of numerous possible ones. What speaks in its favor is its clarity and the fact that economic analysis has developed to analyze contribution of each type, micro-transactional, transactional and institutional at least, if not the contribution of changes in the normative playing-field.

However–and this is important–this categorization may not be the most effective for value analysis. There definitely can be other categorizations, ones that may be more true to the depiction of the CC enterprise, and that may even be more prone for evaluation. In other words, if you have any thoughts, please share them with us–having us all think about this is part of the point.

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

Timothy Vollmer, October 1st, 2010

Yesterday Hal Plotkin announced the release of Free to Learn: An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials. The guide explains how the flexibility and diversity of Open Educational Resources (OER) can improve teaching and learning in higher education, all while retaining quality and enabling resource sharing and collaboration. Free to Learn features case studies and highlights several interviews with leaders of the OER community. The document suggests that community colleges are uniquely positioned to both take advantage of OER opportunities and to become pioneers in teaching through the creative and cost-effective use of OER.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timothy Vollmer, September 27th, 2010

At the beginning of this year we announced a revised approach to our education plans, focusing our activities to support of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. In order to do so we have worked hard to increase the amount of information available on our own site – in addition to an Education landing page and the OER portal explaining Creative Commons’ role as legal and technical infrastructure supporting OER, we have been conducting a series of interviews to help clarify some of the challenges and opportunities of OER in today’s education landscape.

One major venue for the advancement of OER is through policy change at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Patrick McAndrew is Associate Director (Learning & Teaching) at The Open University’s (OU) Institute of Educational Technology, Co-director of OLnet, the OER Initiative with Carnegie Mellon University, and affiliated with OpenLearn, OU’s OER portal. We talked with Patrick about OER research, the use of open social tools for collaboration around OER, and the role of CC as a flexible yet straightforward mechanism for communicating rights.

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

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


Patrick McAndrew, courtesy OER10 / CC BY-SA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrapping up, what does a successful teaching and learning environment implementing the power of OER “look like”? Do you have any lingering thoughts — worries, hopes, predictions?

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

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

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Esther Wojcicki becomes CC’s Vice Chair, focused on learning and education

Joi Ito, September 26th, 2010

We’re excited to announce that Esther Wojcicki, current Chair of the Creative Commons board, esteemed and award-winning teacher, and leader at the nexus of education and technology, will become CC’s Vice Chair focused on learning and education. CC’s current CEO, Joi Ito, will step into the role of both Chair and CEO.

“Creative Commons continues to make tremendous strides in enabling openness and innovation in learning,” Wojcicki said. “I’m very happy to focus my experience and expertise on ensuring that high-quality educational materials are made easily and freely available to everyone in the world.”

Creative Commons benefits from a diverse board comprised of thought leaders, education experts, technologists, legal scholars, investors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, all sharing a keen interest in improving quality and access in the learning sector. As a result, we anticipate that CC will be able to assist innovators, educators and policy makers in sharing the yet untapped potential of this revolution.

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Introducing a series of posts investigating CC’s welfare impact

Tal Niv, September 24th, 2010

CC has recently started thinking more rigorously about its contribution to the world.

First, just so you’ll have a general idea about the person writing this post: I am Tal Niv, a PhD student at UC Berkeley with a background in Law, Economics and Computer Science. This post series is intended to start presenting a project I am already knee-deep into, thanks to a Google policy fellowship. Our aim with the project, as well as with the post series is not to offer conclusive analysis of CC’s impact on welfare (as the term is used by economists), but rather to start a conversation between all of us, that will start untying this complex topic, which despite its importance has been unexplored. Till now.

Everybody knows that CC is here to do good. After all, we are a nonprofit that is working diligently on its mission to promote sharing and collaboration. Yes, that’s what we are after; we have long believed that creators want to share and collaborate, and that it would be beneficial to the world if there is much more of that, which is why we are making out utmost to nurture and cultivate such distinctively positive enterprises and the motivations that fuel them.

What is also pretty clear, is that CC is breaking ground in this enterprise. Creative Commons has a hand and a foot in a range of activities that are based on openness in a multidimensional spectrum of creative fields. CC is known by artists, by scientists, by educators, as a facilitator of creative cooperation, known by consumers of knowledge and culture for extending access and quality of their inputs, by creative hobbyists and amateurs as promoter of access, of contribution, of community. Likewise, we are a prominent institution that carries considerable weight among global policy-making entities in the sphere of setting up the normative environment against which the range of creative endeavors are set.

