The web can lower barriers, cut costs, blow open access to knowledge. It enables—and demands—new models of teaching, learning, assessment, and accreditation.

“About 500 years ago, the primary mode of teaching in the university was to come in with blank sheets of paper and listen to the professor recite from a manuscript so you could make your own copy of the book. There was an opportunity 500 years ago with the invention of the press to radically change education. But that didn’t happen. The lecture is still the primary model. Now we have the birth of the Internet. If we only get these opportunities twice a millennium, we should try to use them.”

—David Wiley, a psychology and technology professor at Brigham Young University and one of the godfathers of open educational content, who addressed the crowd on the Drumbeat Festival’s opening night.


Joi ItoJoi Ito. Photo from Mozillaea Flickrstream, Aug. 20, 2011.

Joi Ito is the head of MIT’s prestigious Media Lab, former chairman and CEO of Creative Commons, and a worldwide avatar of the free culture movement, which means, like Santa Claus, he has more houses to visit in one night than seems possible given the laws of physics. But he was able to make it to the Festival for one night and to be interviewed from an airport somewhere in Asia later on.

So why all this energy around open education?

I think there are a lot of trends coming together here. There’s a general reflective review of our educational system. You see the MacArthur Foundation focusing on online media, kids, and learning. The Hewlett Foundation supporting OER, Cathy Casserly, and Mike Smith who went to the White House. And then you see a lot of awareness by the people in the White House about the value of openness in all its forms, including both open government and open ed, and being really aware of the value of openness and sharing and communicating with the rest of the world, connecting different cultures.

At the same time, I think, as we lower all the different barriers to connecting with people and content, making the Internet more ubiquitous, the tools cheaper and easier to use, I think that has finally reached the point where massive adoption at the global scale is possible.

Innovation in learning can now happen at the edges, and there’s a lot the education community can learn from open source. So there’s two things going on. It’s the maturing of the Internet and opening up of all the layers together with a general review of education and a thoughtfulness about openness.

In your keynote at Drumbeat you talked about the idea of layers of the Internet—can you unpack that a little bit?

Sure! It used to be you had to have a permit to connect a device to the telephone network, and those devices were “black boxes”—closed. The Internet created open standards and unbundled each layer, so people running the network weren’t running the content. The Internet is organized in layers: the physical cables, TCP/IP, the World Wide Web,
HTML. And each of these layers is usually open standard. It’s not encumbered by proprietary patents. This allows people to interoperate, compete, and innovate.

You used to have to buy software just to have a little Local Area Network inside your office, and you had to hire big consulting firms to create databases or websites. When the World Wide Web came about, you could create your own website without having to hire a software person. And before blogging, there were these huge content management systems that cost hundreds of dollars and took thousands of people to run.

At each layer we opened the black box, and unlocked those tools. Now, what’s important about open source is that it allows the people using the tools to modify and make the tools.

Creative Commons is trying to solve one of the points of friction at another layer, the layer of massive collaboration. Today, professors and students can connect online, but their academic publisher says, you can’t share your paper to other people directly, they have to subscribe to the journal.

So obviously Creative Commons poses a huge threat to the academic status quo.

I‘m not trying to make a war! Those institutions all still have a lot of purpose. But elements of their mission need to be changed. The Internet layers have forced the lowering of the cost of production and distribution. So the gatekeepers now are preventing access to people who could otherwise have access. It’s a transition that needs to occur.

It reminds me a lot of the advent of open source. Linus Torvald used to say, we’re not Microsoft haters, we’re Linux lovers! It’s not that I’m against formal education, but I want this other path to be embraced.

Where would you get started with changes?

We have to look at the accreditation system right now for formal education. We have
students sitting around in seats getting credits so they can get out of school. What is school for? To teach you to show up on time? What if you were going to libraries, museums? You could be learning all this stuff but not getting any credit for it. There’s tons of learning going on outside school, and it’s sub-optimal to ignore or not encourage more of those forms of informal learning. Of course, I’m biased because I’m a dropout.

Where did you drop out from?

