I remember how thrilled I was to hear MIT’s announcement in 2001 regarding their OpenCourseWare initiative and their commitment to make nearly all course materials freely available on the Internet. I loved the idea of sharing and openness and thought that this might be a way to offer a “hand-up” not a “handout” to anyone unable to afford to participate in education. I recognized that access would still be an issue as not everyone can afford a computer and connectivity but I believed in the power of networking and hoped that those who didn’t have technology could find helpful people who did.
OCW has evolved and spread around the world; although the definition has broadened over time, at least 89 opencourseware projects were cited in a 2013 article from the Open Education Database site. In 2013, MIT’s OpenCourseWare blog, Open Matters, reported “Record traffic for OCW” with 22.3 million visits from 11.8 million visitors.
The criticisms regarding the limitations of the original provision of PDF files led to the addition of videos, image banks, audio recordings, etc. The search engines have improved immensely and the quality of the online learning experience expanded with the addition of OCW Scholar and similar initiatives.
A related movement, “open access“, has also been evolving. It’s all about providing access to the world’s scholarly research. After all, since so much of this kind of research is funded by public dollars, shouldn’t the results be accessible by the public? Huge strides have been made in this area and I’d be curious to find out if anyone is doing research on the impact of accessible research?
So what’s the link between OCW and open access? OCW was one of the first major initiatives aimed at putting knowledge out there on the web in formats that would be accessible to just about everyone. PDF readers were ubiquitous even then and even older computers could access the OCW web sites. Open access sites followed a similar format – making research searchable, presenting it in formats that most people would be able to view, and putting it on an open web site. But that wasn’t enough.
Open Book Publishers in Cambridge is an open access monograph publisher, started by two academics, Dr. Rupert Gatti and Dr. Alessandra Tosi, in 2008. Open Book Publishers has made an impressive number of academic works accessible to many (all of its books are free to read online and some can be downloaded). They’ve seen a significant growth in readers from India, Nigeria and Ethiopia (Matthews, 2014) and now they’ve started making their open books available to people who don’t have access to the Internet (and can’t read their open books online).
Since May 2013, Open Book Publishers has made four of its books available to mobile phone readers through a non-profit organization called Worldreader. More than 8,000 people from 113 countries have downloaded and read these books using Worldreader’s app. The publisher is also developing a partnership with Paperight, a South African company that makes online books available through a network of shops that allow people to pay to print/photocopy parts or all of the books (for those that might not have e-readers or phones).
Open Book Publishers may not be purely “open” in their approach to disseminating scholarly works (i.e., a mixture of free and paid access) but they are evolving a sustainable model that combines fund-raising, grants and creative partnerships with small business or non-profits to improve access to high-quality knowledge materials internationally.
Jump, P. (2012, October 11). Unbound possibilities. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/research/research-intelligence-unbound-possibilities/421432.article
Kwan, A. (2013, August 20). Open Access and Scholarly Monographs in Canada. Publishing @ SFU. Retrieved from http://www.ccsp.sfu.ca/2013/08/open-access-and-scholarly-monographs-in-canada/
Matthews, D. (2014, June 12) Open access publisher brings scholarship to developing world. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/open-access-publisher-brings-scholarship-to-developing-world/2013833.article