What can the «anti OER lobby» learn from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer?

Occasionally I bump in to representatives from the «anti OER lobby» and they often start of by talking about how open educational resources ruins the marked, and if the OER is financed with public money they go on about how the government is using their position to compete in the marketplace handing out «free content».

The problem with this claim is of course that it belongs in another paradigm, a paradigm without what we now call «the internet». This is a global issue but we could use Norway as an example. The idea that the Norwegian government, municipalities  and counties should not be able to let teachers(with a public paycheck) share content on the web under a free license is just ridiculous.

Last week I met a guy from an organization that lobbies hard against OER and while talking to him I came to think about Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft. It was sort of a deja vu moment and it took me back to 2001.

During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on June 1, 2001 Ballmer said that «Linux is cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches»

15 years later Microsoft has shifted their stands completely and invest substantially in open source and even Balmer himself is quoted saying «We now considers that the threat from Linux is over». Current chief at Microsoft Satya Nadella took it even further and went public 2 years ago saying that Microsoft loves Linux.

In the 15 years that has past Microsoft has lost its position in many markets and is now overtaken by Google and Android in the mobile market while Linux dominates everything from the server market to devices running in cars or in the kitchen.

For anyone that has been a part of both the open source movement and the OER movement its obvious that they share principles,  philosophy and methodology.

So my simple question is: What can the «anti-OER lobby» learn from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer?

We value “Open” as a fundamental quality in education and in our learning resources.

“Open” produces better outcomes than “Closed”. This gives us a new responsibility. We must now prioritize our time and resources accordingly. The time has come to value “Open” as a fundamental quality in education and in our learning resources. – Head of NDLA, Øivind Høines

The Norwegian Digital Learning Arena (Nasjonal digital læringsarena) is a joint enterprise operating on behalf of the county councils in Norway. Our goal is to develop and publish high quality, internet-based open educational resources (OER) in subjects taught at upper secondary school level and make these freely available.

The term “open” is a cornerstone in all our projects and an important part of our strategy as we develop new subjects and open educational resources. From the beginning in 2007, head of NDLA Øivind Høines and his team started working on how NDLA could build the plattform, content and organization with “Open” as an important quality.

For NDLA as an organization this materializes in four focus areas:

  • Open standards
  • Open source
  • Open interfaces
  • Open methodology

Open standards

A major reason for us at NDLA to use open standards is that we would like our content to be reused and remixed by anyone. By using open standards we aim to make it easier for systems from different parties using different technologies to interoperate and communicate with our content and technology.

Another important aspect of open standards is to hinder confinement to a single vendor or proprietary technology, and to provide better conditions for free competition between all technology vendors and content creators. Open standards set out to prevent unfortunate interlocking, monopolization and competition bias.

An important area of focus is the use of standardized protocols and specifications where it is deemed relevant. This is pertinent both in between components internally in the NDLA solution, but also in NDLA’s communication with third-party services.

A few examples of such standards and specifications:

  • HTML5: a mark-up language intended for the formatting of webpages with links and other information that can be viewed in a browser|, and which is used to structure the information. HTML5 incorporate several new kinds of content (e.g. audio and video) than previous versions than the HTML standard.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets is a mark-up language used to define the layout of files written in HTML or XML.
  • Tin Can: a standardized API for learning technology making it possible to gather data on user experiences. To a larger extent than today, NDLA will be built upon this notion of open standards and known specifications.

Open source

Open sources is an important part of all development at NDLA. We have based our plattform on Drupal and contributed significantly to the development of H5P as a platform for easier creation, sharing and reuse of the developed content and applications.

H5P is not a standard, but an implementation that supports HTML5. H5P is being used for the development of different kinds of interactivity in NDLA. H5P is an open source-based framework for the development of HTML5 based content (video, interactive presentations, multiple choice assignments, timelines, etc.). We are proud to say that more than 2400 websites all over the world now run H5P.

Why open source?

Open source software is software that is distributed with the assumption that the source code is being made readily available for reuse. The opposite is software that keeps the source code secret/closed or protected through legislation. The main strategy of NDLA has always been geared towards open source , but in certain contexts it has proven difficult to avoid using third-party products or components that follow other regimes of licencing. In the future, NDLA will go further and demand open source software in all vital parts of a solution.

Open Interfaces

We are interested in sharing our content in any way we can. In addition to developing our own website and servise we develop AAPI’s (i.e. application programming interfaces) or open interfaces to make it easier to reuse our content by any third-party.

By developing and using such open, well-documented API’s, NDLA will facilitate a modularity that deems the solution more service based and flexible to change. Additionally, both the data and the modules become easier to reuse by third-party.

What is an API?

API’s (i.e. application programming interfaces) are the interfaces between different software components. API’s link the components together in standardized ways. The API describes what will happen in different circumstances, e.g. finding or saving specific data in a database. An open API is an interface that is openly described, i.e. that is a known matter how it operates so anyone can develop a solution that can link to and benefit from it.

Open methodology – crowdsourcing

For us at NDLA, crowdsourcing is an methodology where the individual teacher and pupil can create, co-create and develop content themselves. The concept of crowdsourcing makes it possible for a larger group of people, e.g. teachers, to revise an academic plan, curriculum or the actual content in learning resources.

Crowdsourcing is a work practice based on voluntary participation, where a large amount of contributors execute a task based on a sense of community, participation and self-organization, rather than managerial control. Numerous actors thus contribute to the improvement of quality on a specific product.

The word “Open” has for us a pedagogical foundation. Learning as an activity thrives in an open landscape where information is truly liberated and free. We learn better when we freely can participate, when we openly share what we make, when we are allowed to remix the work of others, and our own contributions becomes part a wider and connected society. – Head of NDLA, Øivind Høines.


OER Global Search – makes it easy for you to find open educational resources

The last couple of weeks I have been working on a project that I have called OER Global Search. The idea behind OER Global Search is to make it easy for you to find educational resources that allows reuse, re-contextualization and translation.

It can be very difficult for users to distinguish between what is called Open educational resources and other services that simply provide content for free. Even some websites that use the term Open in their name are not always offering content with a free license. For individuals or projects that plan to change, re-mix or translate content it is important to find OER, not free as in gratis.

OER Global search solves this by using what is called Google Custom Search targeting 15 to 20 of the most widely used websites that are not only free, but actually offer content with free license.

The most well known OERs are MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and CK-12.org. Here is a complete list of the service that are included in the search. http://searchoer.com/list-of- oer.html

We are seeing a dramatic increase open educational resources covering different subjects at all levels. At the launch of our service a keyword such as “Algebra” returns 387.000 results. The technical development of the service is fairly simple so the main focus will be to develop the search further by identifying good services in different languages.

The main language on the web is English but we also included some resources languages Hindi, Spanish, Norwegian, Portuguese and French.

GoOpen Talk with Meredith Jacob

In this GoOpen Talk I have a conversation with Meredith Jacob, Assistant Director at American University Washington College of Law. Meredith is a part of the legal team at Creative commons US and a leading expert on IP and Copy right issues. In this videoblogg she talks about the OER situation in American schools and the GoOpen campaign launched by the The U.S. Department of Education.

GoOpen talk with Meredith Jacob from GoOpen.no on Vimeo.