Monday, July 06, 2009

My Reply to "Freecomonics in Education"

There's a bit of a thread going at Tom Vander Ark's "Freecomonics in Education" post, but in case my latest comments don't make it onto the blog, here they are (slightly edited for clarity):


No, the alternative is that foundations, government and other actors (like Wireless Generation did) pay people to create, improve and distribute free content, which is then distributed widely over the internet through a variety of channels. There is little subsequent cost.

There are plenty of people willing to host, vet, package and distribute freely licensed content and software. There is an entire industry of Linux distributions that do all that with software (e.g., Red Hat, Ubuntu, Suse, etc). There could (and will!) be a similar industry in education eventually, but the NROC strategy blocks that kind of development. It blocks it! And when that part of the industry does start up, Hippocampus will be excluded by its own design.

Also, Hippocampus/NROC's license does not fit Hewlett’s own definition of an open educational resource:

OER are teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Doyle, is not run for the greater good. Sun bought a commercial office suite and made it open source to bootstrap some competition against Microsoft more effectively than they could have done with a commercial alternative. They're too small a player in that space otherwise.

Most of the work done on is corporate (by several major corporations) or (non-US) government funded for strategic reasons.

But here's the thing, to the user, this is all irrelevant. Because adheres to the standards for free and open source licensing, there is no catch even when the motives are not strictly altruistic. That's why licensing is so important.

Hewlett's attitude about OER seems similar to Gates' approach to, say, malaria prevention. Important, but not relevant in the US -- well, not US K-12. That's fine, I'm not going to diss them for it because they don't really pretend to be involved in OER in US K-12. It isn't like they're going to NECC and getting everyone psyched up about something they're not doing. They're just not doing it, like many, many other people. They are so not doing it that they haven't even managed to explain to a colleague like Tom Vander Ark what an OER is or what the basic outlines of the work in this area taking place around the world look like.


doyle said...

Dear Tom,

Thanks for straightening that out for me--I knew belonged to Sun, but could never figure out what was in it for them.

It's taken me a long while to come around to grasping free and open source licensing. There's no excuse for my ignorance, and your words go a long way to fixing it.

(My interest is as much pragmatic as philosophical--my Windows got fubared beyond repair last December. When I first started dabbling with this nonsense in the 1980's, it was easy enough to peek under the hood and fix things. I took a look at Linux/buntu, fell in love with it, and haven't looked back. I can play again.)

Does the licensing allow school districts to use it at no or little cost?

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Doyle,

Any software with a free or open source license, including's LGPL, grants the user:

The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1).

The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3).

So yes, schools and anyone else can use it at no cost, redistribute it to their students, etc, forever.

I recommend: