Giving Knowledge for Free: Jan Hylen

Coming in via video-conferencing to talk about the work that he carried out for the OECD to produce...

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Patrick McAndrew
20 April 2010

Coming in via video-conferencing to talk about the work that he carried out for the OECD to produce the “Giving Knowledge for Free” report.  (Some initial difficulties hit the presentation of the slides but soon sorted out.)

The basis for the work was recognising the “new culture of openness in HE” through open source software, open access, open educational resources. The study reported in 2007 looked at the activities through 4 dimensions:

  1. IPR issues
  2. Cost/benefits (sustainability)
  3. Incentives
  4. How to improve access and usefulness

Used the OER definition derived by UNESCO with a broad view of OER as including the tools, repositories and different scales of content. A broad definition is appropriate to be inclusive of new actions that are hard to predict.

Drivers for OER can be divided into:

  • Technological (bandwidth, capacity, improved software)
  • Social (digital natives, desire for interactivity, willingness to share, communities and collaborations).
  • Economic (lower costs, free hosting, models for monetising user created content)
  • Legal (Creative Commons licensing)

Survey based approach to mapping the field had limited success when targeting universities directly with better indication from an open survey that could be completed by enthusiastic individuals. The result though cannot be seen as authoritative.

OER were targeted at post-secondary instructors, students and general public. The barrierless approach meant data was limited.

Types of initiatives:

  • Publicly/institutionally backed e.g.s: OCW/OpenLearn/OpenSpires
  • Community approach: Open Course, Common Content, Free Curricula Center, …
  • In between (hybrid) models: MERLOT, Connexions, ARIADNE.

The initiatives can be mapped on dimensions from small to big and institutional to community.

The report in 2007 was followed up in 2008 with a short study of six key initiatives that showed rapid increase in resources, visitors and diversity (languages and global use). The trends were towards less text and more video. And from individual enthusiasts to management adoption and institution recognition.

The US based data from MIT and Tufts implied users were well-educated, self-learners, from North America (note 57% were non-US visits and so no longer so likely to be true).

Use by learners was often as a supplement, in small chunks. Use by educators was limited by lack of time, skills and reward system.

A table of motivations reflected government (expanding access), institutional (altruism, sharing for improvement, attracting students) and individual reasons (supporting community, non-monetary gain, no reason not to go open).

Challenges remain quality, IPR, etc. For example quality can be centralised or decentralised, open or closed. IPR raises practical difficulties such as creative commons use of the non-commercial clause and what it means.

A sustainability checklist was produced to help guide towards sustainability – linking to grants, other activity (charge for extra content, paper versions), membership models. The contributor pays.

Policy implications at the institutional level reflect the “risk of doing nothing” and the need to have an IT strategy that recognises Open Access and OER, addressing the training and support and incentives for people to use and produce OER.

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