Commons News

ccNewsletter: Campaign Launches! Become a CC Superhero!

Allison Domicone, October 14th, 2010

https://creativecommons.net/donate

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

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

[ Neeru Khosla ]Neeru Khosla, Creative Commons Superhero

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

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

In other news:

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

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

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

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CC Talks With: Student PIRGs’ Nicole Allen: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, October 14th, 2010

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

One major venue for the advancement of OER is through policy change at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Nicole Allen is the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) Campaign Director for Make Textbooks Affordable. In our interview, Nicole discussed the Student PIRGs approach to advocacy and education with regard to open textbooks, their latest report on college textbook affordability, and the necessary role of CC and related groups to raise awareness about open licensing in the academic community.

Can you briefly describe the history of your involvement in Student PIRGs and the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign?


Nicole Allen / CC BY

As a lifelong environmental activist, I originally got involved with the PIRGs in college on a campaign to stop water pollution. But I was compelled to make higher education advocacy my career after Congress cut $12 billion federal student aid to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy during my senior year. I first worked as an organizer with WashPIRG (the “PIRG” in Washington state), and after passing a state law mandating textbook price disclosure, I took over as head of the Student PIRGs’ Make Textbooks Affordable campaign in 2007. Since then, I have worked with students across the country to run the campaign and conducted research and advocacy at the federal level (including work on legislation that reversed the cuts to student aid!).

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) passed in 2008, and a provision relating to textbook affordability and access to pricing information recently went into effect. Furthermore, bills supporting the development of open textbooks have been introduced in both the House and Senate. What would you say are the primary characteristics of an open textbook? How does the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign relate to open education?

We’re excited how rapidly open textbooks are gaining momentum, and the HEOA price disclosure law will help accelerate the pace. When we talk about open textbooks, we mean college texts that have been published online under an open license that allows free digital access, low-cost printing and customization by instructors. In most ways, open textbooks are quite similar to the texts seen on bookshelves today – they have a table of contents, exercises, and they’re written by expert authors. In most cases, they even can be printed to look exactly like any other textbook. The big difference is the open license, which enables a wide variety of affordable textbook formats, including free web-based versions, printable PDFs, and printed and bound hard copies for $20-40 (traditional textbooks usually cost $100-200!). Increasingly, more innovative formats such as audio and e-reader versions are becoming available. Another notable difference is that open textbooks can be customized. Instructors can remove the chapters they don’t plan to cover, or they can add in other materials, homework questions or annotations.

Our goal is to get more open textbooks adopted in place of expensive traditional textbooks, so we think of ourselves as part of the “transition team” for open education. We’re getting more professors to use OER as textbooks, the format they feel most comfortable with, which will pave the way for future exploration of more innovative forms of open course materials. So far, it’s been going well. Since 2008, we’ve generated more than 2,500 signatures on a faculty Statement of Intent to consider using open textbooks and more than 500 news stories citing open textbooks as a potential solution. Early this year, we launched a student marketing force consisting of hundreds of grassroots activists on a mission to promote the top open textbooks directly to professors. Already, at least 50 professors we’ve contacted have switched to open textbooks, and we hope to continue this trend throughout the rest of the school year.

The textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge offers free online access to textbooks under a Creative Commons license, and charges a modest amount for printed copies and supplemental materials. What are some things to consider to ensure the sustainability of such new publishing models? What are some of the primary benefits for professors and students in using open textbooks?

Our experience in the field has been that many professors are concerned that students fall behind on reading and homework because they haven’t purchased the text (it’s true – our recent study found that about 10% of any given class hasn’t bought the book). Furthermore, professors are frustrated that publishers unnecessarily revise textbooks to undermine used book sales, creating extra work to keep syllabi and homework questions up to date. Open textbooks offer relief from both of these problems, because the text is accessible free online or at a low-cost in print, and it always remains open even if a new edition comes out. Open textbooks also offer the increasingly attractive benefit of customization, so that instructors can tailor the text to their class.

The benefits for students are obvious. Our latest report, A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are The Path To Textbook Affordability, found that using open textbooks could reduce costs 80% – that’s $184 per year, compared to the current average of $900!  But cost isn’t the only advantage. In our survey, student preferences were split 75% for print and 25% for digital, and two out of five said they’d be comfortable using both. Students listed readability, convenience and cost as their top factors in choosing a format, although there was no consensus on which format represented these qualities best. Given such variance in student preferences, open textbooks are a far more effective solution than conventional options like rentals and e-books, since students can choose from a wide variety of affordable options.