Tufts and the University of Chicago. At Tufts I was studying computers in the 80s. I was learning dead languages, and I could learn a lot more online. So I went to UC to study physics. But I started working in a nightclub—I was very interested in community, communications, and media. I was learning a lot more every day there than I was in school.

You’re talking about threatening education’s monopoly over accreditation—are we looking at a fight like what happened in the music industry?

Well, helping people learn, it’s really hard to argue that’s a bad thing. When sharing music it’s easier to argue that the people who are sharing really aren’t contributing to society. In research and science, the fundamental thesis is that you build on the work of others. So the notion of sharing is much more logical and natural in education than in many other industries. At the same time, there is a conflict of informal versus formal education. I think the Internet has made it so that kids know more than their parents and teachers. Informal education is the mirror of how the Internet is organized, and formal education doesn’t mirror that or map that at all.

Where do you see all of this going in the next decade?

I’d really liked to see more alternatives to formal education that are recognized, to allow informally educated people to participate in society. The U.S. is moving forward here, at least on the research side. It’s really behind in a lot of other countries. In Dubai, for instance,I can’t set up a company as a CEO because I don’t have a college degree. I can’t even get a visa in Singapore because I don’t have a college degree.

Finally, I think it’s empowering the practitioners to learn how to modify the tools themselves rather than rely on vendors for everything. Great tools on the Internet are made by people who created their own tools. Technology is just getting to the point where teachers and students can’t just use the tools but make the tools, and opening the black boxes is something they can and should do.

That happens at places like the Mozilla Festival where you bring the geeks together with the practitioners. It doesn’t have to be centrally funded or authorized. You can do it together in small groups. There’s going to be a shift in who leads the future of this stuff. You’re talking about threatening education’s monopoly over accreditation—are we looking at a fight like what happened in the music industry?

Open Content

Open licenses provide the intellectual and practical framework for a world of unlimited learning resources. What does open content have to do with learning, freedom, and the web?

It started with MIT’s OpenCourseWare program in 2001. Professors were offered a few thousand dollars in incentives in exchange for taking the time to upload their lecture notes and syllabi to the web, for free. Over the past 10 years, tens of foundations, hundreds of schools and dozens of governments have released thousands of entire courses from pre-K to PhD–video lectures, podcasts, textbooks, exams, serious games, and everything in between–that can be freely shared, reused, and remixed under licenses like Creative Commons.

CC licensing provides the practical framework for sharing open educational resources. And maybe more important, it provides a key philosophical tie among the worlds of learning, freedom, and the web. Education is a central use case of Creative Commons in its stated mission to “increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in ‘the commons’—the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, re-purposing, and remixing.”

Photo from mozillaeu's Flickrstream, Aug. 20, 2011.

In the words of Molly Kleinman, a Festival attendee and a librarian at the University of Michigan,

ccLearn [Creative Commons’ learning division] is striving to realize the full potential of the Internet to support open learning and open educational resources, and to minimize legal, technical, and social barriers to sharing and reuse of educational materials.

In the United States alone, plummeting budgets and rising costs for both K-12 and higher education are making it harder for students and teachers to access the quality educational resources they need. Until recently, most educational content was locked behind digital paywalls or hidden in print books, and the free stuff you could find online was often unreliable. Now, the pool of high-quality open educational resources is growing every day, with open textbooks, open courseware, and other experimental projects popping up all the time.

In the emerging world of learning, freedom, and the web, open content is the area that’s farthest down the path of institutional acceptance. Free or cheap textbooks have proved to be a potent gateway drug. In January of 2011, Obama’s Department of Education announced a $2 billion fund to create materials for career training programs in community colleges, all of which must be open licensed. Many view this policy as a potential “textbook killer” and a first step toward the open licensing of all educational content created with government funds.

“If the Department of Interior commissioned a new public park and hired somebody to pave the roads and build the bathrooms, would we then give the contractor the keys to the park and say you can charge admission?” asks Hal Plotkin, a Festival attendee who is a senior policy advisor to Martha Kanter, a Deputy Undersecretary of Education. “The public paid for it, they should benefit from it. Yet in intellectual property for many decades the practice has been quite the opposite.”


