open education

CC Talks With: Curriki’s Christine Mytko: Open Education and Policy

Jane Park, August 5th, 2010

Photo by Christine Mytko / CC BY-NC

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 a new Education landing page and our 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. We recently had the chance to talk to Christine Mytko, who is advancing OER at the local levels through her work as a K-12 educator and the lead science reviewer at Curriki. As a teacher, Christine brings a unique perspective to the conversation around open education and policy, and gives us important insight into how teachers on the ground are thinking about copyright and using Creative Commons and OER.

You are a teacher and the lead science reviewer at Curriki, which is known as the “next generation wiki” for K-12 education. Can you briefly describe who you are, your current roles, and what led to them? What would you say is Curriki’s mission, and how is it helping teachers like yourself?

For most of my teaching career, I have been a middle school science teacher in public schools. When I moved to the Bay Area three years ago, I was fortunate to find a job that combines both of my passions –  science and technology. I currently serve as the K – 5 science specialist and middle school technology teacher at a small independent school in Berkeley, CA.

In 2007, I interviewed for part-time work at Curriki. Like many teachers, I was looking to supplement my income. What I found was a community of educators committed to creating, collaborating on, and sharing open-source materials. As part of the Curriki Review Team, I am responsible for reviewing submitted science materials and providing a public score and feedback for the contributor. I also help out with other projects as needed. Currently, I am working with another Bay Area Chemistry teacher to revise and submit an open source Chemistry digital textbook as part of the California Learning Resource Network’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative.

As stated on its main page, Curriki’s mission is to “provide free, high-quality curricula and education resources to teachers, students and parents around the world.”  Its name, somewhat recognizably, is a play on the words “curriculum” and “wiki.” The Curriki repository does have many curriculum options, from lesson plans to full courses, available in various subject areas, educational levels, and languages. Curriki offers other resources, too, including textbooks, multimedia, and opportunities for community and collaborative groups.

All Curriki content is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), planting it firmly in the OER space. Do you know why Curriki chose CC BY for all of its materials? If not, what do you see CC BY enabling that other licenses or “all-rights-reserved” content might not?

Contributors of Curriki content do have the option to select either public domain or a variety of CC licensing, but the default License Deed is CC-BY. I honestly don’t know specifically why Curriki chose this, but I must say it as an excellent decision. CC-BY gives educators the power to remix, share and distribute materials as needed to be timely and maximally relevant to their own curriculum.

The flexibility afforded by a CC-BY license allows for materials to be adapted quickly. I hear that a typical textbook revision works on a 7-year cycle. Curriki materials can be updated and “published” in a matter of seconds and the community can correct any content errors just as quickly. Many topics, especially in science and technology, are changing so quickly that education can no longer afford to wait for proprietary materials to go through their lengthy cycles of publication.

Currently, California and Texas are the biggest purchasers of traditional “all-rights reserved” textbooks, and publishers strive to meet these states’ requirements. Educators in other states (and countries) are forced to work within these proprietary constraints. However, OER [initiatives] such as Curriki allow teachers to freely adapt materials to best fit their pedagogical and cultural needs. Furthermore, by creating or uploading such materials onto a public repository, teachers will no longer need to work in isolation, continuously “re-inventing the wheel.”  As relevant materials are freely shared among communities of educators, individual time spent on adapting proprietary materials will decrease, allowing educators to spend more of their precious time on other important areas of teaching.

Describe a class- or school-wide project where you have integrated CC licensing and/or OER. What challenges have you or your students come across while searching for or using resources on the web? How would you translate this experience for teachers looking to mark up their own resources correctly for OER search and discovery? What do teachers need to know?

In my technology classes, I now require all incorporated media to be Creative Commons, Public Domain or No Copyright. At first, after having free rein in Google Images for years, my students felt very limited in their choices. But after discussing the reasons behind copyright and copyright alternatives, many students understood the importance of respecting rights reserved.

There are so many excellent resources to help teachers and students use Creative Commons in their classrooms. The Creative Commons search page, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr CC group, and Google Advanced Search all are wonderful tools for finding alternatively copyrighted images. Websites such as Jamendo are great for finding CC music.

The language was a challenge at first for my middle school students. Although there are only six main CC licenses, my students got bogged down with terms such as “Attribution” and “No Derivatives.”  It didn’t help that Google uses slightly different terminology (“reuse” and “reuse with modification”) in their license search filter. But the kids quickly became comfortable with the terms and procedures and, within a few class periods, they easily accessed and properly used “some rights reserved” media. Of course, I have the kids assign rights to their own work, which reinforces the licenses, and gives students the opportunity to think carefully about which rights are important to them.

As far as marking up my own resources for OER search and discovery, I am still learning about the process myself. In fact, prior to my work with Curriki, I was hesitant to “release” my work as open source. I had put so much time and effort into certain materials, I didn’t see the point of just giving them away on the Internet. However, the last few years, I have come to recognize the benefits of open source materials and have begun to post some of my formally guarded resources on Curriki as CC-BY; and I now freely share my new material. Now that I am more comfortable using and creating open source materials on my own and with my students, I hope to move on to work with other teachers.

