On the 18th of February, Creative Commons organized a debate on „Really Open Education. Domestic Policies for Open Educational Resources”, hosted by Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein, MEP. The meeting brought together almost 40 experts and stakeholders from a range of educational projects, national schooling systems, and national and international non-governmental organizations across Europe.
The debate started with a presentation of three national initiatives. Hans de Four, founder of the Belgian KlasCement, presented the project. KlasCement started as a bottom-up initiative to create a portal for sharing content among teachers. Currently, 70 000 teachers are members, and share 30 000 items, over half of which are available under a Creative Commons license. OERs on the site are downloaded 300 000 per month. de Four talked about the significance of having a bottom-up project, which is able to tap into the grassroots energy of teachers. At the same time he underlined the importance of the support of the Flemish government, which ultimately began supporting the project and is now a governmental initiative. de Four also mentioned the challenge faced by teachers when dealing with unclear copyright rules – especially the difference between which uses are allowed in the classroom, and which are allowed online. According to de Four, reforms that would clarify and standardize these rules for both online and offline education would be much appreciated by Belgian teachers.
Robert Schuwer from the Dutch Open University presented the Wikiwijs initiative – a repository similar to KlasCement, but different in several key ways. Wikiwijs is a top-down project, launched in 2008 by the Ministry of Education. All content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution or Attribution-Share Alike license. WIkiwijs has a peer review mechanism for ensuring quality, as well as quality marks certified by partner organizations. Schuwer explained that the goal of Wikiwijs is not just to increase the development and use of OERs, but to support teachers in professionalization and the creation of their own teaching materials or courses. The system makes available to Dutch teachers 650 000 content building blocks and 35 000 full lessons. Schuwer ended with providing a broader policy perspective – the Dutch government has recently announced a program that will provide EUR 1 million a year for development of open education at the higher education level.
The third speaker was Piotr Dmochowski-Lipski, director of the Polish Center for Educational Development. He presented the Polish open e-textbooks initiative (together with the educational resources repository, Scholaris). The e-textbooks project, which forms part of a larger “Digital School” initiative, will create a set of 62 publicly funded textbooks on 14 subjects by 2015. After presenting the project, Dmochowski-Lipski focused on policy issues related to the project, initially by relating to a range of European and Polish strategic documents. According to him, the project is a response to an egalitarian approach to educational matters in the Polish society, and growing belief that “What is 100% funded by public money should be free and accessible”. Dmochowski-Lipski demonstrated how open education fits into a broader public debate on copyright and funding of different forms of creativity, by presenting “pros” and “cons” raised by actors in the Polish debate. He ended by declaring commitment of the Polish government to developing OERs, coupled with a careful approach to copyright matters.
During the fourth presentation, Teresa Nobre from Creative Commons Portugal presented the preliminary results of a study of educational exceptions and limitations, which she has been investigating as part of the “OER policies for Europe” project (the full results will be available during 2014 Open Education Week). The presentation demonstrated the fragmented landscape of user rights that allow teachers, educators and students to quote works, make compilations for educational purposes, and transform works. This fragmentation leads to uncertainty and additional costs related to rights clearance, especially in international projects. On the one hand, this demonstrates the advantage of OERs as content that provides users with certainty about allowed uses. On the other hand, it shows the importance for reform and modernization of the copyright system in Europe.
The meeting ended with a speech by Ricardo Ferreira from DG Education and Culture, who presented the European “Opening Up Education” initiative. Ferreira argued that education is not just public spending, but an important investment for society. For this reason we need to bring education into the digital age, and at a time of budget cuts, increase its cost efficiency and effectiveness. Open education is an approach that can be helpful with regard to all these issues – especially if introduced as part of a comprehensive education reform. With regard to OERs, Ferreira stressed the complementarity of OERs and traditional resources – combined with the freedom of choice by teachers – as the basic principle. Finally, he described the importance of supporting grassroots initiatives – with this goal the “Opening Up Education” portal was created as a common access point. This, coupled with an Open Access requirement included in the Erasmus+ program, will according to Ferreira provide support for the growth of OER projects in Europe.
We hope that the event provided an opportunity for participants to learn more and discuss open education initiatives taking place in EU member states. We plan to continue this discussion, which hopefully will lead to the adoption of OER policies across Europe.