Thursday, April 19, 2012

Open Policy

The final topic in the Intro to Openness in Education course discusses policy. How are governments dealing with the issues of openness?

Dr. Cable Green

In "The Obviousness of Open Policy", Dr. Cable Green discusses the boring politics and policies underlying open education.

He argues that current educational practices will not enable to fulfil the growing demand for education--he uses the example of a predicted doubling of higher education demand, requiring 4 additional major universities every week for the next 15 years.

Some basics/background:

  • The world's knowledge is a public good and the Internet is an ideal tool to share, use and reuse it. 
  • OER are teaching, learning and research materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under a public license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. (Free as in free beer AND as in freedom; not only the cost are important, the freedom to use and improve materials is critical.)
  • The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, starting with: "We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use."
  • Common dream is affordable access to knowledge for everyone. 

The problem

Most policy makers at institutions, systems, state and federal government (around the world) do not understand technical and legal tools that collectively can turn on the learning machine. We need to help them understand. 

What are the tools?
  • We have the Internet - a 'free' distribution network; 
  • We understand the affordances of digital things - We know that storage is essentially free, that distribution through the Internet is essentially free and that making a large number of digital copies is essentially free. 
  • Cost of hardware is going down rapidly
  • Connectivity rises
  • Use of social networks and access to devices has created a new mass willingness to share. 
Why focussing on Open Policy? 

Because this is where the money is. Most countries spend between five and six percent of their GDP on education. Dr. Green states: "Publicly funded resources should be open licensed resources." Because you as a tax payer paid for it, you should have access. And as governments are public policy setting bodies, they are in the excellent position to encourage or mandate open licenses. Further, next to getting access to the resources we already paid for anyway, we need to shift from NIH syndrome to a 'Proudly Borrowed From' mentality. 

Ask any legislator if they care about efficient use of tax money, saving students money, and increase access to education. Nobody is going to say no. Further arguments that work with most people include: 
  • Cooperate and share - we all win. 
  • Affordability - Students can't afford text books. 
  • Self-interest - Good things happen when I share. 
  • It's a social justice issue - Everyone should have the right to access digital knowledge. 
What s possible with open policy?

There is huge amounts of money available. Many research grants from public money do not require any public access to the results. Some policies are now becoming available, e.g. the Federal Research Public Access Act requiring US research institutions with budgets over 100 billion USD to make research data, results and publications accessible for free after a six months period. 

There are barriers

In general the existing 20th century business models are threatened by this new way of thinking. 

What is important?

Dr. Green argues that in the end only one thing matters: the efficient use of public funds to increase student success and access to quality educational materials. And everything else, including existing business models, is secondary.


What is already happening?

Different institutions, government bodies such as research grants providers, and governments are already putting open access into policy. Many are mentioned in Dr. Green's speech, for example the NIH Public Access Policy. Also many faculty are standing up to existing business models, denouncing current pricing structures.

Government policy

Being Dutch and living in the UK, let's see what is going on in my neck of the woods...


Green already mentioned the WikiWijs (WikiWise) initiative. The Dutch government, together with the Dutch Open University and Kennisnet (knowledge net) launched this open, internet-based platform, where teachers can find, download, (further) develop and share educational resources.

It is difficult to find policy papers of the government around the issue ...


Similar to The Netherlands, government web sites do not easily give answers to search on openness.

An Open Educational Resources project is coordinated by JISC and the Higher Education Academy.

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