But although our contribution is plain to the eye, or maybe because it is so crystal clear, we have never attempted to analyze it with rigor. We have never bragged in a detailed fashion nor have we been specific with respect to the immense value that we generate.

Why is that?

Well, it’s complicated. Partly it is because what I intuited in the former paragraph: Since it is so clear that we contribute, spending time on the straightforward just seems like a waste. Partly, it is because we never required this evaluation for the efficient design of our day-to-day tasks. But those are not the only reasons.

Mainly it is because conducting steadfast evaluation is a very cumbersome project: CC is heavily engaged in fields with self-explanatory benefits whose edges are fuzzy. This makes evaluation and measurement extremely tough, even for the most apt researchers.

If you are fuzzy about what I mean by “fuzzy”, just ask yourself: What is the value of art? Of basic science? Of open education? Of User Generated Content? Of collaboration itself? What is the value of free access? I don’t know of many who believe they have the answer to these questions.

And unfortunately, surpassing this challenge only rears more challenges; for CC to be able to know how much it contributes, it is not enough to understand how to evaluate the contribution of its target fields to welfare, but it must also understand its incremental contribution to the welfare enhancing capacity of those fields. And there is nothing that makes that increment any more fixed, clear-cut or lucid than the benefits of the baseline fields. To top that – my fingers are already shaking on the keyboard – it does not suffice to prove that CC incrementally advantages these enterprises, but it’s necessary to show that it does so optimally, i.e., that it is putting the resources that it has to effective use.

At any rate, tough as it is, this is the challenging task that we have undertaken now. Please help by engaging yourself with this intricate analysis, and sharing your deliberations, and if you are just here as a spectator, wish us luck!

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

Timothy Vollmer, September 10th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons
ED-2010-OS-0011-0124.1

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

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

Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, International Association for K-12 Online Learning, State Educational Technology Directors Association, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, The Student PIRGs, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
ED-2010-OS-0011-0120.1

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

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

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

State Educational Technology Directors Association
ED-2010-OS-0011-0135.1

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

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

Council of Chief State School Officers
ED-2010-OS-0011-0117.1

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

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

1105 Media
ED-2010-OS-0011-0070.1

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

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The Revamped CC Case Studies Project

Jane Park, September 10th, 2010

Last year, we kicked off our global case studies effort, inviting you to share your stories—individuals, projects, and companies who use Creative Commons for different reasons and to solve different problems. Through the CC wiki, we attempted to capture the diversity of CC creators and content by building a resource that inspires new works and informs free culture.

Thanks to your contributions, the Case Studies project has grown into an incredibly valuable resource. But like all wikis, the Case Studies wiki is evolving. Everyday, more people and projects are using CC, and existing projects are continuously making themselves over.

To keep up, we’ve made the Case Studies project easier to navigate and ultimately more useful and participatory for the community by revamping the portal and building a new rating system, implementing lessons we’ve learned from other successful wiki communities such as Wikipedia. What’s new:

  • We used Semantic MediaWiki (an extension of MediaWiki) to organize quantifiable elements into a few common properties. Take a look at the case study for Cory Doctorow and you’ll see a new box on the right that provides an at-a-glance view of some of the project’s main properties. These properties are common to all case studies and their values can now be easily browsed.
  • The ability to evaluate each case study by Page Importance and Page Quality. We drafted an Evaluation Guide with some basic criteria for what determines whether a case study is of high, medium, or low importance and quality. These criteria are meant to serve as starting points; we want you to edit and improve them as more case studies are evaluated and added. Each criteria that is not met comes with suggested edits to improve existing case studies.

What you can do now:

The goal of the new features is to encourage better quality and contribution. Please use and help us improve them!

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2010 Catalyst Grant Recipients Announced!

Joi Ito, September 9th, 2010

It’s with great pleasure that we announce the recipients of the first CC Catalyst Grants Program. Out of a grant pool consisting of more than 130 applications, seven projects have been selected for awards up to $10,000 each, to catalyze projects that contribute to the commons.

