Friday, March 28, 2008

oer - copyright discussion - week 4

This week we are looking at the history of copyright, how it is being expanded in modern times, and how the use of creative commons and similar licences can help in the creation of an alternative to copyright, a “commons” of material available for use. This commons can include free and open educational resources.

An argument that is often heard in favour of copyright is that without copyright artists, authors and similar would not be rewarded for creating their works. Like all good arguments there is an element of truth in this but it was interesting to read in the history of copyright that the first common-law forms of protection actually protected publishers and not authors. In some ways the wheel seems to have turned full circle, again protecting the corporate owners rather than the authors of works. As Lawrence Lessig points out, modern copyright in the USA protects a work for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. It is hard to see what interest a dead creator of a work has in continuing to own copyright!

It is not in itself problematic to grant certain rights to the creator and owner of a “work”. That they are able to benefit from their work is only fair, but if that protection becomes too comprehensive then it hinders the creation of new works. Our previous reading (Standing on the Shoulders of Giants) and Lawrence Lessig's presentation points out that all new “works” are built upon what went before them. If creators are denied the right to use what went before then this hinders them in their act of creation. The difference between “copying” and “creative derivation” is not always obvious. Lessig’s example of the Disney Corporation’s careful guarding of their creations from any form of copying or derivative use shows how copyright can be used to frustrate development. That many of Disney’s creations were built upon material in the public domain, and that Disney has effectively removed aspects of this material from the public domain makes matters even more frustrating!

The creation of open resources, with creative commons licences, bypasses this copyright problem. It gives the author/owner certain rights, ensures that the material cannot be destructively copyrighted and at the same time allows for the creative cycle to continue, building upon the work in question. Bissell and Boyle in "Towards a Global Learning Commons: ccLearn" point out in the importance of licences being compatible if the work is to be reused. I have already come across this problem. I moved some of my photographs from Flickr to Wikiversity and found that not all levels of CC licences used in Flickr were accepted in Wikiversity.

Bissell and Boyle also divided OER into levels – their lowest level, minus one(!) is interestingly numbered. The use of “minus” shows that this level of openness is not really very useful, even if it is better than nothing! The problems of incompatibility that they raise have also appeared in the work of CFL in Sweden. CFL’s materials repository has been created over the last five years and ensuring compatibility with other repositories and with learning platforms has been an ongoing work!

Rose has already written about Swedish copyright laws in her posting so I won't repeat that. However, I will mention a couple of other points. Swedish law allows for the limited non-commercial copying of CD’s and DVD’s under a “personal use” definition. If I wish to make a copy of a CD and give it to a friend I can do that legally. This right is rather restricted and a special duty on copying mediums (blank CD’s and DVD’s) pays for this right.

Sweden also has a rather well-developed sense of the value of the commons, traditionally rooted in the right of free access to the countryside, laws restricting the privatisation of water-side land and a sense that culture in all its forms should be available, freely or at an affordable price. Perhaps this is why it is estimated that between 10 and 15% of the Swedish population downloads copyrighted material via internet (voting with their feet for affordable culture!). The Swedish government has been reluctant to pass a law effectively criminalising this large section of the population and most people in Sweden see little point in trying to prevent the unpreventable. This perhaps explains the existence of the Pirate Bay in this otherwise very law-abiding country!

Friday, March 21, 2008

OER week 3 - Philosophical Background

ATC: The World is Flat 1
Originally uploaded by kellypuffs
I work mostly with Swedish folkbildning, part of the Popular education movement that we read about in the introductory material to this part of the course. As I read the different articles (listed at the end of this post) I saw a number of tensions between different elements of society.

One of these tensions is between popular education and formal education. That there is a popular education system in many countries shows a belief that the formal education system is lacking in some ways. The Swedish parliament funds folkbildning because:

The Swedish parliament sees that the formal education system, for whatever reasons, does not fulfil all the needs of society. That this is so can clearly be seen in present developments within adult education. Formal adult education is seen more and more as a tool for economic development, with the cultural and democratic development of adults being left to popular education.

Within the library system there is a tension between public libraries and other more specialised forms of library, such as the university library. In some parts of the world the public library system is being questioned with regard to “value for money”. Do “the public” need to be able to borrow whatever books they want to? Should the system be restricted to “Good and worthy Books”? These arguments are reflected in the debate typified by Andrew Keen’s “The Cult of the Amateur” and James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds”. These ongoing questions are reflections of debates within the Enlightenment. Is knowledge something to be restricted to a certain group or can “the crowds” be trusted with knowledge? (Or even with the creation of knowledge!)

Open educational resources are also a part of that debate. Are educational resources best left to experts, or can the crowds also provide high quality resources

Although it is not mentioned in the article on public libraries one of the forces behind the development of the public lending library was the falling cost of books. While books were very expensive to produce it was not possible to lend them out but once the cost came down to a level where the loss of a book was not a disaster the lending library became a possibility. With the development of digital materials the cost of “owning” or providing books and other materials has sunk dramatically. This offers an alternative to the lending library which is excellent news in parts of the world where such things are not on offer, although the downside of that equation is that questioning of the need for libraries even in the developed world!

This worldwide access to information has led us nearer to the global village, or as Thomas Friedman writes in "The World is Flat", nearer to a level playing field.

What my reading has shown me is that there is a broad philosophical background to the OER movement, which is not to say that it is universally accepted or universally popular. I have mentioned one philosophical ongoing debate about the wisdom of OER and there are other forces in the world, economic and political, who are not in favour of free access to information for all, but that is perhaps the subject of another posting!


Friday, March 14, 2008

OER - Deep in Wikiversity

Longleat Hedge Maze
Originally uploaded by Howard Gees
Well, the start the journey, the process, of getting my hands dirty, working in the field, went well. I arrived at Wikiversity, registered and created my user-profile page. This was a useful way of getting started with editing a page - I found the "Editing help" page quite useful here, except for when I tried to add an image. On this point it failed to tell me I had to load up my image first (obvious?). I thought about editing the "Help:editing" page but lost my nerve at the last minute!

Then I moved on, deeper into Wikiversity to find some projects (and/or people) to work with. I had read in the introduction to learning projects that Ten introductions to knitting are just as valid and acceptable as one but when I looked for a photography project to work with I got very confused and seemed to be lost in a maze of half-finished pages and empty stubs! I did rewrite one short lesson however. So I retreated from photography, and moved on to education. Things were a little better there and I signed myself up to work in that area, providing a link and a few words to fill a more-or-less empty topic page on Distance Education.

I must admit I have not yet started my own project. Boldness is not usually a problem for me but I seemed to be lacking in inspiration. This week has been very heavy at work so perhaps next week I'll take a look at Le Mill and start a project there. Wikiversity is a big place to explore, and despite the helpful advice from Erkan I spent a lot of time getting lost among the categories, topics, lessons and projects. I felt I had to explore enough to get a feel for the structure and that took time but I would like to experience Le Mill too.

Changing the subject slightly - one of the "joys" of living out in the country is the lack of reliable Internet connections. I'm using mobile Internet and the signal is very weak just now. I'm reconnecting about once every 45 seconds so I'll do a final reconnect, publish this post and finish for the night!

Friday, March 07, 2008

OER - different OER projects

Originally uploaded by leighblackall

Now I have checked out the open education projects suggested.

Warning - Each of them seems to contain a lot of information, modules, functions and so on. Any impressions that I mention here are formed after this first short glimpse of these sites and are not really to be trusted!!

The projects I looked at were OU (UK) Open Content Initiative, MIT OpenCourseWare, Rice Connexions, and Wikiversity. Here are those first impressions!

The projects can be split into two groups. The MIT and OU projects seem to mostly offer ready made educational materials. I felt there was something of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude but the OU does offer a Getting Started section with a very user-friendly area to help you as a student use the materials offered.

Rice Connexions, Le Mill and Wikiversity are all communities where you can both use the material on offer and also contribute to the material – in fact you are strongly encouraged to get started with your contributions! Rice Connexions definitely wins the prize for the easiest site to search for materials! I had problems finding my way around Le Mill, partly because a lot of titles are not in English so you have to open an object to see what it is about. Of course, this disadvantage could well be seen as an advantage if Estonian is your first language.

As I browsed I found that these different projects can be linked together. The Le Mill Atmospheric Processes unit used a module from the OU’s OpenLearn site as reference material.

Another way to divide these projects would be by language. If you need materials in English there is something for you in all of these projects but if you are looking for materials in other languages then the different sites have hugely varying amounts.

Terminology – modules, learning resources, media pieces, collections – each project uses its own terms. In practice I suppose most users stick with one or two projects and quickly learn the associated terminology.

