Failing to share publicly funded HE resources ‘immoral’

Spending public money on higher education resources that cannot be shared openly borders on being “immoral and unethical”, a conference has heard.

April 15, 2015

Cable Green, director of global learning at Creative Commons, an organisation that facilitates open sharing of knowledge, said that to do “anything less” than insist that all publicly funded educational tools are openly licensed, meaning they can be accessed for free and adapted for reuse, was “a massive waste of money”.

Speaking at the Open Educational Resources 2015 conference in Cardiff, Dr Green said that OERs could increase the “efficiency and effectiveness” of public funds.

“It borders on immoral and unethical behaviour the way we spend public funds today on education,” he said. “All publicly funded resources should be openly licensed by default.”

Dr Green highlighted the work of the Open Policy Network, a group that urges governments and organisations to insist that any funded work is published openly. “[We need to] stop giving people money unless there is an open licence requirement on it,” he said.

“We complain in higher education…about not having enough funds [but] we have plenty of money, we spend more than enough on educational resources — we’re just really bad at how we spend it.”

He also said that the idea of a government licence to allow people in the UK access to publicly funded research, such as the one proposed in a recent Higher Education Policy Institute paper, “does not meet with the spirit of sharing”. Such a system would also be “almost impossible” to implement, he said, because it is so difficult to restrict access to something once it is online.

Instead, encouraging a more open culture within the academy could foster a more cooperative approach to education, he said.

Dr Green depicted a scenario in which all the academics around the world teaching “introduction to statistics” courses were “engaged in a conversation with each other” – sharing ideas about what works, and developing better courses as a result.

“We really are bad at this in education, and OER is a bridge to doing this [more effectively],” he said.

Dr Green pointed to the work of the OER Research Hub, an Open University project, which he said had found that when lecturers incorporated open resources, student satisfaction increased and test scores improved.

However, he added that there were still significant challenges for the 25 per cent of academics who he said were “passionate advocates” of open educational resources.

“Only 12 per cent of faculty are publishing OERs under Creative Commons licences,” he said, adding that some faculty believe they are publishing openly by making materials freely available, but are restricting other people’s ability to adapt and reuse their resources.  

Resources were also “difficult to find”, and general knowledge about their existence and usefulness was “low”, he said. 

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Reader's comments (1)

An interesting point of view. However, now that students are picking up most of the tab for their degree courses, how does this effect the argument? Do students want to pay for a course, only to find that the materials later become freely available to all? I suppose they would have to balance that against the suggestion of the article that the quality of their own course would be enhanced if these materials were generally available. I suspect the reason most academics don't want to share their course materials is that they are worried that they wouldn't match up with what else is out there, and don't particularly want to open themselves up to unnecessary scrutiny or put in the often huge amount of work necessary to polish something for public consumption. Most lecturers simply don't match up to the kind you can watch on EdX.