Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science

IOE 13

This post is in connection with David Wiley’s “Intro to Openness in Education” MOOC.

In week 6 of our course, we have been looking at the issue of Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science.  These three topics primarily deal with the way in which research is shared between academic and government institutions.  The one that I am most familiar with is open access.  While a graduate student in the Communications department at Brigham Young University, I often ran across articles that I needed to use in my research.  These articles were often guarded by journal paywalls.  Fortunately, the library at BYU was well equipped with journal subscriptions and databases, but every now and then I would find an article that I wanted which could not be obtained unless I paid a significant fee.  Now while I understand the pressures that faculty face to get published, I for one, certainly wouldn’t want my research to be published in a journal that restricts access.  As academics we do research so that we can contribute to the review of literature, hoping that others will build upon our ideas and generate a significant amount of research in a certain area.  Therefore, it seems prudent that we should support open access journals in making our research more widely available.

The prompt for this blog post mentions that some have indicated that the opening of access to research and data would bring about a second Renaissance — I for one, think that this is a bit of hyperbole.  I think that the changes would be as gradual as we are seeing as far as open resources in education.  While I don’t think that we would see immediate changes, I believe that the hope is that we would see a shift in the attitudes of researchers — that they would be more likely to freely share their research with each other.  It seems as though the greater change would happen in those areas that are typically governed by the private sector.  For instance, I recently heard about a call for government funding to map the brain.  If this project were to happen and the results of it were openly shared and restricted from patent, I think we might see rapid development in terms of the types of output that would come from a project of this magnitude.

In terms of open data, I think the problem might be public access and usability of this type of data.  I am a firm believer in good design and if all of this data is going to be thrown out there without being skinned in some sort of interface for accessing the data, only the very diligent will be able to understand this data.  If we want data to serve the good of the public (and not just the educated few), we need to develop ways in which all of the public can easily interact with and access this data.

Here is my updated mind map, with open access, open data, and open research thrown in:

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From Open Source to Open Content


This post is in conjunction with David Wiley’s MOOC “Intro to Openness in Education”.

This week in “Intro to Openness in Education” we learned a bit about the evolution of open content.  Beginning with the “free” and “open source” software movement and later culminating in the idea of “open content” in the late 90s.

As an introduction to the idea of open source software, we waded through Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”.  While much of the technical details of his paper went over my non-developer head, I found many of the principles being pretty on point with the collaborative environment of software development today.  I think one of the most difficult things for me, in not being a developer, is really understanding the significance of the difference between something being free and something being open source.  In my digital workflow, I enjoy many of Google’s tools: Calendar, Google Docs, and Gmail — in reality, I have no idea if these software packages are open source.  I enjoy using them because they are free and they are conducive to “sharing”.  My hope is that Google will continue to encourage this type of sharing through the products that they use.  If their software is not open source — I guess I run the risk of it eventually being shut down or put behind a pay wall (which I’ve heard they’ve done for Google Apps for business), but that is a risk that I am willing to take.  I feel that open source software is more significant to developers.  They are the ones who have the skills to contribute to such projects, and I can only hope that they can then take those projects and make them meaningful to me as an end-user.

As for open content and open licensing, these are things that I have more strong beliefs in.  They are an evolution of some of the principles that were espoused in the open source movement, but the content is more accessible and reusable to the end-user.  Open content is cultural objects for which the end-user can perform the 4 Rs on: Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute.  The more freedoms that the creator of the object gives to the end-user in the performance of these activities, the more “open” it is considered. While I believe in open content as a principle, I still have a few reservations in its actual practice.  Some of these come from my own use of these in classroom situations.

Reservations in using open content:

1. Quality

I think that quality has always been a concern in the use of openly licensed products.  I know that this has been a concern for some instructors in adopting open textbooks (I actually haven’t had too much experience in using open textbooks, so I can’t make a judgement call), as they figure free material can’t be that good.  I have seen the quality problem more significantly in another realm: music.  In my classes (I teach video production), I require my students to use material that they have either created themselves, or material that is licensed through Creative Commons.  Students are able to shoot their own video, but they have a hard time finding good music for their projects.  Music licensed under Creative Commons is typically produced by amateur musicians or Nine Inch Nails.  This results in their being a lot of bad music out there, and students can typically spend hours scouring through the Creative Commons section of Soundcloud to find a track that matches the quality of their video.  With many artists wanting to make money from their music, they are hesitant to openly license their songs.  What can be done to encourage more musicians to openly license their songs?

2.  Thinking About Openly Licensed Content in Monetary Terms

I recognize that I am partly to blame for this, but I find that my students still think of Creative Commons content in primarily monetary terms:  they use it because it is “free”.  I get questions like “Rob, what is that site that has the free music?” “What is the site where I can find those free photos?”  When students are rushing toward a deadline, they are not thinking about what music they can find that was created by an artist who wants to share the music that he created, they are thinking about where they can get that content for free.  Creative Commons is a system that frees us up to share content, however, the receiver is often only thinking about how much they are paying for that content.

Overall, I believe in these ideals. I want more people to use and practice these types of sharing, yet as of right now I have a few reservations about the implementation of licensing systems.  Have you had any similar problems?  Have you struggled with the quality of openly licensed material?  I welcome any thoughts and comments that you have.

Here is a mind map that I created to connect some of the ideas that we talked about in class this week.

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