What are the most common confusions or concerns of teachers when it comes to sharing their teaching materials? Do you think the average K-12 teacher is aware of open licensing alternatives, like Creative Commons? What are the various school or institutional policies for teachers sharing their materials?

I am certain that the average teacher is NOT aware of open licensing alternatives. In fact, many teachers I know still operate on the guiding principle of CASE – Copy And Steal Everything.  I don’t believe teachers are lazy or purposely deceitful for using materials in this way; anyone who has taught in a classroom knows how much there is to do in an incredibly short amount of time. Sometimes, copying an (often copyrighted) activity and tossing it in your colleague’s box is merely survival. Even those teachers who are aware of copyright will often claim “fair use.”  The problem is that teachers often overestimate their protections and privileges under fair use. And there is little training in copyright and fair use, let alone Creative Commons and OER. Not only is an average K – 12 teacher unaware of his or her responsibilities, he or she often does not know the rights and options available to him or her in sharing his or her own work.

There are a variety of roadblocks preventing teachers from sharing their own work. First of all, since creating curriculum takes so much time, many teachers are unwilling to share lessons because they feel the product belongs to them. Other teachers may feel that their work isn’t good enough to share. And even if teachers overcome these psychological blocks, there are still the technical issues revolving around how will they share their work as open source. None of the schools I have worked with had any sort of policies on, or time set aside for, sharing materials. In talking with my colleagues, they found a similar lack of school policy. Even in the rare case in which there was some sort of policy, teachers often selectively ignored it. Currently, most teachers do not have the access, training, and support necessary to confidently participate in the OER movement.

Curriki has been doing some work to tie their resources to state education standards ( Can you describe a little of that process to us? What are some of the benefits and challenges to including this information? How useful is it?

This work is not part of my professional duties at Curriki, however, I can speak to the process on a personal note as a teacher and Curriki member. Right now, when you visit a resource, you will see four tabs – Content, Information, Standards, and Comments. Choosing the Standards tab allows a user to view currently aligned standards, as well as gives the option to “Align to [additional] Standards.”  The process itself is very intuitive; the user clicks through a series of menus and applies standards as he or she deems appropriate.

The biggest benefit will certainly be the convenience of browsing for resources by standard through the aforementioned jump page. The biggest challenge is to align all of the existing and future resources in the repository. Curriki is depending largely on the community to gather momentum for this process. Right now, in its infancy, only about half of the states have standards-aligned resources to browse, and even those collections are far from complete across subject areas and educational levels. Of course, members of Curriki are always welcome to browse unaligned resources by subject, educational level, or other criteria by using Curriki’s Advanced Search.

There has been a lot of OER talk at the state and federal policy levels, especially surrounding open textbooks. What do you think is the future of the textbook for the K-12 classroom? How would you like to see this reflected in policy?

I, like many educators, feel that the reign of the textbook is coming to an end. As a science teacher, I have rarely depended on a textbook for curriculum, and rely more heavily on both online materials and self-created materials. OER allow me to take better advantage of creating and sharing work within a collaborative community. While science and technology lend themselves to early adoption of the open source philosophy, I believe other subjects will soon follow.

Textbooks will not be able to maintain their current stronghold in K–12 schools. A recent New York Times article points out that “[e]ven the traditional textbook publishers agree that the days of tweaking a few pages in a book just to sell a new edition are coming to an end.”  Textbooks are expensive and quickly become outdated. Printed errors are not correctable until the next edition comes out. In contrast, OER are inexpensive or free, constantly updated, and easily correctable. I would love to see the money saved by choosing inexpensive OER over pricey textbooks used for supplementary materials and teacher training. Or even better, districts can use that money to set aside release time and pay teachers to meet, collaborate and create OER content.

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

A successful learning environment is relevant, engaging, challenging, and flexible. OER material is current, as well as easily, and legally, adaptable to meet the needs of various learners. An OER community can provide a teacher with materials and support in meeting the needs of his or her particular student population. Resources that are freely shared end up saving others countless hours of redundant individual work and frees teachers from stagnating in a proprietary curriculum.

Schools are beginning to recognize the cost savings of abandoning the current textbook model, and I predict that publishers will adapt as the market demands of them. I hope that schools begin to recognize that teachers are a valuable resource and skilled professionals, and deserve to be compensated for their time spent developing curriculum. I hope districts begin to create policies and provide support to encourage teachers to share the materials they create.

Ideally, the classroom should be a place where students are not merely passive consumers of resources and media, but rather active collaborators, synthesizers and publishers of their own work. I hope that, from a young age, students will be held accountable for using others’ work in an appropriate way, and encouraged to share their own work as open source with some rights reserved, rather than falling back on the default of full copyright, or worse, not sharing at all. I want my students and colleagues to understand that, by sharing materials, they are contributing to a collection of materials that will benefit learners far beyond the walls of their own classroom. This is a significant shift in current educational philosophy, but sites like Curriki are a great step in facilitating a move in the right direction.


