Open educational practices: Faculty self-defense in a privatized knowledge ecosystem

Social work knowledge is ruthlessly privatized. The overwhelming majority of educational resources created by faculty and disseminated to students reuses content that is commercially copyrighted. That is, the content is behind a paywall and the copyright holder does not allow for people to reuse the content in transformative ways. For example, slideshows or activities that instructors adapt from commercial journal articles or textbooks cannot be publicly archived or published. These derivative resources must remain with the professor—at most, shared informally with colleagues—because commercial “copyright prohibits unauthorized copying or modification of particular instances of expression” (Nelson et al., 2014, p. 2). In this way, commercial copyright alienates educators from the product of their labor and atomizes them by limiting the emergence of a community based on sharing derivative and adapted resources.

The price, use, and reuse of educational content is controlled by a small oligopoly of academic publishers of textbooks and academic journals. It is a very profitable business, borne out of the broken markets for journals and textbooks. Student and faculty movements to lower textbook costs discuss their deleterious impact on food insecurity, housing, student debt, and employment (DeCarlo & Vandergrift, 2019; Senack & Donoghue, 2016). Although textbook prices have increased nearly 200% since 1998 (Kight, 2018), student spending on textbook has declined (National Association of College Stores, 2019). As student cost-cutting measures drive prices lower, publishers have attempted to lock down content by integrating rental platforms—which eliminate the used textbook market—and wraparound courseware using access codes and automatically billing from student accounts (i.e., inclusive access) (Senack et al., 2016). Similarly, while library budgets are strained, resulting in drastic cutbacks to journals, publishers sustain record profits from “big deal” agreements with ever-increasing fees (Shu et al., 2018).

The shift in textbook and journal publication from print-first to digital-first highlights the structuring impact of the platforms used to disseminate knowledge. If faculty create content using the tools in a proprietary learning management system (LMS), they will not be able to share those resources with colleagues at another university or transfer them to another LMS should they change jobs. Indeed, many universities claim ownership of faculty products under intellectual property policies (Nelson et al., 2017). Universities who contract with private companies to create resources or manage online programs may agree to intellectual property licenses that deny faculty ownership and prohibit redistribution (Hall & Dudley, 2019). 

In the emerging privatized knowledge ecosystem, access, ownership, and equity are under threat (Bali & Caines, 2018). Faculty are digital sharecroppers, tending the intellectual gardens of publishers who can aggregate and enclose their work for profit (Carr, 2006). This workshop will review open educational practices (OEP) and situate them as a commons-based alternative to privatized and commercialized scholarly publication. Guided by the facilitator, participants will explore how to use open platforms and apply open pedagogy to their everyday work—creating educational resources for their classes and disseminating research products. The workshop will conclude with a discussion how OEP can support networked learning and communities of practice (Hendricks, 2017).

Open educational practices can be defined as (a) the use of open educational resources (OER) and co-creation of curricular materials with students and (b) “the open sharing of teaching practices with a goal of improving education and training at the institutional, professional, and individual level” (BCCampus, n.d., para. 1). Cronin (2017) elaborates that OEP involves the “open sharing of teaching practices… as well as pedagogical practices employing participatory technologies and social networks for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation, and empowerment of learners” (p. 16-18). In this view, sharing one’s faculty products openly contributes those resources to a common pool of faculty development resources from which best practices, stewardship, and critique emerge. Faculty engaging in OEP offer a persistent invitation to the community to build from their resources and expand social work scholarship—improving it, decolonizing it, interrogating it, and localizing it—while ensuring free access to anyone with an internet connection.

Interactive workshop delivered at the Council on Social Work Education 2020 Annual Program Meeting (virtual)


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face of the textbook monopoly. Student Public Interest Research Groups.

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