These five projects contain a huge amount of educational material and there are many other projects, including CFL:s own Course hub. Perhaps the next stage is to find a way to search the Internet for OER, or perhaps a specialised search engine already exists. If you know of one please get in touch!

PS I found the photo illustrating this entry by searching for "open educational resource" in Flickr. There were plenty of images to choose from and most of them were free to use under the CC licence!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

OER - Tuomi's report

The discussion continues
Originally uploaded by keibr

Tuomi has written a very interesting report which provides me with a structure to better understand the field of Open Educational Resources (OER); not just what OER ­are but also where they come from, how they can be defined, how they fit into our economic system and how they may affect the future of learning environments.

I work with the professional development of teachers and if I can start with a slight criticism it is of Tuomi’s view of future learning environments. He seems to be very sure of the future. In the final paragraph on page 5 we find that; “…educational systems will be redesigned…Education and learning will be integrated…will shift the focus towards adult education…” All this is possible and there are already educational organisations and networks moving towards this future. However, I feel that all this will only happen if governments encourage the redesign of educational systems in this direction, change the direction of teacher education and the professional development of working teachers. Otherwise the result will be islands of development in a sea of traditional (outmoded?) education models. Of course, this report, prepared for the OECD and this course are a part of that encouragement!

I found the “Open resources” section particularly interesting. (pages 25 -28). However, Tuomi describes three hierarchical levels of openess (P26) but I am not sure these levels are entirely hierarchical. As I see it a resource can fulfil the requirements of openness 1 and 3, but not the requirements of 2. The resource is accessible (level 1) and available for modification, repackaging etc (level 3), but the user still cannot “access all the services generated” (level 2). Rosemarie discussed this point with a slightly different focus.

I found the concepts of rival/non-rival and the four different types of resources (private, common pool, public good and open fountain) useful in explaining certain tensions within the media world today. Tuomi writes (p 33) “Traditional goods are rival… Public goods, in contrast, are non-rival…Digital products and knowledge are in many cases such non-rival goods.” The music recording industry has seen music as rival but now music is rapidly becoming digital, non-rival and (often illegally) public goods. The concept of the open fountain is new for me but it usefully explains why resources such as Flickr or Wikipedia have grown and gained in value so quickly.

For me the position of non-commercial activities with regard to the market is interesting and I feel Tuomi does not really take up this question beyond mentioning that it is;

“…a tricky one. As non-commercial typically means either that no commercial players have current interest in the activities, or that society has structured the markets so that some things are not provided by commercial actors.” (p 32).

In some cases this feels correct. For example the creative commons section of Flickr makes millions of images available to non-commercial users, but it is unlikely that these users would have purchased pictures commercially if Flickr did not exist. However, in other cases I feel certain that the “new” non-commercial activities have an effect upon the market. As JLH writes in OER Chatter; “OER savings could allow financially challenged districts to cut educational material expenditures so that money could be allocated elsewhere in the system.” The publishers of text books will not be happy if they are replaced by OERs! Another (Swedish) example is that educational organisations are ceasing to subscribe to the “National Encyclopedia” often citing increasing cost as their reason. Could it be that the free availability of Wikipedia enables these organisations to save money?

As this report made clear tomorrow's educational world will look very different to today's. I hope the predictions made in the report are fulfilled and it will be interesting to help in making that future.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

OER - Who am I

This post is part of the “Composing Free and Open Educational Resources” course which started on Monday.

Who/where am I?

You can find out where I am from reading “About me”. The photograph you see there also says something about me. I like being active and outdoors and that picture was taken last summer in the Swedish mountains. A picture always has a context and so I'll finish this posting with three more pictures of me in different contexts. (I'm also interested in photography.)

I work for the Swedish Agency for Flexible Learning, which is responsible for encouraging distance and blended courses within the adult education sector. Mostly I work with teachers’ professional development and “folkbildning”, the non-formal sector in adult education.

The development of Internet led to a radical change in distance and blended learning methods and the continuing development (web 2.0 etc) may well lead to a further paradigm shift. Wikiversity and this course are examples of a new form of non-formal learning and as such are perhaps part of this new paradigm.

In my work I am involved in many discussions about how education is evolving and one reason for taking this course is to go beyond theoretical discussion and to experience how it feels to be a participant in this type of course. I feel that those of us who work with flexible learning need to be participants in such a course now and again.

Of course, I want to learn more about how free and open resources can be created and used in education. Finally, I am also hoping for inspiration and insight from you other course participants, particularly as we come from so many backgrounds.