Friday, November 03, 2006

Open Access, Free & Open Content & Coursware

There is an anonymous comment on my blog "eLearning in Kenya Universities" to the effect "e-courses on CD courseware because we first got to resolve the big issue of content ownership. Lecturers seem to believe only in selling their courses and feel that they are not being paid for putting their course lectures in public domain". I agree with the author of the comment that Intellectual Property (IP) is a big issue especially when it comes to digital publishing. However, I do not agree with the notion that knowledge is a commodity that should be out there for auction to the highest bidder. In my earlier post, I mentioned that knowledge becomes power when its transferable, and can be used to improve and enrich lives. You are not powerful if you have the knowledge that you have intentionally hoarded. To put it into context, I will copy-n-paste blog I had done elsewhere on open access. Here it goes.
Open Access (OA) is resources or allowing resources to be openly (as opposed to closed, clandestinely held, or shut) available to users without restrictions or requirements for authentication or payment. OA initiatives ensure that any information that is deemed helpful to the society is opened up to the community.

From the scholarship point of view, the focus for the OA drive would be to have the all the academic articles published from renowned journals, and that researchers and scholars in the institutions need, be made openly accessible. There would be an incredible cost saving from the exorbitant prices imposed on the purchase or subscription to such journals. The money saved can be channeled to other uses. This can be made possible especially because most of the research publications are from research that has already been funded by other agencies. Achieving the OA from the scholarship point of view can be done by negotiating with the academics and researchers who publish those journals to openly avail them (divide and rule), or by negotiating with the publishers to publish the journals in OA.

What are the advantages that you gain as an individual by availing your materials for Open Access? I will give three reasons. One, you will be fulfilling your moral duty and obligation to the society for giving back to them. Recognising that the research that you undertook would not have been possible were it not of the society that was there. This is in the premise that there is no research that is done in a ‘vacuum’ or on an ‘island’ without people. Secondly, you are empowering others, who would otherwise not be. This in a way will create a fertile ground for you to do further research, and also get some feedback from more people who might have been looked out by lack of access to your research. Thirdly, you are fulfilling the very reason of your research – solving problems for humanity. By locking your research finding to the few who can afford the prices, you are propagating human problems that you claim to solve in your research. People who can not afford to get your solutions will seek solutions using other means thereby allowing unnecessary duplication of efforts and costs.

I maintain that providing open or free access to your course content empowers you, as you will get feedback, and it does not in anyway debar you. There are examples of Open Courseware Initiatives (OCI) that one can emulate. The widely refereed is the MIT. There is also a host of other organisations that have availed their materials openly and freely. Others have chosen to use the less restrictive licenses like the Creative Commons.

So do you have the knowledge power?


Taran said...

I agree with your views, but I am a part of the choir.

The key challenge is not so much a matter of property but a matter of compensation. Educators want to be compensated for their work, and traditionally this came about through copyright. And I don't suppose that they have a 401k plan either.

So open access to some of them is scarey because what they 'had in the bank' is now being distributed openly, which means that they are less likely to be compensated. Addressing the financial aspects and promoting a cultural shift from the 'copyright piggy bank' requires more than philosophy; it requires policy which may encourage educators to create more open content. Not everyone gets paid well, and this is one of the major stumbling blocks of education as a whole.

When a persons concerns are with their own well being, it would be good to address those concerns such that they focus on things other than themselves. Put shortly - hit them in the wallet. Of course this doesn't bode well for people whose entire premise was reducing costs since it doesn't have as dramatic a decrease in a short term solution.

But education shouldn't be using that many short term solutions, because the effects are always long term. ;-)

James Kariuki said...

Taran, I agree with you that policy and action to march the rhetorics and philosophy is what we require to drive openness. I also agree that money is one of the many facets of the challenges and hindrances to open access but not the only one. I think the wider population has not come to appreciate the importance of community approach in dealing with issues. There is the fear of "what others would say if they find the information provided wanting". Ego if you like. And others is just the fear of loosing the title SAGE.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hello James,

In relation to policy, you may find it interesting or useful to see Otago Polytechnic's IP Policy. Otago Polytechnic is a public training and education provider in New Zealand, and this IP policy in short says that individual creators of content own copyright, but the Polytechnic as a whole uses Creative Commons Attribution licenses. So that means if an individual lecturer wants to use the Polytechnic as a platform for their teaching, (website, classrooms, name) then they should use CC By - unless there are good reasons not to.. such as using restricted 3rd party content.. in which case OP would support the development of suplimentary and free content.

To see the results of this IP Policy on our work, visit the Otago Polytechnic list of projects in Wikieducator, as well as this paper prepared by a midwifery lecturer who now wants to use the IP Policy to make her midewifery courses open.