OER & knowledge inequality

OER & knowledge inequality

Imagine if all the educational content which is generated in digital medium is kept open-source. What would be the implication of that?

Does making content proprietary widen the knowledge in-equality? If yes, do we have any policy in place which mandates the creation of content for education purpose as OER whether it’s public institutions or private? If no, why there isn’t?

How do we create an ecosystem where it’s easier for educators to make a shift towards OER creation and usage? How does one balance the quality with associated seed cost for production? In other words, how do we decentralise quality production? What will be the role of academia to build such a culture?


(the following is reproduced from the Telegram thread where this started)

There should be… as far as I am aware, there isn’t. (Again, as far as I am aware) there is no educational or research institution in India or anywhere in the world that says that “if you work here, everything you create as part of your work has to be published under one of these pre-approved open licenses.”

Such a mandate, if any, usually comes from the funding agency, for example, The Gates Foundation or, in theory, funding from the US Federal Agencies. In fact, the only institution that I am aware of that by design doesn’t allow holding any intellectual property right in the creations by its employees or its contractors is the US Federal Govt. That is the only institution that is actually forbidden by the US law to hold any IP in stuff created by it “within the US”. The US law remains silent about the status of such creations outside the boundaries of the US, and as such, the US federal agencies maintain copyright over their works outside the US but never assert them.

Most (non-US-Federal) govt agencies around the world are terrible actually and not only keep their IP rights but also aggressively enforce them. (For example, the UK’s map making agency, The Ordnance Survey). Even in the US, state govts and agencies are not bound by the same law as their federal counterparts, so they (the state agencies) also assert their copyright even in their own state (which is stupid, because they are funded by that state’s taxpayers).

I have always dreamed of having (creating) an institution that fundamentally by design enforces open licenses on the stuff created by its employees while in employ. Perhaps a living academy could be such an institution.

Another point – the word open, like most words in English language (esp. free) is overloaded. It is often used to signify one thing but could mean something else, probably on most occasions unintentionally but sometimes also with the intention to obfuscate. This is sometimes referred to as open-washing.

For example, on the Telegram group you shared a link to a video from Aarohi. I have no idea what Aarohi is but I see they call themselves an Open Learning Community. Keep in mind, they don’t mean (as far as I can tell) open as in published under an open license. In fact, no where on that video do they mention that the video is published under an open license. The same is true for their website. There is absolutely zero mention of any IP license. Probably this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for most people, but if things ever came to litigation, Aarohi could claim complete copyright over everything they create. That is because everyone has copyright in their creation without having to state so.

Actually, Aarohi is quite puzzling. I am reading their FAQs and I really don’t understand what it is. For example, under “Anxiety of freedom”, they give an example of a question

Query - I like the aspect of freedom, child led, Open earning; I’d want to know…

beside the fact that they likely didn’t mean “Open earning” – which could be good, by the way – they use many words to explain what it isn’t, but don’t really explain what it is. They say their life mimics life, but all life mimics life. So, what’s the big deal?

Anyway, a good question. I hope others read this thread and contribute to it.

gnowledge.org lab of HBCSE commits to this.

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Costs are an artifact of business model.
As an individual or small private body a NC licence should work.
As a publicly funded body even a NC is restrictive.

The opposite of open is not closed; the opposite of open is broken. - R. Jhangiani

The current system of knowledge dissemination including books and journals is based on the technology of print and paper. Most of the “norms” (read copyright and costs) originate from the idea of having a physical product when you pay for it. Though one can argue that copyright was not constituted for profiteering, but rather the opposite, and had dissemination of knowledge to the public as a stated goal. The current understanding of most people, including academics, the norm is to accept a working system. The reason for this is that though the idea maybe there that the publishers are profiteering, there was no alternative system available till very recently.

Since the publishers controlled the dissemination of knowledge (to a large extent they still do), doing something along the lines of OER would not have been technically possible at scale (think global), let’s say three decades ago. Only with spread of internet and the legal basis arising from the open licensing such a thinking is possible.

But this threatens the very existence of the the established system, and people do not like change. I remember quite a few editorial about a decade back, when the first open access journals were started. They argued that such a thing would never work, but it did. And now as a response major publishers have started their own “gold” open access journals. It is just a matter of time before academics and administrators alike realise this and take corrective steps.

One can argue just on the basis of philosophical and pedagogical principles for adoption of OERs and OEPs, but in recent years there has been increase in scholarship of research studies which empirically establish efficacy of OERs. These can be suitably used to argue for OERs other than the principles.

Some actions which might act like catalysts in this regard are:

  • Extensive awareness programmes to make people aware and dispel any myths (free is not good quality)
  • Presenting OERs as a complete package - including instructors manual, assessments et al.
  • Assuring quality of the OERs - they are free for the users, but not for the producers
  • Research about effectiveness and potentials of OERs
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As I recall from some reading I did at the time of the contentious passage of the IT Act in India, and the GATT discussions/Uruguay Round on trade that preceded it slightly, the origin of copyright was the explosion of pornography in Paris, France, that heralded a gigantic break away (in Europe, where such things were taken seriously in those days) from the stranglehold held on all knowledge dissemination by the Roman Catholic Church. The market for such pornography, both written and pictorial, was enormous by the standards of the day, and led to bitter rivalries between competing owners of printing presses.

The works of the Marquis de Sade were partly a satirical response to this warfare. It took about a hundred years after his time for local and regional agreements to turn into international law, with the Paris Accord. Perhaps as a tribute to his satire, the agreement was signed by 13 major countries, led by the probably certifiable leader of Haiti. Then, as now, Haiti was an insignificant little nation, and the fact that it took the lead is definitely risible.

However, one great innovation in modern technology, that impacts a very large number of succeeding innovations, is the ability to identify unique patterns in DNA. This was open published by the developers, the scientists at the CCMB, a sister organisation of HBCSE, both being promoted by TIFR. I can’t recall exactly when, but it was in the early 90s.

The idea was that useful applications would certainly follow in rapid succession, provided enough scientists and research laboratories got to work on it. And they did, and most of them filed patents in their own countries, trashing the spirit and the letter of the original open publishing.

However, there’s an equally significant publication, in terms of lasting influence, and this is MK Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj (1908 or 1909). The original was open published, and subsequently many printers and publishers have got around the inconvenient open license by adding a few words of text, by way of original introduction or even less significant additions.