BY HUNTER WILSON BURKE

As a student at Victoria University, my main expense — barring course costs — is textbooks. Often these are simply a collection of photocopied excerpts from various books and journal articles. While textbook costs vary, it is not unusual to spend thousands of dollars over the course of a degree for books that are often used for little over three months.

In 2002, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began OpenCourseWare, a project in which they began publishing their course materials under Creative Commons licences, making them freely available to the public for reuse and repurposing. Since then several universities have followed suit, openly publishing course materials and making them available to the commons. In New Zealand a number of tertiary institutions are already part of the Open Education Resources Universitas (OERu), an independent network that offers free online courses for students worldwide. Despite the benefits of Open Educational Resources (OERs) and their increasing popularity among tertiary institutions, the movement has not garnered widespread publicity or institutionalisation.

Throughout my time at Victoria University I have noticed small changes taking place. It is becoming increasingly common for courses to be based on a series of online journal articles instead of a textbook. However, these journal articles are usually not openly licensed, and are instead made available to students and staff members of Victoria University through agreements the university has with other institutions. This means they cannot legally be shared outside of the university domain and are vulnerable to changes in intellectual property law. For example, current negotiations regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement could jeopardise the use of several online journal articles at university. Thus, while these changes indicate an awareness and interest in moving forwards from expensive textbooks, they do not address the wider issue of open education.

I spoke with several professors at Victoria University to hear their perspectives on the matter. Ideologically, staff members were very supportive of open education policies being adopted in universities, speaking positively about the benefits of OERs. These include expanding the scope of education, especially to those in financially restrictive situations; enabling them to enrich their students’ learning experience with increased resources; and allowing students to easily teach others what they have learned. Staff were also very enthusiastic about publishing their works openly, allowing them to easily share and distribute their work without worrying about restrictive copyright laws. Despite the ideological alignment and positivity shown by staff, many were at a loss concerning the logistical implementation of OERs and how it would affect the university financially and commercially.

My conversations demonstrated the necessity of increased visibility of the open education movement and its proposed solutions to current problems. There are a number of economic benefits for educational institutions using OERs: for example, the money saved through using existing OERs from reliable institutions; and efficiencies created from the collective action of several institutions creating a large depository of academically sound OERs across a wide range of disciplines and through institutional backing and grassroots community support. The formulation of alternative business models allowing for the sustained production of OERs and an increased awareness of the alternative forms of copyright available is an integral aspect of furthering the use of OERs in tertiary institutions.

Hunter Wilson-Burke is a third-year BA student at Victoria University studying Political Science and Philosophy. He is currently interning at Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand, focussing on the use and adoption of open education in New Zealand´s educational institutions.

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