CC Talks With: ISKME’s Lisa Petrides: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 29th, 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 a new Education landing page and our 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. We recently got the chance to interview Lisa Petrides. Lisa is president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), an independent non-profit educational research institute located in Half Moon Bay, CA. Petrides also leads OER Commons, an open source teaching and learning network that supports and facilitates the creation, sharing, and modification of open educational resources (OER). We talked with Lisa about ongoing research that aims to measure the effectiveness of OER, the necessity for education about tools and services that enable the creation and sharing of educational materials, and the important work needed to link OER to content standards.

How is ISKME and OER Commons related to open education?

For the past eight years, ISKME’s research has focused on improving the practice of data use, information sharing, and knowledge collaboration in the education sector. The depth of our research is fed by applying what we have learned from on-the-ground educational initiatives that we have been engaged in. We have supported OER through three primary ways: first, in the development of a research agenda that has included studies on the creation, use, and re-use of OER in teaching and learning; second, in the creation of OER Commons, the most extensive curation of metadata on learning materials available, with over 350 content partners. We make our metadata available for services such as DiscoverEd, as well as the international OER consortium GLOBE. As such, OER Commons is not simply an aggregation of metadata through automated harvesting and RSS feeds. With smaller organizations, educational institutions and museums, we offer resources and training that enable content creators to establish and publish meaningful descriptive metadata themselves, allowing these learning materials to be more easily discovered and used by others. Lastly, ISKME offers professional development workshops and continuing education for teachers focused on innovative concepts and practices related to digital and social learning, and open education curriculum. We do this by integrating a range of collaborative practices using open-source learning content with a research-based pedagogy focused on participatory learning for K-20 teachers and learners.

At ISKME’s Big Ideas Fest this past December, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in his welcome remarks, “Online courses and open source materials are catching on fast, but we’ve made only limited investments in understanding which ones are most effective.” How do we determine which are most effective? From ISKME’s research perspective, what do we need to know about OER in order to make the case to policymakers?

Lisa Petrides / CC BY

Others have noted how interesting it is that we don’t ask the same questions about textbooks and other traditional forms of learning materials. For example, does any teacher actually know when they are given a textbook to use by their district or school, whether or not that books has been used to more effectively help students learn? That being said, the more we can learn about use and reuse of OER, the better we can help guide teachers, learners, and policymakers to high quality open education solutions that scale.

In this rather new field of OER, we have been looking at the processes and conditions by which open content can be adopted, used, and modified. For example, as researchers for the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative, we looked at how community colleges were able to identify, organize, and support the production and use of high quality, culturally relevant open textbooks for community college students. This involved looking at the process of open textbook creation and promotion, as well as the structures and processes needed to support it, not to mention ways in which to create replicable models that could be adapted to future OER initiatives.

From our research on resources that “travel well” conducted with our partners, European Schoolnet and BioQUEST, we found that subject and abstract were important considerations in determining whether a resource was viewed. However, in terms of actually deciding to use a resource, factors such as how current the resource was and whether or not it matched the learning level of their students were two important considerations. Additionally, knowing how previous instructors have used a given resource and whether or not trusted colleagues have also tried it and liked it was also a strong determinant of use.

Ultimately, we need to know what the impact is of open materials on teaching and learning. Yet it is important to remember that “effective” can be defined to include everything from the prohibitive cost of textbooks (as in the case of the PIRG study that showed textbooks were over 50% of the cost of community college students), to ease of use, to adoption, to the collaboration of teachers and instructors that fosters pedagogical innovation, and the creation of more dynamic and relevant resources from the perspective of today’s learner. 

OER Commons provides access to high quality OER content. Another goal is to “develop training and professional development models to support teachers and schools in effective uses of online content and to meet the demands of 21st century learning.” What are the hurdles for teachers and schools in using and creating OER?

Teachers do require new understanding, training, coaching, and support for all aspects involving the integration and sharing of digital and open learning content. One of the biggest hurdles is helping teachers make the shift from a consumer culture of educational resources, to one in which teachers gain leadership and support to adapt and develop resources for their own needs, and then share those resources with others. We work directly with teachers to engage with learning resources through processes that require collaboration and social learning, and that build expertise from within and from the bottom-up.

The use of OER is really a part of a shift happening in education that aims to support shared teacher expertise and peer-based learning. As such, free and open content is not only a new economic model for schools and students, but also a primary vehicle for disseminating more flexible, adaptable curricula that support learner-centric approaches.

Teachers face hurdles in terms of their experience in sharing their own lessons learned from the classroom and then venturing into online communities of practice and experimenting with new social networking environments, wikis, and other unfamiliar tools. Typically they also lack support for adding tags or other metadata to organize materials for their own use and then making resources more discoverable by others. In short, most online collections typically present static lists of resources created by experts, and they typically do not support teachers in evaluating education materials and aligning them to state standards, or in localizing materials to meet their pedagogical approach, classroom requirements, and student learning needs—all of which are necessary components for effective usage by teachers—the basic tenets of OER. Even in cases where technology adoption by teachers and digital resource quality is comparatively high, such as in the sciences—teacher practice, pedagogies, and supportive infrastructures may not yet be evolving to truly take advantage of the innovative potential of OER.

As customizable, remixable, shareable educational materials, what are some of the challenges with OER and K-12 educators in adhering to state education standards?

