For my upcoming study at Indiana University, I’m working on a position paper on the Free / Open Source / Libre movement, the open source ethos, and open education. It’s kind of weird having to draft a position paper when I kind of feel like I’ve done that, over here at sleeping alone and starting out early.
In fact, a position paper focusing only on the F/OSS movement and open education seems to somehow miss the point, since the spirit of these movements embraces an open-source approach to culture at large. In this way, this blog feels more appropriate as a position statement than any short paper ever could.
Still, academia is academia, and I can’t just turn in a one-liner (http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com) as a position paper. The paper I’m drafting, though, belongs to and informs this blog as much as this blog informs it. For that reason, I’ll be posting my work here as I go.
Today, I’ll start with some definitions.
Open Source: Open source is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to a software’s source code. Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source)
Open Source Software (OSS): computer software for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that meets the Open Source Definition or that is in the public domain. This permits users to use, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. It is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open source software is the most prominent example of open source development and often compared to user-generated content. The term open source software originated as part of a marketing campaign for free software.
Free Software (vs. Open Source Software): The term “free software” was coined by Richard Stallman, who explains that
When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users’ essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.” (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html)
Briefly, the difference in the terms highlights different ethical approaches to software development. In general, the OSS movement emphasizes the collective engagement with source code in order to develop, and sometimes to market, powerful and efficient software. The free software movement identifies as a social movement. Stallman explains:
Nearly all open source software is free software; the two terms describe almost the same category of software. But they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, because only free software respects the users’ freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the free software movement, however, non-free software is a social problem, and moving to free software is the solution.
Many adherents to these movements, to avoid this issue, simply refer to the Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) Movement.
Community Source Software (CSS): Community Source Software differs from OSS in that institutions devote paid employees to the project, with the intention of collaboratively developing a product that embraces the open source ethos. From the Wikipedia article on Community source,
An important distinctive characteristic of community source as opposed to plain open source is that the community includes some organizations or institutions that are committing their resources to the community, in the form of human resources or other financial elements. In this way, the open source project will have both more solid support, rather than purely volunteer efforts as found in other open source communities, and will possibly be shaped by the strategic requirements of the institution committing the resource.
Examples of CSS include: the Sakai Project, Kuali Foundation, and Open Source Portfolio.
Open Access (OA): From http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm, “open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. The goal of adopting OA policies is to remove barriers to information. Many higher education institutions have adopted an open access policy, as for example the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which explains that it adopted an OA policy because “The Faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.”
Open Education Movement and Open Educational Resources (OERs): From Opening Up Education, a key tenet of this movement is that education can be improved by making educational assets visible and accessible and by harnessing the collective wisdom of a community of practice and reflection. The open education movement embraces a shift away from a scarcity-based model of higher education, which bases its value on limiting access. As Batson, Paharia, and Kumar explain (in chapter 6, “A Harvest Too Large? A Framework for Educational Abundance”), open education works within a “knowledge ecology characterized by unfettered access to educational resources, choice, and change in the context and clientele of higher education.” In the open, “abundance-based” learning framework, we see the following shifts, with the “trend indicators” column showing features of higher education that point to the shift.
Recursive Publics: This term was coined by Christopher Kelty, who describes it at length in Two Bits (available for download, online browsing, and modulation for free online):
A recursive public is a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence as a public; it is a collective independent of other forms of constituted power and is capable of speaking to existing forms of power through the production of actually existing alternatives.
More to the point, a recursive public is a group of people who exist outside of traditional institutions (governments, churches, schools, corporations) and, when necessary, use this outsider status to hold these entities in check. The engagement of these publics goes far beyond simply protesting decisions or stating their opinions. Kelty, writing about geek culture as a recursive public, explains it thus:
Recursive publics seek to create what might be understood, enigmatically, as a constantly “self-leveling” level playing field. And it is in the attempt to make the playing field self-leveling that they confront and resist forms of power and control that seek to level it to the advantage of one or another large constituency: state, government, corporation, profession. It is important to understand that geeks do not simply want to level the playing field to their advantage—they have no affinity or identity as such. Instead, they wish to devise ways to give the playing field a certain kind of agency, effected through the agency of many different humans, but checked by its technical and legal structure and openness. Geeks do not wish to compete qua capitalists or entrepreneurs unless they can assure themselves that (qua public actors) that they can compete fairly. It is an ethic of justice shot through with an aesthetic of technical elegance and legal cleverness.