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Open Content, the Capetown Declaration, the Bazaar Conference and Personal LearninG Environments

December 13th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

No posts for a while as have been constantly traveling. Since I am now on my way to Utrecht for the final conference of the Bazaar project on Open educational Resources then it seems pertinent to comment once more on the debate over the Capetown Declaration on Open Content. Despite the declaration being drafted in a restricted community – and official comment being similarly restricted – it is heartening to see that an open discussion has emerged through the blogosphere and within the open content com,unity. That the community is able to organise such a debate is very encouraging and a sign of the increasingly mature nature of the community.

Stephen Downes – in an email to the UNesco list server on OERs, says:

“I understand the purpose of the use of the word ‘libre’, as the words ‘open’ and ‘free’ have certainly been appropriated by those who see learning content as something ‘given’ and not ‘created’ or ‘used’. And one wonders what the supporters of commercial reproduction of open educational content would say were such reproduction required to retain the format and structure of the original – no proprietary technology, no encoding or access restrictions, no DRM. What would they say were they required to make available genuinely free and ‘libre’ content in whatever marketplace they offered their commercial version of such content.

I understand the concerns about the use of the word ‘libre’ as being unfamiliar and foreign to some people. Perhaps we could offer a translation. Perhaps we could call such content ‘liberty’ content. Alternatively, I would also support a move to reclaim the word ‘open’ from those who now interpret it to mean ‘produced’ and ‘commercial’ and ‘closed’. I have always referred to the concept simply as ‘free learning’.”

Stephen’s contribution reflects the findings of the Bazaar project. Firstly, it is not just a matter of ensuring a Creative Commons license is attached to resources – although awareness of such licenses is of course important. OERS have to be available in a form which renders them usable for learning. Part of that learning may involve changing those resources. Formats do matter.

Even more critical is support for the processes of learning. There are many great resources openly available on the internet and an increasing number of free social software applications which can potentially support learning.

But there remain many barriers to their effective use for learning. One of the issues we have focused on in the Bazaar project is data ownership. Yes, Facebook is a great application for peer and shared learning. But Facebook denies users access to their own data.

Equally organisation and institutional cultures of teaching and learning inhibit sharing and reuse.

In the Bazaar project we have spent some considerable efforts in looking at the potential of Personal Learning Environments. I suspect our reviewers from the Commission find this strange. Why should a project on Open Educational Resource be concerned about PLEs. The reason is because we share Stephen’s vision of I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of “society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumberance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle……..This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence.”

We see Personal Learning Environments as an important development in enabling such a vision – allowing learners to create and allowing sharing of knowledge and ideas as well as artefacts.

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