Peer Production and Industrial Cooperation in Educational Materials

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Summary from the Industrial Cooperation Project:

"The third sector is central to education — that is, Educational Materials. This area is intermediate in the development of commons-based practices, counting large and historically powerful incumbents supported by regulation and practices such as the textbook adoption process within K-12. However, the impact of technology and emergence of new business models, the maturity of open educational resources projects, and, primarily the recognition of those by the Obama administration as central to improve educational opportunities to all Americans, among other forces, may shape the future of this field.See the EM Synthesis here and working papers here." (



"We found evidence of commons-based cooperation and production in the educational materials industry. The field of educational materials (EM) refers to a subset of the book, games, Internet, and software publishing industries that is focused on providing resources to a variety of educational market segments. EMs are available as both digital and non-digital solutions.

At the K-12 educational level, digital solutions include a range of technologies used to enhance the delivery and the administration of K-12 education, including data management systems, web-based course and assessment materials, and online tutoring and professional development—however, we focused on those digital solutions products that have specific educational purposes and where knowledge is embedded in a form that can be enclosed by some form of intellectual property. Regarding non-digital solutions, we included textbooks, course packs and other supplementary materials, and various educative toys and games.

Many of these products are experiencing market disruption as a result of rising commons-based production (CBP), which is in turn pushing the industry around EMs towards adopting commons-based industrial cooperation (CBIC) practices. There is a broad movement, known as Open Educational Resources (OER), in favor of treating educational and learning objects as open content products, which should be online, free of charge, available for remix under liberal copyright licenses, and in general subject to interpretation, iterative development, and redistribution. The OER movement is affecting educational policy at federal and local levels, and the power of the government as purchasing agent is playing a powerful role in creating market forces in the industry that favor cooperative approaches over competitive approaches.

We studied several instances of CBIC in educational materials, which are all presented on the wiki. The instances included Connexions, a software infrastructure for EMs that is flexible and modular. It is a novel teaching tool built and deployed for the Web, that supports not just text but collaboration in education and learning. Connexions features several aspects found about the commons-based EMs: the information is organized into smaller units than textbooks or chapters, web technology standards like XML are central to success, there are software and web tools to create, maintain, share and use content, there is a focus on community development and maintenance, and liberal Creative Commons copyright licenses ensure that the public’s legal rights are protected. Connexions has resulted also in radically lower textbook prices in some cases, showing how digital objects produced by the commons can affect the non-digital industrial economy of EMs.

Connexions in 2007 hosted more than 4000 learning modules, more than 220 courses or books, about 550,000 users, 2000 authors, and 200,000 hits per day from almost 200 countries. Since then the OER movement has only gained popularity and prominence, so we can expect these numbers to be higher today. It is a non profit project funded by philanthropic donations and grants.

Interestingly, we observed the emergence of for-profit OER producers like Qedoc, who focus their efforts on the creation of software tools rather than proprietary content, using a default rule of CC license usage in return for free-of-charge access to the software. We also profiled projects WikiEducator and Wikiversity, both of which apply a more traditional wiki model to planning education projects and creating learning resources. Each of these projects exists inside a universe of similar projects, demonstrating that the overall EM space is being dramatically changed by the impact of the Internet and accompanying commons-based effects. However, the traditional industry players are fighting against the advance of CBIC in many places, with strategies around customization that lock in clients where the content is commodity, but services are proprietary.

The EM industry is susceptible to commons effects for many reasons. One was that the government funders of EMs could begin prioritizing open resources as part of a focus on up-to-date materials and cost reductions, as we saw in debates from Texas and California. The government intervention on textbooks, for example, affects what was previously perceived to be the greatest barrier to OER (textbook adoption processes) and may have turned it into an advantage for OER. Another was that the industry already operated via copyright licensing, and therefore could leverage much of the infrastructure we associate with individual commons based cooperation, like liberal copyright licenses, wikis, mailing lists, and more, to allow individual cooperation with industrial players and open up space for novel projects like Connexions to challenge traditional industrial players by competing for new learners." (

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