UK Web Focus

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Guest Post: Being Openly Selfish and Making “OER” Work for You

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 2 April 2012

This is the second guest post on the theme of openness which, as described last week, explores various aspects of openness which have been addressed in the current issue of the JISC Inform newsletter.

In this guest post James Burke (@deburca) explores what the term OER currently means to him, although he admits the “I’m sure that it will mean something different to me 12 months from now…“.


What is/are OER?

Even though OER has a new global logo it is one of those terms that appears to have no formally agreed definition and people’s use of and reference to the term OER changes over time.

The term OER is broad and still under discussion” and over the past few years OER has been used as a “supply-side term” and remained “largely invisible in the academy”. Metaphors (“Open Education and OER is like…?) have been used to take a light hearted look at potential issues and tensions such as those between “Big OER and Little OER” and all in-between. On the definition front Stephen Downes has written a useful “Half an Hour” essay: “Open Educational Resources: A Definition” and David Wiley (Open Content and the 4Rs) recently put forward: “2017: RIP for OER?” (or not…)

The FAQ page for Open Education Week (held on 5-10 March 2012) provides a useful, current overview of OER and Open Education.

One of the “core attributes” of OER is that access to the “content is liberally licensed for re-use in educational activities, favourably free from restrictions to modify, combine and repurpose the content; consequently, that the content should ideally be designed for easy re-use in that open content standards and formats are being employed”. So, now that I have re-used the new and “liberally licensed” OER global logo in this post I have a number of options and queries regarding adherence to the licence and provision of any requested attribution such as “how do I properly attribute a work offered under a Creative Commons license?” leading me to “what are the best practices for marking content with Creative Commons licenses?”.

I’ll settle with using: “OER Logo” © 2012 Jonathas Mello, used under a Creative Commons license: BY-ND

…but maybe I should have included this attribution directly beneath the image to be less ambiguous to the human reader?, or maybe I should have associated the licence and attribution more “semantically” and unambiguously with the image for the “machine reader”?, or maybe I should have just have made my life simple and just used “Kevin” to add attribution directly to the image to cater for both human and machine readers?, and what is this “machine” anyway…?

Machine readable, but what “machine”?

The Creative Commons license-choosing tool provides you with a snippet of RDFa that you can embed in your web-based content with the idea that this “machine readable” metadata can be automatically identified and extracted by “machines” such as search engines and made available via their search, e.g. Google Advanced Search. This “machine readable” licence can also be used to facilitate accurate attribution via browser and CMS plugin “machines” such as Open Attribute as well as being used for automated cataloguing, depositing etc..

Creative Commons is not the only “machine readable” licence, many countries have their own “interoperable” Public Sector Information/Open Government Licences such as the UK Government Licensing Framework , and many “vanity licenses” for content in both the public and private sectors have also emerged but Creative Commons remains the most widely used technically & legally interoperable licensing framework.

The Google Advanced search help refers to their usage rights filter but states that this filter is used to show “pages that are either labeled with a Creative Commons license or labeled as being in the public domain”. Bing does not have an equivalent usage rights filter but their “advanced operators” can be used to derive the similar results, e.g. inbody:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by “search term” loc:gb can be used to find UK content that likely has a Creative Commons licence deed link in the metadata or in the HTML body.

The implementation of Creative Commons licences into content can be quite variable ranging from using a Creative Commons icon in a PDF file that contains no link to the license deed through to a complete snippet of RDFa containing the full works title together with attribution, source and more permissions URLs.

Mainstream Web Applications such as Flickr, Soundcloud, Vimeo, Scribd and SlideShare all allow the association of a Creative Commons licence with uploaded image, audio, video or “Office” document content that is then publicly visible and searchable via Google and Bing et al with the site: operator and a usage rights filter. Oddly, for most of these Web Applications Google and Bing provide the best search results and usage rights filters within the Web Applications can be a rare find.

So, to me, the “machine” that is “reading” OER is really any Web application that can consume openly licensed content accessible via the Web and for convenience the best way of me finding this “stuff” is via the mainstream search engines, even if I do have to use a usage rights filter…

Openly licensed resources and “stuff” is readily available on the Web

Arguably, the Internet and the Web would not be where it is today without being “open” and built upon a “stack” of standards and simplification that specifically lack patents and their associated licences that need to be paid for. The Web has significantly lowered the cost of software and content collaboration, creation and publishing and encouraged the embracing of serendipity.

Most of the Internet is run by volunteers who do not get paid, most of the Internet is run by amateurs”. – (video: Innovation in Open Networks) Joi Ito, Thinking Digital May 2010 (@joi)

Joi Ito speaking at #TDC10 from Codeworks Ltd on Vimeo.

One of “open’s” main advantages over proprietary digital content has been the lowering of cost and the cost of failure. The main source of friction in the production of digital content used to be primarily at the content layer in the stack (see prezi and video above) but as this eased the highest cost and restriction causing the most friction to be present whilst consuming and publishing content has shifted towards the legal domain. With the introduction of open licensing frameworks such as Creative Commons that offer worldwide legal interoperability this legal friction is being eased.

More and more educational content is going through a “rights clearance” process and being published by Institutions with more permissive open licenses “openly” to the Web and by “openly” I mean visible to search engines and not behind authentication “walls” such as learning platforms. Quite often this Web published content is a copy with attribution back to the Institution and Institutionally held source and copied to more than one location – if you have a PowerPoint presentation why not upload to Scribd and SlideShare?

This content can now be readily discovered and shared, promoted or “amplified” via Social Networks and usage via metrics, metadata and paradata from various sources is readily and, in a lot of cases, openly available. Properly attributed derivative works should contains links back to the source and if not there are various methods of monitoring and obtaining duplicate content “openly” via Web Applications such as Blekko. This content being consumed can also surface people that are consuming it that can subsequently be used to discover how the re-used work is being used whether that be in a different context to the original, different language etc.

Derivative works are often created by “consumers” who are individuals and not Institutions or organisations and attribution is made to them personally so why not include attribution to the “authors” within the original Creative Commons license?, e.g. Copyright is held by the Institution but why not add acknowledgement to the people (with links to their preferred Social Graph “node”) that created the works so that they get their “whuffie” and be “openly selfish”?

I tend to follow people rather than organisations and to me the attribution to a person tends to be more important than attribution to the copyright owner as it tends to be the person that provides the most context in how the content is being used and from them I tend to “serendipitously” discover new content. This is nothing new and fundamental to the emerging MOOCs.

What OER means to me at the moment

For me, at the moment, the most important aspect of OER is the availability of openly licensed content accessible via the Web, that has a clear provenance of all assets used with attribution to the people that created it as well as to the copyright owner, kind of “OeR”.

This “OeR” includes all “non academic institution” content such as that from Khan Academy, Peer 2 Peer University and Flat World Knowledge and ideally this “OeR” has more permissive Creative Commons licenses and avoids the NoDerivs and NonCommercial conditions that restrict my usage rights as per the “4Rs Framework”.

..but is this OER and can this type of OER use that new global logo?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

10 Responses to “Guest Post: Being Openly Selfish and Making “OER” Work for You”

  1. deburca said

    The Prezi associated with @joi’s video does not appear to be linked in the post but is available here: http://prezi.com/aqeqngymzquz/tedxdubai-joi-ito/

  2. Wow, Kevin gets a mention….

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