There are many of us working on the issue of linking open content to standards. There have been groups who have done this for years, such as the Achievement Standards Network, Teachers’ Domain, and Dolan DNA Learning Center, just to name a few. However, it has been complicated by the fact that state standards can change every two years or so, and that we have several different sets of state standards across the country. The Common Core State Standards Initiative certainly holds promise. Ultimately, it is just a matter of technology that can enable the mapping and crosswalking of standards to learning resources. This really isn’t that difficult. It just needs to be done. And if we can do this, then we have transparent ways of ensuring that standards met do in fact lead to better learning outcomes.

How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the OER movement? How can CC help?

I think the role of Creative Commons is more important than ever within the OER movement. We need to continue to raise awareness about issues of copyright through workshops and online materials as part of the professional development of teachers. For example, in our workshops with teachers as well as through our research, perhaps not surprisingly, teachers search the Internet for materials and are happy to find any high quality materials that are easy to use. Yet like many people who use the Internet, they don’t necessarily take copyright into consideration. This behavior in the digital world is really the same as the paper-based world. Have you ever seen, or been a teacher who, in our under-resourced education system, flips through books looking for great examples or exercises for their students, and simply photocopies selective pages to use? This is what we see online.

Creative Commons is certainly among the best solutions to this dilemma, but is not yet widely known in the education community. As we know, within Creative Commons, creators of content can stipulate the conditions of use through a set of options that unpack the “all rights reserved” as we know it, into simple pieces, but the process of thinking about intellectual property for most educators is far from simple. In a perfect world, your average teacher or educator should not have to master a combination of six licenses and use cases, but instead be able to easily use and remix content with conditions of use as a seamless conduit. There is still much work to be done at the system level as well, in terms of working with schools, districts, colleges and universities, to encourage the open and free use of materials, particularly in our public institutions—where our public tax dollars have already paid for these materials many times over.

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, or predictions?

That is certainly a most exciting question! I think it’s really about the unbundling of the education system as we know it. It is about open and free access to all knowledge for all people, it is about peer-to-peer learning, alternative certification, and dynamic resources that can be adapted for use in a myriad of contexts. That is the promise and power of OER.  One lingering thought is how we can reallocate a portion of public tax-payer dollars from a $6-8 billion textbook market annually to support the OER ecosystem. Or will educators and administrators be convinced by those who want to position OER as some rogue movement and be scared away from collaboration and reuse? Yet, from the news media to the recording industry, there has been a leveling of resources that needs to happen. And if you really believe that education is a public good, or even a human right, then we must do more to ensure access for all.

Comments Off on ISKME’s Lisa Petrides: Open Education and Policy

Mozilla and the P2PU School of Webcraft

Jane Park, June 29th, 2010

In September, Mozilla and P2PU are launching the P2PU School of Webcraft, and they invite you to participate. The partnership leverages Mozilla’s experience and the P2PU community to create a social learning environment for those who want to “learn the craft of open and standards-based web development.” The P2PU School of Webcraft is a set of courses centered on the open web, including “Introduction to HTML5” and “Building Social with the Open Web.” From the call for proposals,

Following on the delivery model developed by P2PU, course organizers volunteer to take existing open learning materials or develop their own content and lead a group of peers through 6 weeks of online classes. Courses focus on project based learning in a peer environment and are proposed, created and led by members of the web development community – so the content will always be up to date with the latest technologies.

We’d love for you to become a part of this project and until July 18 we’re inviting course proposals for P2PU School of Webcraft. We’ve made it really easy to get started, just fill out the proposal form, it takes less than 5 minutes!

The school is completely free and open, with all P2PU produced material licensed under CC BY-SA—which means anyone can build on the courses and run their own. But anyone can also get involved with P2PU by proposing a course or participating in one, or just learning more. You can also check out the School of Webcraft in 103 seconds.

Comments Off on Mozilla and the P2PU School of Webcraft

CC Talks With: Cathy Casserly: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 4th, 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 a new Education landing page and our 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. As such, we recently caught up with Cathy Casserly. Cathy is the Vice President for Innovation and Open Networks and Senior Partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Cathy is also a member of the board of directors at Creative Commons and a longtime leader, strategist and advocate of OER. In our interview with Cathy, we discussed sustainability, challenges to integrating OER in education reform, and the infrastructure role of Creative Commons.

Q: You used to be Director of the Open Educational Resources Initiative at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Hewlett has been a huge supporter of OER over the years. How do we expand interest in OER and open education to a broader set of funders? Perhaps more importantly, how can OER initiatives within institutions transition to becoming more sustainable? What do you see as the role of government in OER?

From the funder perspective, we need to continually educate funders to help them understand that openness will aid in their core mission–which is typically to spur innovation and disseminate the knowledge developed within the projects they fund. Oftentimes that knowledge sits within the foundation, or with the program officer, and we don’t have a very reliable system to distribute it to a broader audience. As a result, there’s a lot of that knowledge goes untapped. When foundations begin to use Creative Commons licenses, and to begin to practice openness and transparency to disseminate the knowledge from within the foundation, we’ll see a multiplier effect in the reach and impact of that investment. At this point, some foundations just don’t understand that. Part of what we need to do is to help more foundations understand the role of Creative Commons and the potential for open licensing to add value to their core missions. Foundations can get their feet wet by implementing open licensing on a part of their portfolio they feel comfortable with, and extend this practice to a broader percentage later on.

