Response to "Publishers Criticize Federal Investment in Open Educational Resources"

Cable Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 thoughts on “Response to "Publishers Criticize Federal Investment in Open Educational Resources"”

  1. I am reminded of the Vancouver taxi driver who objected to being taxed to build a tunnel that would ruin his livelihood.

    It is wrong to fund open resources with money taken by force including from the publishers whose businesses are destroyed. It is also a mistake because eventually there is nobody left to tax.

    The DOL should give the $2B back to the taxpayers and let them decide whether to spend THEIR money on education or other uses.

    Open and digital resources are a great idea. Publishers are moving in this direction and the OER movement can act as gadfly to encourage modifiability and multiple purchase options. Taking money by force and using it to create free and low-cost resources is wrong and short-sighted. OER needs sustainable business models, both commercial and philanthropic. There is no place in open for funding by force.

  2. See the Washington Post Sunday, May 29 2011, Business/Technology & Innovation section, page G1+ G5, article titled “Mark them tardy to the revolution” by Steven Pearlstein. Pearlstein reports on math tutorials developed by Salman Khan for his nieces that he posted on YouTube. These 10-minute lessons have been found and viewed by millions of students. Pearlstein hits the nail on the head in discussing the successful adoption and diffusion of Khan’s work in noting: “Surely one reason for all the attention is that, unlike all of the other [textbook publishers]offerings, Khan’s are available to anyone for free… an open source alternative to the proprietary “walled gardens” of the for-profit education industry, a disruptive new player…”

    Then on May 30, 2011, the Monday Washington Post ran a front page article titled “Wikipedia gets a bit of credit in colleges” by Jenna Johnson. Several colleges, in collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation, had students write Wikipedia articles on public policy issues. The students not only learned in doing their research, but also gained editorial, organizational, communication and critical thinking skills in sharing their work with the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

    The key to the success of both initiatives is that the intellectual content is freely available.

  3. I definitely support the concept of, and creation of OER resources. Many of the arguments discussed above remind me of an organization that I learned about during the Global Education Conference held in 2010. The “Right to Research Coalition” argues that any research/research outcomes funded by public tax dollars (government funded) should be quickly and piously offered to the public. Their website is found at:

  4. @Jackie Hood seems to think that taxes are “taking money by force” and therefore wrong. Is that really the objection? If it is, all of the things that are done with tax money are wrong, including defense, corporate welfare and so on. There must be something more to Jakie’s position than what is explicitly stated. What that might be is anyone’s guess.

    Governments tax and spend in ways that, in the best cases, promote the general welfare which includes the social good and security that comes of an educated populace. Left to their own devices, individuals will often not be so farsighted. Profit-oriented corporations will uncritically adapt what they sell to that short-sighted view and society will decline.

    Copyright law is clear on government financed content. It is automatically in the public domain.

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