OERs again

I’ve posted a number of times on Open Educational Resources, and mentioning these might help explain why I subject the entire issue to serious criticism, a small sigh, and a raised eyebrow.

And now? I’m even more skeptical, because now my own institution is pushing them. I think it was Alan Levine who first turned me on to the idea that state legislatures in the U.S. want OERs because it saves them money — they can decrease their education budget if everyone’s using “free” textbooks.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Opensource.com

It’s easy to see who makes the money with a textbook – the publishers, then the authors. With OERs it’s harder to see. In this case, it’s the state saving money, or pulling it from education. In other cases, it’s more commercial. I remember how happy I was, many years ago, when MIT released hours of lecture on YouTube. Then I discovered a company that had built a “shell” for this content, adding some discussion boards and a document that looked like a syllabus. As an instructor, you bought access to their platform for the semester, and used it like an LMS, with all the content comprised of MIT’s “free” videos. The company got money, but not MIT, not the professor. It seemed wrong then. It seems wrong now.

So now my question is, cui bono? Who benefits from OERs?

Lest you think I’m just a grumpy old prof, I don’t have to whine about my own institution’s intellectual property policy. It was developed in the first year we offered online classes (1998) by my prescient and exceptional colleague, Louisa Moon. She saw immediately the potential for online classes to be taken over by institutions, and taught without the faculty member being needed at all. One could develop a class, and the college could decide to take it and have “staff” teach it instead.

So our policy not only preserves ownership by faculty of the things we create, but even our sabbatical policy says we keep ownership so long as we don’t make excessive use of campus resources when creating stuff. I think that’s fair.

However, I work at a public community college. We do not have the same issues as universities, with their endowments and grants. But we do have a recent push to adopt OERs, and I’ve argued against it as a requirement. Not that I like textbooks (just search “textbooks” here on my blog to see how much I despise them and the whole publishing model), but if there aren’t even good open textbooks for History, there must be other areas where nothing good is available. So for me, the four priorities for using OERs are:

  1. The academic freedom of the professor in choosing what to assign
  2. The quality of the materials
  3. Whether commercial entities benefit from their use
  4.  Everything else discussed in this unit: the 5 Rs, open licenses, etc.

I guess that’s a little different than what this unit intended.

11 thoughts on “OERs again

  1. I understand your frustration. I think Seth Golden shared a book with an open license, only to have a company print and sell a paper version of his free book. Just thinking out loud here, but can OER’s have a non-commercial CC license or would that limit positive use of them? ie Can something be both ‘Open’ and ‘Non-commercial’ or does that by nature make it not open?


    1. I know there are good people who advocate for the BY license only, but I strongly believe that NC is essential to make intentions clear. Also SA, frankly. I do want to limit use, to those who won’t make money off of my labour. But, of course, CC licenses are even less enforceable than copyright…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I completely agree Lisa, I subscribe to Stephen Downes’ view that BY-NC-SA is ‘More Free’ than just ‘BY’ as I shared in last week’s assignment: http://daily-ink.davidtruss.com/more-free-openedmooc-week-2/

    A topic that I think needs to be openly discussed because while I believe this, I also think it contradicts David Wiley’s definitions. So, even if I’m wrong, I do believe it is worth hashing out.

    I also appreciate that you are openly sharing your concerns. So far most of my ‘learner activity’ reads for #openedmooc have been summaries of the readings and not a true conversation… Thank you!


    1. Unconstrained by either the need to read all this stuff again, or by the ability to put any formal class credit to good use, I can engage by taking off from the topic, rather than sticking to it! 😉


  3. Thanks for this discussion. I have the BY-NC-SA license on both my blog and my Flickr site but as I mentioned in a post (and as Lisa has said) I don’t think this is enforceable. My personal view is that if you are bothered about what is going to happen to your ‘stuff’, then don’t put it in the open.

    Dave – can you say more about what you think contradicts David Wiley’s definitions.

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  4. From David Wiley: https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/4397

    Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
    Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
    Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
    Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
    Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

    One question I would have is, if I’m at an institution that chooses to put this in a course that students pay for, how would that differ from someone doing it for private gain? I’m sure there are other issues with BY-NC-SA that other smarter people might have, but that would be my main question/concern to start us off. Others?


  5. Ah I see. Thanks for that Dave. This is what happens with some of my blog posts. I have the BY-NC-SA license on my blog, but I know from the stats that some blog posts are used for University courses. I don’t know what they are used for, because I don’t have access to the courses – they are password protected – but as you say, presumably the students have paid for the course. But this doesn’t really contradict David Wiley does it? It simply means that the course that is using the blog post is abusing my license – or have I still misunderstood 🙂


    1. Really interesting thread. Thanks, all. To what extent, I wonder, does Fair Use enable the kind of sharing you’re describing (Jenny) in an academic course? The same way fair use (in my admittedly non-thorough understanding of it) enables use of copyrighted materials in limited contexts, does it also enable “violation” or “abuse” of CC licenses?


  6. Fair use seems to be a bit of a grey area – https://creativecommons.org/2015/02/26/creative-commons-celebrates-fair-use-week/ – The license on my blog permits everything except commercial gain. Does taking a post from my blog and posting it in a closed environment for use in a course which students are presumably paying for count as fair use? I have never really thought about this in terms of ‘fair use’, but since it has never bothered me I think for me it must count as fair use.


    1. I think that if they want to share your work in a closed learning environment, then the correct way to share is to provide a link to leave the environment and to go to where you share it openly. But if they are taking your content and replicating in a closed course then I would assume that would be violation of BY-NC-SA… just my interpretation, I could be wrong.

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