“Open in order to…access and read”

Social Publishers

Social Publishers offer young readers an open access reading library that they can put into their pockets

To celebrate Open Access Week (October 23–29), I thought that I would shift my gaze from scholarly publishing (which normally gets most of the attention during this week) to social publishing

Social Publishers (SP) are “Open Access” publishers. They create reading materials for neglected audiences. Rather than operate on a profit basis, social publishers are driven by a mission. They see their books as a social goods, to be directed where they are most needed.

Social publishers are different from academic publishers in three main ways.

  • A social mission (and not the academic project) is the main driver behind their book production.
  • Instead of being found in academic spaces, they are at home in online networks, social media, word of mouth etc.
  • They are not subsidized by subscriptions or academia but rely on social subsidies / donations / grants / goodwill etc to support their efforts

Story books, when bound as hard-copies, become expensive because of the volume of books required to make the printing cost effective. Social publishers steer away from large print runs. They place digital versions of their books on servers for readers to download. They are a “non rivalrous” good that can be copied endlessly without significant cost. Some might even claim that these books could be a part of the new economy.

If social publishing books are purchased, they are bought in a print format. If you see them on the shelves, they are more affordable than a book that was produced traditionally because the cost that usually go along with print based publishing have already been covered.

Traditionally, commercial publishers offer a quality reading experience. They build their reputation on what they select and publish. Social publishers have adopted different mechanisms to ensure quality. Sometimes the book production process is crowd sourced. Professionals contribute their design, authoring, illustrating and editing skills for free. Other times, the book is editable on the platform, and corrections can be made to the digital text. Some social publishers only take popular digital texts to print.

Posting a book onto the web does not lead to reading. Neglected audiences depend on reading enablers in their communities who can show others how to access these stories and then prompt and promote reading. As we celebrate open access week, and the traditional focus on academic publishing, it might be appropriate to broaden the focus of our openness a bit wider and consider broader access issues.

Beyond open access

October has been Open Access Week. It’s an event that I have been celebrating for the past five years. This year, my commemoration lies beyond the ivory tower.

Although I’m not an academic or a researcher, as an ed techie who is interested in evidence based practice, I value the many open contributions to scholarship that are shared by “intellectuals”. I am neither a teacher or a lecturer, but as person responsible for educational tools and resources, I am dependent on the generous sharing of ideas, manuals, images etc by peers, often enabled by Creative Commons.

This presentation has been put together post Wits. It is my attempt to articulate how “open” can straddle both research and teaching domains. Open Access is primarily about scholarship.  If we are to enable digital capability and teaching excellence in education, then we need to look beyond “access” and see a bigger OPEN picture. To do this, I suggest that we look at three broad domains.

  • Open content (OER, Open Access),
  • Open process (e.g. usually espoused by a particular open proponent ) and
  • Open infrastructure (distributed education, open universities)

If we are to understand what open enables in an education context, then we need a holistic understanding of the concept. The opposite of “open” is not necessarily closed. Binary thinking won’t help us understand what is meant by this commonly used term. To appreciate the value of a particular open initiative in an education setting, we need a broader way of looking at open.


Corrall, S. & Pinfield, S. (2014) Coherence of “open” initiatives in higher education and research: Framing a policy agenda. In: Breaking Down Walls: Culture-Context-Computing, 04 March 2014 – 07 March 2014, Berlin, Germany.


Sharing Nicely

Creative Commons

That big annoying purple beast was right. Sharing is caring (I never thought I’d start a post by quoting Barney). Sharing nicely, especially when educational materials are concerned, is a natural impulse. But many education related organisations seem intent on curbing this generosity.

If you are part of a larger education related body (a publisher, university, research unit, school etc.), it might difficult to “share nicely”. While the mission of your organisation may be focused outwards with intentions to share research, educational expertise or learning content, these intentions could be contradicted by an “all rights reserved” approach to distributing your “intellectual property”.

Most practices and policies about sharing of work are premised on protecting their own interests. This is true. Organisations (and their employees) do need to be protected from being exploited. But that is also only half the story. Digital has enabled us to share our work at almost no cost. We have the opportunity to use the web as a vehicle to share freely, without paying for paper, ink and bookbinding. Others are able to use and add value to what we have produced.

If the intentions of your organisation, whether it relates to copyright, trademarks, patents and other claims for ‘ownership’ of intangible assets, is only intended to limit and protect, then its time to re-think this traditional approach. The narrow framing of an intellectual property policy (IPP) will create barriers for the outward mission and intentions of your institution.

Creative Commons licenses offer another route to protect you and your interests. This approach offers you and your organisation an alternative way of sharing. One sized copyright does not fit all. Traditionally, content creators have asserted their ownership of  teaching and reference materials using a copyright law. If they were lucky, these content creators could enter into an arrangement with a publisher to own the rights to his or her work. Those who benefited from this deal made mountains of money. But that was before the net changed the game.

Digital technology, when it was expensive, excluded many. But as the technologies of exclusion changed (the invention of the WWW), digital became cheaper. Exclusion from IP is far more difficult today and the cost of exclusion outweighs the value that can be derived from access to the resources. While not wanting to deprive the any person or organisation of potential revenue derived from IP, digital offers new routes to care and share. If such open behavior is to become institutionalized, then it is also necessary that their organisation’s IPP be unpacked.

An IPP  can be amended to allow for Creative Commons licenses. Employees can be granted the autonomy to value their own creative output and decide how they would like to determine the worth of their resources.  UCT, for example, have made this distinction within their IPP about what is valuable and what can be shared. In a presentation by Laura Czerniewicz, entitled Openness at the University of Cape Town, Laura showed how UCT had approached the issue of IPP and sharing resources. Their updated Intellectual Property policy now specifically addresses issues relating to the creation of shareable resources and the licensing processes to be followed.

Notable aspects of the updated policy are that UCT automatically assigns to the author(s) the copyright, unless UCT has assigned ownership to a third party in terms of a research contract. Course materials, with the provision that UCT retains a perpetual, royalty-free, nonexclusive licence to use, copy and adapt such materials within UCT for the purposes of teaching and or research, can be shared at the discretion of the creator of the materials.

So. Where do we start. Let’s start off by acknowledging that not every bit of your intellectual property needs to be kept locked up. Ask what materials can you start to give away. I’m not talking about sharing the left-overs. I’m talking about the real thing. But before hoarding it all on your hard drive, ask yourself, is this work totally unique with intrinsic value. Or will the value of these materials grow when it is shared?

As a consultant, I know that the value I offer does not lie in all my materials. I hope that some of my value to an organization is found in my expertise. These Creative Commons materials are evidence of my capabilities. In effect, they are an advert for my services. When it comes to sharing, I try to practice what I preach. Look at my blog. I license my “intellectual”, “creative” and “educational” output under a Creative Commons licence (under my posts, you’ll see a CC-BY licence). My SlideShare presentations are full of eye candy, not bullet points, and I make liberal use of Creative Commons images in an attempt to avoid #dbppt. These presentation materials are licensed in an open manner, so that others can build upon, re-arrange or improve  my work.

If you too believe in sharing, then your “intellectual”, “creative” and “educational” materials will need an appropriate licence. If you work for an organisation, then their ideas around ownership, trust, and attribution might need to be reconsidered before many colleagues will  open up and share their work to others.  For an organisation that wants to reach outwards, then Creative Commons offers a new way to reconsider and amend traditional copyright policy and closed practices. I will be working on an open educational resources policy soon.  Will “share nicely” under CC-By when it is ready.