Yesterday, Trudi van Wyk, who I respect and like a great deal, posted on facebook about the OER contress, and a link to http://oercongress.weebly.com/
I commented, "Please can we try to get it right, and find a way to clean up the mess we are currently in, and getting dug deeper and deeper into."
Someone else then asked "Do you care to elaborate, Derek?" so I pointed her to yesterday's blog post, in which my anger at the so-called OER nonsense was a bit naked. And I am angry at the corruption of something good, and the turning of it into a disaster for education.
In protest against the blind and foolish use the NC restriction in so many #OER, I have changed my default CC license from BY-SA to BY. If you want to know the biggest reason for the mess, the use of NC is quite high among them. The blind dumping of tonnes of institutional garbage with NC restriction does absolutely nothing for the cause. If we did that with software, there would be no Free Software (open source) in the world today. NC is killing everything that some of us tried to pioneer, and turning it into a competition to see who can claim the that they have dumped the most garbage in the pit.
I have no idea why people believe that the contribution of commercial entities to education would be a bad thing. Maybe they don't believe that at all, maybe - because they have never actually done free and open sharing before in the way that those of us who do software have - just maybe, they are being misled. Maybe even the KhanAcademy, whose negative impact on educational sharing is greater than anyone elses, is just misled.
But for sure, if we are going to have more and more institutions and governments contributing to OER, maybe it is time to put some values back into the movement. Removing the NC restriction would be one way to regain the values that the OER movement has lost. Mentioning it, educating people about its dangers, having explicit guidelines, those are all things that could be done to regain some sanity. Right now, the OER movement has, in my opinion, lost its way and dropped the most important educational values.
Anyway, from here on, this post all my photos, presentations, educational content, videos, etc will have a BY license. I believe in sharing. Do you?
I have been doing open educational resources (or Free and Open Educational Resources) since long before there was a name for it, even before David Wiley coined the term open content. Since Creative Commons came along, I have produced everything I have written, recorded or photographed with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike or just Atribution license. This is the license that is most like the GNU GPL that I use for software. My photos alone have seen hundreds of thousands of uses, and I have enjoyed seeing them used.
But when I look for so-called open educational resources these days, mostly I don't find any that I can use. There are three reasons for this scarcity of useful FOER:
I am not sure how many original images of DNA molecules there are, but the molecule must have been drawn or modeled at least 10 000 times, but most of the drawings that are available under free licenses are inferior to terrible. If only that energy could have gone into creating a decent rendering of the molecule in an open application such as blender, and if only the source for that molecule was available. It would be so much more useful than 10 000 crummy illustrations, most with a NC restriction, as if someone was likely to make commercial use of such junk.
The reason for this lamentable state of affairs is the fact that there is almost no real community in the open educational resources arena, and unlike software, junk doesn't simply not work. A while back, I wrote a paper about how communities of people with knowledge could come together and create educational resources, modeled on software creation, but this kind of community is rare. Probably part of the reason for this is someone can release crap and feel good about it, and even get millions of dollars of donor funding to produce YARDM (Yet Another Ridiculous DNA Molecule) and the like.
It has become fashionable to use what I call the evil NonCommercial restriction to remove true freedom from educational content resources. If software developers were as dumb as content authors in the use of this restriction, we would have no Free Software today, there would be no 'open source', no GNU/Linux, no Android, none of that stuff. Oddly, people who author content seem to believe that preventing commercial players from benefiting education is a good thing. Duh!
I have talked to well over a thousand people now who have used the NC restriction, and only one of them used it correctly, and that was Larry Lessig. One of the biggest and nastiest syndicates involved in using the NC restriction is the Khan academy, which gets substantial amounts of money to flout educational freedom as if it didn't matter. The Khan academy represents the purest form of evil in this space, becasue their content is actually mostly not too bad. People who care should really buoycott Sal Khan's growing evil empire before it chows even more money producing its contaminated shareware. The Khan academy really pisses me off because they market their evil so well, partly becasuse it is good stuff. But being good stuff does not make it right stuff. And there are lots of others, the world seems to be full misguided well meaning people these days.
Another notable absence with open educational resources is the absence of the equivalent of the source code. Without the source of the content, whether it is images, videos with animations, or just plain text, without the source code there is no open educational resource that is equivalent to Free or open source software. It simply does not exist.
Let me repeat that. Without the rawest possible source files, open educational resources that are open and free in the same way as software DO NOT EXIST.
It doesn't have to be that way. KhanAcademy and its ilk could choose to make their raw materials available, and choose to use a free license. They lose nothing in doing so, but they map the way for true freedom in educational resources. Beeing popular and attracting donor funds that could potentially have funded content that is more free carries with it an awesome responsibility. Instead of using that responsibility wisely, they bask in the glory of the moment and further lead the OER field down entirely the wrong path.