Hal PlotkinHal Plotkin. Photo from Trebor Scholz's Flickrstream, Aug. 20, 2011.

Hal Plotkin is the open education movement’s man in Washington, D.C. Since 2003, he’s made a career leap from journalism (he helped create the radio show Marketplace and was a technology columnist for the “San Francisco Chronicle”) to public service, getting elected to the Board of Trustees of Foothill-De Anza Community College. Together, Plotkin and Foothill’s president, Martha Kanter, turned the Silicon Valley college into a national leader in the use of open educational resources. When President Obama appointed Kanter to Deputy Undersecretary of Education in 2009, the first community college president to ascend to such a post, Plotkin came along to the Department of Education. But he retained his journalist’s ability to speak like an actual human being.

So tell me why President Obama is excited about open education.

The president’s goal is to restore the U.S. to having the most highly educated workforce by 2020. He’s also talked a lot about American soft power, why it’s in our interest to share intellectual assets and boost education and training overseas. OER is the only tool that makes those goals really practical. President Obama made his first speeches about open courses just two months after his inauguration, in Warren, Michigan, and support for OER is enumerated in the National Educational Technology Plan. So I don’t feel like I’m freelancing here.

Okay, but all that great support, why aren’t we seeing more adoption of things like free textbooks?

It’s a huge frustration for me personally. The institutional embrace of these practices has been painfully slow. Frequently, knowledge about OER in the higher education world is inversely proportionate to rank. When somebody benefits from a system that they end up on the top of, it’s very hard to question the premises that led to their ascension. I don’t think the system will change until it’s on the verge of irrelevance from a social and economic context. And it may not even change then.

If educational institutions continue their exclusionary practices and elitist approaches, it may be that 50 years from now they’re relegated to the status of elite social clubs, while the work of education takes place outside them.

Wow, Hal. Revolutionary! What was your take on what was going on at “Learning, Freedom and the Web”?

As I was coming home on the plane, most of my notes were about the badge [alternative accreditation] work. The idea that a collaborating, diverse group of people from around the world would be working in a voluntary association with learned and technical societies to develop curriculum, courses, and pedagogy that leads to industry-recognized credentials, and that you could earn one, maybe as a graphic artist, and put it on your resume, and a potential employer somewhere down the road could click your badge and see your portfolio—I thought that was just breathtaking. Think that through a few years from now. There’s an employer faced with two applicants, one with a series of badges linked to representative examples of work that are directly relevant to the job, and the other one shows up with a BA from a baccalaureate institution. Who’s going to get the job? It’s at least an open question.

So what’s the government’s role in this?

It was ironic—at another OER gathering not long ago, people were talking about the ideal structure that would make OER sustainable. They said, what we need is an organization that has widespread membership, collects dues, and has an interest in educating its members as efficiently as possible. I pointed out that what you’ve just described is something we call the government. To the degree that governments are not supporting OER, they’re abdicating a fundamental responsibility to provide for their citizens.

And what’s the best way to do that?

Our proposed policy is that for all educationally significant intellectual property,
what the public pays for, the public should get access to through open license.

But can government really take a leadership role in supporting innovation in education without picking winners?

The most important innovations with economic impact have been byproducts of government actions: the Internet, the GPS, microprocessor computers. The government is uniquely positioned to provide the kind of resources and goals that will incentivize and make possible iterative developments beyond what we can imagine.

OER is about more than efficiencies and economies of scale. It has the potential to break down the silos in education. OER creates communities of practice, where people can collaboratively improve; we see this as a wonderful indispensable tool to improve the quality of learning and teaching itself.

Open content today is frustratingly far from reaching its full potential: free, high-quality lessons for every learner. And content by itself, of course, is not learning. Truly free, web-enabled learning means developing the skills among learners and teachers to discover, share, remix, create, and otherwise interact with knowledge in every possible format.

