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blogging on blogging on #ukoer

The opinions expressed within this blog post are my own, and not those of my employer, or of projects or programmes I am responsible for. This post is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

For the purposes of future re-enactments of this post, I would like to confirm that all of the bloggers mentioned here were at all times dressed in the traditional blogger attire of red cape and goggles and that all posts linked to were (to the best of my knowledge) made from high-altitude hot air balloons.

Three people said to me yesterday that they were finding the current rush of ideological commentary on OER difficult or impossible to keep up with. So, I’m going to try to do an occasional series of these posts to help people keep up. I also note that blogging about blogging is inherently naff. So I’m cringing slightly as I write this.

I’d like to emphasise that it is not essential to follow any of the wider conversations around OER to be a part of OER as a movement. People release OER for all kinds of reasons, from a simple desire to give knowledge and education to the world, to a need to better market what their institution offers to students, to a will to destabilise the current structures of power around intellectual capital. What I love about OER is that it allows all of these reasons to co-exist, whilst still uniting everyone in a common cause of getting learning materials out there in some way that allows people to make use of them.

At the moment, there is a bit of an argument going on between David Wiley and Stephen Downes, both edublogging superstars of some renown. As I understand it, Downes sees Creative Commons as essentially a way of shoring up the idea of copyright and as potentially harmful to a longer term goal of reforming intellectual property. But Wiley is arguing that Creative Commons is a necessary fix to copyright, and enables us to be a lot of things that we could not otherwise do. And as every workaround to a system is a reason to re-examine the system, it is actually doing the copyright reform agenda a lot of good.

But then Joss Winn chips in (as a comment on Wiley’s post) to suggest that certain forms of Creative Commons do in fact shore up an existing system of the exploitation of intellectual capital. He prefers the “copyleft” (share-alike) licenses, and the public domain (CC0) licenses, as he feels these successfully negate the intrinsic capital value placed on intellectual and cultural works. What Winn wants (and I’m just inferring here, only Winn can say what he really wants… in fact I think he’d admit that he’s not worked it out yet) is a system where people are not valued solely for what they have produced or can produce – which would require the effective abolition of private property. To say that this is outside of the political mainstream is maybe to state the obvious… it’s certainly an attractive idea, but as a programme manager how can I help but think about process and implementation ;-)

It’s maybe useful for the slightly interested reader to think about where they stand as regard the purpose of Creative Commons licensing and what they (personally) hope to achieve by it. In Higher and Further Education, we do need to be wary of uncritical action, and this kind of reflection can be very useful. But there are always going to be people that disagree with your understanding, which is what makes this an (academically as well as practically) interesting field.

David Wiley (where does he find the time?) has also been arguing with Steve Carson, a key player in the OpenCourseWare Consortium and in MIT OCW (which, it could be argued, is the birthplace of the modern OER movement). Carson has been digging through a lot of qualitative data he has built up over the years around the benefits that academics and students involved in the use of OER, and has provided an interesting list of commonly observed benefits. Wiley’s point is that these benefits are not predicated on the “openness” of the materials, and the same benefits could have been realised (he argues) with the copyrighted release thus avoiding what he cites as the additional expense of preparing materials for open release.

Exercise for the reader – does Wiley contradict himself between his position defined against Downes and his position defined against Carson? Explain, with examples, your answer. (8 marks)

Now, within UKOER we can actually answer Wiley, by noting that we have found that the additional costs of open release only exist where we attempt to “open” existing materials. Where material is designed by academics with open release in mind, the release itself is trivial. And MIT (notably) has a model entirely based on the redevelopment of materials centrally by the institution rather than engaging academic staff with the openness agenda – which wouldn’t have even got you funded at UKOER phase 1. But what Wiley is doing is arguing as a way of advancing our understanding. As he says himself:

“Let me be clear: I don’t want OCW to be unsuccessful. I want openness and transparency to become absolutely ubiquitous throughout formal education. I’m not trying to tear down MIT OCW or any other OCW initiative (I’ve been involved in a couple myself). I’m just trying to be the little child who asks a naive question about the emperor’s new outfit: Why are we investing so much in the use of open licenses if open licenses don’t enable the benefits we care most about? And, If open licenses don’t enable the benefits we care most about, what benefits do they enable? Are those secondary benefits worth the very significant investment we’re making in them?”

So the questions he is raising here are, again, about the benefits of open release and our reasons for being involved in it. You’ll see this in a number of posts which are attempting to advance OER both as a self-aware movement and as an emerging academic field. And in many ways the question can never be answered with so many different reasons for being involved co-existing.

Is OER doing what you want it to do? That is the single question all of this discussion and political theorising is asking. And your answer to that is as valuable and as valid as anyone elses.