By Sarah Wright
Shop Talk with Canada's Open University
Athabasca University is a great example of an educational institution that's making the best of what technology has to offer. This Canadian institution, also known as Canada's Open University, is dedicated to an open approach to distance education. The university hosted an online conference session as part of Open Education Week, which I attended. Several of Athabasca's faculty and staff spoke during the conference, each focusing on their particular area of expertise. The discussion ran for about an hour and a half and covered a wide variety of topics relating to the unique challenges a school like Athabasca faces.
All of the speakers had valuable information and experiences to share, but I was particularly struck by a common thread I noticed in several of the talks. This common thread focused on the potential benefits of using OERs in higher education, and how to get those benefits to be more widely recognized, with the ultimate goal of broad use of open materials. One of the more unique perspectives offered in this talk came from Rachel Conroy, who is a copyright officer at Athabasca.
Copyright Officers and OER
It is Ms. Conroy's job to make sure that materials used by the college are not in violation of copyright law. As such, she has a unique perspective on the ins and outs of copyright law as it pertains to higher education. Distance education in particular presents special copyright challenges, because laws governing fair use for educational materials can differ by region and nation.
Ms. Conroy pointed out that the copyright world and the OER world are two separate things, and that copyright professionals are interested in open materials. Increased access to materials that require minimal legal hassle are a good thing for those in Ms. Conroy's profession. She pointed to things such as fewer copyright-related delays, less money spent on royalties and the way OER encourages sharing between institutions as some of the benefits from her professional perspective.
Carrots and Sticks
The problem, though, seems to be increasing faculty awareness. If you've followed Study.com's coverage of Open Education Week, you'll notice that awareness is an issue that keeps cropping up. It is a major concern for supporters of open education from all across the board. Dr. Martin Connors, a professor of astrophysics at Athabasca, specifically raised this issue during his talk, which focused on, as he called it, 'carrots and sticks.'
Carrots and sticks refers, of course, to using both rewards and force as incentives to advance a certain agenda. In this case, a variety of carrots can be used to make OER more appealing to professors, who ultimately have a big part to play in the advancement of the use of open materials. Some suggested ideas included an OER user of the year award and adding praise for use of open materials to faculty evaluations. But incentives can't be the only part of this equation - some sticks, including rules and regulations designed to promote the use of OER - are necessary as well.