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Henry Whittemore Library teaches about open educational resources

A white posterboard on a table in a lounge space.

By Raena Doty

Arts & Features Editor

The Henry Whittemore Library hosted a webinar titled “What’s the ‘open’ in open educational resources - and why does it matter?” March 6.

The webinar was a part of Open Education Week, honored in 2024 from March 4 to 8. The week is an annual celebration of the open education movement and its proponents. It was run by Rebecca Dowgiert, scholarly communications librarian.

Dowgiert began the presentation by explaining what intellectual property is and how it relates to the history of open licenses.

“Above all, the open licenses were created to be a tool for managing scholars’ and academics’ intellectual property,” she said.

She added when people don’t own their intellectual property, they can license it directly or allow a publisher to license it, both of which generally cost money to the person buying the license.

Dowgiert cited two main changes as the catalyst to the start of the open education movement - one, “open values,” and two, authors’ rights.

She said people with open values wanted to see education made cheaper and more accessible, and added this coincided with the rise of the internet, though the ideas existed before the internet became popular.

“There were folks who were like, ‘We would have open and free schooling. It shouldn’t cost people everything,’” Dowgiert said, and added open values included no-cost sharing, collaboration, and transparency.

She said authors’ rights are “the creators’ rights to manage their intellectual property as they see fit,” and in this case had to do specifically with their right to publish their property on the web.

Dowgiert said this incited the formation of the Creative Commons, an organization dedicated to making it possible and easy for information to be spread freely on the internet, and the Creative Commons wrote creative commons (CC) licenses that allow creators to easily declare how their work is allowed to be used.

She identified six commonly used licenses based on four different factors of how the licenses dictate a piece of intellectual property can be used - whether or not it requires attribution, whether derivative work can be licensed under a different type of license, whether profit can be made off derivative work, and whether or not changes can be made at all.

She added all CC licenses require attribution, but the other three factors can be changed in different combinations for different licenses, and the six most common licenses all have easy-to-identify icons that can be added to websites and HTML code that makes the sites easy to search.

Dowgiert also said material in the public domain, while not technically licensed, also has an icon for ease of access to wide audiences. Public domain includes resources that can be used in any way, for any reason, with or without credit.

She said part of why open educational resources (OERs) are important is because they allow resources and information to remain updated continuously.

“Instead of just a static thing that sits out there - made one year and never changed again - you could take it and you could update it,” she said.

Dowgiert added OERs also give opportunity for more interactive experiences for students in the classroom.

“You could engage them in creating information, not just reading it,” she said. “You could have an open textbook and the students could update or improve it, and it can be used by people later. … Some people go in and have their students create or edit Wikipedia articles. … They can be required to help design their final exam.”

She said open education pedagogy often helps dismantle the power dynamics of the classroom as people tend to think they should be.

“This is being created as people go along, so they can help guide and facilitate, but they’re not just standing there and saying, ‘I am the font of all knowledge, and you’re just going to sit there and passively try to remember it long enough to pass the final,’” she said.

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