Thanks to your generous support during the Catalyst Grants campaign, we raised almost $50,000, 100% of which will directly fuel the grant awards.

The applicant pool offered an impressive array of project ideas from around the world. We couldn’t be happier with the turnout and fantastic proposals from a variety of fields. Although we unable to fund more proposals this time around, we hope to run the program again next year and leverage our experience to raise a larger pool of funds so we can do still more. We also learned a lot about what makes a strong proposal and will share these guidelines with the community.

We encourage you to take a look at the remaining grant pool, and if a project catches your eye, you can leave the team a note on the wiki discussion page. Many projects are seeking specific expertise or support and would welcome the opportunity to work with others to make their idea a reality.

An enormous thank-you goes to the Catalyst Grants Review Committee, comprised of regional representatives nominated by CC Project Leads. Thank you, Hiram Meléndez Juarbe (Puerto Rico), Bassel Safadi (Syria), Paul Keller (Netherlands), Paul Kiwehlo (Tanzania), Jane Hornibrook (New Zealand), as well as Chiaki Hayashi (Asia Projects Coordinator) and the CC staff members for your thoughtful review. This process benefitted from your generous input.

Thank you as well to all the applicants for your efforts and great ideas, and thank you to those who supported the fundraising campaign that made this all possible.

With no further ado, here are the recipients of this year’s CC Catalyst Grants Program funds:

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Do Open Educational Resources Increase Efficiency?

Timothy Vollmer, September 9th, 2010

One of the questions people often ask about Open Educational Resources is “do they really increase efficiency?” Creative Commons has worked with many OER innovators, and their stories indicate that it does. We thought it would be useful to gather pointers to some of these examples. Please read on, and leave a comment with other great examples of how CC-enabled OER can increase efficiency for teachers, students and self-learners. Note of course that increasing efficiency is only one benefit of OER.

Negotiating permissions on the web

As a baseline, CC-licensed OER increase efficiency overall because it helps clarify user rights and responsibilities from the start. Copyright law rewards the authors of original works with a bundle of rights for a fixed period of time. Generally, a work cannot be shared or adapted without the permission of the rights holder (in the U.S., there are limitations and exceptions that temper the exclusive rights of the copyright holder–for example, fair use). Materials that remain under all rights reserved copyright require a potential user to ask permission first. The rights permissions process is usually long, difficult, and expensive. Solving the permissions problem is one reason Creative Commons came to exist in the first place–CC licenses let authors mark their creative works with the freedoms the creator wants it to carry. Creative Commons helps lower the transaction costs associated with using and sharing creativity on the Internet.

Even if educators want to share their teaching materials, if the rights are not clear to the end user, the resources will be used less, or not at all. To enable creative, innovative, and legal downstream use and remix of educational resources, clarity is essential. Creative Commons licenses are specifically designed to be easy to apply and simple for creators and users to understand.

The human-readable deed simplifies the terms of each license into a few universal icons and non-technical language, making it easy for teachers and students to understand right away how they can use the educational resource. The lawyer-readable legal text has been vetted by a global team of legal experts. The machine-readable code enables search and discovery of the educational content via search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and others.

Search and Discovery

The findability of quality educational content online is one of the fundamental challenges for teachers and students today. Properly licensed open educational resources can help users find content that they know they can use, customize, and reshare. Many existing search services integrate licensing information so users can filter for content that is licensed under Creative Commons licenses. CC licensing information is integrated with sites such as Google, Yahoo!, Flickr, Fotopedia, Jamendo, Blip.tv, Vimeo, Open Clip Art Library, and Wikimedia Commons. Other websites host (or point to) open educational resources–DiscoverEd, Connexions, CK-12, Flat World Knowledge, Curriki, OER Commons, and others.

Translations and Accessibility

OER can increase efficiency when materials are published under a license that permits the creation of derivative works (all Creative Commons licenses that do not contain the NoDerivaties (ND) condition allow this). OER can be translated into other languages and transformed into alternate formats–such as for display on mobile devices–more easily than materials published under all rights reserved copyright. MIT OpenCourseWare uses the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (BY-NC-SA). Nearly 800 MIT OCW courses have been translated into other languages, all without needing to ask permission from the copyright holder.

