Why not choose open?

As I concluded my research and worked on formulating my ideas into a final paper, I couldn’t shake a lingering question that had emerged through my inquiry: Why not choose open? When a content creator is already choosing to give away their work for free, why not also make it open? I wondered what barriers might hold people back, and considered several possible reasons for this choice. Among these these: a misconception of open, and a fear of losing control.

Open can be hard to understand. In the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2017), the project creators recognize that open licensing struggles from ambiguity. They admit that “after a decade of passionate advocacy, the need for broader awareness of open education persists” (p. 4). However, the awareness required isn’t necessarily that open licensing exists. Many people are aware that Creative Commons and open source exists. However, I wonder if not many people actually know what these licenses mean or how they started. The Cape Town Open Education Declaration creators noted that, after 10 years, “the challenge is not in reaching enough people, but rather in articulating the meaning and value of open education in a way that resonates with mainstream audiences” (p. 4). Advocates of openness need to help people see how open licensing can have a meaningful impact on their own lives, and not just see it as something other people use.

Open can feel like a loss of control. We have been conditioned, in part by the media, to believe that copyright is a necessary good, otherwise theft of intellectual property would run rampant. However, Lessig (2004) argues that this is not the case. Copyright and patents, particularly the kind that hamper creativity, are a relatively recent development in the course of human history. Lessig argues that that Internet can promote a free and open culture, but that corporations are working hard to prevent this. “Free cultures are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon; unfree, or permission, cultures leave much less. Ours was a free culture. It is becoming much less so“ (p. 30). Open licensing doesn’t mean losing control, creators still own a work that has an open license. What it means is empowering others to learn from and build on the past.

To wrap up this blog post, I’d like to leave my readers with one parting thought experiment. If you were to create something—a book, a course, a work of art—and this thing were to take you a lot of time to create, say 500 hours, would you choose to release it with an open license? If not, what are some reasons why you wouldn’t? If so, why, and would you have made the same choice before starting this Masters?


Cape Town Open Education Declaration 10th Anniversary (2017). Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.capetowndeclaration.org/cpt10/

Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture: How big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity. New York: Penguin Press. Retrieved from http://www.free-culture.cc/

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What is the cost of free EdTech?

Recently my team members and I began considering the concept of educational video from a critical perspective. To better understand our chosen technology, we selected the video learning platform Khan Academy, and we undertook the process of enrolling in and progressing through an online lesson about Carol Dweck’s (2006) Growth Mindset. On the surface level, the learning experience through Khan Academy provided colourful illustrations, narrative mini-lessons, and video explanations. The course progressed from one idea to the next, asking the learner open-ended questions between each section. As I read the lessons and watched the videos, I aimed to sharpen my analytical skills and consider what issues lurk beneath the surface of platforms like this. Selwyn (2010) implores academics and educators to “look beyond issues of learning” and consider the “social realities of technology use” (p. 66). In adopting this approach, I focused my critical inquiry towards my personal context of open source and Open Educational Resources (OER).

Free is an enticing word. As an adverb, it offers something “without cost or payment,” and as an adjective, it enables one to act without “the control or in the power of another” (“Free,” n.d.). Free is a particularly attractive concept in EdTech, where many schools are looking to tighten their bottom line. Khan Academy represents a free video learning platform, offering their content under the mission “to provide free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere” (Khan Academy, n.d.). However, as I considered the broader implications of this mission, I wondered if free video platforms really are without a cost. Both the words free and cost have nuanced meanings (“Gratis versus libre,” n.d.). This line of inquiry led me to ask: What is the cost of free EdTech?

Free educational content is not necessarily open. Wiley (2014) defines five properties of open content: retain, revise, remix, reuse, and redistribute. Free video platforms like Khan Academy may offer their videos freely, but their content is often proprietary (Khan Academy, n.d.). Open versus proprietary is an important distinction, one which the word free does not encompass. As an advocate of open content, I wondered what the societal impact of learning platforms like Khan Academy could be if people came to see free yet proprietary EdTech as the highest ideal. Would teachers be dazzled by free content and not realize that they could have genuinely open content? Could OER platforms lose their traction or funding in the face of proprietary platforms backed by billionaire philanthropists? Are many teachers aware of how to find open content, and how to recognize restrictive licenses?

If video platforms like Khan Academy become the norm, what are we missing out on? Losing one thing in exchange for another constitutes a cost (“Cost,” n.d.), and a loss of openness may be just one of the many hidden costs of free EdTech.

In undertaking this critical inquiry, I recognize that my perspective is not unbiased. As an open source developer and advocate of open pedagogy, I am passionate about the impact that a philosophy of openness can have on education. However, I realize that open source and OER are not a silver bullet. As I continue this inquiry and develop a learning plan, I will need to consider a wide range of research and pay specific attention to the biases that may be implicit in my initial arguments. I’d be interested to hear thoughts and additional perspectives from fellow MALAT students that may help me refine this line of inquiry.



Cost. (n.d.). In Lexico Dictionary by Oxford. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/cost

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House Incorporated.

Free. (n.d.). In Lexico Dictionary by Oxford. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/free

Gratis versus libre. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratis_versus_libre

Khan Academy. (n.d.). Khan Academy | Free online courses, lessons & practice. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org

Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: Notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65–73. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x

Wiley, D. (2014). Defining the “open” in open content and open educational resources. Retrieved from http://opencontent.org/definition/


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