Publishers Critique Federal Investment in Open-Source Online-Learning
6.2.11 | The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week about reactions to a new federal grant program designed to expand training at community colleges and increase the availability of free online courses.
The $500 million grant program is a collaboration between the Department of Education and the Department of Labor and is designed to provide opportunities for workers to acquire new skills they need in today’s economy. In a radical move for a federal government grant program, the initiative requires all work supported by the grant to be made available under a Creative Commons license.
In a blog post, Beth Noveck, a New York Law School professor and the former director of the White House Open Government Initiative and U.S. deputy chief technology officer, explains how the program works and why this is important:
The TAA CCCT grants require that the training materials, curricula, online courses, and other courseware created by grantees with taxpayer money be made freely available for reuse to the public (not just to the government as is the standard practice) by means of a Creative Commons License (see cc post here). After all, we’ve already paid once to fund the grants, we shouldn’t have to pay a second and third time to purchase the same educational materials. As a matter of public policy, we want the widest possible dissemination of job training assistance.
In practice, this means that if a community college wins a grant to create a videogame to teach how to install solar panels, everyone will have the benefit of that knowledge. They will be able to play the game for free. In addition, anyone can translate it into Spanish or Russian or use it as the basis to create a new game to teach how to do a home energy retrofit.
In order to encourage use and re-use of these learning materials TAA CCCT goes beyond mandating that grantees give permission to use the educational resources; the grant program also gives instructions to grantees for how to tag and label their materials to make them easily findable online.
But leaders in the publishing and software industries, under increasing strain from declining print publication revenues, are not so happy about this development. They spoke out last week at the Software & Information Industry Association meeting in San Francisco.
The SIIA released guidelines requesting the government not require open-source licensing and not directly involve itself in creating course content.
“I fear when big bucks from government is put into certain places, it actually stops pushing people to innovate,” said Kevin Wiggen, chief technology officer of Blackboard Xythos.
Karen Cator, director of educational technology at the Department of Education, says the program will benefit companies who should see it as an opportunity.
“The federal government can put some money into OER,” Cator said, “but what is much more important is we can help you all in whatever way you need help in opening doors and building global business.”
The first round of grants will be awarded to community colleges later this year.
Plus: Creative Commons is sponsoring a free panel discussion in San Francisco on June 13 on education in a digital age. Hear how “Creative Commons, Open Educational Resources (OER), technology, and openness in general have been crucial in reshaping the way we teach and learn (online, offline, in the classroom and out), and join the discussion of how we can continue to make it so.” No RSVP required, but let them know you’re coming on Facebook.
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