government

National Broadband Plan outlines recommendations to enable online learning; should continue to address content interoperability concerns

Timothy Vollmer, March 16th, 2010

Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its long-awaited National Broadband Plan. The plan aims to “stimulate economic growth, spur job creation, and boost capabilities in education, healthcare, homeland security and more.” The FCC has taken particular interest in the power of broadband to support and promote online learning. We applaud the FCC for working to make this a priority, especially in exploring how broadband can enable access to and participation in the open educational resources movement, empowering teachers, students, and self-learners.  In the plan, the FCC offers several recommendations in expanding digital educational content. A few of the recommendations are listed below:

Recommendation 11.1: The U.S Department of Education … should establish standards to be adopted by the federal government for locating, sharing and licensing digital educational content by March 2011.

While digital content is available currently, there are significant challenges to finding, buying and integrating it into lessons. Content is not catalogued and indexed in a way that makes it easy for users to search. It is also hard for teachers to find content that is most relevant and suitable for their students. Even if one finds the right content, accessing it in a format that can be used with other digital resources is often difficult or impossible. And if the desired content is for sale, the problem is even harder because online payment and licensing systems often do not permit content to be combined. These three problems—finding, sharing and license compatibility—are the major barriers to a more efficient and effective digital educational content marketplace. These barriers apply to organizations that want to assemble diverse digital content into materials for teachers to use, as well as to teachers who want to assemble digital content on their own. Digital content standards will make it possible for teachers, students and other users to locate the content they need, access it under the appropriate licensing terms and conditions, combine it with other content and publish it.

Recommendation 11.2: The federal government should increase the supply of digital educational content available online that is compatible with standards established by the U.S. Department of Education.

[ ... ] Whenever possible, federal investments in digital education content should be made available under licenses that permit free access and derivative commercial use and should be compatible with the standards defined in recommendation 11.1.

Recommendation 11.4: Congress should consider taking legislative action to encourage copyright holders to grant educational digital rights of use, without prejudicing their other rights.

In part due to a lack of clarity regarding what uses of copyrighted works are permissible, current doctrine may have the effect of limiting beneficial uses of copyrighted material for educational purposes, particularly with respect to digital content and online learning. In addition, it is often difficult to identify rights holders and obtain necessary permissions. As a result, new works and great works alike may be inaccessible to teachers and students … Increasing voluntary digital content contributions to education from all sectors can help advance online learning and provide new, more relevant information to students at virtually no cost to content providers … Congress should consider directing the Register of Copyrights to create additional copyright notices to allow copyright owners to authorize certain educational uses while reserving their other rights.

Many of these recommendations can help to enable the sharing and downstream reuse of Open Educational Resources (OER) via public licenses that grant broad permissions. And as we wrote last week, the Department of Education–through the National Education Technology Plan (PDF)–has already offered suggestions for how open licensing can aid teaching and learning by making content created by the federal government available for use or adaptation.

One recommendation, however, misses the mark – the suggestion that Congress direct the Copyright Office to create a new copyright notice to allow rightsholders to authorize specific education uses of their content while reserving all other rights. While the suggestion for this (e) mark is a good first step in recognizing the need for educational content to be shared widely, its utility will be limited and its implementation confusing. To begin with, it’s difficult to determine what will qualify as “educational” content and use. Creative Commons considered this 7 years ago and has revisited the question since, as an “education license” sounds very appealing. The reality is that allowing educational uses, or worse allowing only certain educational uses, adds to the growing problem of non-interoperable content silos whose contents cannot be intermingled without running afoul of copyright. These qualifiers are counter-productive in that they inhibit rather than incentivize use by teachers, learners, and others of the resources stored and isolated in the silos.  ”Education only” uses would dampen innovation by publishers and other content creators that otherwise would be enabled under an open license granting broad permissions.

