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Removing barriers to OER adoption - Legal and practical implications of OER

Open source standards

One of the debates that can derail or delay OER projects is where a stalemate crops up concerning the file formats that are to be used. Educators and institutions starting out in this area need to understand their options and the associated implications, with knowledge about the two main sides of the debate. Estimates generally show that Microsoft Office is the most widely used office package around the world (Answers.com, 2010). The Open Source community has a strong case about the cost of proprietary software that may be affordable in some parts of our society and not in other parts of society. Rather than laying down a single standard, we should remember that most of the content developing that is text-based, does not need particularly advanced formatting and so converting between MS Word, OOo Writer, Apple Pages and other word processors is very feasible for a team. If a small team is constituted to write text content, it will certainly be easier if that team consistently uses the same word processor, but there is little to worry about technically until the late stages of the project, when page formatting can become an issue if converted from one software package to another.

If the content development teams have reliable access to the Internet, they might also consider using online word processors such as Live.com73, Google Docs and ThinkFree. These services provide for the online sharing of files for teams with members working in different locations.

Since conversions between word processors is more reliable now, there is little left to argue when consensus cannot be reached on which word processor to use. The choice can be based on cost and personal (team) preferences. Specialists in desktop publishing, media and other specialists, may be much more specific in their needs.

The “not invented here” syndrome

Educators have for some time been paid, based on particular norms. One of these norms is that they prepare their own notes for classes or write distance education lecture notes. When the same educator is now asked to do what many academics might regard as cheating, to download existing content and reuse it, they may feel that they are no longer doing their job. If performance appraisal systems have been built on the basis of creating a certain volume of learning resources, tutoring a specific number of learners, and so on, the appraisal system may be out-of-sync with the new norms. The new norms are: finding existing materials, customizing them to suit the target group of learners and releasing them, knowing that the learners will know that the materials were developed by someone else, possibly in another part of the world and not their own lecturer.

An educator may believe they are the only person in the world that can prepare a particular piece of material and could refuse to contemplate using OER, or may refuse OER on the basis of the quality not meeting their own standard.
Performance appraisal systems will need to be adapted to suit the new way of working with OER.

In some institutions, educators have been able to create learning content on institutional time and still have the benefit of selling the content as prescribed or recommended textbooks. What incentives can now be introduced to encourage such an educator to give up a possible lucrative side-income?

Adoption by ministries of education

Ministries of education wishing to improve the use of funds, might consider the cost of buying textbooks each year from commercial companies. Issues of quality will no doubt be cited, but one should consider who the authors of the textbooks are in the first place. If the authors are employees of national institutions, are their salaries already paid and should their productive time be reapplied to projects to write OER textbooks, which are then released free of charge to the world? If a book is written and released as an OER in a Pacific country, and that content may be 80% suitable in a European country, thereby reducing the time to produce a new work, would this both reduce the time and cost of development and help to bring about more similarities in educational standards around the world?
To make materials developed in different parts of the world more comparable in educational standard, global standards need to be established and adopted. This topic will be covered in more detail later in this report.

Copyright, repositories, ‘online courseware factories’

When an author of a work uploads it to a particular repository or wiki, the work becomes part of that repository’s overall collection. In the case of a catalogue of educational content like the OERCommons, the original author(s) would have to be acknowledged.

If the work is uploaded into a wiki, the username of the person uploading it will be recorded in the history record of the page. Usernames on a wiki may be quite cryptic such as: HappyCamper, Phsi, D yadav or Fgfg (all real user-names on a wiki). The user’s personal page and registration may contain the real-name of the contributor, but provision of that real-world information is voluntary. The email address listed by the user must be functional, but also may not provide clues as to the real identity of the user contributing to the learning materials. Participation in a community such as a wiki requires contributors to put the community first and not their own name and esteem.

The author(s) may record their name(s) on the wiki page containing the learning materials, but this may be deleted in due course as more and more people edit the same page. Some authors may want their name to remain connected to the work as the original creator of the work. Others may be particularly concerned with having their name linked to a work they no longer ‘control’. A range of technologies may therefore be ideal that suit different people’s needs and expectations, rather than expecting all people to conform to one ‘standard’.

