Budapest + Cape Town: What’s Open?

July 18, 2008 § 1 Comment

During our PCF5 workshop on the Cape Town Declaration, Paul West and I got into a collegial debate about the definition of an ‘open educational resource‘. He held up a book he’s working on and said: “This contains legal advice that I’ve had vetted, so I want to release it under a no-derivatives Creative Commons license. I think this is an open educational resource. Do you?”

My answer was ‘no’. For me, the fundamental test of an open educational resource is whether it is under a license and uses a format that allows remixing. This is how we defined it in the Cape Town Declaration:

Open educational resources should be freely shared through open licenses which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms.

The real promise of open education rests on this remixability. It’s what creates space for increased innovation and creativity in learning.

Of course, there is an important place in education for fixed, authoritative works like the one Paul describes. And, there is no question, releasing these under an open license like CC-ND is a very good thing. However, I would label such documents as ‘open access resources’ rather than ‘open educational resources’.

While may seem like nit-picking, it’s important to be clear on the differences here. The stakes are high. The Budapest Declaration defined the minimum spec for an open access resource, which benefited the worlds of education and research tremendously. Cape Town has now set out a spec for open education resources. It may have a similar effect over time, but only if we are clear that open educational resources represent a separate and complimentary tactic to open access. They are about the potential of remixable education.

§ One Response to Budapest + Cape Town: What’s Open?

  • It will come as no surprise that I completely agree with Mark here. And I like the idea of reserving the term “Open access resources” for those works with the ND (no derivatives) term or equivalent restrictions on derivation, and “Open educational resources” for those that explicitly allow derivatives. I also agree that open access resources are extremely useful and valuable contributions, but they do not have the essential qualities that make them potentially transformative in an educational sense.

    Something that I would like to also see discussed further is the fact that you can have an authoritative version of something without restricting derivative works. In a digital world, there is no loss to the original when you allow people to adapt things. So Paul can release his original, authoritative version of the text as CC BY (attribution only), clarifying that it is the only authoritative version out there. Any derivative works would have to be attributed to the original (which of course remains pristine regardless of how much deriving is going on), thereby immediately distinguishing them as derivatives (and thus not the original authoritative form). It is not clear to me what is gained by preventing clearly beneficial derivatives, such as translations, alternative media formats, or allowing for excerpts of the text to be taken and contextualized in a fashion that is more useful for the audience at hand. If you want to be absolutely sure about this, you can release a “branded” version of the work (i.e., with additional formatting and logos and whatever else gives it the mark of authority) with an ND term, and simultaneously release an “unbranded” version (identical except for the extraneous stuff) which is available for derivation. All CC licenses are non-exclusive and can be dually licensed in this way.

    There is a similar problem along this line of thinking regarding the use of the SA (share-alike) term, but I’ll leave that for another day. Glad to see these issues were discussed at PCF5.


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