Copyright seems to make sense. People create things, they get to benefit from them, and so they create more things. The only problem is that I have never created something that I get monetary benefit from. Copyright isn’t what encouraged me to create anything. When I write, make, record, or do anything original I’m never thinking ‘wow I’m going to make a ton of money on this.’ I think about the benefit that it can bring to me but I also, I get excited to share it with my friends, colleagues, and peers.
There’s something that diners, software, textbooks, and academic journals have in common: they are better when they are open, always. Whether you want to go to Denny’s at 3 AM, or want to read the results of a research study, you should be able to do that whenever you want, without restriction.
Last week in introduction to open education, we discussed open source software, open access, and open data. While I’m almost crippled by the amount of things I could say on all these topics, I want to first recommend reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond. Although reading the essay itself will provide a much deeper, eloquent, and knowledgable source for understanding the merits of open, I would like to attempt to highlight some the merits of open in different settings.
Open Source Software
- The sooner you get something out in the open, the sooner you will get feedback necessary for improvement
- The commons that you are a part of will provide support and members of that commons have meaningful contributions to make if they are afforded the opportunity
- Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. This is Linus’ law as asserted by Raymond. Essentially, the more eyes that look at a problem, the quicker someone can find a solution.
- A community will form around interesting problems, and there is value in community beyond the ability of the members to produce a product
Open Access Journals
- Equitable access to research, often collected with public funds
- Authors can maintain the copyright of the work that they have created rather than handing over the copyright to a publisher
- The ability to create a larger body of literature surrounding important topics
- Expand the scale and reach of journal articles
- Allow for the greatest amount of people to not only read, but use and expand upon this knowledge
- Allowing data to do their job: reaching wide audiences and having their collection impact something
- Transparency in research
- Transparency in government dealings that are publicly funded
While these lists aren’t all encompassing, mutually exclusive or authoritative, it’s easy to see the potential benefits of more things being open, especially as it pertains to public knowledge. What alarmed me most when reading these articles was the amount of times something will claim to be open (see openwashing) , especially as it pertains to open access journals.
Peter Suber, paraphrasing the BBB (Budapest, Bethesda, Berlin) definition of Open Access states:
“By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”
After doing a review of the “open access journals” in the field of educational technology, very few meet these standards. If we want to be proponents of open, we need to hold open to its defined standards instead of just throwing around the term open and hope it gains some traction. It’s a comforting thought, though, to know that we aren’t the only ones working on open.
If you were to go and checkout at the grocery store, the textbook checkout line, or your amazon order and it gave you a notification that said ‘congratulations, your order today is free,’ I bet you would get pretty excited. At least, I know I would, as would any other reasonable person who likes to save money. This is essentially what happens when you use OER. Schools, faculty, and students get to walk out of the textbook line for free! That in and of itself is exciting, but what if there was something more exciting? Well, there is something that’s more exciting than free, and it’s open.
The reason that open is even better than getting something for free is because you have permissions to alter that material to best fit your needs. Whether you are a faculty member who wants to tailor the text of the course so it is more applicable or a student that likes to mix resources together and share their remixes with fellow students, open means you get free resources and more!
In order for something to qualify as OER, you must have permission to alter the material to be able to use it most effectively. The key tenets, or 5 R’s, that qualify a material as OER are the ability to:
This is what gets me excited about OER. It’s the adaptability, customizability, and ability to improve quality of resource use and instruction. Pawlyshyn, Braddlee, Casper, and Miller (2013) conducted a cross-institutional case study and asserted that ‘creative use of OER offers tangible benefits in student success and retention, resulting in measurable performance increases.’ Why wouldn’t faculty be using resources that not only lift financial burden from students but also could result in improved learning outcomes? I think that we can talk about cost until we are blue in the face and as much as faculty should care, and do care about burdensome costs for students, they don’t really care. I understand, and I know faculty that would never sacrifice quality for a few bucks saved, but I think it’s more than that. If we discussed with faculty the ability that OER have to improve teaching and learning, I think it would be a completely different discussion that would garner the attention of those that select the resources at their institution, those that could be the champions of OER.
I recently heard of open textbooks referred to as a potential thousand dollar scholarship for every student. I thought this was the perfect analogy for OER. Of course it’s not always going to be a thousand dollars, it may be six hundred a year, or even less, but it could be equated to a small stipend for each student. It’s easy to say free things save us money, and it’s even harder to try to write a blog post for class about how free things save money (it’s pretty obvious), but putting this money into the context of something we understand and using language that shares the impact of money saved is much more powerful.
Wouldn’t providing scholarships for every student and college be incredibly impactful? I can’t think of a university president, dean, leader, that if asked the question ‘would you like to offer a scholarship to every student that attends your school a scholarship’ would answer with a no. Thinking of the savings at one institution, mine of almost 30,000 students, is astounding.
