When We Share, Everyone Wins

The Foundations of OE, OER and the Creative Commons

In class this week, Dr. Couros presented a description of Open Education as described by Smith and Casserly (2006) in that “open education is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the Worldwide Web in particular provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and reuse knowledge”.

Further, the video Why Open Education Matters describes Open Education (OE) as “education for all”, “a global movement that aims to bring quality education to students and teachers everywhere” where the “basic idea is to put top notch learning materials on the web that anyone can access for free” and that teachers are able to revise, adapt and improve upon to meet the needs to their students and give them “exactly what they need to achieve their dreams”. In OE, barriers to learning are removed and schools are no longer limited by where they are or how much money they have.

Why Open Education Matters from Blink Tower on Vimeo.

At the core of the OE movement is the sharing of open education resources. Open Education Resources are “materials in which an individual can exercise give rights. Known as the 5 Rs, they are: retain, revise, remix, redistribute, and reuse” (see David Wiley’s discussion on Open Content). My classmate Nataly’s blog showcases an infographic of Wiley’s 5 Rs. Jensen & West, 2015 argue that “The five Rs are possible when materials are in the public domain or are made available with an open licensing tool such as a Creative Commons license”.

According to this video, the ideals of the Creative Commons, “community, collaboration and sharing, are at the heart of human advancement”. The Creative Commons ideals connect with the 4Cs of 21st Century Learning, which I have blogged about in previous semesters. My classmate Dean also recently shared with me the 7Cs of 21st Century Learning as described by one of his colleagues in the Regina Catholic School Division.

The ideals of both the Creative Commons and Open Education movement alignment most significantly with the 4 Cs of 21st Century Learning and are crucial for the development of 21st century work skills and digital literacies. It only makes sense then that this would be the model of our education system, however this isn’t the reality.

The mainstream education system in North America is founded on individualism, self-reliance (Source) and “the idea that evolution is nothing more than a selfish struggle for survival” (Creative Commons). The Creative Commons describes this notion as “utterly, spectacularly incomplete” and proposes instead that “sharing is at the core of successful societies” and education systems. The Creative Commons proposes that “when we share, everyone wins — the giver, the receiver and our communities”. This is the moral imperative that I believe is at the heart of Dean Shareski’s discussion on sharing in education. My classmate Melinda discusses some examples of digital kindness and sharing in her blog post this week and suggests an ethical responsibility to share online. She agrees with Shareski when he says, “the benefits of a shared idea can be golden to someone”. Within the global digital community, you never know the extent to which your contributions can have a profound and positive affect on individuals and communities. As the Creative Commons similarly proposes, “with just a few sharers in the mix, they can inspire an entire culture of sharing”.

Content Control and Owernship

While the ideals of OE, OER and the Creative Commons are built on the foundation of education being accessible and equitable to all for the purpose of a collective betterment, this week’s exploration into the story of Aaron Swartz, the Internet’s Own Boy, allowed me to realize that our current practices in North America regarding copyright, content control and ownership, and public access (ie.sharing) and basic civil liberties stand in stark contrast these aforementioned ideals. We are currently standing amidst a censorship mess that has many asking questions about who controls knowledge and how knowledge is controlled.

The OE, OER and Creative Commons movements cannot be fully realized in a world where these two paradigms continue to collide. The Creative Commons questions, “if sharing is at the core of successful societies, then why do we have some of the most restrictive copyright laws in history?” In his video, Laws that Choke Creativity, Lawrence Lessig discusses this time in history as an era of digital prohibition characterized by a “growing extremism in the response to this debate between the law” and the use of technology to nurture amateur creativity rather than suffocate it. Society has been gifted the most amazing tool, the Internet, and its potential cannot currently be fully realized due to the legal restrictions of copyrighted content.

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations”. – Aaron Swartz, Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto, Sept. 28, 2008

Through a variety of projects, Aaron Swartz’ life’s work was focused on disrupting the billion dollar business of the US legal system to achieve public access to court documents and similarly to achieve public access to academic journals from digital libraries such as JSTOR. Swartz argued that many people, due to financial or geographical barriers, are “locked out of our entire scientific legacy” and rather “the entire wealth of human knowledge online…should belong to us as a commons, as a people, but instead it’s been locked up and put online by a handful of for-profit organizations”. According to Swartz, (and I agree!) this type of system does not serve public interest. Lessig argues on Swartz’ behalf that instead of using our collective “technological knowledge to advance a public good”, instead our society is caught in a web (both figuratively and literally) of corporatization and monetization of knowledge. Swartz’ described this current state of society as “private theft of public culture”. To begin addressing these issues of content control and ownership, we must return to the ideal of sharing.

The Benefit of Sharing & Remix Culture

The documentary, the Internet’s Own Boy, reminds us that Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the Worldwide Web as we know it, gave it away for free. This act of sharing is the only reason the Internet exists today. This example of probably the most profound example when we think about how sharing benefits the giver, the receiver and the entire community.

