Category: CC or not CC

technical debt for OER

Me trying to find a book on technical debt. Photo credit: LTW, University of Edinburgh CC-BY
Me trying to find a book on technical debt. Photo credit: LTW, University of Edinburgh CC-BY

Three weeks ago,  while preparing  my presentation for e-learningforum@ed conference I was musing on the similarities between ‘technical debt’ and what one might call ‘ copyright debt’.

I was thinking about institutional risks of not being open. Institutional risks are sometimes legal, sometimes reputational, sometimes financial.  Mostly, at IT directors’ meetings we talk about the need to mitigate risks early on, and avoid risks in the future.

Generally,  the risks of not engaging with open practice are reputational: Other institutions are doing it; we might miss out on this good thing; we should be seen to be bold in digital education and leading edge in our open research. There is a risk to our reputation if colleagues do not seem to be up to-date-on licensing and refer to online materials or data as ‘open’ when they are not. But most of those risks are easily hidden under a smear of open-washing and a vagueness about the definition of open in different contexts.

These are not risks which will ever convince a VP Finance and Resources to invest.

If you want to convince an IT director or a CIO to invest in systems which have built-in  open-licensing workflows,  protecting the institution against the risk of expensive copyright debt may be the way forward.

My definition of ‘copyright debt’ is based on my understanding of ‘technical debt’. Technical debt is a metaphor often used in IT to explain why it costs so much to replace IT systems. I  use it to explain why rather than spending my budget on new exciting learning and teaching functionality, I am having to spend it to replace something we thought we already had.

You can ready about technical debt on Wikipedia. It’s the cost of not doing something properly in the first place. From the moment you build a system poorly, without due attention to software code rigour and process, you begin to accrue debt and then interest on that debt. From the moment you don’t fix, patch and maintain the code, the same thing happens. At some point you are going to have to go back and fix it, and the longer you leave it the more expensive it will be*.

From the moment a colleague tells you that they don’t have time, or don’t care about the copyright licensing and metadata on their teaching materials and load them up into a VLE, online course environment, departmental website, online course-pack, lecture power-point slides, whatever, you start to accrue ‘copyright debt’.

Someone will have to go back to those materials at some point to check them, figure out who made them and when and check for 3rd party content. The longer time passes (or staff change) between the original materials   being uploaded in to the VLE the harder it will be to find the original source.

The cost will hit at the moment that you migrate from one VLE to another, or from one website to another, or from one media asset management system to another.  At that point lecturers and departmental administrators will be asked to confirm that they have copyright permission for the materials they are migrating, and they will say ‘ I have no idea, in fact I don’t even remember/know where all the bits came from’.

They will suggest that someone in a central service (usually the library) should do the checking, and that is where the cost hits. No-one in the library is super-human enough ( unless you pay them a lot)  to check all the hundreds of teaching and learning materials in your VLE, so most of it will just be binned and colleagues will be outraged that they have to make it all again.

I’d suggest the common causes of copyright debt include (a combination of):

  • Business pressures, where the business considers getting something released sooner before all of the necessary copyright searches are complete.
  • Lack of process or understanding, where the businesse is blind to the concept of copyright debt, and make decisions without considering the implications.
  • Lack of flexible components, where materials are not openly licensed, the re-use permissions are  not flexible enough to adapt to changes in course content.
  • Lack of time, which encourages colleagues  to do quick  google searches and take materials they find without checking the license.
  • Lack of metadata, where content is created without necessary supporting metadata. That work to create the supporting metadata represents a debt that must be paid.
  • Lack of collaboration, where knowledge of open practice isn’t shared around the organization and business efficiency suffers, or junior learning technologists  are not properly mentored.
  • Parallel development at the same time on two or more VLEs  can cause the build up of copyright debt because of the work that will eventually be required to move content from one to another. The more content developed in isolation without clear licensing , the more debt that is piled up.
  • Delayed reformatting – the  formats which were used for creating learning objects quickly becomes obsolete. Without clear permission to make adaptations it is hard for older TEL materials to be converted to new formats.  The longer that reformatting is delayed, and the more content is written to use the older format, the more debt that piles up that must be paid at the time the conversion is finally done.
  • Lack of alignment to standards, where industry standard features, frameworks, open technologies are ignored. Eventually, integration with standards will come, doing it sooner will cost less.
  • Lack of knowledge, when the content creator simply doesn’t know how or why to use open materials.

The challenge in all this of course, is that the individual academics making the materials don’t care about the longer term cost to the central services of this debt. This argument won’t persuade them to take the time to change their practice, so we must build rigour for open practice  into the workflows of our enterprise-wide systems and services as soon as we possibly can, making it easy for colleagues to make positive choices.

Or else we risk a whole heap of copyright debt.

*Basically it is the software equivalent of ‘ a stitch in time saves nine’.

(While I was doing this thinking, I bumped into  a session at #OER15 called  ‘the cost of not going open‘ by Viv Rolfe which also looked to quantify costs. Viv’s approach is to look at costs and savings around academic time spent creating materials, which complements my thinking rather nicely.)



It’s not ok

Martha Lane Fox
Martha Lane Fox By The Cabinet Office [OGL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Baroness Martha Lane-Fox delivered the 39th annual Dimbleby Lecture from London’s Science Museum on March 30, 2015. I delivered a short welcome speech at Elearing@ed forum at Edinburgh University on April 23.  I took the opportunity to quote her.

In her lecture she quoted Aaron Swartz  “It’s not ok not to understand the Internet anymore.”*

I talked about Creative Commons.

Creative Commons has changed the way the Internet works in higher education.

Therefore, it is not ok not to understand Creative Commons anymore.


As it happens, the day before , on April 22, I saw Baroness Oona King of Bow speak.  Baroness Lane Fox name-checked Ada Lovelace, who was of course, Countess King in her own day, but I think that is just co-incidence.


*She also said “get more women involved in technology.”




open with care

Fine craft by Anne-Marie Scott. Image  Creative Commons CC-BY
Fine craft by Anne-Marie Scott. Image Creative Commons CC-BY

Next week is Open Education Week March 9-13th 2015.

Last week I was contributing to face to face (at Open Educational Practice Scotland OEPS steering group) and online discussions  (comments on How Sheila Sees it) about the difference between open educational practice (OEP) and open educational resource practice (OERP).  I imagine it will come up again this week when I am speaking at the Coursera Partners Conference.

The challenge for me, is that in discussions of OEP the ‘open’ seems very ill defined. It can encompass a full range of open approaches and does not necessarily involve any consideration of content licencing.

In OER, the open is more clearly defined.  e.g Open definition, OER Commons, Open Education Week,  as it relates to content, data etc. It is content made available to be shared, used and modified. This is why Creative Commons is doing so well; there is now a way for anyone to make their content explicitly open.

What I liked about the early JISC OER projects was the explicit challenge to release a significant amount of content from within your institution, and ideally for that process to become mainstreamed and sustainable. It meant the technologists and content owners ( academics) worked together with the lawyers and librarians/collections to release stuff at scale, either old stuff or really new stuff mostly.

Academic staff development people always tell me that teaching and learning isn’t about content, but I kinda think it is. That’s why we have libraries full of published content, and reading lists, and course packs, and slides, and handouts, and recordings,and datasets and we constantly produce and publish more as we research and teach.  And we get promoted because of it. Our students produce a bunch too, and sometimes we assess it.

As an ex- academic staff developer myself, I’d say academic staff development people don’t produce much discipline content and are notoriously bad at using each others’ so they are not big OER producers. They are more into OEP now which is such a wide concept that their expertise is needed to develop it as an area of practice.

I like OER practice. I like the rigour of defining and working within something that ‘is’, knowing what ‘is not’.  I think it is really interesting and challenging to help people to find , make and use resources, and to be literate in their use of open content. And I like to mainstream it in ways which lower the barrier to participation in OER production as much as possible. I like to put systems and workflows in place. The more wonderful, unique stuff gets out there on an open licence, the more there will be for me and others to use.

During Innovative Learning Week, we ran the first of our ‘Making open courses using open resources’  workshops at Edinburgh.  In theory that task should be much easier than it was 5 years ago. There are 900 million Creative Commons-licensed works, up from  400 million in 2010.

We’ll present at OER15 about how we got on.


crowdsourcing and communities

Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth) by Keith Henderson
Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth)
by Keith Henderson

I have been in several meetings this week discussing crowdsourcing and citizen science models for Edinburgh. The terms are often being used interchangably even though they really shouldn’t.

Remembering my time at Oxford  I was thinking of the Oxford Community Collection model. This is a model of working we developed to support any organisation in creating a shared collection of digital asssets through online crowdsourcing and personal interaction.

The beauty of the model is that it combines large-scale online crowd-sourcing with personal, individual interaction. The model allows contributors to choose the way they contribute to a collection, offering those who lack the resources, ability, or opportunity to use computers an opportunity to be part of a digital initiative, sharing their material with the world.

The model also includes a real emphasis on planning for with sustainable success. Being part of and interacting with a community is central. This is described and discussed in more detail in RunCoCo: How to Run a Community Collection Online (2011), a report which presents a simple A, B, C of advice for projects:

  • Aim for Two-way engagement;
  • Be part of your community;
  • Challenge your assumptions.

In finding a unique approach at Edinburgh the fact that we have our successful MOOC learner communities has been mentioned. It’s no longer about what you can get 100,000 people to watch or read, it’s about what you can get them to make , do, add and share. And it’s about being part of your community. More on this later.

plagiarism and re-use

The Custody is as Barbarous as the Crime. Francisco de Goya. ECA Library Image Collection
The Custody is as Barbarous as the Crime. Francisco de Goya. ECA Library Image Collection

I was in a discussion to day where the suggestion was made that licensing materials as Creative Commons for re-use would promote plagiarism. I was able to refer to the online papers from the BIS 2013  consultation about open access which explains:

At least one commenter suggested that the adoption of CC BY “[(a)] offers virtually no protection against plagiarism … [and (b)] unfettered creative commons licensing would constitute a serious infringement of intellectual property rights and pose a threat to UK intellectual capital.”

As to (a), plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work and passing it off as one’s own. Plagiarism is a completely orthogonal issue to copyright infringement, and there is simply no evidence to support a claim that CC BY would promote or encourage plagiarism in a way any other solution would not as well.

As to (b), CC licensing does not infringe IP rights; rather, it is a conditional permission for the public to exercise some rights on specific terms that can only enhance UK intellectual capital by making it more readily available for wide distribution and innovative use.

vision for video

University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ECA Photography Collection

University of Edinburgh is about to embark on a large scale media recording and management project, not unlike those going on at many of our peer universities. We aim to improve our media systems capability to support recording, storing, streaming and managing the increasing collection of audio and video assets used across the collegiate university for learning, teaching, research and public engagement. The existing infrastucture is outmoded and does not offer to the university the service and functionality users currently expect. Failing to refresh the existing systems represents a risk to the university, and to IS, in not being able to respond to business needs of the schools and colleges who wish to make more use of audio and video online for an improved student experience.

We will also explore approaches to the publishing of resources under intellectual property licenses ( eg Creative Commons) that permits use and repurposing ( re-use, revision, remixing, redistribution) by others where appropriate.

The early stages of such a project have the fun bits of finding out who in the University is doing what already in preparation for putting in place a multi-platform broadcast strategy. So far I have discovered You Tute, Research in a Nutshell, dozens of Youtube channels, Edinburgh University on ItunesU, Panopto, CaptureED and of course, our MOOC videos. We are also tracking down a list of all the video and audio recording studios around the place.

