Open access, open education, and FOSS

Update: Here’s a link to the post.

On Wednesday, I’ll be guest-blogging at Terra Incognita, the blog for Penn State’s World Campus, as part of its series on FOSS and OERs. The series concept is: a different guest blogger posts every other week – just one post – with discussion in the comments. You can read more about the series at its page on WikiEducator. The series initially ran from March through July, and I’m kicking things off for the series to run through the end of the year.

My post is titled “Open Access Journal Literature is an Open Educational Resource”. Be sure to stop by and join the discussion!

Thanks to Steve Foerster for the introduction, and to Ken Udas for the opportunity to participate.

I had some thoughts on linkages and similarities between FOSS, OERs, and OA, but I decided to trim them from the Terra Incognita post. They’re after the jump for anyone interested.


Linkages and similarities
OA, FOSS, and OERs are each a vision, a conceptualization of the way things ought to be. To make a grammatical metaphor, they are, fundamentally, adjectives. Neither OA, FOSS, nor OERs are business models; they do not require a particular implementation or development model. There are some implementations they prohibit, and some they may enable or particularly encourage, but there is considerable variance in how the vision of each is implemented by different people.

OA, FOSS, and OERs all impose certain responsibilities on the author of the software or content which the author desires to make “open”. All share a common responsibility in permissive copyright licensing. All deal with the private property rights vested in certain intangibles: the copyright in scholarly journal articles, software, and educational content, respectively. All three movements seek to manage certain of these rights as a commons, rather than as privately-held. None of the movements requires a complete waiver of copyright in the code or content: “all rights reserved” is not acceptable, but neither is “no rights reserved” required; “some rights reserved” is sufficient. All three movements have, to some degree, debates about precisely which rights it is acceptable to reserve. For example, some members of the BSD community strongly disagree with copyleft, that is, that an author can reserve the right that derivatives must be similarly licensed; with OA and OERs, the debate is more frequently about whether rights to commercial use should be reserved.

In addition to waiving some of the rights in their creations, authors in each of these movements are held to certain responsibilities. For example, to comply with the Free Software Definition or the Open Source Definition, software must disclose its source code: a software author cannot simply grant, in theory, the right to adapt the software; the author must also provide access to the source code. To comply with the Definition of Open Access Publication from the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, an article author cannot simply grant, in theory, the right to access the article; the author must also deposit the article in a freely-accessible location online.

The community of creators and users in each movement also have certain norms which are identified with the movement. A commonly-adopted development model for FOSS is commons-based peer production, and so users often have expectations exceeding the “formal” definition of FOSS: for instance, the ability to report bugs, the ability to submit patches, a role for community feedback in the software’s development (e.g. mailing lists, IRC channels). The most familiar implementations of OA are either journals, where the articles are made immediately OA upon publication, or repositories, where the author deposits the article to be openly accessible from that repository, independently of other content of the journal in which the article was originally published. Of course, software developed entirely in-house but providing access to the source code and using a free software license is nevertheless FOSS; and in The Access Principle, John Willinsky identifies not two but ten “flavors” of open access, six of which comply with the Bethesda Definition. All three movements pursue an end rather than a means, with many potential means to achieve that end.

From my observations, there are also a good many similarities among the participants in each of these movements (setting aside the fact that many participants count themselves in more than one camp). Each movement has deep ties to academia; free software famously was born from Richard Stallman’s frustrations in MIT‘s AI Lab. (Of course, none are purely academic movements, and each counts support from civil society and, to varying extents, from business.) All are social movements about maximizing the benefits of information technology, with a common emphasis on sharing knowledge, and each movement uses the language of ethical obligations or the public interest. Each is a movement with the values of network culture encoded in its DNA, and by and large each subscribes to Thesis 7 of The Cluetrain Manifesto: “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”. Advocates in each movement commonly hold a particular distrust of the current configuration of copyright law. Each movement counts strong international participation.

It should be noted that the younger movements (OA and OERs) consciously and explicitly draw parallels to and inspiration from FOSS.

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