Open Licenses

author: David Wiley, Lumen Learning
author: Cable Green, Creative Commons
published: Jan. 17, 2017,   recorded: December 2016,   views: 30
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY)


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Dr. David Wiley, Chief Academic Officer at Lumen Learning, talked about the cost of open textbooks and open pedagogy.

The Efficiency and Cost of Open Textbooks
Dr. Wiley started by describing his concept of a “golden ratio” measurement, with efficacy in the numerator and cost in the denominator. He explained that if we want to actually change the experience of students in the real world, rather than talking about efficacy we need to talk about the relationship between efficacy and cost-efficiency. Open content can reduce the cost and increase the quality of education. However, open content is not free. Instead, the term indicates that the materials are offered free of charge and are licensed so that users have free and perpetual permission to engage in the “5R” activities:

  • Retain: the right to make, own and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store and manage).
  • Reuse: the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video).
  • Revise: the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language).
  • Remix: the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup).
  • Redistribute: the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).

There is disagreement in the community about which requirements and restrictions should never, sometimes, or always be included in open licences. For example, Creative Commons offers licences that prohibit commercial use. While some in the community believe there are important use cases where the non-commercial restriction is desirable, many in the community have strong reservations about the non-commercial restriction. To show the real value of open textbooks and the real costs of traditional textbooks, Dr. Wiley referred to a paper titled “A Multi-institutional Study of the Impact of Open Textbook Adoption on the Learning Outcomes of Post-secondary Students.” The study was conducted by his research team at Brigham Young University, and the paper was published in the Journal of Computing in Higher Education in 2015. The research looked at a sample of more than 16,000 students across 10 institutions, which included 4,909 students who used open textbooks and 11,818 in the control group (i.e., without open textbooks), as well as 130 teachers from 50 different undergraduate courses. The purpose of the study was to analyse whether, during and after semesters in which OER were used, the adoption of no-cost open digital textbooks significantly predicted: (i) students’ completion of courses, (ii) class achievement and (iii) enrolment intensity. This study utilised a quantitative, quasi-experimental design with propensity–score matched groups to examine differences in outcomes between students who used OER and those who did not. Results showed the opposite of what is commonly believed: expensive textbooks are not superior to free ones. In fact, students assigned free, open textbooks did as well as or better than their peers in terms of grades, course completion and other measures of academic success. Dr. Wiley also described another study conducted by his research team, which will be published in the paper, “Improving Course Throughput Rates and Open Educational Resources: Results from the Z Degree Program at Tidewater Community College.” The paper is in press at the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. This case study compares the performance of Tidewater Community College students using traditional textbooks with the performance of those using OER, based on what the research team calls course throughput rates, which is an aggregate of three variables: dropout rates, withdrawal rates, and C or better rates. Two self-selecting cohorts were compared over four semesters, with statistically significant results. The study found that, subject to certain limitations, students who use OER performed significantly better in terms of the course throughput rate than their peers who used traditional textbooks, in both face-to-face and online courses employing OER. The study seemed to suggest that OER are a promising avenue for reducing the costs of higher education while increasing academic success. Dr. Wiley also discussed a paper titled “Cost-savings Achieved in Two Semesters through the Adoption of Open Educational Resources,” (Hilton, Robinson, Wiley, & Ackerman, 2014), published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. This research involved students in 256 faculties at eight colleges; 194 were taught using only traditional commercial textbooks, 48 were taught using only OER and 14 were taught using traditional commercial textbooks and OER. Results showed that the students achieved cost savings when their colleges began using OER in place of traditional commercial textbooks. On average, required traditional commercial textbooks for a course cost USD 90.61 per student, while the value of services supporting OER adoption was USD 5 per student. The study proved that OER were 94% less expensive than traditional printed textbooks.

Open Pedagogy
“Open pedagogy” describes the teaching and learning practices that are possible when one adopts OER but are impossible using traditionally copyrighted materials. Making progress in open pedagogy is critically important to winning the long-term OER adoption battle. OER adoption focuses on benefits for students, such as improved academic outcomes and cost savings. But it is faculty who must make the OER adoption choice, often with no incentive other than “doing what’s right for students.” Dr. Wiley argued that powerful examples of open pedagogy will give faculty a specific and direct reason to adopt OER. As faculty come to understand that OER give them more academic freedom than traditionally copyrighted materials, they will significantly accelerate the adoption of OER. This accelerated adoption will, in turn, significantly increase the quality (through open pedagogy) and affordability (through cost savings) of education for learners everywhere.

Open Licences
Dr. Cable Green, Director (Education) at Creative Commons (CC), spoke on how open licensing, OER and open policies have the potential to significantly improve access to quality higher education and research resources. He focused on the following:

  • Open licensing and why it is so important to get this right
  • The definition of OER
  • CC: its role as an organization for introducing open licences—started in 2001, it now operates in 85 countries
  • CC becoming the legal tool that people use in licensing
  • The public domain—materials only become accessible after the creator is dead
  • Getting the licensing terms right is critical
  • Open education licensing policies
  • OER is more than free: open > free
  • Retention is fundamental and is a prerequisite to revise and remix; watch out for publishers’ artificial scarcity models
  • Licensing is not an alternative to copyright, it is built on copyright; creators keep their copyright
  • Google can see only the licensed works that use machine-readable licences; presently, 1.5 billion documents are licensed
  • If the licensing terms are not correct, other people cannot work on the materials; a licensing notice is required; CC has several tools to help authors license their work
  • Publicly funded resources should by default be open

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