Emerging-technology expert calls for open access to academic knowledge

July 29, 2010

It is almost "criminally irresponsible" to hoard academic knowledge in the digital age, according to a Canadian specialist in the field.

Brian Lamb, manager of emerging technologies and digital content at the University of British Columbia, also said that open educational resources (OERs) could help to reassert the academy's role as a "leader and guardian of free and open enquiry".

He made the comments at the Open Educational Resources International Symposium in London, which was sponsored by the Joint Information Systems Committee.

Mr Lamb said that OER - freely available course material - was "one small piece" of a broader movement. "Yes, we want open content, but also open source tools, the adoption of open standards, open data and open and transparent practices," he said.

He added that it was possible universities did not have the answers to the world's problems and that the human race was "doomed", but that hoarding knowledge was "perverse".

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Mr Lamb said that the social imperative for institutions to share their knowledge on the web was "self-evident".

He pointed to Wikipedia as an example of people creating "interesting knowledge structures" despite "no financial incentives, no grades and only mild social rewards".

However, he said that open education was often viewed as a "form of foreign aid or charity" and that, if this were to continue, OER could fall victim to funding cuts.

"It's often an additional production cost tacked on to teaching and learning," he said.

"If it's seen as an extra, people are rightly going to say that institutions have to direct their resources towards their core stakeholders."

Making the case for investment, he said students could be assessed on work on open-platform systems such as augmented reality applications for smartphones, rather than essays with limited reach.

"You could have students of English history creating visible resources in an open standard so that the next time I come to London, I can run my app and have rigorous, rich historical resources in an open format."

He added that a move to more open content would convince the public of the value of universities.

"We can't afford to let the web happen to us: we need to be aggressive and shape it ourselves," he said.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com

For more on Mr Lamb's speech: http://bit.ly/99TI2h.

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