Open Source Learning (week 9)

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2011 at 12:33 AM

In a recent talk on the TED website Richard Baraniuk introduced the topic of open source learning.

Open source learning comes from the recent movement within education towards open education. Baraniuk (2007) defined this as the idea that

“knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use; that collaboration should be easier, not harder; that people should receive credit and kudos for contributing to education and research; and that concepts and ideas are linked in unusual and surprising ways and not the simple linear forms that today’s textbooks present”

In the paper Baraniuk also outlined the broad set of goals of open education as:

  • bringing people back into the educational equation, particularly those who have been “shut out” of the traditional publishing world,

(e.g. those who do not read & write in English.)

  • reducing the high cost of teaching materials.

(The average community college student in America spends almost as much on textbooks as on tuition. Many schools in the United States get by with less than one textbook per child in many classes)

  • reducing the time lag between producing learning materials and getting them into students’ hands.

(Many books are already out-of-date by the time they are printed.)

  • enabling re-use, re-contextualization, and customization such as translation and localization of course materials into myriad different languages and cultures.

(As this module has clearly shown, “one size does not fit all” for education.)

How does open education aim to do this?

The whole concept hinges on the idea that individuals license their work under ‘creative commons‘ rather than copyright. Creative commons gives four licenses that can be combined depending on the authors wishes:

Attribution Attribution (by) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only if they give the author or licensor the credits in the manner specified by these.
Non-commercial Noncommercial(nc) Licensees may copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works based on it only for noncommercial purposes.
Non-derivative No Derivative Works (nd) Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based on it.
Share-alike Share-alike (sa) Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work

For more info see the following video.

The benefits of creative commons

1) The use of creative commons allows for the information to be databased and used on mass without individuals needing to seek the authors permission.

2) It also allows individuals to manipulate the information – this is being used in order to help those who are ‘shutout’ by the current system gain the tools they need. Individuals have been working on translating texts into languages not commonly published in.

3) It lowers production costs as modules or texts made can be viewed online for free, and textbooks versions can be produced on a JIT process, slashing publication costs.

4) Publications can be updated immediately, reducing the time difference between writing and publishing texts.

Websites that promote & use this approach:

Open Courseware Consortium

MIT Open Courseware


Cynical viewpoint – How will anyone make any money?

Publishers, lecturers and researchers need money. A successful textbook seen as a core text can make a obscene amount and place an individual in a high position within a field. So, if an individual used creative commons would this all disappear?

I do not think so.

Making a name for yourself -the act of creative commons means that an individual is attributed for their work whenever it is used.

Earning the big bucks – creative commons does not stop you from signing a commercial deal with a publisher for your work.

(However, I believe it to be a naive view to expect those who lead the industry to change if they believe that the process of creative commons will reduce profit)

Psychological perspective

One thing that I asked myself when thinking about the idea of creative commons is:

If a textbook is classed as an instructional tool, then is picking at and piecing together different sources diluting a (original) texts effectiveness?

This most closely related  to Snider (2006) myth of eclectic instruction. The myth refers to when teachers use a variety of methods and instructional materials instead on relying on a single instructional approach. Snider argues that this can be dangerous for the learner. If teachers mix in their own non-validated thoughts into their design then this destroys the credibility of any validated texts used.

This being said, I have often found (in university) that lecturers pick apart core texts, only teaching a random selection of segments due to it being insufficient to their needs.

If they were able to use one of the websites listed above, they could design a text for their specific module. The websites offer peer reviews of information posted, so pages would be validated by experts. Also sections used could be edited in order to match the instructional design they wish to follow, so a similar format would be taught throughout.

(Snider even states in her book that ‘sometimes teachers design their own curriculum to meet standards and these programs are necessarily eclectic’ pg 60)


Creative commons and open source learning seems like a great concept. It is used at the moment in very specific fields (e.g. the design of optimal FIR filters), and the websites I found linked to this topic were based in the US. I think that it still needs time to develop in order for more ‘main stream’ subjects to benefit.

Any thoughts?

  1. This seems to me like a fantastic idea. I guess it all boils down to what you are in it for. Personally, I would expect that someone would make a lot less money using this method. So, I guess it depends whether the author is producing a text in order to make money, or whether it is to genuinely advance the field and make the knowledge more accessible. I would imagine that most authors currently would argue that they are achieving both. Perhaps a solution to this could be for some sort of governing body to give out monetary awards for those who make a significant contribution, or even something as simple as selling advert space on specific web pages?

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