Cathy Casserly by Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching

Sustainability has always been a core issue. At Carnegie, we’re trying to design for sustainability and openness from the beginning. Ultimately, for a project to scale in the long term, it has to become self-sustaining in some way. We have some core funding from the Carnegie Foundation itself, and we’re securing funding from outside funders, but this won’t last forever. There will be a point in time where need to figure it out on our own. And, it can be difficult to add sustainability afterward. Today, many more organizations are much more aggressive and thoughtful in thinking about issues of sustainability. In the early days of the OER movement, we were thinking about sustainability, but as a first step we really didn’t know if or how people would use the content. We had a chicken and egg problem because we needed to find out if there was really a thirst for this content. We wanted to know whether people would use it, repurpose it, and reshare it. We’ve heard a resounding “yes” to those questions. But, the OER community is relatively young, and with any new space, some of the issues are tricky to figure out–we’re still trying to understand it.

In terms of government support for open education, I think the government obviously leads the way, certainly in investing a huge amount of public dollars in education. Some of this investment includes many types of materials and learning assets that could be created for less cost, while maintaining the same–if not higher–standards of quality. These open resources would have the added benefit of allowing iteration and continued improvement on them. The federal government, state governments too, are beginning to understand that making investments in educational materials without erecting the traditional boundaries around them is sound practice. By making content systems more permeable, such as by releasing educational resources under Creative Commons licenses, governments empower educators to build on these resources again, so they don’t have to start from scratch. We see this in the open textbook space. Right now, it’s difficult in that the market is shifting, and the publishing industry is fighting. But, at some point we have to realize that we have a new distribution system with the web, and we don’t have to resort to some of the same old models for updating and improving materials. Also, we have a data backend now such that we can begin connect students to materials and learning tools that are complimentary to their needs as an individual learner, whether it be a video, a game, or an ongoing assessment. There are powerful tools we can harness via the web. It’s imperative we do this, and that the government invests in this area too.

Q: In Opening Up Education, you wrote, “the most important obstacles to rapid innovation are not technical…[t]hey have to do with the customs, standard practices, and vested interests of people in the universities and schools and within the markets, such as publishing, that may be forced to change as OER strategies gain more traction.” Since many of the challenges to incorporating OER are social (changing perceptions and practices of teachers and learners) and institutional (traditional school systems are slow to change and risk-averse), how do we approach this set of problems in an effective and scalable way?

In K-12, it’s well recognized that we have a big chasm now between what students do in school and what they do outside of school. Outside of school, students find information, interact with friends, and engage with the world in ways that are very technology-centric. In schools, it looks very much like it did in the 1950s. This is not surprising, because large systems tend to be very inert, so the structural education systems are very inert. Our education systems are not structured to look for innovation, and there needs to be something that is pushing on these systems to get them to integrate innovative ideas. There are pockets of innovation in the K-12 sector, but they’re on the edges. John Seely Brown has talked about the edge influencing and re-shaping the core, and this is beginning to happen within education systems.

In new markets utilizing new technologies, we can disaggregate and unbundle the commoditization of higher education, which has traditionally revolved around the intersection of the tutor (the teacher), the knowledge base (the content or other educational curriculum), and the assessment (the means to certify the knowledge that exists). Emerging models like the University of Phoenix, Kaplan, and other online groups have begun to challenge the incumbent system. We realize that many individuals can’t take the time to enroll in a four-year program at a university, or want to have flexible learning anywhere at any time. The system that we have now was structured for a good reason, it’s existed for a very good reason, and it’s been very resistant to change. When there’s pressure on these longstanding institutions, new organizations will pop up, and will begin to pull some of the education market their way because students realize they’re not being served as best as they could, or because they need more alternatives to a traditional degree, or because there’s more demand than there are spaces, allowing breathing room for alternatives to deal with the supply.

Q: How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the OER movement? How can CC help?

Creative Commons is the foundation for open education. Without flexible licensing there’s no way to determine which materials are shareable, adaptable, reusable, and localizable. Creative Commons is absolutely an incredible asset and core to the work of open education. It’s critically important that we get a broader group of people understanding the need to adopt Creative Commons licenses. A lot of educators and creators in the education space are creating different types of content and curriculum and want to share them. They think that other people can just pick them up and take them, but they don’t realize they’re most likely locked up under copyright. Teachers go into education because they believe in it, they want to share knowledge, and they like the idea of playing around with other ways of teaching. From individual conversations I’ve had with faculty at MIT, Yale, Harvard, and other universities, the ability for them to have their resources widely shared through open courses/courseware has been an incredibly affirming aspect to why they became an educator in the first place. We really haven’t tapped the depths of this volunteerism yet. What’s encouraging is that students who are now going through our schools of education are digital natives. They’ve grown up in a very different way, and it’s just a matter of time until they create so much pressure on the existing system that it will have to shift. What I’d like to see is that the system be very thoughtful about shifting, so it can serve students well, and equally.