Bookshare is the world’s largest accessible online library for persons with print disabilities. Bookshare was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Education aimed at creating the first accessible versions of open digital textbooks. U.S. Copyright law permits some authorized entities to make accessible copies of books–and permits particular authorized disabled persons to access these vetted versions. This access is incredibly important, but the exception is limited, and does not apply for users outside of the United States. Open textbooks are low hanging fruit if they are released under a license that permits the creation of derivative works, because these can be more easily converted into accessible formats, such as audio and Braille refresh. No extra permissions costs have to be incurred or royalties paid for these adaptations to take place.

Customization and Affordability

OER can increase efficiency for teachers because they can be customized, easily updated, and oftentimes developed less expensively. Chuck Severance, a clinical professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, was able to publish a textbook in 11 days because he remixed an existing book. The remixed book Python for Informatics: Exploring Information, is a remix based on the openly licensed book Think Python: How to Think like a Computer Scientist. Students are able to take advantage of the University Library’s Espresso Book Machine to print on-demand copies for approximately $10. Python for Informatics is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) license.

Education publisher Flat World Knowledge is a commercial textbook publisher that incorporates Creative Commons licensing into the core of their business model. Flat World Knowledge offers free and customizable online access to their textbooks, all available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) license. If users want a physical copy of the book, he or she can order it from Flat World, usually for under $50. Flat World Knowledge is competitive with traditional publishers from the get-go, hiring quality authors, peer-reviewing texts, and professionally editing content. Flat World Knowledge recently released information that 800 colleges will utilize their open textbooks this year, saving 150,000 students $12 million or more in textbook expenses. Affordability of educational materials, especially textbooks, is an increasing concern for students and their families. According to a widely-cited 2005 GAO report, college textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation over the last 20 years; Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) suggest the increase is closer to 4X over roughly the same time period.

During the summer of 2007, the Virginia Department of Education realized their high school physics textbook wasn’t working – it was out of date and did not include information about state of the art scientific advancements. With various stakeholders from both the private and public sectors, the Secretaries of Technology and Education developed an open physics textbook under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) license. The goals of the textbook development project were to provide all state physics teachers with up-to-date physics texts with emerging content, to create a database where content could be centrally located, to determine how the value of the textbook could be measured, and to decide whether the project was worth replicating for other subject areas. The book was developed and delivered to students within six months, 6 to 10 times faster than the 3 to 5 years officials were told would be necessary to develop a similar book under the traditional model.

Summing up

The Internet and digital technologies have transformed how people learn. Educational resources are no longer static and scarce, but adaptable and widely available, allowing educational institutions, teachers, and learners to actively use, build upon, and share Open Educational Resources. OER enables teachers and students to find the content they know they can use, remix, and reshare–legally. OER helps address problems associated with language and accessibility, and empowers teachers to deliver customized, relevant content to learners, supporting individualized learning and student achievement. Engaging with the global OER community can help save time and money. These are just a few of the ways that Open Educational Resources helps increase efficiency. Please help us out by providing more examples in the comments, or add projects to our Case Studies.

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The Open High School of Utah Releases Open Educational Curriculum Under CC BY

Timothy Vollmer, September 7th, 2010

Today the Open High School of Utah (OHSU) announced the release of ten semesters of openly licensed curriculum materials. The OER are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. The resources are available via OHSU’s OpenCourseWare portal. From the announcement:

Technology rules at Open High where their approach to learning embraces the idea that teaching shouldn’t be as static as the textbooks on which it’s based. Shattering traditional methods, the Open High School of Utah curriculum is built from open educational resources. These resources are the foundation for their content and are aligned with Utah state standards to ensure the highest quality educational experience. The teachers enhance with screencasts, interactive components, and engaging activities to create high quality curricula for their students.

The Open High School of Utah is a public online charter high school. As DeLaina Tonks, OHSU’s Director, told us in an interview a few weeks ago, “The objective behind creating open content is to create free and simple access to knowledge and information through collaboration and innovation. The OHSU mission dovetails nicely with that of open education because we are among the first, if not the first, secondary school to create our own OER curriculum and share it worldwide.”

Congratulations to The Open High School of Utah for being a leader–both in vision and practice–for the Open Education community.

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