Making the case for “Fully Open” Content

I’ve asked twitterites a few times but haven’t got much of a reply yet, so I’m hoping readers have a reference or two to throw my way. Here’s the question – I work on a project that helps share educational resources. We currently support two licenses, a Creative Commons license and a regional consortia license called the “BC Commons” which facilitates sharing amongst the public post-secondary institutions in BC. Obviously this latter is not a “fully open” license as it does limit who can see and reuse the content. We’ve always seen it, I think, as an interim step, a way to get people into the habit of sharing their content but in a ‘safe’ way (and a way that the funders, the BC government and taxpayers, could be convinced of the immediate benefits).

Increasingly we are looking to try and increase the use of “fully open” licenses like Creative Commons, but in order to take this step we need to make the case to funders (as well, ultimately, to the content owners) as to why publishing under a fully open license is a better idea, for them, for the funders and ultimately the taxpayers.

So, I am looking for as many good references as I can find to help make the case. I wish it were enough to simply point people at David Wiley’s BCNet talk from 2007 [audio here | video here] (heck, it was given here in BC) because if you ask me, slam dunk!

Unfortunately, I need more, especially actual studies of the benefits or effects of sharing in a fully open way (and especially where a group moved from a more closed to more open model of sharing). Anything that can support or illustrate these kinds of arguments:

  • making resources fully open increases the number of accesses (and reuse) of resources, both within and outside of the original constituency
  • resources that are made fully open will have more improvements made to them, and thus end up as higher quality resources at no cost, then resources that aren’t
  • making resources fully open can provide additional returns for the organizations that do so in the form of increased brand recognition, increased student enrollments, better prepared existing students, etc.
  • making resources fully open leads to increased opportunities for partnership
  • making resources fully open does not substantially impact revenues to the content owner or institution (and indeed may increase it)

Anything is helpful, and I assume there are others trying to make this case in their own jurisdictions. Do you know of any studies that we can cite to substantiate the above propositions? Or indeed other propositions we should be staking the case on? –SWL

12 thoughts on “Making the case for “Fully Open” Content”

  1. Scott,

    At ong last I return to this post in order to comment. The question of fully open is a good one, and the source you reference above in regards to David Wiley would be my first instinct. I wonder if Martin Weller and Tony Hirst might not also have many stories and resources to share given their work at the Open University.

    As far as fully open, I think UMW came at this in an interesting manner that you are familiar with. We went open almost by default. In oother words, Gardner Campbell made the push for external hosting (Bluehost in our case) and we were able to get departments, and sometimes individuals, their own shared web-hosting space to experiment with a series of easy to install (Fantastico style) open source applications like Drupal, Typo3, WordPress, PHPbb, tikie wiki (they never did get MediaWiki which is one of the apps we had to install manually) and a longer list, but these were the ones we used predominantly.

    The experiment was a way to suggest two things: a) teaching and learning technologies need to be playing with a series of alternative, open source apps that allow an individual to explore and experiment if they want, but also get an eassy, powerful tool with little technical overhead. This allowed for the web-based tool kit wherein we could test out a whole range of applications and come up with a best of breed from diligent practice and testing rather than some second hand knowledge, or a shiny sales pitch.

    And while none of this was necessarily “open” in regards to licenses and agreements, the fact is that about 90% of the work that was (and is still) being done is out there on the open web, free for anyone to fin, consider, and re-imagine.

    So,being fully open was very much a result of our willingness to have professors experiment with various web apps with the help and guidance (which means we were one step a head of them) from the Instructional Technologists.

    This was Gardner Campbell and Martha Burtis’s brainchild , and the result was pretty remarkable. Jon Udell was pretty impressed at UMW Faclty Academy 2006, and wrote it up and the benefits of such an approach here:

    I think if you an get folks to imagine the possibilities of experimenting with these web apps, and invest a bit of time and energy into answering some of the start-up questions you’ll find the conversations about openess and the benefots and pitfalls become a natural part of the landscape. I think these tools allow people to make these decisions individually, but an act which is often influenced by how others are dealing with the issue of openness and why.

    For me, personally, the issue of openess has real been the most important part of all these experiments because the university of Mary Washington has in many ways become more relevant to intself (we can trace the work of other students and faculty from numerous disciplines -that is cool!) but we can also provide a bridge to the larger public sphere. We are creating resources for our community, and we are making good on the public dollar. In many ways, I think the experiment has been about stepping up your work a notch to prepare it for the public which provides a very specific audience, and a sense of purpose and possibility for everyone involved.

    The web is the platform, and remaining open is the only real lomg term option for grwth, innovation, and new ways of imagining Teaching and learning vis-a-viz technology.

  2. Jim, thanks for this reply. I think the UMW case study actually represents probably the best way this can happen, as you describe, sort of an organic outcropping of the open experimentation your were enabling that then becomes self-reinforcing.

    We, unfortunately, are still in the “take content out of the locked silos, THEN share it” model (as is so much of higher ed) and so fight against the inertia of the silos and the closed anti-web model they promote.

    I really appreciate that over the years of conversation with yourself, Brian and others I’ve been able to see how it is wrongheaded to separate out the issues of openness, reusability and simplicity of use/authoring even though intellectually they might seem distinct phenomena. Or as I like to put it “learning object repositories are an answer begged by the question of course management systems.”

  3. I must admit that the overall lackof responses to this thread has me disheartened. But in the interests of sharing back whatever I am finding in the hopes that it helps others make similar arguments in their jurisdictions, I will keep posting URLs in the comment area here. Here’s the latest that seemed a bit of a gold mine, though no “hard numbers” found in here yet: – Creative Commons case studies

  4. Scott, I think the problem is we can make lots of arguments on the following but little evidence. The OU’s openlearn project does have lots of data though – send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with the person who has it. Not sure if it shows what you want, but there must be something in it somewhere.

  5. While this doesn’t help you right now, or even in the near future – there’s a call for papers about open educational resources over here:

    Again, while this doesn’t help you right now, when those papers are published you may start to have a body of “stuff” to back up your arguments.

    Clearly, this is an area that could be researched by someone who’s institution is forward thinking – maybe even something that might garner some funding from the government.

  6. Hi
    I’ve been involved recently in promoting the benefits of openness within the museums sector. A paper on “What Does Openness Mean To The Museum Community” is available from

    I think there are many parallels with openness of teaching materials. But the approach I’ve been taking is not to arcgue for ‘total openness’ (which sounds too ideological) but (as you touch on in your post) openness which in many (but not necessarily all) cases can benefit the institution and the community.

    Note wrt UK Government policy, the Power of Information report is worth reading – and thre’s recently been an interim report published:

    Brian Kelly, UKOLN

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