Saturday, 6 October 2007

Proposing history: knowledge ownership in Oz HE

Quick post to give opportunity for comments on my current draft of PhD project proposal looking at the ownership of knowledge in higher education in Australia - proposal is to do this in the history department at University of Sydney. Current draft can be found here:

Would love to hear any thoughts.


Justin said...

"One of the consequences ... of the capitalist university is the commodification and sale of knowledge to learner/consumers – and yet our educational literature assures us that learner are constructing knowledge themselves. How, then, can Universities claim to own it, let alone sell it?"

This is a fascinating point. The whole topic is great, really. I can't wait to read more.

Just one point I'd like to add, and that is the threat to the value of educational IP coming from institutions like MIT making their course materials open source.

To me, this shift to open source courses makes sense. After all, the only thing that protecting your course notes allows you to do is to restrict access to information in the form of lectures. However, this is information which, if the lecture is based on a published literature, you can get from other sources by definition .

This begs the question of what it is universities provide if not access to information. Clearly, the emphasis is thrown back onto skills (e.g. skills in converting a literature of information into an informed and defensible opinion or project) and communities (e.g. the community of scholars on a particular topic).

This needs to be thought through a little better (doesn't everything!). Can you see the university surviving in a world where information is free (and not just in the sense of free speech, but also in the sense of free beer)?

Hannahland said...

Aw shucks Justin, thanks for these lovey comments. And you're right, I haven;t started to think about what happens when people start making things available for free.

I feel really ashamed to say that, while I would agree with the ideas of open source in principle, when I am thinking as a manager (which I do a lot, given that is my job!) I find it very difficult to be willing to let go of my Faculty's IP.

Indeed (again, this is a true confession)my Faculty is working with all the other vet schools to share online resources and I am in a veritable panic about hanging onto our IP - basically, our study guides. These things cost more than $1M to have created and, if one were permitted to use them, one would easily be able to teach courses we currently have majority market share on. They are actually valuable and I am un-keen for the investment to be simply handed over to others.

That being said, I am more than happy to let our sponsors share the IP (which our University legal team isn't, strangely) but competitors are another thing.

And perhaps this is the core problem: when our colleagues at other universities become competitors, the importance of IP ever-increases. It is a brave move when universities opt out of this crazy game and I can openly admit that it would take a serious deep breath (and a plan to hide from the accountants) before I'd feel prepared to. I certainly take my hat off to the likes of MIT!

Justin said...

I'm sorry I didn't see your response sooner, Hannah. I've checked the email follow-up button this time!

Ironically, I just posted recently, on my other blog, about the economics of copyright. You might find it helpful.

That has got me thinking about copyright strategies, though, rather than an either/or.

I wonder whether a strategy which aims to devolve copyrights to others over the course of four or five years wouldn't actually be beneficial. For example, you might consider making these course public (reserving attribution rights) around the time that they will be in need of updating. Let the wider community keep your existing/old courses up to date, to free resources for further innovative content.

You might also stagger the release of that content, as collateral with which to form stronger partnerships with other institutions.

I suppose what I'm suggesting is a dynamical model of copyright. One that recognizes and encourages the development of knowledge and teaching practices, rather than hypostatising it.