The (Free and) Open Educational Resrources movement needs to wake up to these three problems, and do something about them. Otherwise, admit that you are just making shareware, and that genuine educational freedom is not important, the future is not important. Maybe it is not. But it saddens me. I had hoped for more. I still do.
It is no secret that I think that the vast majority of people involved in so-called open educational resources don't think about the big picture, they just jump on the metaphorical bandwagon, and the future be damned. My biggest gripe is the widespread misuse of the Creative Commons NonCommercial (NC) restriction in licenses, and I have published on this in the literature as well as in numerous blog posts. The NC restriction has a legitimate purpose, but most uses of it do not conform to that legitimate purpose.
When Free Software, and its weaker cousin Open Source, came on the scene there was quite a lot of emphasis placed on encouraging commercial contributions. When it comes to software, therefore, there is no equivalent to the NC restriction. Software people were quick to recognize that the long term success of their movements (Free and Open Source) and private sector CONTRIBUTION was encouraged. Of course, the flip side of 'contribution' is USE. Oh duh!
In part, term Open Source, which removed the ambiguous (in English) word “free” from the terminology, led to the largely meaningless and undefinable term “Open” Educational Resources, which grew out of David Wiley's pioneering work on Open Content, MIT's Open Courseware (OCW), and UNESCO's desire not to be left out of an emerging powerful trend.
Unlike with software, a lot of the development of OER has been fostered by donor funding to large institutions with powerful brands and intellectual gravity. This has resulted in the notion of funding 'mana from heaven' production to feed the intellectually hungry and mentally starving masses of the developing world. There may have been some in those institutions who believed this lie, apparently the donors did, but mostly the origin of OERs in the OCW world was about enhancing already brands. And if you look at he position of MIT on the Webometrics world rankings this has been successful despite the pretty poor quality of the 'mana from MIT'.
But the usurping of a good idea for other purposes, and the emphasis on a 'mana from heaven' approach has meant that the focus of OER is on USE, and not on CONTRIBUTION and community as it always has been with Free and Open Source Software. It is this focus on USE, with little consideration or mention of potential contributions that has created the widespread and mostly mindless use of the NC restriction in OERs. This, coupled with the apparent lack of intellectual capacity in MIT academics has been a key driver of NC.
Software and educational content are both products of the human mind, and in fact software is content. There is no fundamental differences between software and other kinds of mental output, other than the fact that bad software won't run but bad content can take over the world if the brand behind it is strong enough. The reason for the success of Free and Open Source Software, however, is precisely because of the fact that it encourages commercial entities to contribute. Focusing on use would be a mistake, as the visionary founder of the movement, Richard Stallman recognised in creating the GNU General Public License.
The emphasis on contribution has meant that companies large and small have been able to contribute input to software. Currently, about three quarters of the Linux code is written by developers who are employed by commercial institutions. IBM has invested about a billion dollars in Linux. Red Hat recently became the first billion dollar FOSS company, and the system that I am using to edit this post has benefited enormously from their contribution. The fact that they also use the software is irrelevant, it is their contribution that matters. Companies that realise revenue from creating and editing bitmap images have contributed to the GIMP, the package that I use for all my graphics editing. Sun Microsystems created Java, and the OpenOffice suite that was forked into LibreOffice and which I used to edit this blog post. It is not just large companies that have contributed to software, my own small company has used a number of packages and libraries, and produced our own framework a nd set of tools. In using other software in our applications, we have found and fixed bugs and contributed them back to the source of those packages.
In short, the billions of dollars that have been contributed by commercial entities to FOSS has been a major factor in the success of the software ecosystem and of individual applications. Without this input and contribution from commercial sources, FOSS would be much poorer, much less useful, and the benefit to education would be far less. The focus of FOSS on contribution, and the focus of OER on use is a defining difference between them. There are no other major differences worth noting or that can be supported by evidence that is not circular.
Unless the OER community wakes up to this difference, and understands that it is NOT about use, it is about CONTRIBUTION, and it is contribution that creates the benefit for use, then OER is doomed to be a much poorer ecosystem than it has the potential to be. We must rid ourselves of the preoccupation with use, get rid of the NC restriction except where it is necessary (which it rarely is), and not just permit commercial contribution. We must actively encourage it, foster it, beg for it, show its benefits and celebrate it. Then we OER will live up to its potential. And this can be done without compromising the brand-building and marketing opportunities that so many are chasing as their excuse for participation in the currently restricted OER ecosystem.