OER may carry a range of copyright licenses. A popular set of licenses is provided by Creative Commons76. When works carry these licenses, the user is informed by the license that they may use (or reuse) the work without recourse to the original author or creator of the work. There are a few ‘restrictions’ associated with these licenses that need to be known and understood. When reusing works downloaded from a repository, the Creative Commons license specifically states the following about attribution (the ‘BY’ restriction):

1. ‘. . . You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI). . .’ (Creative Commons, 2011).
This means that the new material must always show good faith about from where the original work was downloaded.
2. ‘You must keep intact all notices that refer to this License and to the disclaimer of warranties with every copy of the Work You Distribute. . .’ (Creative Commons, 2011).

This specifies that the original license of the work incorporated into the new, customized work should state the original copyright notice of the incorporated work. This implies that if the incorporated work is of a different license to the work before and/or after it, the start and end points of the incorporated work must be be indicated and the appropriate copyright license shown. This appears to show that a new level of attribution of works is required; whereas we are used to citing references to other works, when working with OER, we need to also attribute the different licenses throughout the works we compile for other existing works.

3. ‘. . . If You create a Collection, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Collection any credit as required by Section 4(b), as requested. If You create an Adaptation, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Adaptation any credit as required by Section 4(b), as requested.’ (Creative Commons, 2011).
This states that the OER that has been incorporated into a new work should be identifiable and if the user is asked by the original rights holder to remove it, this should be possible. This again shows that is is feasible to combine works with different licenses, provided the start and end points of the incorporated works and the license reflected for that section as part of the regular attribution are shown.

4. ‘. . . Except as otherwise agreed in writing by the Licensor or as may be otherwise permitted by applicable law, if You Reproduce, Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work either by itself or as part of any Adaptations or Collections, You must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author's honor or reputation’ (Creative Commons, 2011).

For rights holders or authors who are concerned about what other people will do with their work, here is the answer in the Creative Commons legal code: No one is allowed to ‘distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action’ with regard to the OER. If they do, the rights holder could take legal action. The rights holder may simply choose to post a note of disgust on the repository or wiki where his or her work has been distorted, or post a note on their own website or repository, distancing themselves from the customized work they feel is derogatory to themselves.

Taking the above into account, it seems that when downloading a work from a repository like OERCommons, one would reference the work that is being downloaded. However, when downloading a work from a Wiki, which is authored by any number of people and where the authors may only be identified by their screen names and not necessarily real names, the wiki is to be referenced. This could affect choices made by both individuals who are protective over the works they personally create and are willing to share, and institutions that share works and want their name to remain visible in all copies.

Further information has been included in the Appendix to this report on the citation of educational works that carry a mix of Creative Commons licenses.

Curriculum Outlines

An area that appears to have received relatively little attention is the agreement of globally recommended curriculum outlines. There is a risk of having multiple organizations create similar OER, based on curriculum guidelines that cover the same topic areas, but end up varying sufficiently to restrict their transferability between countries. There are a few examples where standardized curriculum outlines do exist.

Much as institutions might in future expect educators to first check for the availability of OER before creating new learning resources from scratch, institutions should expect educators to first check for internationally recognized curriculum outlines before embarking on the creation of new learning resources.

In the USA, the ‘Common Core State Standards Initiative is a U.S. education initiative that follows the principles of standards-based education reform. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Announced on June 1, 2009, the initiative's stated purpose is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.”’

The Australian Government is working on a joint project with its states and territories to develop an Australian curriculum.

The province of British Columbia in Canada have a project to provide Curriculum Packages by Grade.
The United Kingdom has a National Curriculum83 divided into primary and secondary education, with guidance and tools to help schools design a curriculum that inspires and challenges all their learners (National Curriculum, 2011).
The Institute for International Medical Education84 is responsible for the development of "global minimum essential (core) requirements" to be required by physicians throughout the world’. (IIME, 2011)

As seen above, there are examples of non-prescriptive ways to provide a basic standard that can help developers of content to produce OER that are imminently transferable to other countries and contexts. These do not have to evolve into rigid or imposing standards, but rather remain as broad guidelines. Broad guidelines are likely to help if it supports the sharing of resources covered in the learning content, the technical formats in which the resources are made available (e.g. ODT, DOC, RTF, XML), the copyright licensing used (e.g. a Creative Commons license) and issues that affect the size of the file and its transmission through the Internet.