UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for February 11th, 2011

Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access – A Problem For Higher Education?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 February 2011

Over on the JISC OSS Watch blog Ross Gardler has highlighted an area of concern from the recently published HEFCE Review of JISC. Ross states that:

… there is one paragraph that I am, quite frankly, appalled to see in this report:

“JISC’s promotion of the open agenda (open access, open resources, open source and open standards) is more controversial. This area alone is addressed by 24 programmes, 119 projects and five services. [7] A number of institutions are enthusiastic about this, but perceive an anti-publisher bias and note the importance of working in partnership with the successful UK publishing industry. Publishers find the JISC stance problematic.

In his post, which is titled “Is UK education policy being dictated by publishers?“, Ross goes on to summarise the benefits which can be gained from the higher education community through use of and engagement in the development of open source software.

The wording in the JISC review – open agenda (open access, open resources, open source and open standards) – reminded me of a paper written by myself (based at UKOLN), Scott Wilson (of JISC CETIS) and Randy Metcalfe (Ross Gardler’s predecessor as manager of the JISC OSS Watch service) which was entitled “Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access” and build on previous papers in this area.

Now if the paper had provided a simplistic view of openness I think criticism that the paper was promoting an ideological position would have been justified.  But whilst the paper highlighted potential benefits for the higher education community to be gained from use of open source software, open standards and open content the paper was honest about shortcomings. Rather than, to use the words of the review document, the “promotion of an open agenda”  the paper argued that institutions should be looking to gain the benefits themselves and not open source software, open standards or open content per se.

Perhaps such distinctions aren’t being appreciated by the wider community and openness is being seen as a ideology and used as a stick to beat commercial providers such as publishers. This approach quite clearly isn’t being taken by the co-authors of our paper. Indeed as can be seen from yesterday’s blog post on the failures of W3C’s PICS standard, the failures of open standards are being identified in order that we can learn fromsuch failures and avoid repeating the mistakes in future.

A few days ago I published a post in which Feedback [was] Invited on Draft Copy of Briefing Paper on Selection and Use of Open Standards – if open standards can prove problematic advice is needed on approaches for the selection of open standards which will minimise the risks of choosing an open standards which fails to deliver the expected benefits.

But I am sure that there is a need for continued promotion of the sophisticated approaches to the exploitation of openness which the JISC Review seems to be unaware of.  A poster summarising the approaches is being prepared for the JISC 2011 conference which will be displayed on a stand shared by UKOLN, CETIS and JISC OSS Watch.     A draft version of the posted is embedded below (and hosted on Scribd).  We feel this provides a pragmatic approach which will help to provide benefits across the HE sector and avoids accusations of taking an anti-publisher approach.

Your comments on these approaches are welcomed.

Posted in standards | Tagged: | 5 Comments »