The documentary, RIP: a Remix Manifesto, takes us on a journey of how all aspects of digital culture is built upon a cultural artifact that preceded it. (One example of this can be seen in the Star Wars example featured in Everything is a Remix). Dean Shareski’s (2010) statement “I am a giant derivative” (Sharing, a Moral Imperative, 2010) reflects this sentiment of remix culture discussed by many works that were assigned this week including the Remix Manifesto and the works of Lawrence Lessig.

Earlier in this blog, I discussed David Wiley’s 5 Rs of OERs in which remixing content was one of the rights exercised in open ed resources. Remixing does not refer to “taking other people’s content in wholesale and distributing it without the permission of the copyright owner [but rather] people taking and recreating using people’s content, using digital technologies to say things differently” (Lessig, Laws that Choke Creativity). Essentially, our current system of copyright laws (and others like the CFAA) squash creativity. This is what Swartz and many other hackers like him were fighting for, for the right to creativity without the criminal implications of piracy, for the purpose of making the world a better place, for the chance that anyone, either individually or collectively, on the web can be innovative for the purpose of societal, and global, advancement and betterment.

(I should mention that my argument is not to do away with laws that regulate digital behaviour entirely. There are obviously people on the Internet doing things that are considered criminal behaviour. But that in the situation of Aaron Swartz, discretion should have been exercised. The legal snare in which Swartz found himself did not need to play out in the way it did. A brilliant mind was tragically erased from our world due to legal punishments that did not match his actions.)

In one segment of the Swartz documentary, a story is recounted of a teenager who was able to make great gains in pancreatic cancer detection. The only reason this young person was able to discover what he did was because, for a time, he had access to the academic journals that Swartz had made available from JSTOR. The person recounting the story of this teenager says “without access, the person that might come up with the thing that’s got your number on it may never find that answer”. I think on the most basic level, this story is speaks to the great benefit and power of sharing. 

Siemen’s Theory of Connectivism

Foundational to OE, OER, the Creative Commons and, digital learning and sharing, is a relatively new theory of learning coined connectivism. In summary, “connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the World Wide Web and among themselves” (Source). If connectivism is new to you and you decide to look further into it, I think you will find that Dr. Couros and many of our classmates in EC&I 831 are teaching with connectivist theory in mind.

One of the basic tenets of connectivism is that “the health of the learning ecology of the organization depends on effective nurturing of information flow” (Connectivism: a Learning Theory for the Digital Age, Siemens, 2004). To me, the nurturing of information flow means the protection of and celebration of user-generated content with the deep-seated understanding of a remix culture. Further, my classmate Curtis discusses the role of “collective teacher efficacy” and the positive correlation with student achievement. The idea of a collective of teachers by definition seeks to disseminate the idea of individualism in education. As Curtis discusses, in order for a school to be effective, collective teacher efficacy means a collective sharing (of skills, resources, etc) for the betterment of all students and the ecology of the school. This idea of collective is what OE, OER and the Creative Commons is all about: everyone has a role to play.

At the end of the Creative Commons video I linked earlier in this blog post, the narrator puts out a call to all of us, to YOU, to join in the sharing, because “the effort to build a more connected commons is nothing short of transformational”.

How will you become part of the collective, the commons?



Side Note: I also wanted to talk about how Teachers Pay Teachers, which is used by many teachers I know, including myself, feeds into this prohibition era mentality of copyright law and individualism. As I worked through our course content this week, TpT kept popping up in my mind. I might be able to discuss this in another blog post as I feel it didn’t really have a place within this post, but for now, you can check out my classmate Amy’s blog post as she was able to explore this topic further.

4 thoughts on “When We Share, Everyone Wins

  1. I would love to discuss TpT as well as this is a hub of resources that I know a lot of teachers in Regina Public use. However, I’ve heard that they are not allowed to share resources of their own due to restrictions from the school division. Does anyone have any more information on this?

    1. Just to clarify…so if someone buys a resource from TpT, then they can’t share it with a colleague? I will ask Alec if we can talk about this at the start of class tomorrow and hopefully we can get some discussion in. A number of people are interested. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Hello Brooke, thanks for your thoughtful blog post this week about open education. I firmly agree with the statement that we live in a ‘remix culture’ where all digital culture is built from previous cultural artifacts. I think this has happened all throughout history, and sometimes we don’t even realize what is a ‘re-invention’ of what was previously created.

  3. Thank you for a very thorough post- I feel like you helped clear up some of my uncertainty with the topics of open education. I really resonate with the statement that when we share, everyone wins. It requires a shift in the culture of education in North America- but maybe the up and coming generation of educators will lead the way? I would also like to have a conversation about TpT and the role it plays in the open education world. Maybe something we can discuss in class this week!

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