Open education programmes are solving many of the problems faced by those who are considering embarking on a programme of study. A related problem often faced by students who do decide to study, and which may be particularly acute for distance-learners who do not have access to a university library, is the availability and expense of books. Although many open programmes supply the required study material, there is always room for supplementing learning through broader reading.
Students who are unable to buy or access library books are likely to look for resources, materials, and information of all kinds which are now available online for free.
Some of this material is not legal, for instance, scanned copies of copyrighted books. However, there is a movement which is making available to students, researchers, teachers and the general public legitimate resources which are free of charge and often have very liberal copyright policies.
At the present time, when university libraries are facing dwindling budgets, they can scarcely afford to subscribe to the journals they need, particularly when the prices of those journals are rising at a rapid rate. Questions are being asked about the rationale of paying for such subscriptions when the research they contain is funded by public money.
The result of this is that educational institutions are embracing a publishing model called “Open Access” at a rapid rate. This either means that researchers deposit their papers in their institution’s online repositories, where they are often accessible to users around the world via search engines, or that they publish with open access publishers, who may or may not charge a publishing fee and who make the authors’ works freely available worldwide through their own websites and through bibliographic databases, indices, and search engines.
Institutions which have signed up to the Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity, a statement of intent to make available resources in support of open access publishing, include Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among the new signatories in 2010 are Duke University and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research – otherwise known as the birthplace of the World Wide Web.
Open access publishing has spread far more quickly in the natural sciences than in the social or formal sciences, while open access humanities materials are comparatively limited in volume. Among the reasons for this are the manner of funding scientific research, the cost of scientific publications and the mode of working in scientific research, in which scientists benefit from citations and have great potential to gain value from collaboration. Additionally, there is a greater urgency to publish findings quickly. A consensus is being reached that opening up access to scientific research findings will greatly benefit the global science system and speed up the process of solving problems pressing upon mankind such as disease and climate change.
It looks increasingly like the publishing of all kinds of material is likely to change, not least because of the lower cost and ease of producing and distributing the digital material. Academic publishers are experimenting with various models of distributing books for students, which include options to buy or rent electronic material at a substantially reduced cost compared to buying printed textbooks and journals. It is not yet clear which model is going to emerge as the clear leader, but it is certain that the publishing landscape will alter significantly, and among the end, results will be lower costs or no cost to the end-user.
Open learning and open access are connected initiatives in a global movement to open up information for the benefit of all and to share knowledge of all kinds. Examples of initiatives promoting an open world culture are websites such as the World Digital Library, Europeana, and Museums With No Frontiers, which aim to display for the enjoyment and enrichment of all the cultural treasures of our planet.
All of this has exciting implications for education, literally opening up a whole world of information to readers everywhere with access to the internet. The possibilities available for people who wish to educate themselves are simply staggering.
This guest post is contributed by Nataly Anderson, PR Manager at InTech, open access publisher of academic books and journals in science, technology, and medicine. The InTech collection is available at www.intechopen.com.