16 July 2009

(Open) Learning from Open Source

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am intrigued by the way that ideas from free software are moving across to different disciplines. Of course, applying them is no simple matter: there may not be an obvious one-to-one mapping of the act of coding to activities in the new domain, or there may be significant cultural differences that place obstacles in the way of sharing.

Here's a fascinating post that explores some of the issues around the application of open source ideas to open educational resources (OER):

For all my fascination with all things open-source, I'm finding that the notion of open source software (OSS) is one that's used far too broadly, to cover more categories than it can rightfully manage. Specifically, the use of this term to describe collaborative open education resource (OER) projects seems problematic. The notion of OSS points to a series of characteristics and truths that do not apply, for better or worse, to the features of collaborative learning environments developed for opening up education.

While in general, open educational resources are developed to adhere to the letter of the OSS movement, what they miss is what we might call the spirit of OSS, which for my money encompasses the following:

* A reliance on people's willingness to donate labor--for love, and not for money.

* An embrace of the "failure for free" model identified by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody.

* A loose collaboration across fields, disciplines, and interest levels.

Open educational resources are not, in general, developed by volunteers; they are more often the product of extensive funding mechanisms that include paying participants for their labor.

Unusually, the post does not simply lament this problem, but goes on to explore a possible solution:

an alternate term for OERs designed in keeping with the open source ideals: community source software (CSS)

Worth reading in its entirety, particularly for the light it sheds on things we take for granted in open source.

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