Open Source Higher Education: What Is It and Who Is It For?

These are my notes from a livestreaming event , which occurred on February 7, 2012 from 10:00am – 11:30am

Attendees and Panel

Introductory remarks:
Louis Soares, Director, Postsecondary Education Program, Center for American Progress

Keynote speaker:
Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education

Featured presentation:
Steve Carson, External Relations Director, MIT OpenCourseWare

Featured panelists:
Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate, Student PIRGs; Director, Make Textbooks Affordable
Michael Carroll, Professor of Law, American University’s Washington College of Law
Sally Johnstone, Vice President for Academic Advancement, Western Governors University

Moderated by:
Rebecca Klein-Collins, Director of Research for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning

Kanter Remarks

Managing costs is one of the reasons for pursuing open source higher education.

  • Research may provide alternative ways to reduce costs by doing things differently (presumably instead of just cutting labor or infrastructure—my words).
  • Open source higher education artifacts are available for continuous peer review, so developing quality products is an ongoing process.
  • If a market with broad distribution is created for these resources, public and private use may keep costs low and quality high.

A valid question about open access resources (OAR) is how do we use the new social networks of professors, graduate students, and students to make delivery of these open resources better and better?

4-21-2000 was the beginning of MIT Open Coursework.

In building an educated workforce, it’s important to recognize that the DOE is not necessarily advocating college for every person, but the focus is on education and training for today’s skilled jobs. Also, the DOE hopes to create a climate of continuous education to allow change for every person—not just young people just graduating from high school. Open education resources make our workplace more flexible.

We need to recognize that there may be cost benefits for K-12 schools, community colleges, and 4-year institutions. President Obama sees OAR and new technologies as one way to reduce inequality in this country (so, it goes beyond just controlling costs). This vision encompasses a compelling, personalized learning environment for all students regardless of zip code, race, class, income, etc. Other countries are becoming involved as well. With this vision, there is a move forward with the important virtual infrastructure in community colleges. It’s important to understand that some risks must be taken to reduce expenses and costs to try this initiative.

Carson Remarks

Challenges are:

  • Immature ecosystem:  Business or deployment model has not fully matured. There are parallels to the open software movement, but it’s not the same, so OAR cannot fully use their ideas and management models.
  • Sustainability:  Models are not well developed to support sustainability moving forward. There are opportunities to support this program, but they are not yet fully developed.
  • Incumbent resistance from universities and publishers: Transparency can be threatening, and it’s not included in tenure. SOPA and PIPA can also have a chilling effect on the development of OAR educational content.

OAR is at the cutting edge of how technology is changing education, and there are still open questions about the best way to leverage this idea and concept.

Discussion (Panel)

How do we have a quality control system when the source is so open?

  • Peer crowd-sourcing and the social network is common at Western Governor’s University.
  • There is no reason to equalize openness and quality. This is a matter of a failed market where the void might be filled with peer-reviewed content. It’s not definitional that OAR is “anything you can throw up online.”
  • This issue speaks to the immature ecosystem Steve talked about. We need to develop systems where faculty can communicate with one another about where is the high-quality content.

What do you see as the role of government in terms of either supporting OAR? Are there policies that currently exist that are standing in the way of implementing this fully?

  • We in the government see this as promoting the idea of shared responsibility.
  • Three roles are important:  (1) Copyright is an author’s right, and some of these state initiatives are supporting the author directly instead of including the publisher. (2) Authors can be funded by competition. Also, open licenses can be reviewed constantly (post-publication peer review). (3) We need open business models that can create wealth around this OAR environment because there is no question that it’s where we’re headed.

Are there ways other countries are involved in the OAR movement?

  • China is involved with an organization called CORE stimulated by the MIT Open Courseware movement.
  • A lot of work has been done in Africa to share video content in healthcare information.
  • There are many educational theories embedded in these materials.

What are some of the intellectual property and copyright issues that the OAR world is struggling with right now?

  • Main proponent for copyright in the past has always been about education. It’s an author’s right so they can make a return on their investment, and the publisher benefits as well.
  • You’re no longer opting in to copyright. Since 1989 in the US, you get a copyright whether you want one or not.
  • OAR is struggling with auto/default copyright.
  • We don’t have good business models to move forward with OAR because they are pre-internet and they create a barrier for students and teachers.
  • The Internet has really changed the rules of the game, but industries are still static and pre-internet.
  • The model for authoring textbooks does still include an incentive for financial gain, so any new OAR models should take care to recognize this.

Question and Answer Period

Audience question: There is too much cheerleading about OAR, and we need to recognize the struggles of other interests and accuracy of information.

Answer: Information that is changed is just part of a scholarly conversation, and in the open environment is more uncontrolled. It can also be a discouragement when no financial incentives are attached.

Question: What about financial sustainability?

Answers: (answers were various) OAR is continuing, even through the financial recession. Most institutions just fold the cost into their budgets. The answer is different in different places, but most institutions have already figured it out. It’s a shared responsibility among institutions, authors, and the government alike. But, the traditional publishing industry isn’t sustainable either, and this situation must be recognized as well.

Question: What about credentialing? How can learners use OAR toward some recognition, degree, or other award? Also, how can we make these resources available to students–open access?

Answer: The panelists suggested many different ways. For example, badges were suggested as a less formal credential. These conversations are welcome at the Federal level and through the MacArthur Foundation. Badges are a model for trying to understand what students know and can already do. This gives non-traditional students a chance to move forward in an innovative way. We need to look at new models to let new resources, new ideas, and new opportunities to flourish.

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