Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Week 9: Easterly's White Man's Burden

What can the open education movement learn from William Easterly's "The White Man's Burden"?

1. Giving up on Utopia - The Need for Searchers
William Easterly is firmly convinced that part of the reason why international aid has failed to a large extent to date (small bang for big bucks) is because aid agencies have been macro-planners, with too large ideals (like ending poverty) fit into World Bank and IMF blueprints, instead of tailored interventions that try to improve specific things in peoples lives. He simplistically divides the world into "Planners" and "Searchers" (which for his purposes works well), stating we need more of the latter and less of the former.

I think this idea - that we should focus on Searching for specific answers, instead of Planning the big plan - is a particularly important concept for the Open Ed movement. Flooding the world with generic blueprint OERs will not necessarily bring prosperity or learning to all. However, targeting the needs of certain groups of learners (the needs of learners, not of the educators) might result in several really great OERs. One size does not fit all.

Searchers are not the be all...
My one concern with relying on Searchers is that Searchers often have better social capital, or are connected to people with better social capital. Easterly doesn't really bring this up, but for example, in the aid there are lots of NGOs in Tanzania doing great work, but they are predominantly concentrated in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, which are the comparatively richer parts of the country. There simply AREN'T many NGOs in the central and southern regions - which are the poorer regions (email me for my thesis, Haggerty 2007, if you want to know more). So, if we're relying on Searchers, they likely would miss these central and southern groups. Another example - we used to concentrate funding on tertiary education - by giving Tanzanians scholarships to study overseas - however, only those Tanzanians who could afford to make it through school fees and boarding of secondary school - which usually was the upper class - were eligible for these scholarships. Of course, one of the reasons we did this was because Northern countries benefited, as Northern universities received the money from the scholarships (a nice circle). All of this begs the question: How does the focus on Searchers affect the equity of aid?

This same idea can apply to Open Education. Although I strongly think that Open Ed should be set to help targeted groups/problems (and who ever else benefits is an added bonus), it is important to take into consideration that in order to truly revolutionize people's access to knowledge through OER, we need to make sure they have access to computers. Again, there are computers in rural Tanzania, but when the power keeps going out... (I love the $100 laptops for this reason).

2. Buzz-word of the Day "Accountability"
The main reason why the Planners haven't be that successful is because they haven't paid sufficient attention to:
  • the wants and needs of those on the ground - i.e. the poor
While paying too much attention to:
  • the purse-holders - i.e. voters in richer countries who want to do "good", as well as richer governments who have strategic interests (however benevolent) of being in poorer countries.
This biases their work towards:
  • shared utopian goals like the 2000 UN Millennium Development Goals or the 2005 Paris Declaration on aid-effectiveness
  • quick tangible fixes - like buying textbooks - instead of slow or intangible fixes like investing in teacher training, PD days, and raising teachers wages.
  • Sexy issues - like focusing on free universal primary education - while ignoring education after Gr. 6 (although this is slowly being addressed due to parents demands in Southern countries) or adult literacy (which is still being ignored, and has huge consequences given that most are women, and that the education of women correlates so closely to the health and education of their children).
And they lack independent evaluation of their work - i.e. they can carry on with a programme for years even if it is failing. As Easterly says:
If the utopian goal distracted attention away from holding aid agencies accountable for tangible outcomes, then step one is to give up the utopian goal. The utopian agenda has led to collective responsibility for multiple goals for each agency one of the worst incentive systems invented since mankind started walking upright. There has also been the incentive bias towards observability, which has led to unproductive efforts at producing things that made a big splash. (Easterly, 2006, p. 368)
I think that Open Education can learn a lot from his perspective - by being ACCOUNTABLE TO LEARNERS. At the moment, a lot of OER discussion deals with its applicability and ease of the creators and teachers of knowledge. In the first few weeks of the Open Ed class, several of my colleagues repeatedly brought the fact that the LEARNERS were largely overlooked. Other biases in the Open Ed discussion seems to be towards copyright and financial issues - again taking the focus away from the needs of the end-user or new creator.

On the other hand, the Open Ed circles have been speaking about the importance of the public good - which is not a very observable phenomenon (in fact, it is often ignored by economists b/c it is hard to measure). We've also been speaking about the numerous volunteer hours put in by thousands of people for open content resources - again, this is not very accurately quantifiable. But Open Ed advocates have been trying to keep the momentum on these two things - the public good and the volunteer hours. This focus on the less observable allows us to think broadly of the cumulative benefits of Open Education. In this regard, compared to the aid industry, OER is ahead of the game.