Q: In our interview with the Virginia Department of Education, the respondents reiterated that OER is one component of comprehensive education reform, and that we have to think systematically in the incorporation of OER for it to be implemented into the education system. What are some of the things that OER producers (like open textbook providers) and infrastructure providers (like CC) should keep in mind in order to mesh OER in a smart and effective manner?

OER can’t be a siloed reform effort; it has to become a part of the larger system. The Holy Grail is integrating OER with student assessments, and setting up systems to feed back loops so we can understand how students are learning and what is needed to improve. In this way, we can begin to connect students with the best lessons for them at the right time, and organize individuals into smaller groups to work through different topics–for instance, I might be faster in grasping physics, whereas you might be better in math. We don’t really have a way to differentiate instruction right now, and we won’t really be able to until we have more of an individual assessment system. Such a system can take advantage of the underlying power of technology and openness. We know that courses that use this kind of embedded assessment scaffolds the student’s learning in a very structured way, and the learning outcomes–as best as we can measure them–far surpass courses taught using traditional methods. We need to scale these innovative assessment tools and materials in a systematic way. We need to figure out how to integrate face-to-face teaching and online tools and resources so that we can create better learning communities that pull from the best parts of both worlds.

Q: 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, or predictions?

I think that in the next decade we’ll see a significant shift–online communities will become part of accepted hybrid models for learning. These models will blend what teachers and those with expert knowledge can best contribute to help teaching and learning, scaffold learning for individuals, and utilize the best of what we can harness with technology and the web so students can learn in interesting, animated, and engaging ways. We need to begin to understand and differentiate content, learning styles and education processes to works for individual students based on that student’s prior cognitive and non-cognitive skills. There’s a huge untapped white space in better integrating OER, and we need to think about how to blend the efficiency and effectiveness of open materials.

Comments Off on Cathy Casserly: Open Education and Policy

Choosing An Open License – the P2PU Experience

Jane Park, May 25th, 2010

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to choosing a CC license. The factors are different for everyone, whether you’re an individual creator or an institution. Usually, the decision is made and the process by which it was made fades into memory or only remains via word of mouth or blog posts. The Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) didn’t want this to happen so they decided to document their process when the community held its first workshop in Berlin. A Guide to CHOOSING AN OPEN LICENCE: The Peer 2 Peer University Experience is the result of their efforts. From the announcement:

P2PU has always been committed to openness in everything we do, from the way we run our activities, to how we licence the materials we produce. However, as many people who have worked in the Open Educational space will attest, choosing the right kind of licence, one that provides both the protections and the freedoms that a project like P2PU may require, can be a tricky process…

As we went through the process, we also realised that our experiences may be useful for other people who are undergoing a similar exercises. So we decided to document what we did, and why, and how it turned out. And today, we are proud to announce the publication of our Guide to Choosing an Open Licence (with a CC licence, of course!) In this document, you’ll find details of every step we took to choose our licence, and a range of opinions from several open educators, lawyers and practitioners which we found invaluable.

The P2PU experience is only one of many, and it is not necessarily the process or the license that everyone should choose. It is simply one example of a process that worked for a diverse community of people with various viewpoints. In the end, they chose CC BY-SA (with the allowance of CC BY for when content is entirely funded by a third party). The document is thorough, objective, helpful, and not very long–so make sure to check it out, especially if you’re wondering how to go about choosing a CC license for your own project. (The document itself is available via CC BY-SA).

Comments Off on Choosing An Open License – the P2PU Experience

Phase 2 Results of the CA Free Digital Textbook Initiative

Jane Park, May 3rd, 2010

Last Friday, Governor Schwarzenegger announced the results from Phase 2 of the California Free Digital Textbook Initiative. A total of 17 textbooks, including updated versions from Phase 1, were submitted, and 15 have so far been reviewed against California’s academic content standards. Of those fifteen, ten carry a CC license (CC BY-SA or CC BY), two carry a GNU FDL license, and one is in the public domain. All but two of the CC licensed textbooks met 100% of California’s state standards. Major contributors included a number of individuals, in addition to the CK-12 Foundation and Connexions, two OER organizations that have a default CC license (CC BY-SA and CC BY, respectively) on their educational resources.

According to the press release, “Students and teachers have the flexibility to use these resources in a number of ways. They are downloadable and can be projected on a screen or viewed on a computer or hand-held device. They can also be printed chapter by chapter and bound for use in the classroom and be taken home by students.”

This is true for the CC BY and CC BY-SA licensed textbooks, as these licenses allow not only reuse and reproduction, but adaptation, which allows one to edit, improve, remix, or translate the resource.

For the complete results of Phase 2 and the draft report, visit the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) website.

1 Comment »

CC Talks With: Karen Fasimpaur: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, April 29th, 2010

Karen Fasimpaur
Karen Fasimpaur by Ali Shute / CC BY

One venue for the advancement of Open Educational Resources (OER) is through policy change at the local, state, federal, and international levels. In addition to a new Education landing page and an OER portal that explains Creative Commons’ role as the legal and technical infrastructure behind OER, CC has been conducting a series of interviews to help clarify some of the challenges and opportunities of OER in today’s education landscape. We caught up with Karen Fasimpaur, a blogger, author, creator of the Kids Open Dictionary, and co-founder of K12 Open Ed.

