Redefining Open Access

Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
Open access logo, originally designed by Public Library of Science, CC0, Link

My wife and I have co-authored an article on online education and how it has changed/developed in response to current crises and how we might look at the pandemic as a stress test for online learning. It will be in a special issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology on crises and possible solutions in higher education that will be published in January 2021, and it will be the one “open access” issue that Wiley allows AJES each year.

So, when I saw that Goldie Blumenstyk, senior writer at The Chronicle, was writing in her newsletter about "What It Means to Be ‘Open Access’ Now" I was interested and thinking about how many of my colleagues don't know anything about Open Access unless they are publishing in journals.

I have been a longtime advocate of what I call "Open Everything" which is my umbrella term for many open efforts such as open textbooks, open-source software, MOOCs, etc. A typical definition of open access (OA) refers to free, unrestricted online access to research outputs such as journal articles and books. OA content is open to all, with no access fees. 

Why should a journal offer OA? A good example is OA in science. It addresses a basic value of science: to help advance and improve society by providing immediate and unrestricted access to the latest research. That can accelerate discovery and create a more equitable system of knowledge that is open to all.

Blumenstyk writes about keeping access to education open which has been an issue getting more attention during the pandemic.

"To be an open-access institution used to be pretty straightforward, if not easy: Keep tuition low and set admissions requirements forgiving enough to let students prove themselves even if they don’t seem — or aren’t — academically ready. In recent years, consciousness of students’ basic needs, including food and housing, has also grown. The pandemic has not only accelerated that, but also added new dimensions to the definition of “open access.” Now it means a lot more outreach, time on the telephone (yes, the telephone), and a willingness to bend some established academic and financial rules. That’s some of what I heard during a Chronicle virtual forum a few weeks ago on what’s needed for higher ed to be truly open access in this moment. Here are highlights and other insights that stuck with me from that discussion, as well as my takeaways from another panel on complex universities working together while operating remotely."

What struck Blumenstyk in the forum was that "supporting students’ basic needs has become fundamental to how colleges see their responsibilities" and that "'Right now, students’ economic worries outweigh their academic concerns, said Anthony Munroe, BMCC’s president. And as he put it, 'We have a moral obligation to meet the needs of our students.'”

It is great to see conversations about open access education. That is also an umbrella term in that the use of open textbooks, journals, and software is often the way to lower student costs and allow access to learners who are not traditional, enrolled learners.

As you have probably discovered from clicking links to articles in journals and publications (including The Chronicle) not all of them are free and open, even in some partially OQ publications. But there are some. All articles in open access journals that are published by Elsevier, for example, have undergone peer review and upon acceptance are immediately and permanently free for everyone to read and download.  

Twenty years ago when I started in higher education and brought up open access to faculty, the most common question was "Why would I give away my [writing, software, courseware intellectual property] for free?" As with science, I could reply that "it's the right thing to do." But Open Access publications reduce permission requirements and eliminate price barriers for readers. In fact, many studies demonstrate that OA literature receives more citations than subscription publications and so get your name and ideas out into the world. 

Conversations about the traits of a resilient college and society before, during, and after this pandemic should include a lot of talk about open access. If this pandemic is truly a black swan event for higher education, then any successes in agility, flexibility, and resilience are critical to students, faculty, and institutions.

Useful Free Tools for Back to School From the Internet Archive

As students around the world resume their education - perhaps in a physical classroom - probably online - there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The nonprofit Internet Archive is dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge. They provide a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world—check out these tools for remote learning!

Over the past several months, the Internet Archive has collaborated with a number of educational specialists to determine how our collections can best serve teachers. You can leverage the Open Library to get new material or find lesson plans to make curriculum preparation easier.

oregon trail screenStudents can also access the Open Library books. For younger students, there are Kid-Friendly resources. For homework help, The Internet Archive has a huge array of textbooks and study guides. If you’re looking for primary sources to cite in your History assignments, our 26 million historical books and texts are a great place to start; if you’re trying to get through English class we also have thousands of works of literature from around the world.

There is even a huge collection of educational (and some less-educational) software and computer games if you need a study break.

The American Libraries collection includes material contributed from across the United States including the Library of Congress, many local public libraries, including material in the public domainand materials sponsored by Microsoft, Yahoo!, The Sloan Foundation, and others.

Everything Online Is Not Open

open access
 Open Access promo buttons - photo by biblioteekje, on Flickr

Here's my point upfront: Not everything online is open. 

This is the story of an image and a blog post that are mine and that have found their way online in other places. 

I post a lot of things online - mostly articles and images. Almost all of that is marked with a Creative Commons License. That means that with few restrictions you can use and reuse the resources. This blog is labeled in that way.

CC license

But the Open Everything movement of the past three decades has created a generation and an incorrect assumption that everything online is open.   

I found a photo of mine that I had used online in another place. It was the two Buddhas image shown here and I found it on a well-respected Buddhist journal website.

