Paul Stacey is the Director of Communications, Stakeholder and Academic Relations at BCcampus. Headquartered in Vancouver, BCcampus provides services in support of educational technology and online learning to British Columbia’s 25 public colleges and universities, their students, faculty and administrators. The BC Ministry of Advanced Education provides funding for curriculum development. In 2003 they shifted funds to support a new thematic direction—online learning. Through this shift in priorities, BCcampus saw the opportunity to connect to the rising open education space, seeing interesting examples of other OER projects like MIT OpenCourseware and Connexions. Paul supports the strategic development of for-credit online curricula, in the form of OER, via partnerships among BC’s public post secondary institutions. He also helps coordinate a range of open online communities that support academic growth and faculty development in BC and beyond.
Foundation-funded vs. publicly-funded OER
Last year, Paul presented a paper called Foundation Funded OER vs. Tax Payer Funded OER–A Tale of Two Mandates at the Open Ed Conference in Barcelona. In that presentation he compared the goals and attributes of foundation-funded and publicly-funded OER projects. Private philanthropic foundations have provided the largest investments in OER over the last 10 years, but there are increasing examples of taxpayer-funded OER policies. Stacey observes that foundation and public sector goals are similar in wanting to expand access to education, but the means by which they do this differs. “The foundation’s primary responsibility is to the founder, while a government ministry’s primary responsibility is to its tax-paying citizens,” says Paul. While foundations often have global and humanitarian mandates and goals, government ministries, on the other hand, tend to be more geographically local to a specific nation, province, or state. They focus on providing a public service that benefits all citizens of that region rather than the entire world. “Public sector support for OER often has economic efficiency goals more than humanitarian ones,” says Paul. With public sector funding so tight, government bodies want to leverage its money in the most effective ways possible, and provide access to education to as many members of its public as possible. The ongoing question for OER is, can it do both?
Paul notes other differences between foundation-funded and publicly-funded OER. Foundation grants have primarily gone to single prestigious institutions and have been used for publishing existing lectures, course notes, and learning activities associated with campus-based classroom activity. Foundation grants have a defined start and end date and are generally not provided for ongoing operations. Government Ministries have primarily invested in OER for formal credit-based academic purposes that fulfill the education access, societal, and labor market needs of their region. Government grants are given, not to single prestigious institutions, but to collaborative partnerships of schools and institutions in their jurisdiction, often for development of new curricula intended for online delivery. Government Ministries oftentimes concern themselves with both start-up and ongoing operations funding.
A spectrum of licenses: To choose or not to choose?
Paul has constructed an interesting chart that plots various OER projects with their associated licensing terms.
Stacey notes that foundation-funded OER projects generally require a single Creative Commons license (usually CC BY or CC BY-NC-SA). But, for publicly-funded OER, there are usually more license options available. One recommendation Paul makes is for OER projects to offer a range of licensing options along the “open” continuum. “Multiple options provide greater buy-in and lower the threshold for OER participation,” suggests Paul. He concedes that there are downsides to permitting individual projects to choose their own license: a variety of licenses make remixing and adapting OER more complex, and can create interoperability issues and siloed content. While he’s noticed that no OER project places content into the public domain, Paul thinks that this approach could be tested.
BC Commons and suggestions for Creative Commons
Stacey says that Creative Commons has played a central role in making OER possible in the first place. The current licensing solution used by BCcampus intuitions, BC Commons, is modeled on Creative Commons. The BC Commons license is different than CC licenses. Where the Creative Commons licenses are applicable worldwide, the BC Commons license is applied to content for use and sharing between institutions, faculty and students affiliated with the BC public post-secondary system. BCcampus adopted the BC Commons license to support educators gradual entry into the waters of openness. “If you say to a faculty member that you want them to share their resources with everyone, they worry that they might lose control of the integrity of the resources they create,” says Paul. “Even with the BC Commons license, these concerns do not go away entirely, but fears are mitigated because the sharing is contained within the province.” Stacey thinks that the more convincing reason for rallying around the BC Commons license is the local collaboration generated by its use. “When you create a license that supports local sharing, it creates a local commons,” says Paul. The local ties among educators are oftentimes much stronger than ties outside of the community. And, BCcampus actively cultivates partnerships to encourage multiple institutions to work together on developing content—“we collectively develop and collectively reuse the resources,” says Paul.
Paul offered several recommendations for Creative Commons:
- Develop a tracking piece of code embedded in each CC license that reports back to the OER creator on reuse. We know from social media that seeing use is a motivator for doing more.
- Encourage CC licensing choice along the open continuum and make it simple for people to start with one license and then transition or migrate a resource to more open licenses along the continuum as they get comfortable with sharing.
- Work with those trying to create regional versions of CC licenses, (like we’ve done in BC with the BC Commons license), to craft the regional license to be as similar to CC as possible. In our experience its been crucial to complement global sharing choices with local regional ones.
- Refine the decisions associated with CC license choices. Attribution, commercial/non-commercial, derivatives, and share alike go a long way but could be complemented with other decision-making points specific to OER.
- Consider adding metadata fields to the CC license to allow the creator to add additional information about the resource including their interest in collaborating with others on improving and modifying it.
- Work with national, state and other public sector institutions and organizations to incorporate Creative Commons license options into education policy that governs IP and copyright so that educators have CC choices built into their agreements.
- Continue work with software companies that develop applications used to create and deliver educational resources to incorporate CC licenses as default options within the application.
Future of OER
Stacey speculates that while government Ministries have yet to be convinced that making all their publicly funded educational resources open to the world is in the best interests of its citizens, he predicts that this will eventually prove to be the case. “Foundations and public sector entities will work together to define the OER value proposition in a way that meets both sets of mandates and goals and is mutually beneficial regionally and globally,” says Paul.
Paul thinks that both foundation and public sector funding will increasingly look to achieve a formal learning outcome where credit is associated with OER,” he says. OER will be help spur other changes in our education system too, and continue to affect the dynamics of the teaching/learning environment. Stacey predicts: “Student-to-student and network-based learning will generate global OER education networks that will eventually prove to provide a better education than is currently available through existing traditional education providers.” Stacey reinforces the need to include students in the OER creation process, as they are the primary beneficiaries of open learning materials. “We’ve tended to see students as consumers of OER,” says Paul, “but I believe students will ultimately produce more OER than educators.” He predicts that someday students will get credit for producing course content OER. But, the demand for well-trained and credentialed educators isn’t going away. The role of a teacher will continue to evolve. Lecturing is out. Facilitating, mentoring, connecting students together in ways most productive for their learning is in. And critically important is the need for professionals to take on the role of assembling OER into sensible curriculum, and delivering it in a way that allows for ongoing assessment to take place.
Stacey believes there’s no one-size-fits-all vision for the future of OER. Open education can be transformative in a variety of ways, and it should be able to fit alongside more traditional environments too. He thinks it’s exciting to imagine the various possibilities, and has described one vision for how this might look as the University of Open. He also points to the work Wayne Mackintosh is leading around an OER University. Paul thinks that a quality education is a shared aspiration for everyone around the world. “We’re seeing OER change education from something defined by scarcity to something based on an idea of plenty,” he says. “OER, together with the ability to form global learning networks, makes education for all an attainable goal.”