The Original Creative Commoners: Teachers and Open Educational Resources

As ever teacher knows, good teaching requires good teaching resources.  High quality lesson plans, articles, info sheets, activities, videos, posters, stories, games, quizzes and more allow teachers to dedicate their time and creativity to what matters most: their students.

In decades past, teachers would gather resources over the course of their career, often photocopying parts of textbooks and borrowing from more experienced teachers to create an idiosyncratic, hard-won archive of remixed materials. By adapting and remixing these copyright works, teachers could develop resources that suited both their students and their own teaching styles.

Teachers, then, have always shared, remixed and reused their resources. You could go so far as to say that teachers are the original Creative Commoners.

With digital technologies, these practices are becoming easier than ever; and with online repositories like Wikieducator, the potential pool of available resources becomes much, much larger. Instead of adapting materials from the handful of colleagues, teachers could enjoy the collective intelligence of the entire country. Instead of re-inventing lessons plans already created a thousand times over, teachers could adapt and remix their own–producing, in much less time, high quality resources, to be shared, remixed and reused in turn by thousands of other New Zealand educators.

“Group Portrait of Teachers Training College,” by Herman John Schmidt, 1910. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-WP695. No known copyright.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The only problem for New Zealand teachers is the risk of copyright violation. While swapping photocopies in the staffroom is unlikely to draw the attention of copyright holders, online sharing of teaching resources is much more visible. Copyright violation even extends to those resources that teachers have made for themselves, which are in fact owned by their respective boards of trustees.

Happily, this isn’t as dire as it sounds: Some New Zealand schools have chosen to address this issue by implementing their own Creative Commons policies, which gives an automatic Creative Commons licence to all of the school’s  teaching resources; many other New Zealand schools are taking the issue to their boards of trustees.

This sounds great in theory, but what about some examples of openly licensed educational resources? It’s been a busy few months for OER, as schools, universities and governments across the world have started to embracing open licensing. Here are a few highlights:

In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill giving students free online access to 50 undergraduate textbooks. By law, these new textbooks much be provided under a Creative Commons licence.

In Queensland, the University of Queensland has decided to follow the example of MIT and develop a major online learning environment. Over the next few years, they will roll out Massive Open Onlines Courses (MOOCs) in several disciplines.

In Paris, over 400 representatives of countries and institutions from around the world signed UNESCO’s OER declaration, calling on governments to adopt and promote OERs.

In the USA, Creative Commons and the Open Courseware Consortium have launched a task force, to see how OERs “can support the “success of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and math,” supporting the WhiteHouse’s Equal Futures Partnership with twelve other countries.

Also in the USA, the Obama administration announced in 2011 a $2 billion fund to create open educational resources–all of which must be licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Also in Queensland, the University of Southern Queensland is rolling out its own Creative Commons licensed wikieducator course–for full academic credit. The course is a prototype for the development of the Open Educational Resources University (OERu).

Closer to home, Wikieducator is running another Open Content Licensing for Educators Workshop in December 2012.

In Wellington, Wikieducator will be running a national symposium on open education, scheduled for November 8 2012. The symposium will aim for a “sector-wide response to open education in New Zealand.”

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