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Ponderous Questions: Why Definitions of "Open" are Important

From Jacky:

"Three questions to ponder this weekend:

  • Can one learn about open textbooks by reading tweets?
  • What is the purpose of Twitter?
  • Can a book licensed as CC BY NC SA be considered open?"

I am not sure if we are meant to begin the discussion here, at Amazon, via email, Google Groups, or the wiki but here is my 2 cents. I think these questions are a good place to start but beneath these questions lie questions about sustainable business models and authorship.

1. Can one learn about open textbooks by reading tweets?

Short answer "yes." But it is a poor way to do it. Twitter is lousy at pushing out information. It is not a telephone. It allows the users to send out 140 characters. What that is meant to do is to allow the user to connect with a network. Yes, you can use it as a spam delivery system. It is not the best use of Twitter. Reading tweets will not really teach you about open textbooks; what it will do is connect you with an amazingly vital community of practitioners, scholars, students and administrators from whom you will learn. In turn, you can share your experiences, resources, tips, tricks, talents, fears and concerns. You can not capture that in a book and worse yet, if you create a book of tweets and strip the names out - you have lost the network aspect of it too. It is now a dead document instead of a living network.

2. What is the purpose of Twitter?

The purpose of Twitter is to build, grow, and connect to networks. You can do anything else with it too. You can use it as a marketing tool. You can send out pizza coupons with it. You can also use a butter knife as a screwdriver. Why would we print Twitter? Why don't we print Wikipedia and Facebook pages too?

3. Can a book licensed as CC BY NC SA be considered "open"?

Yes. But this was never the question. The question came up when the only way I could find the Open Textbook Tweet book as a free download was by emailing the "author." There was some other email traffic about the Happy About business model - how they could not afford to print off books for CCCOER for free, etc. I thought, absolutely, that is the whole point of this - that the old model is a failed and unsustainable model. At College of the Redwoods, our Calculus textbook is available for free and if students choose to have a printed copy, they can order one and 30% of them do. That is what makes it sustainable - print on demand. Why would we try to create a demand for a book no one wanted? If we printed up the book to match projected enrollment, the book would cost a fortune. What I really didn't get was that by tweeting on OER for the book, I was giving up having my name associated with my contributions - I don't particularly care, I don't think I am that brilliant but my boss, who writes commercial textbooks was furious when she realized what the book was. She is on the board of a major open source project and we lost a great advocate in her (or at least, this is a huge set back for buy-in on my campus). Don't you get what this looks like from the outside?? It makes it look like the model for open textbooks is that we strip the author's name off of their contributions and then SELL the book we "authored" for $20. What does this have to do with OER? The Open Textbook Tweet Book violates its own freaking license!

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Tags: CCCOER, OER, OpenTextbookTweet, Tweets, Twitter

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