Effective open licensing policy and
practice for Australian universities

Category Archives: Blog

Open Education Excellence Award

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We are excited to announce that our Open Education Licensing Toolkit has been awarded one of the 2017 Awards for Open Education Excellence by the Open Education Consortium global network. It is a great honour to receive this award alongside teams from all over the world working in open education. Our team member Carina Bossu was in Cape Town, South Africa last week to accept the award on behalf of the OEL Project team at the OEC Global Conference.

The Open Education Consortium is a non-profit, social benefit organisation made up of individuals, educational institutions and organisations that support the development of Open Education.

Their mission is to promote, support and advance openness in education around the world.

The Open Education Consortium global conference is held every year. The conference brings together administrators, policy makers, faculty, students, researchers and other professionals who all share an interested in helping Open Education shape the future of education worldwide.

The OEL project team are delighted to receive this award, particularly in a new category that recognises the need for resources outside of the customary open courses and sites. We hope the Open Tools category will be one that develops in future years.

If you are not familiar with the Open Education Consortium, we recommend you have a look around their site, which has some great information.

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Update on OEL Toolkit development

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The OEL project team is currently developing an Open Education Licensing Toolkit for use by the Australian Higher Education sector. The toolkit design is based on information from a survey, conducted in 2015, of individual managers, policy makers, educators, educational content developers and information professionals at Australian universities with an interest in Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices. The toolkit will help staff at Higher Education institutions who are developing online educational resources match open licensing decisions to the educational and business strategies of their organisation.

Technical infrastructure for the toolkit is being developed by the Tasmanian Institute of Learning and Teaching. An underlying database of short information snippets is linked to the navigation interface which directs users to sources of information about open licensing that are relevant to their specific needs. The online interface guides users through a series of decisions to describe the activity they are undertaking. Initially the user selects one of 5 access points:

  • Finding a resource
  • Using or modifying a resource
  • Making a resource
  • Sharing a resource
  • Reviewing a Resource

They then follow a guided decision tree path, answering questions about their plans for the development or use of the OER resource. As they progress through the pathway this generates an individualised selection of snippets of information about open licensing that are relevant to that user’s specific needs. The information is provided in plain language with links to authoritative external sources.

At the end of the decision tree path, users are provided with a Guidance Summary of resources designed around their specific question and answer pathway, which can be printed out or emailed to themselves or others for further use in the development process. Answers in the Guidance Summary resource are provided under one or more of the following categories:

  • General
  • Licences/compatibility
  • Making available
  • Media
  • Ownership/permissions
  • Policy/governance

As part of the toolkit development the OEL team held a series of practical workshops with stakeholders around Australia from July to October 2016, to test the toolkit content and interface. Participants in the workshops provided valuable input into the further development of the toolkit. Assistance with the workshops was kindly provided by Curtin University in Perth, Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, who we’d like to thank for their assistance with the project.

Development of the toolkit is continuing and the team is currently planning to have it available online from late November 2016. The toolkit will be accessible from www.oel.edu.au.

OER Policy

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As part of the research process for the OEL Project, we have reviewed intellectual property policies of Australian Universities to understand what rights they give to employees over the teaching materials that they  develop during the course of their duties. In general, the intellectual property policies of Australian universities have been much more concerned with the commercial potential of research outcomes, with little attention given to teaching resources.

The majority of universities retain ownership of these resources, some provide rights to staff through a licence, and a few grant copyright to the staff creating the resource. Without copyright ownership, or at least an explicit licence, teachers who would share their resources as open educational resources must either work outside of formal permission or seek permission outside of the intellectual policy framework if they wish to share teaching resources. The responses to the OEL Project survey suggested that at least half of respondents shared resources freely outside their institutions, though it is possible that these individuals are working in institutions which grant them that right.

For institutions who are considering adopting more OER friendly policies, the OER Policy Development Tool, from Lumen Learning allows users to simply check boxes to create a draft policy document.

OER Policy Development Tool from Lumen Learning

Click to build a new OER Policy

By selecting and adding components from different sections users create a policy document which which adheres to their vision of what OER should be at their institution. Individual policy components are drawn from existing policy documents and are linked for users who wish to view the component in context.

Perhaps it is unlikely that an Australian University will adopt a policy developed by selecting components, but this tool allows the decision making around policy setting related to OER to be clearly considered and draft policies representing different levels of commitment to open practices to be developed quickly and simply, and to be based on good practice from other institutions.

Project update

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Our Research page has been updated and now contains more information about recent developments in the OEL project, including about our survey results, toolkit development, and dissemination plans.