3. The most bang for your buck
I stated in last week's blog that I thought governments should be in the business of funding open education. It is from Easterly that I get the rationale as to why:
A well established public health principle is that you should save lives that are cheap to save before you save lives that are more expensive to save. (p. 253)
Public policy is the science of doing the best you can with limited resources. (p. 256)
I think this is the path that should be taken by the governments in funding OER. For example, if we could help the most learners by concentrating on the K-12 Education system - improving textbooks and alternative learning media online - then perhaps the government should fund this, and not OERs in higher education. Or, if they are funding higher or adult education OERs, maybe they should focus on areas that are most likely to help the general population - such as health information, home accounting and budgeting, basic math and statistics, computers, in-depth critical political analysis and promoting/preserving national culture. Or perhaps focus on OERs to help immigrants adjust to life in their new country. I'm not sure if I agree with governments spending money first on developing a higher level specialized physics course that only a few people would access (besides, MIT already gives us this).

Comments are most welcome.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Week 8: Economic Models of Open Education

This week we read about the economic side of OER. It's already Friday evening, and no one has yet posted!!! I wish we had a formal system of posting our thoughts, and then posting our reactions to others at a later date - I think I'd get more out of the course. I know I could do this - but things are just to busy unless it is a requirement - waiting for life to slow...

Some Q's of import:

How can you build a sustainable business around giving away educational materials?

I think the first thing to consider is that "sustainable" can have a lot of different meanings in the educational context. It can mean: a) not going into the red financially b) continually having people visit and learn from your ed materials c) continually building materials on your site for yourself d) continually having others contribute new material to your site. Wiley's definition of sustainability encompasses all three of these meanings individually and in combination:
sustainability will be defined as an open educational resource project’s ongoing ability to meet its goals.
The articles for this week show that the purpose of Open Education Resources can vary on these definitions - just as they vary in the purpose of their educational materials. For Carnegie Mellon U, which has very costly development, the purpose seems to be to educate its own 1st year University students in a better manner - and avoid the large "101" lectures. For them, sustainability might mean continually having their own students learn - and whoever else learns from them is just public good. Wiley compared three different OER sites that were premised on very different ideas. MIT, being costly, centrally controlled with all courses online to varying degrees; USU at half the cost, with little control, but lots of courses; and Rice Connexions, with almost no control and almost no direct costs, but the possibilty of lots of other people inputing into the courses/creating modules, etc. He points out that sustainability will mean different things to each group, as their goals are different!

One of the key components of being sustainable financially, however, is being able to harness the vast amount of "spare time" that people have. Benkler makes a great point about how this has been harnessed successfully by breaking tasks into smaller pieces - so one person is only responsible for one page, or one lesson, instead of the whole course/book/textbook/novel. This works better in some areas than in others - so it is likely easier to piece together a translation and an encyclopedia than it is a textbook. Of course, if you had a "Master" develop the template for the textbook, and then break it into smaller pieces for others to do in their spare time, it might be more successful.

Downes and Wiley both offer several suggestions of funding models etc. for OER. I can see how each model could be useful depending on the goals of the organizaiton - but that there is likely not one strict model. I'd like to know if others think that one model is better or worse than the others.

How can you build a sustainable business model around giving away credentialed degrees?

Why would we want to offer free credentialized degrees, unless those free degrees were essentially paid for by the taxpayers funding a public university? What are the benefits of this? How does "giving away degrees" interact with notions of quality? I mean, we have a hard enough time getting quality OER that aren't accredited. How much harder would it be to ensure the quality of a credentialized degree? Without such quality checks, would our degrees become meaningless??

As a student in debt, I really would love paying less for a quality degree. But then again, this already exists - I just have to learn German and move to Germany and I'd get not only a credentialed degree for free, I'd also get access to profs.

And if one argues that Uni's wouldn't make any money using the German model (even though society benefits hugely, including the German economy on the whole) - I think it's only fair to question why should Universities be in the business of making money?!?! Why have we chosen this social model, given how important education facilities are in our societies. As far as I know, this is a more recent trend - as compared to the past. If we are so concerned in OER about contributing to the common good, then one really should think about the common good in other areas, such as through traditional educaiton facilities.

Should governments fund open education?

Yes, governments should!! It is a public good!! Just as they should fund K-12 schools and universities. Really, it is the taxpayer that is funding these things. Education is well known as the "great equalizer" - i.e. a way to give all people in society an equal footing. Although this often doesn't happen in practice, given that richer areas always find ways to subsidize their schools, and richer people can send their kids to private schools, or after school tutoring, or piano/dance/art lessons which expand their creativity and knowledge and confidence. However, countries that do a better job of publicly funding their education seem to do a better job of reducing the rich and poor gap.

