Open Culture Independent Study Final Paper

My interest in open things was expanded when I started reading Make Magazine during my sophomore year of high school. Make Magazine introduced me to a community of people who was eager to share ideas and build community. Make magazine is a bimonthly publication that features highlights of the goings-on in the Maker community. Projects included in these publications range from sewing, to homebrew computer building, to furniture fabrication. The Maker movement is synonymous with the Do-It-Yourself community which encourages people to buy fewer and personally make more things. As one might expect, a community full of members who encourage each other to create heavily relies on communication between its members. Members are very willing to share documentation of their projects and give advice to others when necessary. The interests of an engineering student with an outlook slanted towards openness could not be more in tune with the activity of the Maker movement.

In high school I developed an interest in evolution by natural selection with an uncannily specific interest in altruism. Personally studying altruism turned out to be another experience that would change the way that I see the world. For a time I was consumed by the idea of altruism. My junior year of high school coincided with the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. For me, this was a wonderful year because it meant that two people who had steered the course of my recent personal study would be speaking at the University of Oklahoma. Richard Dawkins and Robert Trivers both gave talks that I attended at the University. At the time, I could not have been more inspired by sharing a room with these men. My heavy interest in natural selection, altruism, and morality consumed me and pushed thoughts about open culture to the back of my mind; however, it remained an ancillary preoccupation. I realize now, having reflected on these interests, that they are related.

To share intellectual property is to be altruistic. Therefore, it can be argued that it is a moral pursuit. By sharing a creation, a person is forfeiting at least a portion of the full potential that they might gain from it; however, the entire community is given the opportunity to benefit from the creator’s selflessness. Evolutionarily speaking, it could be argued that being selfless is indeed a selfish thing to do, but that is an argument beyond the scope of this discussion of open culture. Nevertheless that argument certainly applies. This simple realization, that openness is related to altruism fascinates me and is the basis of my desire to spread awareness of open culture. Whether a creator is sharing code, design material, creative works, educational material or anything else, they are giving their community an opportunity to benefit from their work. Likewise sharing one’s mistakes can even be beneficial. I have used a Benjamin Franklin quote in papers to express this before. I cannot agree more, nor can I convey the idea more eloquently,

These Thoughts, my dear Friend, are many of them crude and hasty, and if I were merely ambitious of acquiring some Reputation in Philosophy, I ought to keep them by me, ‘till corrected and improved by Time and farther Experience. But since even short Hints, and imperfect Experiments in any new Branch of Science, being communicated, have oftentimes a good Effect, in exciting the attention of the Ingenious to the Subject, and so becoming the Occasion of more exact disquisitions (as I before observed) and more compleat Discoveries, you are at Liberty to communicate this Paper to whom you please; it being of more Importance that Knowledge should increase, than that your friend should be thought an accurate Philosopher.

This semester I have expanded my understanding of open culture and I now have a greater understanding of its scope and reputation. Philosophically I do not think that I have changed much this semester; however, I did achieve the thing that I had hoped to by studying this. That is, I now understand that the academic adoption of open culture is far more widespread than I could have imagined before August. I was both surprised and pleased to know that Open Access exists and is growing. I was even more pleased to learn that the open initiative is alive on campus at the University of Oklahoma. In a letter to faculty, OU President David Boren said

I think opportunities exist to use open-content on the Internet and additional presentations by our own faculty to reduce our reliance on some expensive textbooks. We can lower student costs while creating a learning experience that is designed for our OU students and that unlocks the unique expertise, interests and personalities of each OU faculty member. In fact, I am starting to work on additions to my own course materials for my political science class in this spirit as a way to enrich experiences and reduce textbook costs. I will also name a task force to coordinate and advance our academic and administrative digital initiatives.

I have had the pleasure to spend a fair amount of time with the open educational resource coordinator for the University and could not be more excited about the direction her efforts will take the University. Her goal is to develop and implement 10 sets of open classroom material for 10 classes to be used during the fall 2014 semester. Aiming for the larger introductory classes, she hopes to reach as many students as possible to quickly add as much inertia to this initiative as possible. The University is also urging its researchers to publish their research in Open Access journals. This, the on-campus library’s contribution to this initiative, is to encourage researchers to share their work with the community. As part of their efforts, the Center for Teaching Excellence organized through the library, a class for both graduate students and faculty to teach them about the publishing industry and how to effectively publish their work in Open Access journals. This class encouraged its students to consider Open Access publishing and gave them many resources to use during the publishing process. By reading about open culture in education news this semester it is apparent to me that initiatives like these are being implemented across the country.

Although Open Access and open culture have existed for quite a while now, it is apparent that it is still gaining momentum among faculty. By speaking with faculty on campus who are involved in the open initiative I have gathered that a small portion of campus faculty are actually involved in developing open content to use in their classrooms; however, this appears to be changing as indicated by the letter from the president and the Open Access push by the Center for Teaching Excellence and the open educational resources coordinator. I am glad to have studied open culture at such an early point in its development on campus. It is my opinion that industry, academia, and all other aspects of intellectual property will at some point evolve in such a way that they both utilize and contribute to the open community. Open culture maximizes the well-being of its members by encouraging them to take advantage of the creations or experiences of others while also encouraging them to contribute their own creations and experiences to the community. To maximize well-being is a definition of morality and is, in a lot of ways best achieved altruistically. Altruism is a major function in the success of natural selection and it is my opinion that this mechanism will soon advance industry and academia in the form of openness.