Additionally, narrow permissions break the promise of a widely interoperable commons. Public licenses that grant broad permissions for the use and reuse of content provide the most clear path forward in solving the interoperability problem. Creative Commons supplies a standardized framework for such public lienses, and has been adopted by many in the education community. It is important that any future initiative intended to increase sharing of eudcational content–legislated or otherwise–consider interoperability with existing OER as a design requirement.

The FCC has recognized that robust broadband infrastructure is crucial for citizens to participate effectively in the 21st century digital environment. Open licensing is a piece of this critical infrastructure. Creative Commons hopes to continue to work closely with the FCC, the Department of Education, and the OER community in order to implement the infrastructure necessary to support and promote online learning.

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Victorian Government Commits to CC as Default Licensing System

Michelle Thorne, February 5th, 2010

The UK government recently made a splash with its move towards opening government data. Now CC Australia’s Jessica Coates shares a promising government initiative in her home country. The Victorian Government has become the first Australian government to commit to using Creative Commons as the default licensing system for its public sector information (PSI). Many of its reports and other works will use CC BY, which she explains is becoming the preferred license for Australian PSI.

The commitment is part of the Government’s response to its Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee’s Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data, which recommended that the Victorian Government adopt a “hybrid public sector information licensing model comprising Creative Commons and a tailored suite of licences for restricted materials.”

Specifically, the response (which is under CC BY-NC-ND) states at p.8 that:

he Victorian Government endorses the committee’s overarching recommendation that the default position for the management of PSI should be open access. The Victorian Government further commits to the development of a whole-of-government Information Management Framework (IMF) whereby PSI is made available under Creative Commons licensing by default with a tailored suite of licences for restricted materials.

As far as we are aware, this is the strongest commitment to Creative Commons implementation made by any Australian government. While there have been a number of excellent CC-friendly recommendations coming out of recent government inquiries – notably the Government 2.0 and Venturous Australia reports – these are yet to be officially adopted. And while there are some excellent implementation projects – the Victorian Government specifically mentions the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Queensland’s Government Information Licensing Framework – these are still limited to individual agencies.

We’ll be very excited to see where the Victorian goes from here.

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UK moves towards opening government data

Jane Park, January 21st, 2010

In a step towards openness, the UK has opened up its data to be interoperable with the Attribution Only license (CC BY). The National Archives, a department responsible for “setting standards and supporting innovation in information and records management across the UK,” has realigned the terms and conditions of data.gov.uk to accommodate this shift. Data.gov.uk is “an online point of access for government-held non-personal data.” All content on the site is now available for reuse under CC BY. This step expresses the UK’s commitment to opening its data, as they work towards a Creative Commons model that is more open than their former Click-Use Licenses. From the blog post,

“This is the first major step towards the adoption of a non-transactional, Creative Commons style approach to licensing the re-use of government information.

The Government’s commitment in Putting the Frontline First: smarter government is to “establish a common licence to re-use data which is interoperable with the internationally recognised Creative Commons model”. This is key to supporting new information initiatives such as the beta release of data.gov.uk also launched today to promote transparency, public service improvement and economic growth.”

We at CC are thrilled by this new development and congratulate the UK for this move. Though we are confident that this shift will increase the UK’s capacity to foster reuse, collaboration, and innovation in government and the world, we hope to see the UK as well as other governments move in the future towards even fuller openness and the preferred standard for open data via CC Zero, a tool that “enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright-protected content to waive copyright interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright.”

This would not have been possible without the hard work of Creative Commons teams in the UK, especially that of Dr. Prodromos Tsiavos, our CC England and Wales Legal Project Lead. Check out the press release, the PerSpectIves or data.gov.uk blog, and the Guardian article for more details.

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New Zealand Government Promoting Open Data

Michelle Thorne, September 8th, 2009

“There’s a trend going around the world for open data,” says Mark Harris, former manager of web standards at the New Zealand State Services Commission and co-organizer of Wellington’s recent Open Govt Data Barcamp and Hackfest.

