International Call for Open Resources

Key educators and foundation officials issue manifesto calling for more course material to be free and easily available online.
January 22, 2008

In 2002, a small group of foundation officials and technology experts released the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which called for journals to end subscription barriers to online content and for scholars to strive to make their research findings available online and free. While many publishers that charge for content have attacked these ideas, the Budapest manifesto played a key role in a movement that is seeing notable success. The new appropriations bill for the National Institutes of Health contains a provision -- fought for several years by publishers but backed by many academics -- that requires all studies financed by the NIH to be made available online and free.

Today, some of the same groups that created the Budapest movement are unveiling a new manifesto -- the Cape Town Open Education Declaration -- in which they call on universities and others to make more of their course and other educational materials online and free, and to encourage faculty members to work with these materials. Declaring that "we are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning," the signatories affirm that "everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint."

Among those backing the effort are the Open Society Institute (which is linked to the Soros Foundation), the Shuttleworth Foundation (which is heavily involved in promoting education in Africa), Creative Commons, and numerous educators involved in open access projects. Many of the organizers met in Cape Town last year to discuss issues related to open access -- and that's the origin of the name. The statement is being issued at a time that numerous efforts already exist to make course content available online and free. Projects like OpenCourseWare at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Connexions at Rice University are putting vast sums of materials online and making them available. Yale University is making video of selected courses available.

Richard Baraniuk, the founder of Connexions and one of the Cape Town signatories, said that with many projects and ideas taking hold, organizers of the new effort wanted to draw attention to the way a movement is taking shape. "We want more people out there familiar with the fact that there's not just a Yale project or an MIT project or a Connexions project, but that they are part of this whole," he said. "We have these projects that have been founded by people with a vision about what open education can be, and how it can revolutionize the world of education. What has dawned on people the last year or so, was that a movement was starting to crystallize around these projects."

While not all educators may gravitate to these ideas right away, Baraniuk noted the success of the Budapest effort in shaping opinion, and now legislation. As with Budapest, the idea is to have key principles, but not a ton of detail on how to apply those principles. "The language was very carefully worked out over a number of months," he said. "The idea is not to be vague, but to be open-ended enough to be used in different ways."

Baraniuk stressed that all the references to free and open access were not intended to wipe out all concepts of tuition or charging fees for services. "It's absolutely legitimate to charge" for certain things, he said. The key is to adopt a mindset in which open materials are endorsed, used when possible and produced whenever possible, so that there are many high quality options for people who might never be able to pay tuition at his university or have access to high priced materials.

Specifically, the Cape Town declaration has three calls:

  • Educators and learners: "We encourage educators and learners to actively participate in the emerging open education movement. Participating includes: creating, using, adapting and improving open educational resources; embracing educational practices built around collaboration, discovery and the creation of knowledge; and inviting peers and colleagues to get involved. Creating and using open resources should be considered integral to education and should be supported and rewarded accordingly."
  • Resources: "We call on educators, authors, publishers and institutions to release their resources openly. These open educational resources should be freely shared through open licenses which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet."
  • Policy: "Governments, school boards, colleges and universities should make open education a high priority. Ideally, taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources. Accreditation and adoption processes should give preference to open educational resources. Educational resource repositories should actively include and highlight open educational resources within their collections.

The declaration states that following these principles will both improve education in countries with resources -- by changing the way people improve upon materials, and decreasing reliance on textbooks -- and will provide unprecedented resources to the rest of the world.

"We have a chance to nurture a new generation of learners who engage with open educational materials, are empowered by their learning and share their new knowledge and insights with others," the statement says. "Most importantly, we have an opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world through freely available, high-quality, locally relevant educational and learning opportunities."


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