Open Education, Intellectual Property, and Fair Use

The topic of Open Education is definitely on the burner in recent months. I’m a believer that education is a right for everyone – and everyone should have access to education. Open education resources such as iTunes U, Khan Academy, and MIT OpenCourseWare definitely allow increased access to higher education. However, as increasingly more information are being posted on the Internet, the inevitable discussion of intellectual property and fair use must come into play.

As an educator, I hope that this increased access to education will result in innovation.  But how do we foster innovation while suppressing plagiarism? This is where Creative Commons come into play. As more information is free and open for users to remix and recreate, we will be able to foster more innovation while still crediting the original sources.

I realize that many textbook publishers are struggling to find a balance in this digital age where users don’t want to pay a dime for content. I believe that publishers should charge a license fee for the school for the use of eBooks, but should not restrict how students use the content. Students should be free to create their own mashups and post it online – this is a way for students to show that they’ve internalized their learning and made it their own. However, if a student starts to distribute the said content for monetary gain, that would be wrong. It’s also our job as teachers to ensure that students are aware of the ethics and etiquettes involved when posting their own work online.

Last semester, one of my students did an amazing job re-mixing a very famous pop song into an asthma public service announcement. My student re-wrote the lyrics so that the song would educate the public about asthma, how it manifests itself, and how it can be treated. She sang the newly written song herself to the tunes of this very famous song. It was one of the most touching and well-crafted project I’ve seen as a teacher. She also cited the sources for pictures and song credits. I have since passed on the video to my friend, a pediatric pulmonologist, to help educate her newly diagnosed asthma patients. This is an example of of a stellar student using her talents and gifts. I want to foster this energy in my classroom. Without open and free resources, this creative energy will be snuffed and where will our future be?