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by Stephen Downes
Feb 12, 2016

Feature Article
The Green Solution
Stephen Downes, Feb 08, 2016.


Canada's PostMedia, concerned as always about meeting Canada's climate change targets, has published an article in the Toronto Sun arguing that Trudeau's emissions reduction targets are (and I quote) "impossible". In support of this conclusion the cite "math".

Here's Lorrie Goldstein:

Reducing our emissions by 127 Mt would mean the equivalent of shutting down all of Canada’s electricity sector (85 Mt) plus half of the building sector (43 Mt), in less than five years.

Achieving the mid-level reduction of a 146 Mt reduction would mean shutting down the equivalent of Canada’s agriculture sector (75 Mt) and most of our emission-intensive and trade-exposed industries (76 Mt), in less than five years.

 You get the idea.

Of course, with "math" you have to have numbers. Goldstein doesn't tell us where the numbers came from, but they're pretty easy to find. Here they are:

Our total emissions are 716 megatonnes (Mt). And yes, the electricity sector is responsible for 85 Mt, or 12% of Canada's total. And the rest of Goldstein's numbers can be found in the chart as well.
But math? Well, maybe the math of a ten-year old. People who actually do math can read for themselves how these numbers are created. Here's the formula:

Emissions = activity data × emission factor 

So, yes, if you reduce the activity to zero, you reduce the emissions to zero. But who, other than a toddler, would do it that way?



Let's take Canada's electricity sector, for example. We could shut the entire sector down to eliminate 76 Mt in five years. But that would be a ridiculous way to do it.

Let's look at how we generate electricity in Canada:



About a quarter of Canada's energy production requires fossil fuel. The majority is created from hydroelectric and nuclear, with wind accounting for about 4 percent. Why would we shut down all of that just to mitigate the damage caused by fossil fuels? Nobody would do that.

Here's some more math. Fossil fuels produce about 130 megawatts in Canada. The cost of installing wind power is roughly $2 million per megawatt. So for an investment nation-wide of $260 million, we could eliminate fossil fuel from Canada's electricity generation. That's two thirds of Trudeau's target right there!

So we would need 42 Mt savings on 630 Mt of emissions. If we made everything else 10% more efficient, we could exceed that target by a lot. Remember, emissions = activity data × emission factor. Is it reasonable to think that, instead of, say, eliminating the transportation sector, we could make it use 10% fewer fossil fuels?

We could look at buildings (86 Mt) for example.Instead of eliminating the entire sector, as Goldstein would have us do, we could search for a 10 percent reduction in heating costs, perhaps emulating Germany, which despite being one of the cloudiest nations on the planet, still manages to produce a surplus of home-generated solar power.

One of the major carbon-producers in the energy-intensive industries (76 Mt) is concrete production. Even passive techniques as on-demand mixing and concrete recycling could create significant energy savings.

Yes, there is a cost associated with this, and with the other ways to reduce the emissions factor.It costs money to electrify trains, to invest in public transit, and to convert from diesel to LPG or even fuel cells (transportation, 170 Mt). But with selective applications of public money to provide incentives, as well as increasing the cost of dirty technologies, all of this is manageable.

What we don't need are columns like this one published in PostMedia exhibiting what amounts to baby-logic. These are changes we need to make, and having a tantrum won't alter that fact.

Accomplishing our climate change goals will ultimately mean not only saving the planet, it will create more efficient industries. And if we can be among the first to accomplish this, we will be able to export these technologies. It is actually an era of opportunity, not crisis.

Enclosure: GreenhouseGasEmissions_Sector_EN.gif
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Personal Learning Mooc
noreply@blogger.com (Stephen Downes), Half an Hour, 2016/02/12


This course explores the topic of learning in three ways: first, through an examination of research and development issues related to the topic; second, through interaction with a personal learning environment (specifically: LPSS) to take the course; and third, through activities supporting the development of a personal learning environment at a conceptual level.

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All Hail The Algorithm
David J McGee, Metafilter, 2016/02/12


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The think that made Twitter the most democratic of the social media platforms was that it didn't pick winners. You read what you were subscribed to, in the order it was sent. No more. Now (as an opt-in feature, at least) users can choose an algorithm to show their 'best' results. As one commentator says, "This would be fine I was able to trust the algorithm, which as Facebook has shown, one cannot. We are not as good at this software stuff as we think we are." Not just that. Once there's an algorithm, there's somebody willing to pay money to skew the algorithm. This is how services like Twitter generate income. Not surprisingly the magazines and newspapers are in favour. They will be the ones to benefit most from the algorithm. Image: Larry Kim.

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openSAP breaks through 1 million
Steve Brooks, Enterprise Times, 2016/02/12


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This is an interesting milestone and is a good example of the sort of shape a lot of e-learning will take in the future. The OpenSAP MOOC "platform was launched in 2013 in conjunction with the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) and has been constantly evolving over the last three years." It's a good example of a corporation working with an educational institution to use e-learning to provide product support (and SAP users definitely need product support).

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When a $100M Installation Doesn't Go as Planned
Carl Straumsheim, Inside Higher Ed, 2016/02/12


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One of the comments to this article suggests that it isn't news that a college system is having trouble converting from a home-grown to a PeopleSoft administrative software system. Maybe it isn't. I remember when I was at Assibinoine Community College in the 1990s we made the switch to (as I recall) Banner (now merged with its competitor Colleague to become Ellucian). But the commentary around the move is always interesting. "The transition was not only motivated by the age of the software, the system's desire to support initiatives such as analytics and competency-based education, and the need to boost information security, but also by a need to “speak with one voice” as a system." And, again in the comments, "The real value of enterprise software is that it forces a total re-engineering of those arcane and archaic process that we so dearly love... No one wants to abandon their customized data, "stovepiped" and personal, for a data dictionary that means the same thing to all users." Image: PeopleSoft.

