Libre Educational Resources and Libre Universities – Should we redefine what is an University?

I probably should write this post in Finnish, as it is targeted mainly for my colleagues in Finland. Though, as the post may be interesting for people in other countries, as well, I am presenting some insights from abroad and as the Flosse Posse is all in all in English I’ll go with the flow(*.

During the autumn I participated in the UNESCO’s online discussion and debate on Open Educational Resources. You can now read the reports about the debate from the UNESCO Virtual University web site.

Already before the mailing list was opened I was surprised how UNESCO was able to find only North American moderators under the title “provider perspective”. The “user perspective” was provided from Egypt, China, African virtual university and a portal of Latin American universities.

The arrangement of “providers” and “users” is not what comes first in my mind when thinking about Open Educational Resources. Or maybe that is the idea behind the OER, and maybe Open Education Resource is not what we need.

Perhaps we need Libre Educational Resources (LER). Basically, it would mean that the content is free to be used for whatever: to changed it and to redistribute it. In practice this would mean releasing the resources under public domain or e.g. under GNU Free Documentation License. This is not the case with OERs, that are promoted by several North American Universities. Kim Tucker from South Africa pointed out this matter already in the UNESCO’s mailing list. In the world of Libre Educational Resources we all are providers and users at the same time.

Liberty of science (research) and education is an old norm. The liberty of university research does not only mean freedom of speech, but also responsibility for the surrounding society and the whole humankind. The Universities are given this extraordinary liberty from the people (governments, companies, NGOs), because they contribute to the common good.

To keep the idea of libre education alive, maybe in Finland we could redefine what is an University. WTO and UNESCO may then make this definition international. Or actually, we should come-up with a new term for those Universities that are Libre Institutions. Here is my proposal for a definition:

A Libre University is a research and educational institution that is giving freedom for all to use, modify and redistribute the educational content used in the institution.

Libre University should be something that all higher education institutions would compete to be. To be a Libre University should be a value itself and would tell about the high quality of the institution. I am already excited to see which Finnish University will “liberate” all their learning resources and declare to be the first Libre University.

When the Libre University movement gets international the number of Libre Universities should be used when comparing different nations on their level of development. The Human Development Index (HDI) should use it as one of it´s core factors. The Libre Universities could also have a Club of their own and accept only members that are audited by the club to be Libre.

Why would an institution grant “liberty for all” on its learning resources?

Here is my top four positive reasons. If there are obstacles or challenges you are welcome to post them as comments to this post.

  1. Transparency is crucial in quality control. As a teacher I want to be sure that the content that I am publishing is right or at least, somehow, relevant for someone. Your colleagues, former and future students and those who pay your salary (people = government, companies, NGO’s) can follow and challenge you if needed.
  2. LER’s and study programs are two different things. LER is just a resource, libre education resource, which is used in research and learning – it is not a course per see. In a course or study program there are always objectives, activities and assessment or peer-review carried out by someone who has shown to be advanced expert in the field of study. We may call these people teachers or professors. So, from the University’s perspective they do not give away their “intelligent property” when they giving away LERs.
  3. LER’s will work as “marketing” and “pre-educational” material for the University. Students that are interested in to attend the University may already before hand get to know the topics that the programs will cover. Students entering will be better “equipped” to do their studies, as they have already got to know the programs and the materials beforehand.
  4. It is the right thing to do.

So, what would the liberty of educational resources in the international level mean and bring up? All in all it could be a start for global exchange – ecology and economy – of study programs. Study programs that are using LERs.

From Finland we could “provide” programs (based on LER’s) on those topics we are good at. And actually there are many areas where we are over the average: design, technology, international business, innovation, music, basic education, welfare, public administration. Even fine arts, humanities and languages. From these areas we should first put all our educational resources online for free to everybody to use, modify and distribute and then provide online classes on these topics by those people who have produced the content.

For developing our own study programs we could have more courses in them based on LER content made in Indian, Chinese, African, Arab and Latina American Universities. They could be very educational, humanizing and civilizing for our students. Think about it: philosophy, art, architecture, history, science, traditions and languages from these regions. Those students who would want to go deeper in their studies on these topics, could sign on online classes with those professors who have made these LERs.

Why I think that LER’s is the way to go in the Finnish University system?

First at all, I have the experience that many Finnish academics believe on the liberty of science and education. For many it is so obvious that they do not even think about it.

Secondly, In general most Finnish people see that common good is really a “common” good – something on what all benefit: government, companies and NGOs.

Thirdly, number of Finnish Universities (and their teachers) are already publishing their learning resources on Internet free of charge for anyone to use. The LER-model and the label of “Libre University” would basically clear up the current situation and give advantage of being the first.

Then some final words about the OER debate.

When the discussion is focusing on OER we forgot that the liberty of education is actually widely accepted norm among academics and educators. The Finnish university teachers publishing their course content online is a good example of it.

Not surprisingly at all, just some weeks ago, I was given another example of liberty of education in Bogota Colombia. Most of the learning resources of the Universidad Nacional De Colombia have been online, free of charge for several years already. Have a look of their course listing. In the Universidad Nacional they do not talk about OER, they just talk about learning resources that are open and easy to access. I am sure there are hundreds similar kind of examples, if one digs just a little deeper.

Conclusion.

There is no need for OER if we keep the norm of libre education alive and keep on teaching it for the new generations. However, we may need the concept of Libre Educational Resource (LER) and the “brand” of Libre University to do this.

*) I have lately thought a lot the language issues. I am going to write in future more in Finnish, Spanish and Swedish in other forums than Flosse Posse. Why? English is very poor language and I am not fluent with it. Finnish is beautiful, Spanish I should practice and Sweden – the country, not the language – I simply love. Unfortunately, my interest on German language was killed in school by my teachers Frau und Herr P. Shame on you!

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4 Responses to “Libre Educational Resources and Libre Universities – Should we redefine what is an University?”

  1. leigh blackall says:

    btw, I have started a del.icio.us tag libreuniversity: http://del.icio.us/tag/libreuniversity...

    I haven't started populating it with links from my opencourseware tag yet, thought I'd wait for your lead on examples…

    Challenge: Race you to see if an Australian of Finish Uni will be the first to declare LER ;)

  2. Nick Kearney says:

    If you are not fluent in English Teemu and therefore unable, I presume, to use or appreciate English fully, how do you consider yourself able to judge it as "poor"??? Shame on you!!:)

  3. Tleinone says:

    Nick. Good point, indeed. :-) But do I have to be a cow to say that the milk is sour?

    Right, I am not fluent, but I feel that I am fluent enough to find out that English is rather poor language to express my ideas. My judgement is of course only my own opinion based on my experience of using English and several other languages. No more, no less.

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