OpenEd, the eight-year-old gathering of the open courseware movement, was held in Barcelona just before the Mozilla Festival. As a result, the Open Content studio boasted participants from Creative Commons; the Open Courseware Consortium, an organization of over 250 institutions worldwide that release free courseware; MIT’s seminal Open Courseware project; Connexxions, a repository of open courseware released by individual educators, hosted at Rice University; and Flat World Knowledge, which commissions and markets low-cost open-licensed textbooks.

The outstanding question amongst this community: Why don’t people use more of this great stuff out there?

As Meena Hwang, director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, told me,

“When I first got to know about mechanisms of open source programs and how things should be working on the Internet, I took it a little more idealistically. The truth is, crowdsourcing hasn’t worked all that well. I’ve tried it in so many places, so convinced this could work, but it’s difficult to get things organized, to get going.”

Session Notes:

Overcoming Barriers to Adoption

In one session, the group brainstormed ideas to overcome barriers to adoption of open content within the academy:

1. Work on convincing high profile people that open content is good. Creative Commons goodwill ambassadors.

2. Promotion.

3. Education.

4. Central area where other communities show what they are doing(i.e. Discussion forums, groups, photos, posts, case studies on community building (P2PU)).

5. Leverage student communities on campuses more, ask students to do case studies.(i.e. Students for free culture, student groups, student pirgs, etc).

6. Raise awareness that ANYONE can start a salon.

Session Notes:

Group 2: Quality and Sustainability

A second session focused on the other main concerns with open content, issues of quality (how good is the stuff?) and sustainability (how will we pay for all this free stuff?).


Quality depends on the involved actors and publics. Quality metrics and criteria are different in arts, academy, online communities, and other contexts. Having that is mind is a key issue to reach quality standards, and each context may need a different approach strategy.


Sustainability is not about just making profit and making a living. Also: reusing resources and efforts, creating a sustainable model in a social, economical, and ecological ways. Open Content in education is a great example of reuse and economical efficiency.


If you make your content open, more people will read it and you would get more potential contributions that improve the content. Under a Copyleft/ShareAlike license, you will benefit from the contributions of others and you could include them in your work or product. A good example of that is Wikipedia.


Enabling the possibility to get anyone involved in the (re)production process will make your work potentially best in quality. Free Software is an example of that: sometimes has great quality, sometimes not, but even in those cases the software can be improved and potentially get more quality. Private and closed models lock that possibility.


Open is not just about the license, also the support/format. Using open standards file formats is a key issue to enable participation without barriers, get contributions from anyone and improve quality in all possible directions.

Photo from mozillaeu's Flickrstream, Aug. 20, 2011.



Out of the discussions at the Festival emerged a new project to try to solve one barrier to reuse of open educational content—making it easier to give credit where credit is due.

Who: Molly Kleinman at University of Michigan; Nathan Yergler, former Chief Technology Officer for Creative Commons

What: “Open Attribute,” a browser add-on that makes it ridiculously simple for anyone to copy and paste the correct attribution for any CC licensed work, including:

1. Title of the work being attributed

2. Attribution name (i.e. author, company, username)

3. Source URL for the attributed work

4. CC license name (i.e. CC-BY, Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial)

5. CC license URL

Optional attribution elements (CC+):

1. URL for the author site

2. Contact information for additional permissions

Why: To make open educational resources easier to cite properly and thus to reuse.

What’s next: Try it out at


Create an open
educational resource

Sharing your knowledge and learning resources with the world, for free, is the fundamental building block of learning, freedom, and the web.

Difficulty : Easy.

Time : 5 minutes.

Who : 1 or more.

Materials : Computer with Internet access and a piece of educational content: test, lesson plan, set of learning resources, curriculum.


1. Choose a piece of writing, test questions, or other educational content that you want to release for free.

2. Choose a Creative Commons License at : Do you want to allow others to alter your work? Restrict commercial use?

3. Choose where you want to publish your content: - - OR - the Open Courseware Consortium - - are two good places to start.


Meena HwangMeena Hwang. Photo from Meena Hwang's LinkedIn Profile, Aug. 20, 2011.

