On April 8 & 9, 2013 BCcampus hosted, and Creative Commons facilitated, an Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver British Columbia Canada. The Open Textbook Summit brought together government representatives, student groups, and open textbook developers in an effort to coordinate and leverage open textbook initiatives.
BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology (AEIT)
Alberta Enterprise & Advanced Education
The 20 Million Minds Foundation
Washington Open Course Library
University of Minnesota Open Textbook Catalogue
Open Courseware Consortium
Student Public Interest Research Groups
Right to Research Coalition
Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA)
California and British Columbia recently announced initiatives to create open textbooks for high enrollment courses. Susan Brown in her welcoming remarks on behalf of the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology noted the Open Textbook Summit was “a unique opportunity to share information about the work underway in our respective jurisdictions and organizations to capitalize on lessons learned; to identify common areas of interest; and to discover potential opportunities for collaboration. The real power of a project like this is only realized by working together.”
On the summit’s first day the BC government announced it was “Moving to the next chapter on free online textbooks” releasing a list of the 40 most highly enrolled first and second-year subject areas in the provincial post-secondary system.
Over the course of the summit participants identified existing open textbooks that could be used for BC’s high enrollment courses. Development plans for creating additional open textbooks were mapped out. Strategies for academic use of open textbooks were discussed ranging from open textbooks for high enrollment courses to zero textbook degree programs where every course in a credential has an open textbook.
Open textbook developers described the tools they are using for authoring, editing, remixing, repository storage, access, and distribution. Participants discussed the potential for creating synergy between initiatives through use of common tools and processes.
Measures of success, including saving students money and improved learning outcomes, were shared and potential for a joint open textbook research agenda explored. The summit concluded with suggestions from all participants on ways to collaborate going forward. David Porters recommendation of an ongoing Open Textbook Federation was enthusiastically endorsed.
Mary Burgess created a Google group called The Open Textbook Federation for further conversations and collaborations. This group is open to anyone currently working on, or thinking of working on, an Open Textbook Project. Notes from the Open Textbook Summit are posted online. Clint Lalonde created a Storify of the Twitter conversation captured during the summit.
The Open Textbook Summit was an incredible day and a half of learning. The sharing of insights, experiences, hopes, and ideas left everyone energized with a commitment to join together in a cross-border federation that collaborates on open textbooks.
Creative Commons strongly believes in the respect of copyright and the wishes of content creators. That’s why CC has created a range of legal tools that rely in part on copyright to enable our vision of a shared commons of creative and intellectual works.
But when creators’ rights come at the expense of a usable internet, everyone suffers for it. Over the past 15 years, various companies have started using mechanisms to limit the ways in which users can use their content. These digital rights management (DRM) techniques make the internet less usable for everyone. CC believes that no DRM system is able to account for the full complexity of the law, since they create black-and-white situations where legally there is wiggle room (such as for fair use, for example). This failing causes DRM to limit consumer freedoms that would otherwise be permitted, and that can create very real harm to consumers. Examples abound, but a recent one can be seen in this report on how DRM and the DMCA have seriously limited the ability of the visually impaired to have access to e-books they can use over the past 15 years.
The W3C recently published a draft proposal that would make DRM a part of HTML5. While CC applauds efforts to get more content distributed on the web, DRM does more harm than good. In addition to limiting consumer freedoms, it’s not at all clear this proposal would even be effective in curbing piracy. Given the proposal’s architecture, it will cause dependence on outside components which will not be a part of the standardized web. A standardized web is essential to allow anyone to participate in it without locking them into giving any one player a say on what proprietary device, software, or technology they need to use. The proposal opens up exactly such a dependency: it allows web pages to require specific proprietary software or hardware to be installed. That a dangerous direction for the web, because it means that for many real-life uses it will be impossible to build end-to-end open systems to render web content.
Read EFF’s post on defending the open web from DRM for more details on the proposal, history, threat. Get the facts and, if you’re interested, sign the Free Software Foundation’s petition to oppose DRM in web standards.
Last week a researcher and educator by the name of David Liao contacted our team at Creative Commons about open courseware he had created, which we tweeted:
— creativecommons (@creativecommons) March 25, 2013
I sat down last Wednesday to speak with David about his course, motivations for using a CC-license, and about other challenges in scholarly communication and education that are being changed by new ways of “open.” He’s created a set of videos and curriculum titled A Mathematical Way to Think about Biology, released under a CC BY-SA license. David, an Analyst with the University of California, SF and a member of the Princeton Physical Sciences-Oncology Network, recognized that quantitative research is fundamental to hard science disciplines, but there are few openly licensed training resources on these methods that can translate to Biology as well as other non-scientific fields.
Already a proponent of Open Access (OA) to research publications, David sums up his view on how principles of OA can be applied to education:
”Speaking loosely along the same lines of sentiment [of Open Access], it is likewise preferable to release, as free cultural works, both scientific literature and the instructional materials by virtue of which that literature becomes readable.”
As David explained, there is a gap between the highly-technical aspects of training future researchers and the practical resources available; one that he hopes to begin to fill by making his materials available online. He has developed more than ten learning modules ranging from fundamental mathematical concepts of algebra and geometry to more complex areas of spatially-resolved models and cellular automata, all described in ways that apply to the biological sciences. The slide decks and tutorial videos have all been released under a CC BY-SA license, which allows reuse and remixing the content, so long as any adapted content carries the same copyleft license. David’s content has been structured as a course, is available on the Udemy online learning platform and has had nearly one thousand participants use the material.
An advocate of many things Open for some time, our conversation shifted from OER to OA. David offered his take on Open Access and how scholarly communication has reached a point where tools like CC licenses are needed to maintain progress in a digital age.
“Ten years ago, when it came to negotiating legal matters around copyright and intellectual property, we would need to be able to do some serious Jiu-Jitsu, and likely involve a team of lawyers. Creative Commons [licenses] makes this communication so much easier.”
By making his content available on the web and applying a CC license to his work, David has taken steps to not only make his educational media openly accessible, but also explicitly describe how others can reuse his work. A longstanding problem in defining the core characteristics of “open”, digital media that is freely accessible but does not allow for reuse or remixing is often confused with open content. David has been pleased to see learners using the materials in his course, as well as having had fellow college professors contact him about using his content to supplement their own teaching. When asked about his thoughts on others who likely will be remixing and building upon his learning content, David welcomed it fully, and is interested to have others to contact with links to derivative works.
A case study on the CC Wiki for A Mathematical Approach to Biology can be found here.