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Open Educational Resources

Missed Opportunity in UNESCO's Recommendation on OER?

Even though UNESCO adopted a recommendation on OER, American open educational resources advocate David Wiley backed away from his initial support and recently referred to the final version of the work as "eviscerated." In a post on his blog, "Iterating toward openness," Wiley said he was "losing sleep" over changes made between the time the original proposal appeared in May 2019 and the time members voted their approve in November.

The General Conference brings together all 193 Member States of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization once every two years. UNESCO is responsible for coordinating the international community's actions to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4): "quality education for all." The OER recommendation was part of a broader set of recommendations on all aspects of UNESCO that was approved at the General Conference. These recommendations are intended to set international standards in all kinds of areas and push policy-making at the national level.

Wiley's concern: That the version of the OER recommendation adopted by UNESCO doesn't allow for users of that content to make copies.

As Wiley explained, the definition of OER included in the draft recommendation covered what he refers to as the "five Rs": the "free and perpetual permissions" to retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute content made available under open copyright licenses.

What's missing in the approved version of the recommendation is specifically "the right to create, own and control copies of the content." "Retain" has been downgraded to "access," he explained.

Does it make a difference? Wiley offered the example of Great Minds, which had contracts with New York State in 2012 to create OER K-12 curriculum materials. "Because the terms of the contract were underspecified, Great Minds was able to license the OER they produced with public funds under a CC license bearing the [non-commercial] condition," he explained. When educators attempted to make copies of the content at their local Office Depot and FedEx shops for distribution, Great Minds began suing.

So far, Great Minds has lost those lawsuits. However, that example hints at what could happen were a national or state government try to "operate an OER funding program under the framework of the OER Recommendation," Wiley predicted. "Some organization who won a bid would create a textbook and then license it with the following custom license: 'You are expressly prohibited from copying this resource in full or in part. You are expressly permitted to re-use, re-purpose, adapt and redistribute this resource in any manner that does not require you to first make a copy.'"

Along with that change, the approved recommendation has also eliminated any reference to an open license being "free and perpetual," Wiley pointed out.

"I have no idea what kind of opportunity there is to fix the Recommendation. Particularly now that it's been unanimously adopted by the member states. And it breaks my heart," Wiley concluded. "We've missed a huge opportunity here."

The complete explanation is openly available on Wiley's blog.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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