He’s right, and New Zealand is certainly trailblazing. Last week, Creative Commons New Zealand reported that their national government released an open access and licensing framework draft (NZGOAL) for public feedback:

The framework will enable greater access to many public sector works by encouraging the New Zealand State Services agencies to license material for reuse on liberal terms, and recommends Creative Commons as an important tool in this process.

The release of NZGOAL is part of the Open Government Information and Data Re-use Project led by the State Services Commission. To get involved, join the official discussion page, contact CC New Zealand, or catch up with the Open Government Ninjas.

In other cool open gov news, New Zealand start-up Koordinates has become the online publication point for the Ministry for the Environment‘s Land Cover Database and the Land Environments New Zealand classification, released under CC BY.

Want to learn more?

Creative Commons curates a wiki listing of governmental license usage worldwide, plus a table on the public sector information laws in various jurisdictions and case studies from key government adopters. If you know of other examples, please help us document them by using the resources above or leaving a comment. Thank you!

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The American Graduation Initiative

Jane Park, July 15th, 2009

President Obama announced yesterday the American Graduation Initiative, a twelve billion dollar plan to reform U.S. community colleges. The initiative calls for five million additional community college graduates by 2020, and plans that “increase the effectiveness and impact of community colleges, raise graduation rates, modernize facilities, and create new online learning opportunities” to aid this goal.

A significant component of the initiative is the plan to “create a new online skills laboratory.” From the fact sheet,

“Online educational software has the potential to help students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone. Interactive software can tailor instruction to individual students like human tutors do, while simulations and multimedia software offer experiential learning. Online instruction can also be a powerful tool for extending learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs. New open online courses will create new routes for students to gain knowledge, skills and credentials. They will be developed by teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology and made available for modification, adaptation and sharing. The Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor will work together to make the courses freely available through one or more community colleges and the Defense Department’s distributed learning network, explore ways to award academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours, and rigorously evaluate the results.”

It is important to note here the difference between “open” and simply accessible “online”. Truly open resources for education are clearly designated as such with a standard license that allows not only access, but the freedoms to share, adapt, remix, or redistribute those resources. The educational materials that make up the new open online courses for this initiative should be open in this manner, especially since they will result from a government plan. We are excited about this initiative and hope the license for its educational materials will allow all of these freedoms. Catherine Casserly, formerly in charge of open educational resources at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (now at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), writes,

“Today at Macomb College, President Barack Obama announced a proposal to commit $50 million for the development of open online courses for community colleges as part of the American Graduation Initiative: Stronger American Skills through Community Colleges. As proposed, the courses will be freely available for use as is and for adaption as appropriate for targeted student populations. The materials will carry a Creative Commons license.”

You can read the official announcement at the White House site on their blog and visit the briefing room for the full fact sheet.

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NY State Senate Goes CC

Fred Benenson, June 29th, 2009

If you’re reading the Creative Commons blog, chances are you’re aware of the fact that the United States federal government is not entitled to copyright protection for their works. If you didn’t know this, check out the Wikipedia article on the subject, or some of our past blog posts on the subject. This means that federal works are essentially in the public domain.

What you may not know is that works of American states, in contrast to works of the federal government, are actually entitled to copyright protection under U.S. law. This creates the very awkward consequence of states automatically holding copyright in the very state laws, rules and court decisions that bind their citizens, not to mention other types of content created by its employees who are paid from public coffers filled in part by their taxpayers. CC is not alone (check out legendary archivist Carl Malamud and his public.resource.org project for more info) in believing that all such works should belong to the public and reside in the public domain.

Needless to say, we think this is an enormous opportunity for proper application of our legal tools to free up state works.

This is why its exciting to see the New York State Senate adopt a Creative Commons License for the content on their website. The photos and text of NYSenate.gov are now available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license, and 3rd party content, such as comments and user submitted photos are available under our Attribution license. Furthermore, the Senate has used our CC+ protocol to allow all other uses (even commercial ones and non-attribution ones) of the content so long as it is not for political fund raising purposes. In other words, if you’re not doing political fund raising you’re allowed to do whatever you want with the content.