Meena Hwang is in charge of communication and community outreach at the OpenCourseWare Consortium, the premiere worldwide community of over 200 institutions dedicated to sharing digital-format, open-licensed, university-level educational materials of all kinds. She speaks with a sly wit born from hard experience, having traveled everywhere from Romania to Vietnam, spreading the gospel of openness and learning.

What is your background and why are you interested in open education, free sharing and reuse of knowledge?

I used to work in corporate training for multinational businesses and in higher education. My interest in free sharing and reuse comes from being an idealist who believes that this is something that can change the world. I’m a Marxist, I guess, even though that’s last year’s clothing. It’s the whole democracy of creation. It’s really cool how people can actually create something and have it published and people can all have access to it.

So why is this important to the world?

It can be a tool to provide people with basic human rights as stated by the U.N.: Human beings are entitled to food, shelter and education.

Can you describe OCWC’s current projects? How many people are participating? What kinds of projects are they working on? What are the goals?

The Consortium works on projects that ensure bigger discoverability, accessibility, and further propagation of open educational content. For discoverability, we are working on a global course catalog of all OCW courses. For accessibility, there are continuing discussions on how to make contents accessible to the visually impaired, people with bandwidth problems, or those who have little access to technical devices. For further propagation of OCW, we are not just talking about outreach for more institutions to participate, but creating something that enables more people to participate with less effort.

How closely is open courseware related to open-source software?

I have met many people who regard OCW as something identical to open-source software. I would say that the idea of sharing is the same, but the mechanism for building the “product” may have been a bit different. Whereas open-source software has been modularized for individuals to build upon and improve, thus reducing the cost of rebuilding it, OCW contents in large part have been provided by institutions as “community source.” We are trying to encourage reuse and remix of the materials, and there are people who are making derivative work, to fit the context of their use, language, and culture.

And how close do you feel you’re getting to this ideal of wide reuse and remixing of open courseware?

I’ve not seen it yet. When I first got to know about mechanisms of open source programs and how things should be working on the Internet, I took it a little more idealistically. The truth is, crowdsourcing hasn’t worked all that well.

I work with a consortium, mostly of producers, mostly in the global North, and a lot of them totally believe that they’re helping the developing world, and it’s bullshit. When I go to places like China and say, do you actually use these resources, they say, no, it’s not fit for my classroom. My students do not speak English so it’s not great for them. So right now, I’m concentrating on translation first. I figure that would be capacity-building, to show a model to collaborate on the web together, so things will move a little easier. But translation is a really difficult and tedious job.

Where is the open courseware movement seeing the most success?

Where we’re farthest along is in our integration with policy. We started with institutions, and it’s easier for us to work with institutions. For example, many institutions are trying to embed open publication into their system, with some schools seriously considering using OCW as criteria for faculty promotion. And Korea, Brazil, and the Netherlands are looking toward opening federally-funded material, though it’s just in the discussion stage at this point.

So what is your hope and interest in participating in “Learning, Freedom and the Web?”

We have to work with the technology community, because we really need advanced technology to move on. And I’m not talking about high-tech stuff, I’m talking about user-friendly stuff. What I really want to develop right now is an authoring tool so that any teacher can fill it out as their course notes application, press a button and upload it as an OCW.

Anything else you’d like to say about the future of education? What will education look like in 2020?

Nobody knows and I think that’s the most exciting part! People keep talking about informal learning, but in parts of Asia and Africa, people are not into informal learning at all.  Yet, for sure I know OER has to be an alternative to the problem we’re facing. Given the rate of population growth, there’s no way possible to physically educate all these people. We had no idea what was going to happen in 10 years, 10 years ago.

Part 2: Wikiworld

A special case of open content in academia is the world of wiki. Wikipedia and other collaboratively created and edited repositories of information are not official “open educational resources,” but sometimes they function much better for the purposes of learning, freedom, and the web. They’re free, easy to find, available in dozens of languages, and anyone can contribute.

