Textbooks, classroom materials, course readers, and research papers are not available in digital formats and are not accessible online—but they should be… for free. The fight to demand these conditions has begun, but the struggle for Access to Knowledge (a2k) in the U.S. and around the world is far from over. Students must continue to take up the flag in the movement for Open Education.
With the advent of digital technology, some notions of scarcity have been blown to smithereens. Before the personal computer, to reproduce a resource such as a book, one required physical materials and labor for each book—including paper, printing, and binding. Today, a digital work is infinitely and perfectly reproducible at zero marginal cost (due to the low cost of computer storage space, processing power, memory, and electricity).
If I publish a paper textbook, it is not easy for me to hand it out for free. It is a physical commodity that has unavoidable publishing costs I need to recoup. However, if I publish an electronic textbook on a computer, anyone can copy that textbook perfectly, essentially for free, with no value lost from my original copy. With digital works, you can actually get something out of nothing! Once the first copy is produced, you might as well have produced as many as you will ever need.
Education and research are among the most clear fields that should substantially benefit from this shift in reproduction costs. Digital technology has afforded an opportunity to students, educators, researchers, administrators, policy makers, publishers and many others to rethink and redesign processes of creating and disseminating educational and research materials. We have the opportunity to ensure people are not cut out of education and knowledge production merely because they do not have access to the requisite resources.
So what’s the hold up? Why do students break the bank on textbooks and course materials?!
The short answer is: the structural changes to educational institutions, the publishing industry, regulating bodies, and consumer practices have yet to take full form. This is why it is essential for students to take up the fight, raise awareness about these issues, challenge educators and administrators to take measurable steps toward goals of openness, and to start programs and initiatives of their own. If students remain silent, they will not be included in processes of educational material creation—and thus the needs and goals of students will go unrecognized, or at best, poorly translated. The following are some ways you can get involved:
Open Educational Resources (OER)
OER are legal, digital, accessible educational materials available to students, educators, schools, and the general public. OER are “open” in that they use copyright in conjunction with a license to allow users more freedom to reproduce and potentially remix the OER. There are many licenses available, the most popular of which are Creative Commons licenses that help you easily decide under what terms your resources may be used. A popular Creative Commons License is known as “CC-by” or “Attribution Only,” which allows anyone to copy or remix and distribute your work so long as they site their source, giving credit to the original creator(s).
This fall semester marks the trial run of a new DeCal (student-facilitated course) entitled “Digital Berkeley: Making Open Educational Resources.” The idea behind the course is to connect students to the process of creating OER by having them meet with professors/lecturers/facilitators and create rich, legal, digital packages of one of their courses and publish them online for free. To find out more, check out www.decal.org/digital.
Open Access (OA) to Research
On June 4th 2010 a group of University of California Librarians issued a letter outlining the rationale for a potential boycott of Nature Publishing Group. NPG publishes 67 academic journals. In order to read these journals, each UC campus pays its own subscription fees—for both print copies and access to online repositories. As students, we can be proud that our librarians are standing up for our institution and drawing a line in the sand over ridiculous subscription fees that facilitate an outdated publishing model (slow, ineffective, print-based).
But this is not nearly enough.
Open Access to research is not a battle fought only by librarians, professors and policy experts. Students have entered the fight and must continue to do so in order to secure affordable access to knowledge for future generations of researchers, scholars, students, and the public at large. Open Access is a demand to publish scholarly work digitally, online, for free. There are various revenue models for Open Access journals, which have proven themselves as successful businesses, prestigious in quality and even superior to traditional journals as reputation engines (open access papers are more often cited). Further, there are many online repositories where individual authors can deposit their papers they publish in non-Open Access journals, which is called self-archiving.
To raise awareness about Open Access, join us (students, librarians, professors, staff, and activists) October 18th – 24th for Open Access Week. This year there will be several events at UC Berkeley including a panel hosted by Nick Shockey of the Right to Research Coalition on the current state of Open Access policy and how students can help ensure research is no longer locked in the ivory tower!
To participate in or host an Open Access Week event at a UC, e-mail UCoaWeek2010@googlegroups.com to collaborate with other UC OA Week organizers across California.
OER Commons, a free, online repository for OER www.oercommons.org
Creative Commons, a non-profit that maintains easy-to-use licenses for you to use for your creative works www.creativecommons.org
Open Access Week, an organizing site to raise awareness about Open Access during the week of Oct 18th – 24th www.openaccessweek.org