By Sarah Wright
Open Education in Portugese
I've learned a lot this week about how the U.S. and Canada are making important changes to embrace open education, including details about government efforts to adopt open policy. Brazil is something of a leader on that front, and in a webinar presented by Carolina Rossini of REA, I got to learn a bit more about the challenges open ed advocates face in that country. REA stands for Recursos Educacionais Abertos, which translates to English as Open Education Resources.
The name says it all: this is a group that's dedicated to promoting the use of open materials in Brazil. Ms. Rossini, REA's founder, is a laywer, and her talk largely reflected that experience. Though she was addressing issues pertaining to Brazil, Ms. Rossini chose to conduct the webinar in English rather than in Portugese, and I'm grateful that she did. The talk raised a variety of interesting issues.
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Copyright Exceptions and the Meaning of Open Resources
One of the thought-provoking topics that Ms. Rossini touched on in her talk is the issue of copyright exceptions for students. In the U.S., students have a fair amount of leeway in what constitutes fair use. Since my experience as a student has been in the U.S., it never really occurred to me how difficult life might be as a student in a nation where copyright law is more restrictive when it comes to education. According to Ms. Rossini, Brazil doesn't allow many exceptions when it comes to copyright laws for students. That's an interesting part of the open education debate that may prove useful in incentivizing the use of OER - openly licensed material is easier for students to use.
However, Ms. Rossini pointed out that the term 'open education resources' refers to a specific set of materials. It doesn't just refer to materials that are free, or Creative Commons licensed rather than copyrighted. OERs need to be licensed flexibly so they can accommodate collaboration and repurposing. This gets at the community involvement that she stressed repeatedly in her talk. Allowing for collaboration and alteration is what truly makes OER open - not just a low cost or relative lack of legal protection.
Content, Technology and Intellectual Property
Intellectual property issues aren't the only challenges facing the broad adoption of OER. Content and technology are also important. Ms. Rossini pointed out that all three areas - content, technology and intellectual property - present challenges to the open ed movement. The key is to make sure that all three elements are receiving their due share of attention, particularly in discussions with policymakers. Policy discussions shouldn't just focus on laws, because all three elements are necessary for the proper usage of OER.
To this end, Ms. Rossini shared an anecdote about a Brazilian politician she encountered in her work to promote open education in her country. This politician, who was relatively prominent at the time this story took place, talked about the fact that the tech department of his agency was well aware of open ed strategies, but that the legal department was relatively clueless. The point being made in this anecdote is relevant in any nation. Awareness is an issue, but it's not simply a matter of letting people know that open ed exists and is an option. Policymakers and their staff need to be properly and thoroughly informed.