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Open License

Hats off to British Columbia!

BCcampus, the educational technology and online learning service organization for higher education in British Columbia has promoted development and reuse of open educational resources (OER) within its 25 post-secondary campuses and partners since 2003. Headquartered in Vancouver, it has disbursed 9 million dollars through its Online Program Development Fund(OPDF) over the last 8 years. The OPDF encourages collaborative consortiums of British Columbia post-secondary institutions, national and international universities, K-12 districts, eLearning companies, and other non-profits to seek funds for the creation and re-use of online courses and learning objects leading to degrees, diplomas, and certificates. In 2011, it is funding projects as diverse as Aboriginal Early Childhood Education diplomas to British Columbia/China Contemporary Forest TED talks for a credit-bearing course preparing Chinese students to enter higher education programs in British Columbia.

Paul Stacey, BCcampus Director of Communications and Academic Relations

Paul Stacey, BCcampus Director

Paul Stacey, Director of Communications, Stakeholder and Academic Relations and OPDF administrator was recently interviewed at Creative Commons about differences between OER projects funded through private foundation grants and public funds. Although the goal of expanding access to educational opportunities is the same, he identified several key differentiators between private and public funding: one regarding sustainable outcome objectives and the second around open licensing strategies. “The foundation’s primary responsibility is to the founder, while a government ministry’s primary responsibility is to its tax-paying citizens,” says Paul. The regional aspect of publicly funded projects leads to a focus and accountability to the citizens of that region whereas private foundations often have global and humanitarian goals. Furthermore, private OER grants often have a specific start and end date where as publicly funded initiatives are more concerned with ongoing program viability and thus may continue funding of operating costs.

Open licensing strategies also differ between privately and publicly funded OER materials. Foundation grants for OER have generally gone to a single prestigious institution that publishes existing lectures and course materials where as public funds are more likely to be awarded to a consortium of regional institutions to develop curricula for credit. This has lead to a continuum of open licensing strategies with foundation grants tending towards the more broadly applicable Creative Commons licenses recognized worldwide whereas publicly funded OER projects such as BCcampus use regionally recognized licenses derived from Creative Commons licensing but limiting reuse to consortium institutions.

Open Licenses Continuum BCCampus

Open Licenses Continuum BCCampus

One recommendation Paul makes is for OER projects to offer a range of licensing options along the “open” continuum. “Multiple options provide greater buy-in and lower the threshold for OER participation,” suggests Paul. Although the downside of more restrictive licenses in creating silos of OER, it allows educators new to the OER world a more gradual entry into sharing and tends to increase the local re-use of materials. Further refinement of OER licenses is clearly needed and integrating their default use into commercial software used by faculty to build materials would also be helpful.

Last month BCcampus and a consortium of Pacific Northwest higher education institutions were awarded a $750,000 Next Generation Learning Grant based on online science courses and Remote Web-Based Science Lab. The North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO) consortium is adding science labs to online science courses allowing student to perform scientific experiments including observation, remote control of instrumentation, and data analysis as students in classroom-based courses do.

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