We don't need no (copyright) education?

Deadline: 6 May 2011

This invitation to debate stems from a theme suggested by John Pettit on the OU H800 course, week...

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Jane Forrest
23 April 2010

This invitation to debate stems from a theme suggested by John Pettit on the OU H800 course, week 10.

"The abundance of free open educational resources may be changing the role of colleges and universities. How far does it challenge the concept of paying for education?”

Or, indeed, the concepts of teaching, evaluating, copyright, author, expert... ?

For sceptics and those worried about their jobs, the attached paper by John Seely Brown and Richard P Adler (Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0) offers a positive view of free, inclusive, worldwide and constantly developing education.

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John Kuti
3:41am 26 April 2010

What is "the concept of paying for education" in your quote from the course rubric for the debate? Surely most school education is still free for the users and their families (?), and the idea of university fees is a rather new and (to me) shocking idea. I was paid to attend university - about 70 pounds a week if I remember rightly.

Jane Forrest
9:02am 26 April 2010 (Edited 9:03am 26 April 2010)

I understand that in this context 'paying for education' means paying for educational resource of all kinds. This includes paying fees to an institution, as a student, but also refers to course content and the resources including software used to deliver, share and manipulate this.

When you say 'most school education', John, I´m not sure if you´re referring to the UK or a wider context? Here in Spain, 60% of students* in compulsory Primary and Secondary education, including "free" state schools, buy their own textbooks (approx 200€ x student x year at secondary level). Open source initiatives currently under debate may change this; at the moment there is concern about quality control (the "guarantee" offered by for-sale published,  resource) and curricular control (in the hands of educational authorities via approval systems.

This is a rather specific example, but I think the issues are common to other learning situations and levels.

(*The remaining 40% study in regions where a book-bank policy is in place)

Carol Price
11:41am 26 April 2010

The new models seem to be 'paying for accreditation' and  (perhaps) 'paying for teaching' rather than paying for education in terms of content. Open educational resources are now a main part of the marketing strategy for courses and institutions.

Jane Forrest
2:15pm 26 April 2010

I can see that those are new models, but I do think that around the world the concept of paying for education does - very often - still include buying or paying for course materials (that's the case in Universities here too). This is something that writers and academics who produce the material will not gladly relinquish - not sure where they sit in a new business model.

Elizabeth Thomson
7:15am 27 April 2010

I think Carol makes a good point – we do ‘pay for accreditation’ as much as for the ‘information’ part of courses – but then does the ability to access information equal learning? I think not. I mean, what are you reasons for ding this course (which needs to be paid for)?

I remember when doing my teacher training the realisation that learners can learn in all sorts of settings, whether a teacher is there or not, but a teacher can’t teach without there being learners willing to be taught – the interdependent relationship has always been one of inclination – if you really want to learn something, you’ll put up with teaching methods that may not suit your preferences. We’ve all been in situations when we’ve learned either more or less effectively, and I think the reasons are as much to do with personal motivation as the types of input available. Paying for a course acts as an additional motivation, as you don’t want to waste your money, as does career development, but mainly I’d say it is the recognition that it’d be useful to know about/understand something, or have a specific skill set.

Although I’d like to consider myself a reasonably independent learner, in totally informal learning there is a tendency, for me anyhow, just to do the ‘sexy’ bits – the bits that immediately appeal, and then lose interest. Doing a course that has been planned for you by a teacher/team of teachers, who one trusts to be knowledgeable in the subject matter and have some understanding of pedagogical approaches, should provide a clearer path, a sense of progression, the opportunity to compare and apply new data and some support when the going gets tough, all of which add up to a more thorough and in-depth type of learning than simply browsing, or reading/viewing a text from which one learns new information from. Inevitably, the necessity to provide these things results in a less ‘real’ environment and tasks.


I think the OLCOS project and the whole Creative Commons and Open Education idea is great, in theory, but my current experience of trying to create online tutorials for learning support is showing me that copyright on the web is a minefield, and there are lots of mainstream texts that you can’t use – teachers can use them in classrooms, and if their institution has paid a license fee, they can be photocopied and handed out to classes, but you still can’t make them available on an institution’s VLE because of Intellectual Property laws (obviously never heard Einstein’s idea that you can give an idea away and still have it yourself). 

Re. school education being free - depends on what country you're in - when I worked in Tanzania, where you have to pay for both Primary and Secondary education, it is not uncommon to meet 30 year olds whose ambition is to complete their Primary education, when they can afford it. I got a grant to do my degree, but it was considerably less of a grant than a friend of mine got - because he did business studies (and therefore was obviously judged to be likely to contribute to the countries economy), whereas I did Fine Art, and Thatcher changed the grant amounts according to what she deemed useful,

Elvira ChS
7:01pm 27 April 2010

Although I think it is really sad, many people value things more if they have to pay for them (many times the more they pay, the more value), so, maybe, it is something "required" (sadly) by some people.

Elizabeth Thomson
6:07am 28 April 2010

Elvira, you're on a course that needs paying for (whether you, personally, or the organisation you're working for is paying for it), so surely you must feel that something about it is worth more than independently ploughing through lots of open education resource sites, which would probably enable us to reach much of the same content as we've encountered on this course . My post was looking at why people still do that in the face of so many free educational resources, and as Jane has mentioned, it is in part related to the fact educational resources are designed by professionals who expect to be paid for their work.

I'm not disputing that there's loads of great free stuff out there, but I would dispute why and how people find and use it. Although independent study is perfectly possible, it means planning your own course as well as studying it, which is hard work. H800 encourages learners to question the way we are being guided through the materials, but it does provide guidance (by people trained and paid to consider how best to do this)...but perhaps I'm drifting off the subject copyright question on to why do people pay for education at all...

Question: does anyone know whether the all the materials we have used are freely available to non-paing students? I know a lot of it is, but with the exception of the tasks and texts on the course webpages, are there other parts of the content that are subject to copyright? As in, is this part of the cost of the course? Perhaps I should put this on the H800 fora...

Elizabeth Thomson
10:09am 28 April 2010

Just answered my own question - some of the course materials are not open, the way things are in Open Learn, to all Internet users - e.g.the Webcast of  Rowland's lecture on the Google Generation.

Jane Forrest
11:34am 28 April 2010 (Edited 11:35am 28 April 2010)

Liz,  you mentioned Tanzania upthread - I think it's important to consider this question in worldwide terms. The impact of Open Source  is - or should be - greatest where educational opportunities are scarcer than they are here, and where students certainly don't need to be 'motivated' as Elvira suggests, by paying for something.

My experience in latin America is of ambitious students and committed teachers struggling to cobble something together from ancient (sometimes 50 yr old!) textbooks and very little else in the way of resource - yet technologies such as mobile phones are increasingly available. This link is to an article I read about mobile phone use for educational purposes in Africa, including  the Road to Reading programme, in Mali, which illustrates this.

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