Thursday, March 29, 2012

Open, Free, Libre?

David Wiley 2008
It must be very satisfying to know that you took a significant first step and made a difference to the discourse around education and the sharing of resources. Despite David's modest presentation of his coining of the term "OpenContent" and the launch of the first license and written principles aimed at protecting and sharing academic content (OPL and OP/L), his initiative made a difference.
While he acknowledges the flaws of his initial efforts and the importance of the Creative Commons licenses developed by Larry Lessig and others, he was a leader at a time when many academics were focused on protecting their work, not on sharing it.
I'm still uncertain about the long term effect of supporting open licensing as opposed to free (libre) approaches. While I admire the mavericks of the Free Software Foundation, the supporters of Richard Stallman and open source itself, I'm doubtful that their model will fit the realities that many teachers and students face or the level of interest they have in engaging with the issue. I think that the free radicals (pun intended ;-) have a critical role to play in ensuring that the corporations like Microsoft, Apple, etc. don't end up owning and controlling our use of technologies and increasingly our access to knowledge and sharing of information.
David's description of the limitations (protections?) of open content resonate for me. Although those protections mean that his license doesn't qualify as a "copyleft" license (if I understood that correctly), but I do think it is an approach that acknowledges the concerns of the producers of the educational content - that they have some say in how their work is shared and used. Many academics I've spoken to as I've tried to promote the concept of "open" are willing to support the concept of a "right to education" but they are concerned that their hard work will be misconstrued, misused or appropriated to make someone else richer. CC licenses allow each individual to determine their level of comfort in sharing - they are customizable. The fact that they too have flaws is unfortunate but I have every confidence that we'll eventually get it right. How can we not with all those brilliant minds at Harvard focused on improvement?
Where I have concerns with David's approach is his apparent focus on textbooks. I think the idea that the textbook is too often an excuse for lazy teaching. It seems to encourage (support?) a traditional, lecture-based approach to teaching and an underlying assumptions of a static model of knowledge. In our rapidly changing world, this approach has limited value. It doesn't appeal to students nor does it seem to serve their needs or the needs of the economy or of everyday life. Certainly when I look around to see who is successful in the world, it rarely seems to be persons who rely on textbooks. And the exemplary instructors I've known are the ones out there pushing the envelope, engaging in real world learning and using the power of technologies and connectivities to connect with other experts and learners to grow the shared knowledge around subjects of interest and concern. There are better methods of collecting and sharing information than a textbook and we're starting to see all kinds of good examples. Doesn't mean there is not a role for textbooks; I would predict thought that they'll be increasingly unimportant in the future of education. P.S. David recently participated in the Change MOOC that Stephen Downes and George Siemens have been organizing. He posted a brief description with some additional links to open projects he's participated in - About David

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