You run a small educational technology company. Can you briefly explain your business and how it relates to OER? Can you describe your past work and how it’s lead to what you’re doing now?

For almost 10 years, our company, K12 Handhelds, has worked with schools to integrate mobile technology into the curriculum. That work includes professional development, curriculum development, and coaching and mentoring to help facilitate differentiation of instruction, which is a key to reversing the engagement and achievement gaps that challenge our schools today. In the course of that work, I discovered open resources as a solution to several issues. The biggest was that in trying to customize curriculum resources (textbooks, etc.) for use on mobile devices and use with a variety of learners, we have always had difficulty with traditional proprietary content. In some cases, publishers wouldn’t extend rights for us to do this for schools. In other cases, when we were allowed to do this, the technical work required was expensive and time consuming due to proprietary formats. OER has been a great solution to this.

In addition, we work with teachers and students to create multimedia products, such as podcasts, web sites, multimedia book reports, etc. I always try to make sure students (and teachers) understand copyright and what is legal to use and what is not. Before open resources, it was a challenge to find resources that students could use legally, especially when they want to publish to the Internet. Now, with so much great content licensed under CC and other open licenses, the sky’s the limit. Students love using this content and learning about copyright and open resources.

Beyond that, I have come to really appreciate the philosophy of OER. The K-12 education community is naturally inclined to share, so OER really makes sense in so many ways.

You’ve written extensively on your blog about the potential for cost savings with OER. A lot of policymakers and champions of “open” rely on a cost-savings argument–not surprising, given the state of the economy over the past few years. Can OER save money and how should this be situated within the larger case for OER?

I do think that OER can help cut costs, though OER is certainly not “free” in the sense of not costing anything to develop. Particularly in K-12, where many high quality OER are developed by highly specialized content experts (much like traditional textbooks), there is a cost to do so. Where OER can save cost though is through cost sharing, electronic distribution, and better leveraging of resources. With the current state budget crises, many federal and state policymakers are looking to OER as a partial solution to funding challenges. In particular, I believe that all publicly funded materials development should require an open license – that just makes good sense in terms of use of public funds.

Perhaps, even more importantly in K-12, reform of the traditional core curriculum adoption and purchasing systems, can result in cost savings to schools. Doing things like unbundling textbook and ancillary purchases, allowing flexibility in how instructional materials funds are spent, and encouraging more collaborative participation in the development process are all important.

The most important thing about OER is not that it saves money in the short term, but that it is beneficial to learning by allowing more customization and differentiation. Ultimately, that will also save money by allowing schools to spend funds on the content and services that best serve their students and by improving student engagement and achievement.

A substantial concern around supporting open educational resources is the impression that the OER model, which releases content for free under an open license, will turn the traditional commercial publishing model on its head, especially within the textbook industry. At the same time, startups like Flat World Knowledge have demonstrated viable business models around OER, and that could benefit digital textbook adoption initiatives. How can we encourage new business models around OER, and what is the future of the publishing industry?

The traditional publishing industry has been struggling over the last few years and, like most of our world, is facing change. The industry needs to be more responsive to customer needs and to help facilitate more flexibility in how schools provide instructional materials. Open educational resources is one of they many factors that will likely help bring this about.

Having worked in both commercial textbook and software publishing myself, I understand the business challenges and believe that there are exciting new business models around OER. In particular, income can be generated around customization services, professional development, and premium add-ons. This not only gives publishers a sustainable profit model, but it allows schools to shift spending from expensive, proprietary textbooks to customized services packages in order to improve learning.

There will always be a role for the commercial publishing industry, and I hope that there will be more conversations with the OER community to find ways we can collaborate for the benefit of teachers and learners.

There is much discussion around what “open” means, and sometimes related terms are used, such as free/freely available/open source/digital/online. How do you feel about these differences in terminology, and what do you think is the best path forward for the OER movement?

The discussion of what “open” means can sound like tiresome semantics, but it is really important. To me, “open” means that materials can be used, adapted, and redistributed freely by anyone. “Open” does not mean simply free or digital. There are many educational resources that are free and digital, but proprietary, and those resources don’t have the instructional benefits of OER.

The OER movement would be well-served by getting this message out to educators. In presenting to groups of educators across the country, I find that it is an easy message for people to understand and that it is very well received by policymakers, administrators, and teachers, but unfortunately are not familiar with OER right now.

How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the OER movement? How can CC help?

Creative Commons has been a tremendous leader and mover in the OER movement. Without the simple-to-understand CC licenses and all the great open content that CC has helped make available to the world, OER wouldn’t be as strong as it is. In the future, Creative Commons can continue to help by getting the word out about open content and CC licenses to encourage more and more people to use these resources and to license their own work that way.

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?

