Commons News

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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Open Education Events in Barcelona

Jane Park, September 3rd, 2010


CC BY by Steve Jurvetson

Registration is open for two open education events set to take place in early November in Barcelona, Spain. Open Ed 2010 is the seventh annual open education conference that is “the world’s premiere venue for research related to open education” and is focused this year on OER: Impact and Sustainability. Early bird registration for the conference has been extended until September 24th.

The other notable event is the Mozilla Foundation’s Drumbeat Festival 2010: Learning, Freedom and the Web which is launching the same week as Open Ed. The Drumbeat Festival is the culmination of the year’s local Drumbeat events held throughout the year and the various open web and education projects engendered by them. Registration for the festival is now open at the site; alternatively, if you are already attending Open Ed 2010 you can register for Drumbeat for an extra 50 euro. Those interested in participating in both events can send an email to opened@uoc.edu.

Two months may seem like forever in internet time, but open web and education activists aren’t the only ones traveling to Barcelona in November. The Pope will be visiting around that time as well, so event planners are advising that you register and book accommodations as soon as possible.

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Creative Commons Iftars

Donatella Della Ratta, September 3rd, 2010

Yesterday, Dubai became the first Arab city to celebrate a Creative Commons Iftar. It will be followed tomorrow by Amman, Damascus on September 5, and Cairo on September 7.

The iftar is the meal that breaks the fast of Muslims during the month of Ramadan. In the Arab world, it is traditionally associated with families sitting all together and enjoying the first meal of the day. CC Iftars, moreover, are social events where people celebrate the breaking of the fast, socialize, and talk about innovation, creativity, and the open web. The meetings are cozy, informal, and community-driven. They can feature lightning talks, engaging presentations, film screenings, or live remixes of CC-licensed works.

CC Iftars have been organized thanks to the great efforts of our Arab world communities, led by volunteer teams in Dubai, Amman, Damascus and Cairo. Each city’s iftar focuses on a different theme. In Dubai, it’s “mash-ups,” Amman’s is “fast-sharing,” Damascus’s is “remix!” and Cairo’s is “share!” Guests include educators, media professionals, artists, technologists, students, and members of the local CC jurisdiction teams. Each program is filled with performances, screenings, inspiring talks, and debates. The local volunteer teams have done a fantastic job pulling together the programs, finding speakers, and designing event t-shirts. In some cases, like in Dubai and Amman, there are themed competitions as well.

A big thank you to Aramex, who has been our incredible regional partner and supports the iftars in each city.

Best of luck to the teams in Dubai, Amman, Damascus, and Cairo. We hope you’ll be able to join them, break the fast, and share ideas!

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yolink adds CC license support to its browser plugin

Jane Park, August 30th, 2010

yolink, “a next-generation search technology,” has added CC license support to its updated browser plugin. yolink’s browser plugin allows you to quickly scan your search results by specific key terms, effectively simplifying your more complex or advanced searches. Once you’ve found a relevant article, you can then share it with others via social media sites or a Google doc—all through the browser plugin window. The plugin has added CC license support, which means if you start a document with CC licensed site content the license will be retained and displayed in the doc.

For example, say I run a Google search on “Creative Commons”. Via the yolink browser plugin, I quickly scan the Google results for the Wikipedia article. If I want to start a Google doc with a particular passage, I don’t have to visit the Wikipedia page to manually copy and paste it—I can simply click on the check box next to the text I want and create a Google doc, all within the plugin window. yolink will automatically create a Google doc with the selected text and paste in the CC license info. See:

To check it out for yourself, download the browser plugin at the yolink site.

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