Free teaching materials from paywalls, urges professor
The campaign for open access shouldn’t stop at research, with the equivalent of Europe’s Plan S being rolled out to free learning materials behind ‘massive paywalls’, one book argues.
Professor Emeritus of Public Health Richard Heller has called for a “Plan E” to champion global access to learning. In a free downloadable book, The distributed university for sustainable higher educationhe says, the rationale for unlocking publicly funded research also applies to teaching materials.
Institutions funded largely or entirely by taxpayers produce courses and content that they only make available to their registered students, he argues. “Universities compete for these students. Is it appropriate that public money is spent on producing and delivering education that is… used for competitive advantage? »
Professor Heller campaigned for distance learning during spells at Newcastle University in Australia and later at the University of Manchester, developing online masters courses at both institutions. After his retirement, he launched peoples-uniteda UK-based educational charity that provides public health courses in low- and middle-income countries.
He said free educational resources that made such ventures feasible included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare initiative and online courses from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, as well as massive open online courses produced elsewhere. But these efforts were scattered, lacking organized advocacy and regulatory momentum.
In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization advised that Member States deploy policies or frameworks that encourage open access to educational resources developed with public funds. “How will encouragement lead to implementation? asked Professor Heller, who said all government-funded universities should have three years to put at least 10% of their offerings into the public domain.
While acknowledging that his proposal could not replicate the full experience of university education, he argued that open access courseware would benefit many. A study of free online professional development courses found that participants with and without tutors achieved comparable results, he said. “Motivation is as important as the environment. Many autodidacts do very well on their own.
The proposal is one of many proposals in the book, most of which aim to reduce inequalities in higher education and replace competition with collaboration. Professor Heller, now Emeritus Professor at Newcastle, said the global pivot to online learning has generated opportunities to “think laterally” and reconsider entrenched practices.
“Online can provide all sorts of ways to support these ideas,” he said. “Other things are achievable once you take that leap.”
Another proposal is for a higher education equivalent of the International Baccalaureate offered by secondary schools around the world. Professor Heller said it could avoid the huge costs incurred as universities work alone to develop similar courses, in a futile effort to wring competitive advantages from each other.
He acknowledged that a common higher education curriculum would face strong opposition as universities asserted their autonomy and argued over content. “It’s not an easy concept in the context of the competitive model that we seem to be in, [but] I don’t see why it wouldn’t work,” he said. “It seems to work at the school level.
“People who work in universities are not happy. It’s no longer a good place to work. I think people would rather collaborate than compete, and their productivity could very well increase.