Successful teaching and learning, with or without OER, includes differentiated learning opportunities, high engagement, and active participatory environments. While OER is not necessary to these, they certainly greatly facilitate this kind of environment. I believe that OER can really drive a powerful new model of learning. My worries for the future of OER are that the powerful commercial publishing lobby will fight OER adoption and that the word will be slow to get out to teachers about the power of this tool set. My hopes are that every teacher and learner will experience the power of differentiated instruction and see how OER can help enliven their learning experience. My predictions are that OER will change traditional publishing models; that printed, static textbooks will be a thing of the past relatively soon; and that change will be the only constant.

1 Comment »

OpenCourseWare economics in the New York Times

Mike Linksvayer, March 31st, 2010

In As Colleges Make Courses Available Free Online, Others Cash In the New York Times writes about how universities are funding OpenCourseWare programs as well as how businesses have sprung up around CC licensed Open Educational Resources (OER) from such programs. Regarding the latter, our CEO is quoted:

On a philosophical level, the idea of making money from something available free might seem questionable. But Joi Ito, chief executive of Creative Commons, which issues the licenses defining user rights to most OpenCourseWare materials, supports the mixing of free and for-profit: “I think there’s a great deal of commercial infrastructure that needs to be created in order for this to be successful,” Mr. Ito said: “It can’t all just be free.”

As readers steeped in knowledge of free culture/open content (and before it free and open source software) will recognize, this means three things.

First, sharing does not preclude making money. To the contrary, artists have long been making CC licensing part of their business strategies, and recently some OER creators and companies are following suit. Examples include WikiPremed, Flat World Knowledge, and Bloomsbury Academic. See Eric Frank explain how Flat World Knowledge gives away CC licensed open textbooks and profits from print materials and services rendered around the content in a video just uploaded from CC Salon NYC.

Second, there needs to be an ecosystem built around open materials, and businesses are an important part of that ecosystem. In the OER space the article mentions Academic Earth. Consider the many businesses providing services around CC licensed materials more broadly (e.g., Flickr, and Fotopedia, which leverages CC licensed works from both Flickr and Wikipedia) and the legion of businesses build around free software (e.g., Red Hat). Consider how huge education is. The opportunity and need for businesses that provide distribution, curation, and a plethora of other services around OER are huge.

Third, free can refer to price and freedom. Businesses, universities, and others can charge a price for access or services around OER. The ecosystem works due to the freedoms that have been granted to use and build upon OER.

The article also mentions the values of OER, one of which is to “[create] an incentive for universities to improve themselves.” It quotes Cathy Casserly, who recently joined the Creative Commons board of directors:

“I think that by putting some of the spectacular professors, and putting their approaches and pedagogical instructional strategies that they use with their students in front of the world, it sets a new benchmark for all of us to learn from,” she said. “And I think that’s actually one of the incredible powers of this open educational resource.”

Comments Off on OpenCourseWare economics in the New York Times

Livestream of TEDxNYED this Saturday

Jane Park, March 1st, 2010


The event I blogged about in December, TEDxNYED, is happening this Saturday, March 6, in New York City. TEDxNYED is “an all-day conference dedicated to examining the intersection of education, new media, and technology.” For those of you who can’t attend, the conference will be livestreamed from 10am EST to 6pm EST at

The speaker line-up includes our own Larry Lessig (founder and board member of CC), Michael Wesch (a cultural anthropologist who created those awesome YouTube videos like “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us”), Neeru Khosla (Co-founder of the CK12 Foundation that submitted seven open textbooks to California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative), and David Wiley (big thinker in open education and associate professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at BYU).

Along with Whipple Hill and others, Creative Commons is one of TEDxNYED’s sponsors, and we will be hosting a table at the event to network with conference attendees.

All TED Talks are licensed CC BY-NC-ND.

Comments Off on Livestream of TEDxNYED this Saturday

Flat World Knowledge Launches Open Textbook Internship Program

Jane Park, February 23rd, 2010

Flat World Knowledge, a commercial textbook publisher who uses CC licenses, aims to transform the way professors and college campuses think about textbooks through a new internship program for students. They asked for applicants last year, and launched the program last week with 19 students from colleges like New York University, Ohio State University, Auburn University, Indiana University, University of Denver, University of Florida and the College of Charleston. From eSchool News,

“The internships, introduced this year by open textbook provider Flat World Knowledge, let sophomore and junior business students earn college credit and a little spending cash if their sales pitch convinces a professor to use web-based texts that can be reorganized and modified by chapter, sentence, or word…

The company has grown in the past year as the open-content movement has gained traction in higher education, buttressed by the Creative Commons license [CC BY-NC-SA]—which doesn’t require permission from authors to change parts of a book—and the rising cost of textbooks.”

The press release states FWK’s intent to change “the college textbook market” by “taking a counter approach to the usual adversarial relationship between textbook publishers and college students.” By using CC licenses, Flat World Knowledge is exploring a business model that builds on open content by offering free digital textbooks via CC BY-NC-SA, but charging for the prints and supplementary materials. Their textbooks have been used at over 400 colleges, and they received $8 million in investments last year.

For more on Flat World Knowledge, swing by CC Salon NYC on March 3 where Eric Frank, the company’s founder and Chief Marketing Officer, will be talking in depth about what they do. If you’re not in the area, stay tuned for some Flip camera action, which I’ll link to here after the event.

1 Comment »

previous pagenext page