Jon Beasley-Murray, a Festival attendee and a Latin American studies professor at the University of British Columbia, famous for his use of Wikipedia (about which more in a minute) writes:

At present, Wikipedia hovers at the fringes of academia, like an uninvited guest. Wikipedia’s aims are eminently academic, concerned with collecting, processing, storing, and transmitting knowledge. Judging by the number of the site’s articles and readers, it has been remarkably successful at promoting a culture of intellectual inquiry. Yet it is fairly consistently derided by academics themselves. Still, everybody uses it, in one way or another, even if they might want not to admit to the fact. Above all, our students use it, openly or otherwise (as they are often explicitly told not to cite Wikipedia articles in term papers), but without necessarily knowing how it works. They are told that Wikipedia is bad, but they are not often told why; and of course, they find it an incredibly useful resource.

The Wikimedia lounge, presided over by S.J. Klein, hosted discussions and hack sessions on the use of wikis for learning. Some cases in point:

Photo from mozillaeu's Flickrstream, Aug. 20, 2011.

Jon Beasley-Murray gave a presentation on his use of Wikipedia in the Classroom, which Matt Jukes Digital Manager for the Medical Research Council in the U.K., reported on in his blog:

Murder, Mayhem and Mystery: Wikipedia in the Classroom
Matt Jukes | November 5, 2010

Jon Beasley-Murray had been exploring and contributing to Wikipedia as a work avoidance ploy and in doing this he realized that the articles in his area of expertise weren’t great and that maybe his students could do better.

For an entire semester, he set a goal for his class of either editing or creating articles based on the authors and the novels they were covering in a Latin America literature class—with guaranteed A’s for any team that became featured. In the end, they managed to get three featured articles (less than 1 percent of articles manage this) and as an amazing side effect, the work they did with Wikipedia not only gave them a much more mature insight into how to use Wikipedia, but it also reignited much more traditional research skills.

The Wikipedia project page is well worth scanning through. They get the kind of traffic most scholarly publications would kill for and the entire project gave us an inspiring demonstration on the opportunities that can arise when traditional and open methods meet rather than clash!

Clearly there are lots of obstacles standing in the way of the transition from free and open learning resources into free and open education. There are discoverability barriers (actually finding appropriate stuff to use when you need it), language barriers, and major educational cultural barriers to getting teachers and students to actually adopt open material, let alone remix and improve it.

Some of these issues will simply resolve themselves with time, as open content gets better known. Policy changes, such as those contemplated by the federal government, could do a lot as well. But the case of Wikipedia, and particularly Professor Beasley-Murray’s experience, illuminates a different path forward.

What makes Wikipedia so powerful is that 1) everyone knows about it, and 2) everybody contributes to it—maybe not every single user, but there’s a much, much larger editor base than is found in your typical open courseware repository, where every contributor is already a credentialed academic. If you think about defining “open content” as content that learners alter and improve, as a matter of course, then it suggests a different means of teaching, not just a different tool for the old methods of teaching.


Teach and learn with Wikipedia

Editing Wikipedia offers the advantages of publishing and peer review to learners at every level.

Difficulty : Moderate.

Time : 15 weeks or more.

Who : 1 or many.

Materials : Computer with Internet access, library.


1. Find a topic you would like to learn more about, or choose a research topic from an existing course.

2. Rather than complete a standard research paper, start or contribute to an existing Wikipedia article on the topic.

3. Do lots of research, on the web or in the library. Make sure your writing is properly sourced and formatted, as well as clear and easy to read.

4. Submit the article to processes of revision and peer review. Be prepared to improve the article over multiple revisions to reach “Featured” or “Good” status.

Resources: 70 such projects, of which Jon Beasley-Murray’s is exemplary.

Check-out Wikiotics

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David WileyDavid Wiley. Photo from Wayne Lin's Flickrstream, Aug. 20, 2011.

David Wiley kept a low profile at the Festival, partly because of its overlap with Open Ed, the premiere conference on open educational resources and practices that he founded at his home base in Utah eight years ago, and partly because of his naturally unassuming personality. The Mormon father of five created the first open license for educational content ten years ago; today he jets around the world spreading the good word about openness.