I think that this potential for equalization is even greater for open education, as our societies become more technologically savvy (Many poor kids in Canada still don't have frequent access to a computer, meaning that even if OER are available, they can't access them. But 100 years ago only rich houses had telephones, which are now ubiquitous, so I can hope the same will happen for computer access.)

Do governments already fund OER?

Well, Canada's SchoolNet and some United Nations programmes, described by Downes is one example of a government funded open education project - but how much it really is a OER? I don't know. And what other government initiatives are there? If you know of others, enlighten me!!

Missing CC License - CC-By->2@ (full c for 2 years, then CC-BY??)

I was talking with Stian the other day about some amateur filmmakers who were hesitant to post their stuff as CC...and how many filmmakers make their $$ in the first year or two after release, and then their films disappear into oblivion. And how this is a shame for artists from smaller countries, like Norway, who's work is heavily subsidized by the public.

This made me think that it might be beneficial to have a CC license that can change over time. I.e. it is maybe a full copyright, or a restricted CC for a few years, and then becomes CC-BY. I assume that people can change their copyright on their works on their own over time - for example, something of mine that is now copyrighted, I could make into CC-BY when I want - but knowing me, I would have forgotten about the work by the time I wanted to do that.

Perhaps we need:
CC-BY->2@ (i.e. becomes CC-BY, after greater/longer than 2 years regular copyright - and one could change the 2 to whatever number...).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Licensing Open Educational Resources - Week 7

Given that almost everything current is copyrighted, it makes perfect sense that we've developed licenses like CC and GFDL that explicitly tell people that they CAN use our stuff. Kudos to this movement!

But given this week's readings, I'm still really puzzled by where CC and GFDL have led us.
  1. Why are CC and GFDL not compatible - I know the technical/legal reason - but what's making it so difficult for them to change their licences to be compatible with each other? Several of these week's articles highlighted this problem - that docs licensed under the share-alike must be shared under the same license, precluding mixing with other licenses. Ok. So what's the hold-up on the solution? It's just legal jargon that needs to be changed, no??
  2. Why haven't we focused more on expanding "fair use"? Certainly this would be one way around the above conundrum. It would also help solve problems with using copyright materials. I mean, as an academic, I certainly give people their due, but don't need to ask them for permission each time I cite their stuff.
  3. Stian speaks about the problems with Share-Alike and Non-Commercial versions of the CC. I agree with him - this is a serious problem for any educator who is working within an organization, or trying to make their bread and butter. Is there a need for a type of CC license that differs between commercial as in making money, and commercial as in monopolistic activities that limit future use/dissemination? One blog (I've lost where!) mentioned the instances where companies have managed to limit the future use of public domain items - isn't this really the issue?
  4. Is there an easy educational tool yet - maybe a firefox plug-in - that can track the websites I've been - where I can quickly log the ideas so that over the course of a week of reading, I don't lose where I've read something? Maybe this is just my transition from paper to electronics - but you just can't flip through past history of web pages the same way you can through a book...It has posed rather serious challenges for me in trying to cite and follow articles. How to resolve?
Copyleft good?

I wish copyleft was good - I love the name. But I think it is a shame that the term must be associated with a "share-alike" clause. I'm in full agreement with David Wiley's assertions (1) (2) that sharing-alike really takes the freedom of choice out of FUTURE creators - and can cause serious problems for free educational resources because a GFDL and CC license can't necessarily be fixed. Share-alike is inherently a political act. And although I like the politics behind it, I want to be able to make the decision to make something educational freely open for myself and others. As Noam Chomsky says:
If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
In forcing others to be open, are we really not just imposing new restrictions?

I love edocet's comparison to walking his dog through private property in the countryside - and compared it to OERs requiring a password to access the lessons:
The very most part of sites are “public” in the homepage, but when you try to access a single course, you are required a subscription (usual and maybe correct) and even a password, or you’re not allowed not even to see the material ... To me, it sounds more or like if during my walk with the dog, the men had told us “ok, you can see the path but you need to tell us the password to go through… or go simply back your way home”.
When I lived in Sweden, similar to edocet's Tuscany it seems, it was common for a public path to go through private land, and continue right on - this does not occur very often in Canada, nor I think in the United States. I've been told to clear off private land several times, while simply enjoying the view. In fact, I was driving on a public road, overlooking a lake, and happened to stop by a house for a final view of the sunset. The owner came out and was quite gruff about "his" land. This says more about our culture than about copyright laws. It is the same culture that can potentially limit fair use, or put registration on an OER page to control access.

