This topic, mostly covering Cable Green’s pilgrimage for open policy, should be made mandatory for all members of congress. Really, this would be a win-win for everyone, except maybe for our fat cat publisher friends, of course.
We already have a universal learning machine
It’s called the Internet. It’s there, mostly free to use. It’s non-rivalrous, pretty much everyone can enjoy it without taking it away from someone else. It’s a free distribution system that has decreasing storage costs, increasing connectivity and reach, and supports generous sharing behaviors.
In addition to being pretty awesome, it has the potential to actually solve serious problems, such as the fact that there are too many young people seeking a college degree for the capacity of the current higher education offering. So what if more people could access the same quality materials that are used in Ivy leagues schools like Harvard, MIT, or Stanford?
As Howard Rheingold puts in in Net Smart (Kindle locations 1909-1912):
If you can cast your search query, the exact words you submit to a search engine, in precisely the right terms, screens full of up-to-date knowledge in multiple media appear before your eyes, literally out of thin air. Your Internet provider charges you for transmitting the data back and forth, but the knowledge comes to you free of charge. What could be more magical than that?
The capacity is there, and unlike brick and mortar, it scales up as fast as it needs to, because it’s digital.
But it needs to be turned on…
Although technologically possible through the use of the Internet, the majority of learning content used in schools today is locked down, either by keeping the resources in walled gardens, or through copyright and licensing restrictions. The market has not been able to generate enough momentum yet to open up learning content to the extent it needs to to make access to learning materials accessible.
Indeed, policy makers are clueless of the potential impact their legislation can have on the business of learning, as demonstrated by the recently shut-down Research Works Act (RWA), that was aimed at restricting the initiatives of government agencies such as the National Institute of Health and their open access publishing policy. Elsevier got some serious backfire from their decision to support the RWA with a boycott movement of a magnitude rarely seen before in academia.
Cable’s point is mostly that if you’ve paid for it as a taxpayer, you should be able to get access to the results. RFPs for open textbooks could be initiated by states to create the content and make it available for free, saving millions to taxpayers in un-bought traditional textbooks.
Education creates and consumes its own content
… so why are we adding a middleman that keeps renting us our own content anyway? Faculty create textbooks, give the intellectual property away to publishers, who, in turn, sell textbooks to schools (in K-12) and to students who use government loans (in higher education). So we’re paying twice for something we created…
Same thing with academic journals. Faculty write articles for free, faculty peer-review for free, publishers make the file pretty and add it to a database, and then the library has to subscribe to the journal to get access to it. It wouldn’t be so bad to outsource the publication if the prices were reasonable, but even a rich Ivy league institution like Harvard says they can’t afford it anymore.
The tide is turning
Some non-profit foundations, aiming at getting the most bang for their buck, are also pushing for open-access, such as Saylor, MacArthur, 20 Million Minds, etc. Countries and states are also starting to impose some strict rules regarding public spending and the use of OER, such as Brazil, Poland, and the states of Utah ($5 K-12 textbooks project) and Washington (OER K-12 bill).
There is a need for a grassroot effort from content creators, to open up their content using Creative Commons for instance, but also from taxpayers and legislators to understand the potential savings and benefits of turning the learning machine on, for everyone