Analysis of the survey data and information gained from follow up interviews have now been incorporated into specifications for the OEL Toolkit. The finished toolkit will provide a naviagational structure for accessing information on OER licensing in the Australian higher education sector. By identifying the needs of academic and professional staff working with OER licensing, the toolkit will provide access to valuable, practical advice starting from the five nodes of the OER lifecycle: finding, using, making, sharing, and reviewing.

Find, Use, Make, Share, Review cycle of OER






Staff from the Tasmanian Institute of Learning and Teaching (TILT), at the University of Tasmania, are currently well underway with the technical development of the toolkit. To gather input as the toolkit develops, we are holding a series of stakeholder workshops to demonstrate and seek critical input on the toolkit. The first workshop was held at Curtin university in Perth on 7 July 2016. Feedback from workshop participants will be used to refine the technical and informational aspects of the toolkit. The coming months will see further workshops around Australia, where more developed versions of the toolkit will be demonstrated.

Major new initiative to grow OER adoption

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A consortium of investors including the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation have provided $US9.8 million dollars for a major initiative to create a library of open educational resources developed for a grouping of 38 community colleges but available to anybody  to adopt, reuse, and repurpose.

This kind of initiative is exciting because although there are often culturally specific aspects of educational resources which may require further work before they can be adopted internationally, they are freely available and come with permission to do that, or any other kind of repurposing meaning that the impact will be far larger than just the US community colleges who wil benefit most immediately.

The direct benefits for students with limited financial resources are easy to quantify, for every course that is based solely on OER the cost of a text book can be deducted from the budget required to participate fully in that course.

…costs of textbooks are about $1,300 per year for a full-time community college student…

The ongoing and broader benefits of making a high quality and coherent collection of resources available freely are perhaps harder to measure but probably more important. Unlike funding for textbooks these resources will have multiple and can assist in delivering better educational outcomes globally.

David Wiley, whose organisation Lumen Learning is involved with the program has posted the press release and a list of the colleges and organisations supporting this effort: http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/4636

shades of openness

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If you’ve found yourself confused about what open means in particular contexts, Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek’s essay Fifty shades of Open might be a useful read. It goes into depth about the history and context that have led to the range of usage of the word in a scholarly and readable account.

This snowballing growth of openness is socially beneficial, and, we believe, will make the world a better place. The one downside, however, is this: as openness increasingly comes to be the norm, more phraseological neologisms will be coined using the word “open.” As the word ”open“ is used more, it will inevitably be used in new, and sometimes confusing, ways. Ambiguity leads to misinterpretation. This essay is an attempt to disambiguate the many meanings of the word ”open.“

The essay covers a wide range of activities and warns against increasing use of the term outside its accepted meaning, as discussed by Rolin Moe for example in many of the online courses dubbed MOOCs which required enrollment, sometimes payment to receive certification, and in which access to resources is strictly controlled.

The continuum of openness created by the OEL Project team also offers a way to think about degrees of openness, though it is a tool for considering the spectrum of options available rather than an attempt at definition. The continuum includes legal, technical, and accessibility as aspects of openness, acknowledging that barriers to access are not simply legal.

Both are available under Creative Commons licences.

110 million students enrolled in Australian MOOCs by 2025?

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The development of OER and MOOCs in Australia has been slower than in similar countries, one possible explanation for this is the more restrictive copyright regime. The OEL Project aims to assist Australian Universities to compete internationally by developing a toolkit which will clarify issues around copyright and openness in open online education. Many Australian universities have experimented with offering online courses freely, but the complexities and costs around the licensing of content make this more difficult than in other jurisdictions.

In this context the Austrade plan reported on by the Australian Financial Review (Access may be restricted to subscribers) that includes a ‘target’ of 110 million students enrolled in Australian MOOCs by 2025 seems quite ambitious.

The 110 million student goal, equivalent to 21,900 per cent growth, assumes Australian educators would aggressively market online education – so-called massive open online courses, or MOOCs – worldwide. These short courses are easy to access and are cheap, with prices ranging from several hundred dollars.

The reporting, and the Austrade report it is based on does not mention that although MOOCs often have high total enrolments, the number of students prepared to pay for accreditation is lower and  while access to course content is generally free for students, the high quality of support materials and the associated licensing demanded remains relatively expensive for universities. Although widely known platforms such as Coursera and EdX have grown significantly they are still in the process of developing business models that are sustainable.
The Austrade report states that:
International education is currently one of Australia’s top service exports, valued at $19.65 billion in 2015 (including fees and associated expenditure) and supports over 130,000 jobs in cities and regions throughout Australia.

