Let Freedom Reign

Open Education Resources and the positive disruption of the publishing industry.

GUEST COLUMN | by David Harris

CREDIT OpenStax CollegeThe case for positive disruption of the publishing industry is well documented.  Those of us with publishing and edtech backgrounds are well aware that the current economic model is broken, student access is declining, and the price/value ratio of course materials is no longer sustainable. These problems must be addressed both by the open and for-profit communities.

Fifteen months ago we launched the first OpenStax College project, the non-profit providing open-source, quality textbooks and learning materials to students. Our free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators to ensure they are readable, accurate and meet the scope and sequence requirements of student courses.

Since then, we have learned that it is the significant reduction in price and the lack of Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions that are being enthusiastically embraced by hundreds of thousands of users. The current DRM restrictions for most of the digital content sold today are simply not in line with the way students acquire, use, and share information.

Current DRM restrictions come from a bygone era of “unidirectional” information flow. DRM limits access to a period of days, DRM limits the number of pages that can be printed, DRM limits the number of devices content can be accessed on, and DRM limits the sharing of information.

Fortunately, today’s learners have grown up on the web in which the opportunity to network, access information, and share knowledge is limitless. Open resources remedies the shortcomings of DRM by allowing users unfettered and unlimited access across multiple devices and platforms.

Anywhere, at any time, in any format, the ability to share content provides a level of freedom that is igniting innovation and lasting change across the market.

I sense the cringe. Yes, DRM needs to exist in order to protect authors and publishers from infringement; however, I would encourage DRM advocates to loosen the restrictions so that their terms-of-use better reflect 21st century student needs.

In the final analysis we may look back on this period and conclude that quality OER went mainstream not for the fact that it was free, but for the freedoms that OER provided learners.

David Harris is the Editor in Chief of Connexions and OpenStax College. Connexions and OpenStax College are non-profit organizations based out of Rice University in Houston, Texas. David is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and has worked extensively in higher education publishing. During his career David has held a range of leadership positions allowing him to collaborate with leading authors, editorial groups, and media development teams in the industry. David is the recipient of many publishing awards and speaks regularly at education conferences and schools on the emerging role of OER in the market.  Prior to joining Connexions, David was the president of WebAssign, the largest independent online homework provider. As Editor in Chief for Connexions and OpenStax College David works with the teams to make sure that the projects meet scope/sequence requirements and reach quality thresholds.  David also participates in OpenStax’s innovative ecosystem partner model that provide additional services for customers while at the same time enhancing the sustainability of the project.

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