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?