What’s most important about the money saved is what students do with the savings. I was recently reading through survey data that I am helping analyze and students used money saved due to OER to buy groceries, pay for rent, pay for their transportation to internships, make payments on their loans, save for future education, take more classes, replace shoes with holes in them, buy diapers for their children, etc. There are students who funnel the money straight back to their education, and students who expressed not having to choose between rent and textbooks. The value of what in the grand scheme is a small amount of money, a small scholarship, often enables students to pursue an education and maintain reasonable quality of life. It’s not that free things save students money, it’s the impact that the money saved can have that’s the real topic of discussion.
While I’m normally someone who is proud to have surpassed the national average, I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled to spend $700 on one semester of used textbooks. When I showed up at the bookstore to pickup my online order, the bookstore employee told me that my order had garnered some attention due to the astounding volume of books. I had added the classes that totaled to the greatest amount of books of any other student. I laughed, and said something stupid like, ‘well that’s the life of a history major!’ Now, I’m not going to pretend to know the burden of a student who is barely going to make a rent payment and finds out they have textbook cost that exceeds the tuition payments they had very carefully budgeted for.
The most ethical problem textbooks carry, whether they cost students $600 or $1200 a year is the unanticipated cost. Why are colleges not communicating with students actual textbook costs, and why do colleges not regulate or consider textbook costs? I loved this recent study by Jeff Denning (BYU) that showed how reducing community college tuition by $1000 can increase enrollment by 5.1 percentage points. If only there was a way to reduce costs by one thousand dollars!!!!!! 😉 All joking aside, this is how students become forsaken by the education system. I can complain abut student debt, or wanting to buy nicer things, but nothing is more integral than providing access to education to those in our communities.
Another issue is the utility that the textbooks serve for the consumers of the textbook. I have been in many a classroom where I comply and buy my textbooks at the beginning of the semester but it’s function as a supplementary material is weak at best. Some professors only have you use a couple of pages of a full text! If a text is useless to me, and to all of the other students, why are we even spending $200 on it? In my opinion, if I can be expected to read 5 different textbooks a semester, a faculty member can skim an open textbook. All that, and students can save money that can be used to alleviate financial stress from students. Whether it’s a matter of access or making education a little bit less less financially overwhelming for students, the barrier of cost of textbooks needs some attention.
Everybody has an opinion on college/higher ed, and mine is that it is what you make it, if you are lucky to receive higher education at all. As a young adult with generations of graduate degrees in my family, it was never question of whether or not I was going to go to college, more college, and even more college. As a millennial from a suburban city full of entitled millennials, I constantly found myself defending my decision. After accepting the rhetoric provided to me on the importance on an education and never questioning it, I didn’t know what to say when people told me that college doesn’t make you a better person. I listened to my friends who are aspiring musicians and waitresses explain to me that going to college made me a sellout. The skills that they have you can’t learn in a classroom and the only way to find yourself is by backpacking through southeast Asia or south America, visiting impoverished villages and feeling sad about it along the way. I watched them share articles entitled ‘don’t go to college, seriously don’t do it,” and comment on the fact that they were too busy discovering themselves to conform to a societal mold.
I’m here to say that I found myself in college, by working hard and accomplishing difficult goals. I have travelled, lived in war torn cities, and contemplated the fulfillment I would receive from devoting my full energies to music making. There is nothing that has helped me discover and grow more as a human being as my college education, particularly my time in graduate school. College has provided me with the skills, relationships, and knowledge to contribute meaningfully to society. College has allowed me to follow a career trajectory that is both overwhelmingly challenging, and personally fulfilling. It is true, it is not necessarily all learned within the walls of a classroom or a desperate all-night frantic paper writing session. Rather, it is the lessons that we learn from those experiences that afford us the capabilities to reside professionally in a bureaucratic society and be respected agents of change.
Of course, college doesn’t inherently make us better, happier people. You can be a hard working productive member of society without a college degree, and you can have a college degree but be harmful to yourself and your community. Partying through 4 years of your early adulthood and doing the bare minimum to get a C- doesn’t do you or society any favors. However, if we take the skills learned in college seriously, and put forth the effort to apply them in a meaningful context, our careers have the capacity to be stable, fulfilling, and bring good to the world that we live in. It’s true, my years of financial dependency upon my parents and sitting in a classroom don’t make an inherently better person, but it’s what I take from those years and do in the future that matters.
I recently had the pleasure of attending the Open Education Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Not only was Open Ed my first academic conference I have attended, and was in my hometown, but the introduction to Open Educational Resources (OER) was one of the things that drew me to the field of Educational Technology. All things considered, it was a pretty cool experience. I have to add that the people are truly what made Open Ed ‘1 5 such an amazing experience. The group of individuals that is in attendance at this event was one of the friendliest groups of academics I have ever had the pleasure of surrounding myself with.
I wanted to share some of my biggest takeaways from Open Ed.