GEORGE SIEMENS: Well, with our discussion so far around what we see as a possible solution to some of the challenges and limitations to copyright, namely the Creative Commons approach, questions then arise. What is it that we want to do around making content available? And what exactly does it mean to have something that's openly licensed or openly available? Specifically, what are the rights? What are the reuse capabilities of that particular educational resource?
And I think you've done more thinking of this than probably anyone in this space. And you now have four R's that have decided to have a child. And now you're up to five R's. What are those five R's? And how do you think that will help educators think about their licensing intentions with their own curriculum?
DAVID WILEY: Yeah, so the five R's are a set of activities that you need to have permission to engage in with regard to a certain piece of content for that content to be considered open.
And the original four R's were-- reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. And I'll say a bit about what those mean in a minute. But the fifth R child of those four R's is retain.
GEORGE SIEMENS: And that's particularly important. I think you'll get into this later. But in our digitized world, and especially e-books and other resources, that becomes pretty important.
DAVID WILEY: Well, it became apparent to me at some point that reuse, revise, remix, redistribute-- all of those activities assume that you were able to retain in the first place. You can't actually engage in those other activities. So retain turns out to be the fundamental R, the fundamental activity, particularly in a world of Netflix, and Hulu, and Spotify, and services that want to rent me month to month access, but never want to grant me ownership.
GEORGE SIEMENS: See, and that's something that, in some cases, if I can get-- if I can pay $8 a month for access to the world's knowledge, I would do that. The difficulty, though, is educational content doesn't come at $8 a month. So I'll give you an illustration of students that, say, purchase a textbook. And textbooks, as everyone knows, they rapidly outpace most increases in expenditures, with probably the exception of academic journals, increasing more rapidly.
So I purchase a textbook. It could be physical. It could be digital. There will almost always be a digital component to it now. And that digital component will typically be some tutorials. It'll be, perhaps, videos. It'll be some interactive simulations, and activities, and so on. I'll pay anywhere from, perhaps, a low of $25 up to $100 plus for access to that. And that access will last anywhere from a semester to a year, rarely longer though.
So that's the issue there, is that, if they were saying $8 a month will give you access to this as long as you pay us $8 a month, I'd say yeah. OK, give me access to all the academic publishing in the world for $8 a month, the way that Netflix does for a large part of digital content. But our situation is very different. So even the Netflix example isn't quite the argument for retention that we have with, say, what happens with textbooks, where you pay $25, $50, $75, to have access to a set of interactive activities online for a semester.
DAVID WILEY: So I think, first, it's been a long time since you've paid for a textbook if you think it tops out at $75 or $100.
GEORGE SIEMENS: Well, the access to the digital components.
DAVID WILEY: No I hear you. But yeah. You know, the idea that I have to keep paying, and I have to pay over and over and over again, and the day that I stop paying, I lose access-- there's very much a movement among all digital media, whether it's video, music, movies, music, TV, or textbook publishing, that, if I can own a copy of a work, you only make money from me one time. And once I own that copy, now there's a secondary market that's created for me to resell my textbook, resell my old DVD, resell my old CD. And there's a lot of exchange that happens in which the original publisher isn't able to make any money.
And so it's totally in the best financial interests of the people producing media to ensure that ownership is impossible, and that access is the only-- this kind of paid, month to month, and the month you stop paying, you don't get access anymore. It's very much in their interest to move us all toward that kind of model. Now, when I can get access to however many millions of songs are on Spotify for $8 a month, that's a really exciting prospect as well. I'm not saying that there aren't any benefits to it at all. But I think we're missing this slow move away from ownership of private property toward ongoing, fee based access to resources that I find to be really problematic.
It puts us in-- it puts you almost in-- I'm a big fan of Wikipedia. But here's one place where I think Wikipedia has kind of an important lesson to teach us. So if I only have access to a resource, I can't make my own copy. Then any time I want to change that resource, revise it, adapt it, remix it with something else, I can only do it to that canonical copy. And now that changes the copy that you were using as well, right? The way that, when you edit a Wikipedia page, it changes that page for everyone.
The model with open educational resources wants to be-- I download my own copy. I make whatever changes I need to make for the benefit of my students. Because my students are going to be quirky in ways that are really different from yours. And the changes that will benefit my students will probably actually actively harm your students in many cases. And so if I can't make my own copy that I can keep, that I can control, that I can revise-- nobody can change it out from under me, and nobody else has to suffer through the improvements that I make to it-- that whole model kind of falls apart
GEORGE SIEMENS: Yeah, that's-- I mean, first of all, I think it's important to emphasize that my students aren't quirky. They're probably better than your students. But don't take that the wrong way. The difficulty, I think, that arises with that is that you cannot participate in the OER space if you cannot own. And so, in some ways, essentially the shift of the conversation has come from copyright to actually ownership, which is an entirely different battle that faculty face around content and content reuse.
Simple illustration-- so I use Office 360, the online version, where you pay x number of dollars a year, and you get five licenses. It's cheaper in the short run than me buying that physical copy that I used to buy, where I would own it. I might not be able to change it. But technically I owned it. If I sold my laptop, in theory, there may be options for that software to stay on there and so on. But now it's subscription based. And subscription takes ownership capabilities away from the individual and puts it in the hands of the corporation.
A classic example, not at all ironic, was the Nineteen Eighty-Four text that was removed from Kindle users that were reading it. That was remotely removed or wiped by Amazon. What do you think the space would look like if we don't have greater appeal to the value of retention or the ability to retain? What-- does that limit future capabilities of the open education resource movement or the open education movement in general if we don't start seeing some focus on retention?
DAVID WILEY: Well, I think retain becomes one of the bigger differentiators between commercial and openly licensed materials. As you start to say, OK, I can see that OER are much less expensive or free. I can see that there are some permissions or some new pedagogy or something that I can engage in over here that I don't fully understand yet, but that sounds kind of exciting. But the idea that students will be able to own a copy that, two semesters from now, they can look back on as they're taking another course that they're engaging in. All the things that come around ownership will be a bigger and bigger differentiator as publisher systems become more DRM'ed more locked down, more restrictive in what they permit you to do with materials.
GEORGE SIEMENS: Well, universities are part of the problem too. I look at-- if you take, let's say, a course at a university using Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle. A university, if they own the software, or even if they have a license with, say, Canvas and the contents in it, not physically on their university, but it's hosted remotely or in the cloud. Some students, depending on the structure of the university, lose access after a semester, after a year, certainly after a degree completion. Even though-- and the fascinating part about this is they don't just lose access to the curriculum material, they lose access to their own contributions to that curriculum. They lose access to their blog posts, or they lose access to the artifacts they created in the course. So it's not just publishers that are intentionally sort of invoking remote control of content through a rental model. But as universities, we're renting our technology infrastructure to the students, so to speak, contingent on their "low" subscription fees of $20,000 a year. How do universities make practical changes to move away from that, from a retention or retain side? Is there any option?
DAVID WILEY: Yeah well, unfortunately a lot of that is passed through from the publishers or from the creators of the software getting passed through the university to the students. So if the university signs a contract where we're paying for Blackboard per active student, then it's in our-- it's in the institution's financial interest to cut off access the day after you graduate or to kick you out of that course as quickly as we can. Because if we just let users pile up and pile up and pile up, then our contract for Blackboard costs more and more every year.
So part of what we have to do to be better at promoting retain rights for students is we have to negotiate smarter contracts with vendors on the software side.
GEORGE SIEMENS: OK so, critically, we have to be able to retain content. We have to be able to retain the thing that we're paying for. There has to be ownership that is at the individual's level. So I completely understand the critical nature of why retain is such an important right for open education movement.
Can you talk a little bit about each of the four R's, then, recognizing that they're essentially rooted in the soil of being able to retain?
DAVID WILEY: Right. So once I've downloaded that copy that now I own and control and no one can take away from me, and it belongs to me-- with that copy, I can reuse it, which is the first R. Which is just to take it verbatim, exactly the way I got it, and distribute it in class, assign students to read it, whatever it is I might do with that verbatim copy in that way.
Revise is the next R. And that means opening that artifact up and tinkering with its insides to, maybe, I've used the example a couple of times of translating it into another language. Or maybe there's a case study in there that's written very specifically toward students who might be at BYU in Utah, who come from a very particular kind of background that doesn't make any sense to your students at UTA. And you'd like to pull that case study out and put a new one in. And you literally just want to backspace over a couple of paragraphs and write in a couple of new ones. That kind of revision is an activity that you have to have permission to engage in.
Remix is the third of the original four R's. And that is to take multiple open educational resources and combine them into something new. So it might be some videos from here, some simulations from this source, and words from a third source that I want to pull together into a genuinely new artifact.
And then redistribute is the final permission. Whether you're talking about the verbatim copy that you retained originally that you wanted to reuse, or your altered, adapted, improved, revised version, or the mash up that you created, you have to have permission to freely redistribute those either verbatim or altered copies.