Two of the best things about the OpenEd course I’ve been blogging about are the conversations among the brilliant and diverse participants and the reading list for the course. In addition to supplemental readings on a variety of issues critical to OER, there is a reading assignment for a book of our choice from this list:

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Benkler)

Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm (Benkler)

The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (Easterly)

The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Easterly)

The World Is Flat (Updated and Expanded): A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Friedman)

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (Lessig)

Free Culture (Lessig)

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Prahalad)

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (Sachs)

Development as Freedom (Sen)

Other recommended books:

Wikinomics (Tapscott, Williams)

While I’ve already read a few of these books, there are several that I haven’t, and so I’ve gathered up copies of those to read over the next few months. On my list of been-planning-to-read are Larry Lessig’s books, so I’m reading them in order starting with Code.

The questions that have been posed for this assignment are:

QUESTIONS: What can the open education movement learn from the book you chose to read? Elaborate on at least three points. Which of the ideas presented in the book did you find hardest to believe or agree with? Why?

Rather than answer these questions in one long impossible-to-read post, I’m going to answer in parts as it comes to me.

The first big idea from Code that has struck me hard is Lessig’s model of four constraints that regulate behavior:

What things regulare

[Source: Larry Lessig, Code Version 2.0, page 123. CC-Attribution-ShareAlike.]

While we typically think of law as a major way that things are regulated, Lessig makes the case that the other three modalities can be equally, and in many cases more, effective. He gives very compelling examples of each in the “real” (non-cyber) world, and then goes on to expand them to the cyberworld. Much of the book is about architecture, which in the cyberworld is the “code” in the title of the book. Lessig makes the case that the way in which the net is coded allows, disallows, and steers behavior in very specific ways that are in many cases more effective and important than regulatory or economic constraints.

All four of these realms have very important implications for OER. Here are few thoughts.

Law

  • In this course and elsewhere, IP law has been discussed extensively, so I’ll just link to a few thoughts on this.
  • Legal issues regarding the accessibility of OER materials must be addressed if they are going to be used by mainstream educational communities.
  • The legislative environment surrounding the adoption and procurement of school textbooks is complex and in some places nearly impenetrable. In the United States, for example, it is very unlikely for OER to be successful in the K-12 environment due to legislative issues. This suggests that parts of the world with fewer legislative constraints will be more fruitful breeding grounds.

Market

  • OER needs to have more sustainable models.
  • Free is good, but to many, free implies a lack of quality and seriousness.
  • If there is sufficient critical mass, market forces will sort out quality issues as well as licensing issues. Better content and more open licenses will triumph, regardless of the legal environment or the infrastructure issues.

Norms

  • OER has to be socially accepted to be successful. We are a long way from this currently. To counter this, advocacy is necessary with policymakers, educational organizations, teachers, and learners.
  • Community norms may be a more efficient way to deal with “openness” issues than IP law or industry declarations.
  • If there is a critical mass, mass collaboration with open peer review can result in high quality content. (Wikipedia is a testament to that.)

Architecture

  • Non-accessible file formats (PDFs, streaming media, not-easily editable or sharable pages, etc.) limit openness.
  • Systems greatly affect true openness, regardless of how “open” a project claims to be. Systems that are producer-driven, that are difficult to access and use, and that don’t make it possible to remix content on the fly with the results open to others all make content less open. (There is a big divide in the OER community between the use of CMS systems and the use of Web 2.0 tools like wikis and blogs. The decision of tool affects openness.)
  • The digital divide and the general lack of net access in the communities most in need of OER is the biggest issue to the future success of this movement. We must be creative in resolving this, looking to solutions that include print, mobile devices, and other non-traditional methods of content distribution. Most importantly though we need to acknowledge the issue and start working on a solution.
OpenEd-Week 9 (yes, I’m jumping around)
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