This raises an important question: if open textbooks are free online, why would students buy anything at all?  Actually, our research shows that students are willing to purchase formats they value even in the presence of a free alternative: more than half of the students we surveyed said they would rather buy a reasonably priced print copy than use the book free online. Student spending on optional products could be the foundation of sustainable models, such as the model used by Flat World Knowledge.

College professors want to use the best textbook available, regardless of price. The Making Textbooks Affordable campaign supports the adoption and use of open textbooks, and encourages faculty to sign a statement indicating their intent “to include open textbooks in their search for the most appropriate course materials, and declare declare their preference to adopt an open textbook in place of an expensive, commercial textbook, if the open textbook is the best option.” What can the OER community do to make it easier for faculty to discover and adopt open textbooks? How do we continue to address the issue of quality?

Open textbooks are available for dozens of common college subjects, but the challenge is making professors aware of them. Despite nearly universal willingness to consider more affordable options, we’ve found that instructors typically hear about textbooks through publisher marketing efforts, not by seeking books out themselves. Therefore, simply posting open textbooks online is not enough; they need active promotion. We encourage the rest of the open education community to join our efforts to get the word out to professors.

As for quality, I think the issue is different for open textbooks than other OER. Quality is inherently subjective, so it is challenging to establish on a large scale. However, there is already a notion of what is “high quality” for traditional texts, so it’s less abstract for open textbooks. Since most of today’s professors will use traditional standards, creating high quality textbooks is a matter of developing models that can emulate (and hopefully improve upon) the outcomes of traditional peer review and classroom testing. Great examples are Flat World Knowledge, which follows the standard publishing process to the letter, and Writing Spaces, which uses a peer review system similar to scholarly journals. Likewise, demonstrating quality is a matter of vetting books with respect to traditional textbooks through institutions, organizations and adopters. For example, both College Open Textbooks and our own Open Textbook Catalog offer editorial reviews of open textbooks. Traditional concepts like publisher branding and author reputation are important too.

How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the open textbook and open education? How can CC help?

Open licensing is the essence OER. It gives authors the confidence to grant worldwide access to their works while still reserving some of their rights. It enables instructors to customize and expand OER to better meet student needs. And it allows students to choose from a wide range of affordable textbook formats. We are grateful to Creative Commons for everything it has done already to create, promote and defend open licenses.

Sharing and customizing course materials (legally) is a foreign concept in academe. We can gloss over the details in the short term by emphasizing affordability, but a deeper understanding of open licensing will be necessary to broaden the use of OER beyond open textbooks. Therefore, we encourage CC to expand its educational and awareness efforts in the academic community, particularly among faculty.

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

I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of OER’s potential to transform teaching and learning. Although the pedagogical benefits are virtually limitless, we come from the consumer perspective. To us, OER means choice, and the ideal learning environment is one where students can take part in shaping their own experience as the “consumers” of higher education.

As for the future, I think the next few years are going to be a turning point. On one hand, we have the growing momentum of open textbooks and other OER. On the other, we have the traditional publishing industry, which has begun to diversify its offerings to include e-books, e-readers and even programs that imitate OER in a non-open environment like DynamicBooks and Create. It is imperative that the open education community help open textbooks gain a foothold before the market settles for less effective solutions. To do that, we need to call on government, foundations and institutions to fund the supply-side, and we need to fuel demand by actively promoting open textbook adoption.

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Gates Foundation announces $20M for Next Generation Learning Challenges; CC BY required for grant materials

Timothy Vollmer, October 11th, 2010

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $20M investment in the Next Generation Learning Challenges, an initiative to improve college readiness and completion through technology. The first request for proposals (RFP) was released today (PDF). The RFP specifically solicits proposals that address the following challenges:

  • Increasing the use of blended learning models, which combine face-to-face instruction with online learning activities.
  • Deepening students’ learning and engagement through use of interactive applications, such as digital games, interactive video, immersive simulations, and social media.
  • Supporting the availability of high-quality open courseware, particularly for high-enrollment introductory classes like math, science, and English, which often have low rates of student success.
  • Helping institutions, instructors, and students benefit from learning analytics which can monitor student progress in real-time and customize proven supports and interventions.

The RFP lays out the grant guidelines with regard to open licensing, and requires the use of CC BY:

So that the knowledge gained during NGLC-funded projects is promptly and broadly disseminated, all documents, written materials, and other content submitted to EDUCAUSE during the period of Grantee’s NGLC grant application and grant (e.g., website postings, pre-proposals, proposals, findings, and information generated by Grantee) will be made available to the community under a Creative Commons Attribution license. In addition, all open educational resources and related work product (manuals, integration formats, hosting environments, faculty development guides, or curricula, etc.) created in connection with the Open Interactive Core Courseware challenge must be made available under this license.

