RLI 280 2 SEPTEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC Open Educational Resources as Learning Materials: Prospects and Strategies for University Libraries Marilyn S. Billings, Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian, University of Massachusetts Amherst Sarah C. Hutton, Head, Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Services, University of Massachusetts Amherst Jay Schafer, Director of Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst Charles M. Schweik, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Conservation and Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Massachusetts Amherst Matt Sheridan, Digital Repository Resident Librarian, University of Massachusetts Amherst The Importance of Open Access to Information, Demonstrated by the World Wide Web C onsider the World Wide Web as an existence proof for the innovative power of openness. Many readers of Research Library Issues (RLI) will recall the days when the web first began. Many people used the University of Minnesota’s “Gopher” system to share and access resources on the early Internet, and then, suddenly, Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues announced HTTP and HTML back around 1994. Over the next five years, the web grew remarkably, exponentially—and globally. What was the underlying phenomenon behind that remarkable growth? Publisher Tim O’Reilly has argued,1 and this article’s authors agree, that the underlying reason for this growth was web users’ ability to read the page source code, provided by the first web browsers—Mosaic, Netscape, and Internet Explorer. The “view source” function was a standard option in these browsers’ menus, enabling any end user to see how a particularly appealing webpage was written in HTML. Even though these pages were not formally licensed as open source, they were. Extrapolating from O’Reilly’s insight, that extraordinary time of innovation—the amazing expansion of websites globally from 1994 to about 2000—was driven by open access and individuals learning by reading other people’s HTML code. The web growth over those six years is probably the most significant distance-learning program the world has ever seen. One could say it was perhaps the first “massive open online” learning phenomenon, occurring nearly two decades before anyone ever heard of the idea of a MOOC (massive open online course). The exceptional growth of websites over this period at the end of the 20th century provides an extraordinary example of the power of open information. People wanting to gain website programming skills learned through the reading of openly available HTML code, and then often innovated or created new derivatives that were grounded upon that code. This foundational logic underlies the idea of providing open access to information in higher education. Open Educational Resources: What Are They? Issues around the production, distribution, and access to information and knowledge in higher education involve questions about how people treat these resources as “goods.” Political scientists and economists
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