Wednesday, August 10, 2011

3 Reasons Why OERs are Better Than "Free"

I see a lot of emails, Tweets, and blog postings that include free materials from both corporations and individuals included in lists of "open education resources" or OERs. I always have to let people know that I am not anti-corporate: I am using a corporately produced computer and posting to a corporate blog. So why so picky about licensing? Because open licenses mean sustainability. We have a good basic definition of OERs from Stephen Downes: "Open educational resources are materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone." Notice that there are no limitations there of any kind. It does not say you must be a member, ask permission, or be vetted by the Ted Talk people (which are great and basically free but not openly licensed). So what is the big deal? In online learning, some instructors like to be able to package the learning materials with a course. This is not always possible on commercially licensed products (yes, I said "product" and that is another issue). If the materials are licensed using Creative Commons, that takes care of those issues. Creative Commons licenses allow us the

1. OERs can be remixed and republished
Look closely at "free" textbooks or materials that are not openly licensed. Typically, you are not allowed to reproduce the text in any way. In some cases, you may be able to print it out or link to it. In many cases, downloading it and uploading again to another server would be considered a violation of copyright and way beyond the bounds of the Teach Act.

2. OERs do not disappear
OERs do not graduate, retire, or accept contracts. OERs do not move to other colleges or get bought out. Regular readers of this blog have had to join me in mourning the passing of a lot of really great tools on the internet - Drop.Io was one. If it were an open source program, someone would still be using and developing it today. I am still using Delicious Bookmarks but holding my breath as it has been sold. One of my favorite textbooks on Semiotics was free for years on the internet and I knew many people that used it. It was bought out by a publisher and it only exists at Archive.Org's Way Back Machine as a fond memory. I have seen teaching materials dissapear from the internet when If something is really worth teaching, it is worth putting an open license on so others, long after you have retired, will get to benefit from your wisdom and influence.

3. OERs are adaptable to your community
Why should your students have to adapt to your material? Shouldn't that be the other way around? The entire time I have been in education (even as a student), I have been dealing with instructors who say "We will use half of this textbook and everything else will be taken from the four other books you had to buy." Why? Because it would be a copyright violation for the instructor to bundle in only the pieces he or she is actually going to use. This is the same for free materials on the internet - if you can't adapt that "free" resource, you have to continually add to the reading list.

When I first got into teaching, I never had to ask for syllabi or materials because the teachers I worked with believed that a textbook was not a course and hand-outs and tests were not teaching. Teaching is what one does. The spirit of collegiality impelled them to share and help a new teacher. I hope that I have carried that spirit forward as well. But in these days of copyright happy corporate culture, I am using the Creative Commons license to again let others know that they don't have to ask.
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