Adopting CC BY is precisely aligned with the overarching goals of foundation funding and initiatives such as the Next Generation Learning Challenges. Last year, the Berkman Center’s study on foundation copyright licensing policies said that open licensing “ensures[s] the broadest and fastest dissemination of the valuable ideas, practices, works, software code and other materials the foundation’s funding helps to create.” That report went on to suggest that the impact of funding is even greater when permissive licenses (such as CC BY) are applied, allowing the resources “to be freely tested, translated, combined, remixed, repurposed or otherwise built upon, potentially by many subsequent researchers, authors, artists or other creators anywhere in the world, as the basis for new innovation, discovery or creation.”

Proposals for the first RFP are due November 17, 2010. The Next Generation Learning Challenges are a collaboration between several organizations, including the Gates Foundation, EDUCAUSE, iNACOL, CCSSO, The Hewlett Foundation, and The League for Innovation in the Community College. Congratulations to the Gates Foundation and partnering organizations on this fantastic effort.

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Improving Access to the Public Domain: the Public Domain Mark

Diane Peters, October 11th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, read the full press release.

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

Mike Linksvayer, October 10th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In “The New Sharing Economy” CC is the norm

Jane Park, October 7th, 2010

At the beginning of summer, many of you told us how much you share in a survey for Shareable Magazine. The results of that survey have been translated into a study of “The New Sharing Economy” by Shareable and Latitude Research. Visually, the study features nifty diagrams depicting what we share the most and how sharing has evolved over time. Substantively, “The New Sharing Economy” reveals some encouraging trends, such as that sharing in the virtual world makes people more comfortable with the idea of sharing in the physical world (in fact everyone in the study who shared online also shared offline), and that most of these people believe they will partake in even greater corporeal sharing in the next five years.

But the most encouraging trend the study revealed was that Creative Commons is playing a huge infrastructural role in this new sharing economy—that CC is, in fact, daily saving the world from failed sharing:

“Of those who share information and media online, approximately 2 in 3
participants use other people’s creations licensed under Creative Commons.”

The benefits of Creative Commons are often difficult to see, as a functioning system is only ever noticed when it fails. But as sharing only increases over time, both on- and offline, you can be sure that CC superheroes are at work behind the scenes slashing through the red tape, identifying and fixing the bugs, opening closed systems, implementing better policies, educating the public, and generally making sure things are running smoothly so that the web can continue to grow. Because the majority of study participants also connected sharing with being “better for the environment,” “saving money,” and being “good for society”—all stuff which, it turns out, CC is quietly helping us to do.

The study is available under CC BY-NC-ND. To learn more, check out Shareable’s post, and please consider joining us in the fight for openness and innovation.

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Join the Legion of CC Superheroes!

Joi Ito, October 5th, 2010


Imagine a world where knowledge flows freely and can be built upon without limits. Imagine a world where culture, art and media are available to everyone, scientific content is shared by corporations and research institutions, and shared intelligence augments human rights efforts across borders.


CC Superhero T-shirt, yours for a donation of $75 or more!

A legion of Creative Commons (CC) Superheroes is already at work, using our amazing tools to save people from failed sharing all over the planet. GlaxoSmithKline, a major pharmaceutical company, recently released its entire malarial data set using CC tools, speeding the urgent search for new medicines to tackle the devastating disease. Online communities at Flickr, SoundCloud, and Vimeo are making creative works available for anyone in the world to use freely and legally through license adoption. Publisher Pratham Books has begun to CC license more and more of the textbooks it provides to 14 million children in India, lifting them from a future of poverty and miseducation. When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Google and Wired used CC tools to keep information widely available to relief workers, journalists, and governments worldwide.

Our challenge ahead is to join forces with this legion of CC Superheroes to fight the forces that don’t want an open web, or do not understand that sharing is a good thing. This fall, we’re recruiting a team of CC Superheroes to lead the world in the fight for creativity and innovation. We need to raise $550,000 by the end of the year to power up and support the work we’re doing. As a superhero, your role will be to donate, spread the word, and fundraise on our behalf. As an existing supporter of CC, you already believe that a sharing world is a good world. You have fueled our work and kept us going strong, and we thank you for that. It will take nothing short of a superhero’s strength to get us to where we need to go.

Join us in this fight for a free world — donate today.

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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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