My overarching question? Fair Use seems to be a culturally derived norm - i.e. there don't seem to be set rules around it, but it is evaluated on a case by case basis, based on past experiences. I don't think the problem is copyright, or non-commercial, or share-alike. I think the problem is a culture that sees everything as enclosed property (something that CC and GFDL try to get away from). Is it not this, then, that should be the focus of change? Can this not be done more through redefining fair use of CC and copyright material, instead of creating even more new licenses?

On a final note, there is a certain amount of education of the public that needs to be done to make CC more widespread. I think that the more symbols we get into with CC, the harder it will be for people to get their head around what they can and can't do with the material. David Wiley's GREAT CHART of CC licenses and their restrictions on future licenses is a prime example of mapping out something that confuses me to no end. I think it'd be smart to err on less licenses than more...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Licensing for the Public Domain? (Week 6)

I am still getting over my shock that almost EVERYTHING from 1923 on is copyrighted! And that, in essence, I'm breaking copyright when I cite someone's article in my scholarly article, except that I'm allowed to under "fair use". This thought leads me to several concerning this week's readings:

1. Why have we focused on developing new forms of copyright (GFDL and Creative Commons) instead of focusing on expanding and clarifying "fair use"?? Bound by Law - a comic that explains copyright - points out how ridiculous copyright can get for documentary makers - how a TV in the background showing the Simpsons may require the documentary maker to pay $10,000 to the copyright holders, or cut that scene out. I agree with the makers of Bound by Law, that it essentially prohibits the little guys from making films! So, why not expand fair use?

2. Lessig's Against perpetual copyright, and his interview, do a good job of explaining why we have copyright in the first place in the USA - "to promote science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors...the exclusive rights to their writings" (US Congress, cited in Carroll 2002). And how it is the balance between copyright and the public domain that helps further new works. However, I don't think that 'promoting the arts and sciences' are the reasons behind the lengthening of the copyright. I'm sure there is a huge lobby behind the push for longer copyrights. And I'm sure it is composed of those who are making a substantial profit from keeping things copyrighted (might Disney be a prime example?). And often government policies - or lack thereof - do not get made because it is in the interest of the public, but because it is the interest of powerful lobbies (e.g. lack of US commitment to legislation to control air pollution and global warming).

So, how do we refocus attention on the overall benefit to the public? Perhaps, as Lessig and Pollock suggest, this refocus may occur as we distinguish between the properties of physical and intellectual works? (Tangible goods being rivalrous goods, and private property too being connected to public works like roads). Pollock mentioned that the US Government's documents were all in the public domain, in contrast to European governments. I thought it was a very influential argument to show the economic benefits that resulted from this.

This week's readings did a very good job of teaching me about the values of both the public domain and the importance of copyright in some form. They also hinted at why new bodies like Creative Commons or GFDL have come about.

HOWEVER: I don't feel like I have a very good grasp of the differences between Creative Commons and GFDL (anybody that knows a great link to this, please comment!). And although David Wiley has asked us:
How much (what percentage) of [the value of the public domain] would you estimate is realized when works are licensed with a Creative Commons or GFDL license?
I actually want to rephrase the question to: what value of benefit to society, to promoting the creation of the "sciences and the useful arts" result from licensing through CC or GFDL? Becuase, public domain and copyright are intrinsically connected! And copyright is not necessarily bad. My understanding is that CC and GFDL are essentially just a freer and more explicit form of copyright - where people clearly are able to understand what use you as a creator are willing to give to your work! Am I wrong? In terms of the benefit to society through CC and GFDL, I think that it IS an incredible benefit (a high percentage!).

Wiley also asks:
To what degree would the open educational resources movement (and therefore the world) be additionally benefited if OERs were simply placed in the public domain?
In response to this, I think that OER should have some type of copyright - preferably CC based on my current understanding - as it helps give the organizations incentive to keep creating and posting the works - and yet OERs mostly seem to permit rejigging and recreation already - as long as attribution is there. I guess the benefit of putting OER in the public domain, however, would be that they possibly could be used in works that are commercial - and hence re-copyrighted. Economically beneficial. But I'm not sure if the additional economic benefit would equal the loss to the general public.

Any thoughts on these above are most welcome, as I'm really not firm in what I write here - still trying to muddle it out.