Posted by: Gillian | October 19, 2011

Open educational resources, publishers and ethics

Open educational resources are, broadly speaking, items of academic value that are available for anyone to use for private study – and that private study may lead to a paid-for qualification. They may be seen as a useful alternative to highly expensive textbooks or as authoritative works that are only available as OER items because that is how the originator chose to make them public. Users cannot make money from OERs without some form of payback to the originators – and that may be as little as acknowledgement of authorship but can include financial payment. So, how do publishers justify their prices? Equally, is it ethical for state-funded scholars to be privately remunerated for papers or for state-funded scholars to be expected to live for forever in penury? Academic publishing is in a mess.

Personally, I spend many hours reviewing papers for academic journals that are not available as OERs and some that are. I also make some of my own material available for free and grin quietly when I see my own work represented at conferences with no public acknowledgement.  (My favourites are those who, before their talks, want to know what I think of their use of my – admittedly ancient – learning design frameworks.) I have a published academic interest in social capital, used to be in a publishing company, happily and gratefully participate in MOOCs such as Change11 (thanks, @downes and @gsiemens) and work with a lot of universities (expensive and utilitarian alike) as a freelance so I see many sides to a highly complex problem: how can knowledge be shared free to those who need it?

The US debates about publishers stifling OERs are predictable.  Publishers, in my view, usually add hugely to exposure and often to readability and even logic but that’s all aside from the main issue.  More interesting is what happens when states fund study and/or when individuals are totally self-funding. Is the State, in providing a grant, taking a bet on a student producing something really worthwhile and so entitled to require that knowledge to be dispensed to everyone free of charge? Is a self-funding student therefore entitled to charge for anything they care to publish? Who should be paid for mediation of knowledge dispensation and is it ethical to be institutionally supported for experiments in making all knowledge free at point of use?

This whole questioning blog is miles away from my normal ‘help a student’ mode but is equally honest – I hope.


  1. Hi, Gillian.

    Thank you for the excellent post. I like your approach in sharing your works for free, and I agree with You at this point.

    Best regards,
    Damien Sporse.

    • Thanks, Damien. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves.On bad internet connection at the moment so reply is brief but keep in touch! Gillian

What are your views on this?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: