Friday, October 28, 2011

The Obviousness of Openness

Ruth Suehle:

One in seven people on the planet don't get enough food, a fact that led (Cable Green, director of learning at Creative Commons) to ask whether, if we had a machine that could feed everyone with a marginal cost of zero, and no ill effects to farmers, should we turn on the food machine? The obvious answer seems to be yes--and Green says that while we don't have a food machine, we do have a learning machine. But without policies--open policies--we can't turn it on.

By "open policy," Green means simply that publicly funded resources should be openly licensed. If the public has paid for a resource, it should be freely open and available. Publicly funded educational resources should use a license that allows the public to revise, reuse, remix, and redistribute those materials. To take advantage of the funding that goes into education and research, there must be broad adoption of open policies. ...

In English Composition I in Washington state, 55,000 students enroll each year with a $100+ textbook--that's more than $5.5 million every year for a course that is taught at nearly every institution of higher education. That money comes from federal aid (taxpayers), state aid (taxpayers), and student debt, which has passed consumer debt in this country. What if the State of Washington put out an RFP for anyone who could build the best English Composition I textbook, recoup its costs in a single year, invest $100,000/year to keep it updated, and use a Creative Commons license to share it with anyone else. And then what if other states took on the need of other basic courses, sharing them with everyone else? How could the savings be applied?

"We shouldn't attack the existing business models head-on, Green said. "Rather we choose to play by the new rules that we understand." Most of our policymakers exist in that world and think that way, and it's our job to help them think differently. He recommends partnering with legislators who care about the efficient use of tax dollars, saving students money, and increasing the availability of education to improve education with the adoption of open policies. "The only one thing that matters," he said, "is the efficient use of public funds to increase student success and access to quality educational materials. Everything else, including all existing business models, is secondary."

Of course, if you've got the magic food machine, you still need to do a bunch of other work to make sure all the food doesn't just rot in a big pile, but that's not a good general argument against using the magic food machine.


Scott McLeod said...

Great post, Tom. I blogged about this four years ago (4 years ago!). See & Why aren't we doing this? Absolutely no reason other than inertia and political contributions. As you note, the benefits would be HUGE.

Tom Hoffman said...

I should probably write a post about our book!