Edinburgh University subscribes to the excellent ‘Box of Broadcasts’ service. BoB enables all staff and students  to choose and record any broadcast programme from 60+ TV and radio channels. The recorded programmes are then kept indefinitely (no expiry) and added to a growing media archive (currently at over 1 million programmes), with all content shared by users.  Staff and students can record and catch-up on missed programmes on and off-campus, schedule recordings in advance, edit programmes into clips, create playlists, embed clips into Learn or Moodle, share what they are watching with others and search a growing archive of material. It will be fascinating to discover the ways in which this service is being used.

Edinburgh is also part of BUFVC which offers an amazing Moving Image gateway which includes 1,600 websites relating to moving image and sound materials in over 40 subject areas.

I am confident that Edinburgh must have a hefty collection of film in its own archives. It would be fun to do a project here like Oxford University IT Services have done this summer in Dreaming Spools. The project has engaged with alumni all over the world and discovered a wealth of film and video made by some of the most influential film makers, journalists, artists, writers, actors, activists and technicians during the periods when they were students.

copyright in teaching

University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ECA Photography Collection

I get asked about this a lot.

As the library advice pages rightly say: It is a common misconception that there is an “exception” to copyright for educational purposes. In fact “fair dealing” only covers non-commercial research or study, criticism or review, or for the reporting of current events, but this does not extend to making copies of texts for students to use in the classroom, or to including images in presentations. It can be an infringement of copyright to include copyrighted images in teaching materials without permission.

Luckily there are a wealth of images collections which have been licensed for re-use with Creative Commons. In these collections you can easily see the permission you have been given and there is no need to undertake the onerous task of tracking down the copyright holder, or consulting a librarian.

Choosing Creative Commons images saves you time and effort as well as being good practice.

If you’re looking for content that you can freely and legally use, there is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you. There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of our copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day. Flickr is a good place to start. Also Wellcome images, Wikimedia Commons, the British Library, Getty Images, Internet Archive or Edinburgh University Digital Image Collections.

Some of these collections even include handy tools to help you attribute the images once you have decided to use them so you will never again forget from where you got them.

JISC also provide a helpfulguide.

a long day’s journey into rights

Picture taken by me in the room. No rights reserved.

“Sharing, done properly, is both smart and right.” 1

I talked a lot about Creative Commons licences today.

The horizon ( as seen from the rooftop terrace of Evolution House) looks bright, and near, and enlightened. What a privilege to spend a beautiful morning in a stunning venue brainstorming creative ideas with clever and motivated colleagues. I enjoyed reflecting on the last 15 years which have brought me back to this place and on how much easier life is now that the we have a licensing framework that the creators of works can understand, their users can understand, and even the Web itself can understand.

Most of my presentation was based on  an open approaches case study I wrote for Jisc a while back, but I also managed to get in a name check for Bodington VLE.

Two of the things I like about Creative Commons are the mission and the vision. These seem to me like values a university’s learning, teaching and web service should embrace.

Our mission

Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.

Our vision

Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.

on the cards

University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

One of the best things about working in a research university is that you get to hang out near elegantly curated collections of beautiful old things. I am beginning to explore the  University of Edinburgh libraries and research collections. Starting of course, with the collections of digital images online; so many wonderful things to find.

Today I am extra-excited to receive, courtesy of my colleagues in UL&C,  my very cool new IS business cards, each with a selected beautiful image from our collections on the back.  Thank you to Jo and Anne-Marie for knowing I’d enjoy them.


add new post

University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

During my first week in my new post I gathered together all of the staff on the new LTW division.  They look much nicer in person than in the card-database-rogues-gallery I have on my wall.   For my presentation I used images from the splendid SCRAN collection to  which Edinburgh University has a subscription.  The collection includes some cracking images of computers and computer users in the university dating back to the 60’s and 70’s. With all the fashions of geek-style throughout the decades. I’d show you some, but for some reason the license under which SCRAN grants use are a bit confusing as regards internet, blogging, sharing, publishing and educational use. Nevermind, here is a picture of some more recent computer users in one of our learning spaces.

Q: How many men did it take to deliver a computer in Edinburgh in 1964?