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Opening Education

Publication Date: 
January 02, 2009
Science Magazine
Marshall S. Smith

Professor Lawrence Lessig is quoted by Science Magazine in an article about Open Educational Resources (OER):

Spurred by the publication of Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare in 2002, the open educational resources (OER) movement, which has rapidly expanded and captured the imagination and energy of millions of creators and users throughout the world, now faces many opportunities and substantial challenges as it moves to become an integral part of the world's educational environment.


OER advocates believe that it will become a vibrant part of the educational and social fabric of the world. Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Stanford University, argues for the Web to be an open commons; if some people are restricted from knowledge while others are not, creativity will be constrained and inequalities heightened (9). However, there are questions often asked: How can OER survive if it gives away its products for free? Can the current momentum for OER be maintained and self-sustained? After all, the OER movement must survive in an environment that has a robust infrastructure to protect the private ownership of property and the maximization of financial return. For a movement with a very different ideology to coexist and grow, it, too, must have a supportive infrastructure.


In 2001, building on Wiley's earlier work, Lessig started Creative Commons, an organization focused on designing easy-to-use licenses for individuals and institutions that allow them to maintain ownership of open content while providing users selected rights (14). Creative Commons' licenses change the copyright terms, allowing a range from no rights reserved—open sharing, reusing, and remixing—to some rights reserved. Creative Commons has provided legal and effective ways of making creative products open for others to use and reuse that, with Lessig's writing and advocacy, have given energy and credibility to an open content movement (15).