Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, July 02, 2007

Openness in higher ed

Brian Kelly, Scott Wilson, and Randy Metcalfe, Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access, a paper presented at ElPub 2007 (Vienna, June 13-15, 2007). 

Abstract:   For national advisory services in the UK (UKOLN, CETIS, and OSS Watch), varieties of openness (open source software, open standards, and open access to research publications and data) present an interesting challenge. Higher education is often keen to embrace openness, including new tools such as blogs and wikis for students and staff. For advisory services, the goal is to achieve the best solution for any individual institution's needs, balancing its enthusiasm with its own internal constraints and long term commitments. For example, open standards are a genuine good, but they may fail to gain market acceptance. Rushing headlong to standardize on open standards may not be the best approach. Instead a healthy dose of pragmatism is required. Similarly, open source software is an excellent choice when it best meets the needs of an institution, but not perhaps without reference to those needs. Providing open access to data owned by museums sounds like the right thing to do, but progress towards open access needs to also consider the sustainability plan for the service. Regrettably institutional policies and practices may not be in step with the possibilities that present themselves. Often a period of reflection on the implications of such activity is what is needed. Advisory services can help to provide this reflective moment. UKOLN, for example, has developed of a Quality Assurance (QA) model for making use of open standards. Originally developed to support the Joint Information Systems Committee’s (JISC) digital library development programmes, it has subsequently been extended across other programmes areas. Another example is provided by OSS Watch’s contribution to the development of JISC’s own policy on open source software for its projects and services. The JISC policy does not mandate the use of open source, but instead guides development projects through a series of steps dealing with IPR issues, code management, and community development, which serve to enhance any JISC-funded project that takes up an open source development methodology. CETIS has provided a range of services to support community awareness and capability to make effective decisions about open standards in e-learning, and has informed the JISC policy and practices in relation to open standards in e-learning development. Again, rather than a mandate, the policy requires development projects to become involved in a community of practice relevant to their domain where there is a contextualised understanding of open standards.