The word free came up in a couple links in this week’s COPALI module, and I’d like to think through it a little bit. One is in the Open educational resources competency framework OER from UNESCO:
D1.3.1 Identify the “5 Rs” that characterize a copyright-free resource
I wouldn’t characterize OER as “copyright-free,” but rather copyright+. I come at this from a US perspective, and recognize things are probably different elsewhere. Here, Creative Commons and other open licenses sit on top of copyright, changing it from “All rights reserved” to some rights reserved and some permissions granted. The works are not free from copyright. The public is free to make use of the works in certain ways.
I think this is an important thing many people seem to miss about OER. Freeing educational content from cost has financial and accessibility benefits for learners. That is very significant. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Freeing educational content from usage restrictions has benefits for teaching and learning, enabling a shift from just read to reuse/remix/repurpose, from consume to make and build. Free as in freedom, as the saying goes.
There is also the idea that free comes at no cost. It may be no cost for some, but there’s always an investment of time and resources on somebody’s part. That leads to the second thing, from UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 and its targets:
SDG 4.1 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
I believe public education should be available to people at no cost. It is not free. It is expensive. But the public investment is worth it for the benefits that accrue to society. It’s an investment in the future of a free society. That’s a concept that’s nearly forgotten here in the US.