What are you thinking about right now, David?

A big message for me right now—my tiny brain can think about one thing at a time—is the value proposition of openness. What’s the point? First, if you’re a part of an organization that’s interested in getting better: You can get data about how you’re doing. And second if you’re a school and those data tell you there are opportunities to get better, you need permission to change your curriculum. 
So, if you don’t have some kind of data gathering and analytics—and openness—you cannot engage in continuous quality improvement. For example, at Brigham Young we did an independent study. We put Open Courseware online with a button: If you think this is cool, click to enroll.

Previously the concern was that if you publish openly, you would put yourself out of business.

I’m doing a small pilot funded by the Hewlett Foundation with eight teachers and 1,200 students on open science textbooks and cost effectiveness. Most use printed versions of the books, while a few hundred students in one-to-one schools will use the online versions of the books on netbooks or iPads. First, we’re comparing costs. If a typical textbook costs $100 and has a five-year replacement cycle, now you’re buying a new open text and telling them they can highlight it and mark in it and do whatever they want. The price has to be less than $20 a book for that to work out.

So some chemistry teachers took this 1,400-page chemistry book and turned it into a 250 -age book that covers what they want it to, and they’ve read every single word. On a short print run, including shipping, the books cost $7.30.


It’s extremely powerful. Some of the other books that people didn’t customize as much cost more than $20. That’s half of the study. The other half, and in some ways the more important part, is that next summer after the state administered exams, we’ll compare the science learning of the kids with open texts to those with the $100 textbooks. if you look at the entire body of education research, you would bet the farm and the tractor that there’d be no difference. However, we do have some reason to believe that because the kids can highlight and annotate the open texts, they might learn a little more. With free and open resources, people say, oh you get what you pay for. We’re saying, let’s not ask if it’s poor quality or not [in the abstract] but let’s compare to the book you’re already using.

The basic idea is for any learning materials that the public pays for, they should be released under CC-BY. My favorite story about this is my wife and I were in Ohio and we drove past this pizza parlor that said: “Buy One, Get One.” And I said, if I buy one I better get one! And I think this should be our position. The public, if we buy one, we should get one.

So how did you get involved with Mozilla? And what do you think about “Learning, Freedom and the Web” vs. OpenEd?

Mark [Surman] and I first met at the meeting where we did the writing for the Cape Town Open Education Declaration [The Port Huron Statement of the Open Educational Resources Movement, released in September 14-15, 2007, after a meeting of the Shuttleworth Foundation and the Open Society Institute, lays out the position that “everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve, and redistribute educational resources without constraint.”]

Mark’s great at making connections. He’s a fabulous matchmaker between people, but he also sees connections between ideas.

My folks at Open Ed largely don’t have the technical chops these folks have. We’re formal—the senior policy advisor to the undersecretary of education, provosts, university presidents. Here it’s much more of a hacker thing. I would doubt anyone registered for the Festival has an executive role at a university. And I think this meeting is more populated by people who, for a variety of good reasons, have lost faith or lost interest in the structure, in the orthodoxy.


Adopt an open textbook

Open courseware gives your students more learning options than a static paper textbook. Plus it’s cheaper, or even free!

Difficulty: Easy to difficult.

Time: A few hours.

Who: 1 or many.

Materials: Computer with Internet access, photocopy shop.


1. Find an open textbook that meets your standards for a course. Free, faculty-reviewed open textbooks are available at:

     • WikiBooks

     • WikiEducator

     • Connexions

     • CCCOER Open Content

     • OER Commons

     • MERLOT

     Flat World Knowledge offers open-source textbooks with various pay-for-download or print-on-demand options.

2. Customize the textbook experience: Choose chapters that are especially relevant to the course, or combine chapters from different textbooks.

3. Tell your students where to access the textbook. Give them plenty of options: A URL to download the PDF, a print-on-demand service such as, and a photocopied course packet at the campus print shop.

4. Publicize your choice. Go back to the network where you found the open textbook and give feedback and reviews; and don’t forget to tell faculty at your school about your choice as well.

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