Tuesday, November 14, 2006

IIEP-OER: Our Discussion

Contributions to the UNESCO Forum on OERs.

Diem Ho wrote:
Please find enclosed the IBM Academic Inititaive, in which any faculty members can download software, course materials, tutorials, webscasts,etc and to give them to their students to study toward certifications or to learn about ICT and Service Sciences. All are free.
Not to get us dragged down a side-issue, but on the IBM site I read this:

"Membership in the IBM Academic Initiative is free and open to individual faculty members of qualified institutions who have been authorized by their institution to participate. Membership is renewable on a 6-month basis."

I do not consider this to be an example of an open educational resource. In order to use this resource, you must already be educated and have a job, and moreover, be approved by IBM. Why doesn't IBM just make access to this resource available to everyone? What would it cost them?

Gary Lopez wrote:
As a grantee of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation we are encouraged to design our project to financially self-sustaining. After all, a worthwhile project that ends with foundation support does not serve the ongoing goals of improving education. We strongly support Hewlett's position....
I've always wondered about this.

Like the current project under discussion, when a project is given a mandate to become 'self-sustaining', this invariably adds a commercial dimension to the project, so that it doesn't end after the foundation funding runs out. This commercial dimension, however, changes the nature of the project - not dramatically, necessarily, but in such a way that the 'free' component of the project does not compete with the 'commercial' component. What I've wondered is, why isn't the funding granted in the form of an endowment, so that the project need not worry about developing a commercial component, and so that its staff can remain totally focused on providing and supporting open educational resources? Clearly, the endowment model works: it is no coincidence that universities manage legacy funding and scholarship support in this way.

To relate this to the current mapping discussion:

In my presentation to OECD in Malmo last spring, Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources, I outlined not only different types of 'free' and different types of resources, I also looked at different funding models. I felt this was important because the funding model impacts the content and technical models available. In particular, I drew a distinction between a 'provider' model and a 'community' model for the production of resources. While, for various reasons, I argue in favour of a community model, I would suggest that funding models with commercial components push agencies toward a provider model. This involves providers in marketing and competition for a 'market share', an issue that became the subject of some debate in Malmo.

Aspects of this issue have already cropped up in this discussion. For example, some people questioned the use of a 'non-commercial' clause in licensing. My own preference is to allow, and indeed even to encourage, the 'non-commercial' clause. The reason for this is more practical than philosophical. When commercial entities become involved and begin the sale of materials, they tend to try to limit the distribution of free versions of the same resource. I discuss a number of these tactics in my paper Reusable Media, Social Software and Openness in Education (see the section on 'barriers'). In particular, they seek to limit the capacity of communities to easily use, repurpose, remix, reuse and distribute these resources, to focus, in other words, on a 'provider' model.

Members of this discussion are, of course, free to favour producer-centered or community-centered models as they wish, as they are free to favour licensing models allowing and disallowing commercial use. My interest in these remarks is to caution against a vocabulary or mapping where the commercial producer-centered model is the default, because then the free (both libre and gratis) model becomes the exception, and this, it seems to me, is the difference between charity and empowerment.

-- Stephen

1 comment:

  1. A better compromise is the GPL. It allows, but limit, commercial use. A commercial use of Linux has been very good to Linux. All these engineers working for RedHat and IBM are fixing *my* bugs. I love that.

    I can take wikipedia, put it on a CD and redistribute it. No question asked. And if I do this, I will actually serve the goals of wikipedia.

    I can take the books from Project Gutenberg and redistribute it for commercial gain. Nothing wrong with it. How could it be wrong to redistribute the classics?

    I think that commercial interests don't necessarily conflict with openess. Think of youtube or google. And commercial interest can often support great openess. Think of Amazon which opens up its book reviews tool to all.

    The problem you have when you fight off commercial use is that people like Harold Jarche who sometimes deal with commercial interests are locked out.

    What you want to tell businesses is that "you can use this all you want, charge for it, but if you want to change it, integrate it, and so on, you have to integrate your business in our community first".

    In other words, businesses need to become part of the community, and not leeches.

    If many people speak English today, and not French, it has a lot to do with free enterprise and the freedom to make a buck. While the French kings made sure that only them and their friends could make a buck, the British were far more pragmatic and saw the benefits of having nobodys prosper.

    The freedom to earn a living is as important, I think, as the other freedoms we want to protect.

    Could you make a living, Stephen, if the government threw you out? If the minute you try to charge for your services, everyone locks you out, you are locking out everyone but the civil servants.

    People like Linus Torvald make a living without working for the government and that's a damn good thing!

    And Linus became an American not out of an accident. He needed a place where companies make enough money to support people like him, and they are not stuck in a top-down management nightmare.

    I feel good when I can hire people, give them fun work. I don't want to live in a world where only the government can do this.

    You sound and you look like a communist Stephen, but you can't be a communist because Canada is not a communist country. Canada is a country were foreigners come in, buy a convenience store nobody wants, and end up putting their kids through college. Canada is a not a state-bound country.


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