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this page is
Copyright 2011 by
Peter G. Raeth

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The number of people with the desire, focus, and energy to learn skills that require considerable rigor far exceeds the resources that would be required to educate and train those people. By this I mean that the capacity is there (both in the person and the institutions) but the funding is not. This is especially the case with people in developing nations.

An example lies in the commercial publishing industry. It appears to me that publishers assume people are swimming in money. The exorbitant cost of text books and other published literature creates a growth barrier to a huge percentage of the world's population. The publishers are “successful” in the sense that they, their investors, and their companies make a lot of money. However, the spread of learning is inhibited thereby.

Many authors and others concerned with education and training have recognized the problems that come about when commercial publishers (for-profit and non-profit) get control of the world's intellectual output. Thus, those who produce that output are increasingly turning to OpenSource, CreativeCommons, OpenAcess, GeneralPublic, and PublicDomain styles of licensing. The internet has created a connected world. Within that world, it is relatively easy to produce, store, and index books, articles, seminars, and even entire courses. Additionally, print-on-demand and DVD-on-demand present a cost-effective means of producing a physical product when that is desired.

In 2012 I was asked by the University of Zimbabwe, Department of Computer Science, to design a course that would retain rigor and quality study material while not depending on a traditional textbook. This turned out to be a major undertaking. Commercially published textbooks often come with ready-made lecture material if the book is adopted. While this material can vary in quality (just as can the books themselves), it does lay a foundation for course design. Searching for material to support an entirely new course can take a lot of time. One also makes reference to the syllabi of related courses. In the end, though, it is possible to accomplish the task for a specific course having desired learning outcomes. Since then, I designed one such course for University of Zimbabwe. In 2014 I implemented two courses for Chinhoyi University of Technology. These were updated in 2015.

In the process of developing course designs, I came upon a number of freely-accessible sources of material. Not all of these allow redistribution, an important requirement in a country that does not always offer reliable, high-speed, low-cost internet. (Always retain attribution when taking advantage of redistribution rights.) After completing the UZ project, I developed a one-hour seminar on how I went about it. This seminar also addresses the process of searching for and obtaining material, giving the sources found up to that time. You are welcome to download the seminar's slides.

Since giving that seminar, a number of other sources came to my attention:

OpenAccess Journals, Books, and Course Material

Punjab has a developed a significant list of OpenAccess sources. These are yet  to be explored but are worth your attention for their potential.

Punjab University Library

An expanded listing of other sources is given in the associated appendix. This appendix was written in support of a paper a colleague of mine and I are writing.

OpenAccess Courses - No Cost to Participate

edX

Coursera

UDACITY

Self-Paced

Saylor

CMU Open Learning Initiative

There have been a number of articles that question the peer-review process of other than commercial sources. Having been a reviewer myself for more than one commercial publisher, I found that reviewer quality is as varied as the number of reviewers. Too, society publishers can be very old-boy-network oriented. In those circumstances, a negative review of something offered by one of the old-boys is not well received. Objectivity, quality, and usefulness decline in those cases. Further, many editors actively strive to prevent objective discussion from appearing. The publisher becomes driven by an individual’s personal agenda. Thus, science is prevented from performing the service it is supposed to provide.

So, a “big name” publisher is no guarantee of value. As in any new process, quality will be uneven until the process settles into steady-state. Then, the low-quality producers will eventually find themselves without many downloads and therefore no writers, no credibility, and no funding to continue. In any case, the quality of the publication has to be objectively considered by the reader based on their knowledge of their field and the output of other authors.

The OpenAccess world offers a great learning opportunity to those who desire but can not afford commercial study material. It is a wonderful enabler for those with desire, focus, and energy to develop and apply their God-given gifts.

 

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