Open content in education: less is more

My colleagues, Tarmo Toikkanen and Ville Oksanen just published a book in Finnish with the title Teachers’ Copyright Guide. (Opettajan tekijänoikeusopas). The guidebook, quite naturally focuses on digital content and its distribution. The book provides practical answers to such questions as: What copyrighted content you can use in education and how? What kind of rights teachers and students have on content their create? How teachers creating learning materials can legally take advantage of content available in the Web?

Tour Eiffel 1878 Open content in education: less is more
Photo: “Paris. Tour Eiffel (juillet 1888)” BnF, Estampes et Photographie, Qe Mat 1 from the Wikimedia Commons.

When reading the book I am quite surprised that it does not even mention Wikimedia Commons — “a database of more than 8 million freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute“.

I find missing Wikimedia Commons from the book strange because of two reasons: (1) According to its own definition Wikimedia Commons is “a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language” and (2) I share office space with Tarmo (!), and there is no way that he would not know this mission of the Wikimedia Commons. Because of the second point I am afraid that this is just a mistake (thoughtlessness ?) or an attempt to be unbiased as the Wikimedia Commons is not the only educational media repository in the Web.

So, what does the book present as sources for open content in education, if not Wikimedia Commons?

It shows how to check the license of images on Flickr and explains how to search Creative Commons-licensed content with the Google Advanced Search, Creative Commons meta search engine and Flickr’s CC search. This is all great, but I would still expect that Wikimedia Commos, as an online repository that is precisely a repository of educational media would have made it to the book, too. There are other repositories of educational media, but I think, there are a couple of things that makes the Wikimedia Commons special.

Why I think Wikimedia Commons is so important? I think less is more and that is something what teachers appreciate.

In the Flickr there are close to 200 million photos with various Creative Commons licenses. This makes searching educational media difficult.

Example: If I’ll need a picture of Eiffel tower for my lesson and do a search to Flickr’s I must, at first, be familiar with all the Creative Commons licenses. After knowing this I may search photos, for instance, that are Creative Commons-licensed for noncommercial use requiring attribution and share alike distribution. This search will today give me 14 931 photos. A lot of stuff.

When I do the same search to Wikimedia Commons I’ll get to the Eiffel Tower page. In it I’ll see:

  • one “valued image”
  • 46 “other images” that are from different angles, taken from different distances and weather conditions as well as some photos focusing on details of the tower.
  • a picture with a panorama views from the tower and 17 other pictures taken from the tower.
  • 16 historical pictures, and
  • 3 pictures of art pieces with the tower

By checking the category page: Eiffel Tower I’ll find more educational media, such as:

I think that for a teacher looking for educational media Wikimedia Commons should be the first stop. This is because all the content found from there are freely usable, and because the community maintaining the media in the site is committed to do a huge amount of editorial work to keep it useful for educational purposes. Less is more.

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One Response to “Open content in education: less is more”

  1. Actually, Wikimedia Commons is mentioned in the lists of openly licensed repositories, on page 138. But I agree that it would have deserved more discussion in the hands-on section of the book. I have no good excuse. I’ll respond more fully in Finnish on the book’s blog.

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