While this is a somewhat novel approach to using our licenses, and indeed grants citizens rights to works they don’t currently have, it is only the first step. In the future, CC would love to see more states pushing their work into the public domain (and their policies into synchronicity with those of the federal government), for example by using our public domain waiver, CC0.

If you know of a state using CC licenses, add it to our wiki page on government uses of CC, or just let us know.

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Incentive Bill for 21st Century Skills

Jane Park, June 2nd, 2009

Last month, a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate recognized the fact that students learning today need to be taught the necessary skills to succeed in this century—an age of new media, the Internet, and ever evolving technologies. The bill, introduced by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, would “create a new incentive fund that will encourage States to adopt the 21st Century Skills Framework.” The fund would provide federal matches to those states that integrate the teaching of 21st century skills such as “creativity, innovation, critical thinking and financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy” into core curricula, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

eSchool News reports what Shelley Pasnik, “director of the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology,” has to say:

“The legislation goes beyond technology. It’s about implementing a framework for 21st-century learning,” she said. “It’s more promising this way. If it were just about technology purchases, it would be a missed opportunity.”

We couldn’t agree more. Giving a student a computer won’t teach him or her how to use one, but integrating activities that require the use of one will. More broadly, students will learn the relevant skills to succeed in the current day and future when core curriculum is revamped to include current day and future projects. Revamped curriculum and associated learning materials will also only achieve maximum impact if the resources are open for use and iteration. Opening up the resources makes the federal investment worthwhile, and is helpful for states that are slow in jumping on the bandwagon to catch up. It also gives extra incentive for high quality materials, as competition turns to collaboration between states.

You can read the full text of the proposed bill here.

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Open educational resources and implementation of the U.S. Recovery Act

Jane Park, April 29th, 2009

The U.S. Department of Education’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Using ARRA Funds to Drive School Reform and Improvement (warning: Microsoft Word .doc) mentions Open Educational Resources (emphasis added):

Use technology to improve teaching and learning. Purchase and train teachers to use instructional software, technology-enabled white boards, and other interactive technologies that have been shown to be effective aids for instruction, particularly for English language learners, students with disabilities, and both struggling and advanced learners. Use open education resources or purchase high-quality online courseware in core high school content areas.

This may seem like a very weak mention, but in context is a very important step forward for the legitimacy of the OER movement.

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Why Did the White House Choose Attribution and not Public Domain?

Fred Benenson, April 29th, 2009

obama_flickr
The microblogs have been a-buzz this morning about news of the launch of the official White House Flickr stream featuring photos from Obama’s first 100 days in office. While the photos are licensed under our Attribution license, one could make the very strong argument that they’re actually in the public domain and can be used without attribution (though one would have to be careful and respect the personality rights of the private citizens featured in some of the photos). The photos are likely in the public domain because they are works created by the federal government and not entitled to copyright protection. As you might recall, the Whitehouse.gov’s copyright notice indicates as much.

Why would the White House then choose Attribution for their Flickr stream? Simple, unlike communities like Wikipedia and Thingiverse, Flickr doesn’t allow their photographers to choose Public Domain as an option to release their work to the world. So the Obama team must have picked the next best option: Attribution only.

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The 3rd Party Content of Whitehouse.gov

Fred Benenson, March 25th, 2009

Whitehouse.govWhen Whitehouse.gov relaunched itself during Barack Obama’s inauguration it included a clause in its copyright policy mandating that all 3rd party content on the site be released under our Attribution license. Until yesterday, there wasn’t much third party content on the site. However, as of this writing, 13,785 people have submitted 16,561 questions and cast 508,450 votes in the site’s “Open For Questions” section. President Obama will answer some of these questions on Thursday morning in a special online town hall.

While the copyright status of each individual question may not seem significant, all of the questions taken in aggregate are of unquestionable value for current and future generations of journalists, historians and citizens. By placing this corpus under our most permissive license, the Obama Administration has secured that the public will always have access to this unprecedented part of American presidential history.

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