It also shows up in other places. One simple Google image search turned up 10 instances of it being used and it can also be found on other sites. I'm actually pleased to see it used and properly attributed for others to see.  

Buddha phone latte

The really important distinction is that in the case of the Tricycle journal using the photo (as you can see above), they have credited me and linked to their source which is my Flickr site. That "attribution" is part of the CC license I used. That is the way open is supposed to work. Other people have reused the image (which I did clearly mark for reuse) too but without attribution. And others after them have then reused it having no idea where the image originated and whether or not it is open for their reuse. (Another Flick example is at the top of this post.)

I have also seen other mages of mine used in places online without attribution. In some cases, they were images I did NOT license as open (such as an image on Instagram or Facebook). I'm not a professional photographer who makes a living from my images, but there are people who are and obviously this is a critical issue for them. Watermarking images, disabling right-click downloading and using smaller, lower-quality files are some ways they might try to prevent copying. But it's so easy to grab a screenshot of anything online that it's impossible to fully prevent it. Plus, you have to spend a lot of time tracking down where your images are being used and pursue misusers.

When I use free and open images from others (Google allows for that kind of search and there are many sites such as pixabay.com), I still doublecheck to see whether I need to attribute a creator or site. On that popular image sharing site, they have a Pixabay License and it also states when you download an image that it is is "Free for commercial use. No attribution required," there is an opportunity for you to give attribution. I always tag the image name with "pixabay" and I usually will still give credit. For one thing, I want others that see it and know that it's not my work and that they too can legitimately use it. The site tells you that "Crediting isn’t required, but linking back is greatly appreciated and allows image authors to gain exposure." You can also "tip" the creator with a donation. Pixabay, Wikimedia, Flickr, YouTube, and others will give you the correct code to use for attribution and perhaps even for embedding. An example is at the bottom of this post.

I have Google Alerts set for lots of words and phrases. For example, I get updates about the appearance of my name, Serendipty35, and serendipity35.net appearing n the web and I check out the sites. It's always nice to see someone linking to the blog or mentioning me in a positive fashion. It is a lot less appealing to find posts plagiarized and in a few cases, the entire posts feed being fed into some other site as its content.

As an educator for 40+ years, I have always included lessons in the proper use and citation of sources for all kinds of intellectual property. It's a lot more difficult since the Internet came into being because the copying is so much faster and easier. Educating users in and out of school and of all ages about the proper use of reusing content is a lesson that should never end.

open sign pixabay

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

An Open and Shut Educational Case

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Here are some concepts that I see used as hashtags, which is a sign that they have a following: lifelong learning, lifewide learning. open education, open learning, open universities. Around 2012, when MOOCs went large, the open of Massive Open Online Courses was a really important part of what defined those courses. Today, the open part has been lost in many instances where you see the MOOC term applied to an offering.

I created a category here in 2006 called "Open Everything" as an umbrella term for what I saw as a trend which would include MOOCs, OER (Open Educational Resources), open textbooks, open-source software and other things used in "open education" and beyond what we traditionally have thought of as "education," such as training, professional development and unsupervised learning.

It's not that this openness started in 2012. In 2006, I was posting in that category about a conference on interoperability, iTunes U, podcasts, Creative Commons and other open efforts. It wasn't until 2008 that I used the term "Open Everything" in a post as a movement I was seeing, rather than just my aggregated category of posts. 

That 2006 conference brought together schools using different course management systems (CMS such as WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) to see if there might be ways to have these open and closed CMS work together. Moodle and Sakai were open-source software and schools (including NJIT where I was working) were experimenting with them while still using the paid products. At that time, a survey of officials responsible for software selection at a range of higher education institutions responded in a survey that two-thirds of them had considered or were actively considering using open source products. About 25% of institutions were implementing higher education-specific open-source software of some kind.

On a much larger scale, there were open universities with quite formal learning, such as the Open University in Great Britain. There were efforts at less formal learning online, such as Khan Academy. There was also the beginning of less formal learning from traditionally formal places, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

The MOOC emerged from the availability of free resources, such as blogging sites, that were not open in that you probably could not get to the code that ran it or reproduce it elsewhere but were freely available. 

The Open Everything philosophy embraces equity and inclusion and the idea that every person has a right to learn throughout their lives. It champions the democratization of knowledge. 

In the 14 years since I started writing about this, we have made progress in the use of OER. Open textbooks, which I literally championed at conferences and in colleges, are much easier to get accepted by faculty than it was back then.

Unfortunately, some things that began as open - MOOCs are perhaps the best example - are now closed. They may not be fully closed. You can still enroll in courses online without cost. You may or may not be able to reuse those materials in other places or modify them for your own purposes.

In 2017, I wrote that David Wiley makes the point about "open pedagogy" that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.”

Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions." Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 

I view the once-open doors are mostly shut. I hope they won't be locked.