Australia should be pursuing ambitious goals around the provision of online access to high quality educational resources. Clarifying the copyright and licensing issues for universities through an easy to use toolkit will assist in this. The narrow focus of the report on adding revenue ignores the potentials of open licensing to improve access to education for millions of future students and to help lower costs for institutions offering online courses globally from Australia. It also ignores the real barriers for Australian institutions wanting to compete with their international peers under Australia’s current copyright framework.

Does © status really influence student learning?

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In a fascinating blog post last week, David Wiley from Lumen Learning provided a thoughtful response to an op-ed piece by Curtiss Barnes from Pearson titled “If OER is the answer, what is the question?”. Wiley’s blog post “OER: Some Questions and Answers” available here, makes some interesting points about OER and copyright. It’s a great discussion of the educational materials ecosystem and how and why OER is currently operating alongside commercially produced educational resources.

In relation to copyright Wiley points out that [t]he question of whether the language on the copyright page will significantly influence student learning is completely irrational. It is interesting that the purported link between copyright ownership and the quality of educational resources is so rarely challenged. Choosing to release something under an open licence does not inherently change the quality of the resource. It is only in the eye of the observer that the assertion of exclusive rights by an individual author makes a resource seem different, and of higher quality, to one created by multiple contributors through an unstructured process of creation and maintenance. And as Wiley notes; (t)here are no results from the instructional design, learning science, or cognitive science literature demonstrating that the language on the copyright page is a critical factor in promotion student learning.

Wiley points out that OER provides the opportunity for a form of creativity that relies on asynchronous, uncoordinated, incremental, continuous improvement. But we have to learn to trust this. In a world where creativity has been so intimately linked to an individual author jealously guarding the exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute content, it is taking time for everyone to come to terms with new, more networked forms of creativity and how they fit within our existing structures, including publishing and education. To Wiley, creativity and the production of resources in education it is not all about ‘market failure’ and ‘free-riding”, it is more about why people would chose to donate their time and effort to charitable and other causes, including the creation, improvement, and mantenance of … open educational resources.

Regardless of whether or not the alternative incentive models employed by creators and improvers of OER should be theoretically viable according to standard economic models, these models are viable and they are flourishing.

So if OER is the answer, maybe the question is; why has copyright law and its relationship with educational resources been so inflexible for so long?

Finding OER

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While looking for potential resources for the toolkit, which will incorporate as much relevant and appropriately licensed content as possible, we came across a useful series of modules for those who are beginning to learn about open educational resources and practices created by the Open Washington network. This video is a fun and brief introduction that incorporates a variety of perspectives on OER:

There are many web sites devoted to explaining open educational resources and practices to novices and we want to avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’ as much as possible in developing the toolkit. The strength of the open approach to creating teaching resources is that it allows you to adapt the best of what is available and add or adpat it to make what you need. But finding high quality content that is appropriate legally, not too geographically specific, is accurate and suits the tone of the toolkit we want to create can be a challenge, just like identifying appropriate resources for use in a classroom. There are many excellent resources available online for us to find, adapt, and share within the toolkit, but finding them can involve a lot of searching and evaluation to identify the most useful and appropriate content.

MIT Open Courseware 15 year anniversary

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MIT Open Courseware 15 yearsFifteen years ago on 4 April 2001, MIT announced a plan to post its course materials on the Web, freely available to everybody. The NY Times reported on the initial two-year pilot program to put material from 500 existing MIT courses onto the Web.

And 15 years later – look at it now.

MIT Open CourseWare currently makes material from 2260 courses available and receives over 2 million visits each month from all over the world. It also incorporates MITx interactive online courses from the MIT Office of Digital Learning, delivered via the edX platform.

Many of the issues around making course material openly available online that were identified as concerns in the 2001 article, are still being discussed. Will it make students less likely to come to class? Is creating websites a good use of professors’ time? Is the university giving away valuable assets? Even though the discussion is continuing, the online availability of open courseware from universities around the world is now a given, and the only question is how will it be integrated into the future of education delivery.

MIT makes its Open CourseWare material available under a CC BY-NC-SA licence and provides its own interpretation of non-commercial use. Primarily this states that: ‘users may not sell, profit from, or commercialize OCW materials or works derived from them’.

MIT continues to innovate in the area, having just released the report Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reforms (April 2016) that studies the impacts of online learning on the higher education community from a policy perspective  As the authors’ point out:

…the question “Where does online education fit in higher education?” rapidly leads to existential questions about the what and why of higher education itself. [Karen E Willcox, Sanjay Sarma Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reform April 2016 p.iii]