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Coupling Pre-Prints and Post-Publication Peer Review for Fast, Cheap, Fair, and Effective Science Publishing
Michael Eisen, Leslie B. Vosshall, it is NOT junk, 2016/02/12


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The title says it all. This is, in my view, the future of academic publishing, and of educational publishing in general, if we can break the publishers' hold on the marketplace and especially the distribution system. "It would be relatively simple to give reviewers of published pre-prints a set of tools to specify the most appropriate audience for the paper, to anticipate their expected level of interest in the work, and to gauge the impact of the work." I might add that newsletters like OLDaily could and would be an essential part of the post-publication peer review system. Image: Future of Scientific Publishing.

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How an Alaska Teacher Improved Student Attendance with Minecraft
Cindy Duncan, EdSurge, 2016/02/12


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Throughout most of my educational career, the early morning subject was mathematics. Then, later, formal logic. It is as though someone figured our abstract brains work best in the morning. Well, mine most certainly did not. So I would have appreciated this teacher's method to encourage attendance first thing in the morning: Minecraft. Why does this work? "Are you more likely to put in extra time and effort on tasks you find engaging? For most of us the answer is, yes—our achievement is driven by our interest. This is true even for children."

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Meet the Robin Hood of Science
Simon Oxenham, Big Think, 2016/02/11


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This is the story of "Sci-Hub, a website that bypasses journal paywalls, illegally providing access to nearly every scientific paper ever published immediately to anyone who wants it." It's the internet's solution to a problem that has existed for many years. "Before Sci-Hub, this problem was solved manually for years! For example, students would go to an online forum where other researchers communicate, and request papers there; other people would respond to the request." The American courts, of course, are more than willing to grant judgements against the service. "Elsevier alleges 'irreparable harm,' based on statutory damages of $750-$150,000 for each pirated work." There are about 48 million papers in SciHub. They'll never collect the money. Meanwhile, "The bird is out of its cage, and if Elsevier still thinks it can put it back, they may well be sorely mistaken." See also this article on SciHub in the Atlantic. SciHub is here.

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The Linguistics of Mass Persuasion: How Politicians Make “Fetch” Happen (Part I)
Chi Luu, JSTOR Daily, 2016/02/11


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I'm not going to wait for Part 2, because this story is interesting enough already. 'Making fetch happen' (meaning to successfully start a cultural/linguistic trend) is the objective of entertainers, politicians, and yes, educators. But ultimately, it is media that makes it happen. "Mass media institutions, from the press to social media, follow them around, broadcasting, sharing, and reinterpreting their every word, on repeat, even if they actively disagree with their agenda and ideology." And this mechanism is manipulated; the article has several examples, while in Canada we have the way 'tar sands' became 'oil sands' almost overnight. And the message is deeply personal; "the subtle rhetoric in these terms seems to almost force a stance on identity and the values you hold." If you think education is free of the phenomenon, think again: think of terms like 'diploma mills', 'grade inflation', 'lifelong learning'.

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Info for Romance Scam Victims
Alec Couros, Open Thinking, 2016/02/11


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Alec Couros is hosting an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit on the subject of catfishing. Couros, well known in social media and educational technology circles, has had his image used by dating and romance site scams (also known as 'catfishing') for the last decade. The social media companies do little to help. "With Facebook," writes Couros, "I've never been able to get in contact with a real person. All I can do is use their crappy reporting system that doesn't even acknowledge this kind of scam. I've gotten a few of my blog posts taken up by the media (Canadian media - CBC, Global, CTV, etc.) and Boing Boing wrote a post on my dilemma. However, I can't crack the FB wall. I spoke to a Google employee but I didn't have much luck their. Their reporting system is worse."

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Thousands of students caught up in major college collapse
Henrietta Cook, Sarah Danckert, Sydney Morning Herald, 2016/02/11


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Following "a federal government crackdown on the scandal-plagued vocational education sector," thousands of Australian students have been left with large debts and unable to complete their studies. It's a fairly typical story: "The group's collapse comes despite Global Intellectual Holdings making a profit of $17.95 million in 2015. During the year it paid $14 million in dividends to its directors Roger Williams and Aloi Burgess. The accounts show the company held $19 million in debt." This underscores the danger of placing a public trust like education into private hands, especially if there's government funding involved. Those concerned about the future of the TAFE system in Australia will no doubt have taken note.

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The chips are down for Moore’s law
M. Mitchell Waldrop, Nature, 2016/02/11


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Quantum computing notwithstanding, Moore's law - the idea that computing power doubles every 18 months - has been in force most of my lifetime. But according to this article, there are signs it is coming to an end. Computer chip clock speeds haven't budged since 2004; instead, computers have more than one processor. But this is reaching a limit as well, the victim of heat death and mobile computing. This doesn't mean innovation will stop, but instead the direction of innovation will change - instead of thinking of things we can do with ever faster chips, we'll begin designing applications and custom-designing chips to fit them. Good article, lots of detail, and interesting insights into the thinking of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) near the end.

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Manulife to offer Canadians discounts for healthy activities
Pete Evans, CBC News, 2016/02/10


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How long before we're required to wear personal health tracking devices like Fitbit? If we're getting discounts for wearing them, does this mean others are being penalized for not wearing them? And at what point does trhis become intrusive: ""Manulife is moving away from being a traditional insurance company to one that actively partners with customers to help them achieve overall well-being, including physical and financial health?"

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#springergate: SpringerImages for today
Peter Murray-Rust, petermr's blog, 2016/02/10


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Your new word for the day is 'copyfraud'. Here's the definition from Wikipedia: "Copyfraud refers to false copyright claims by individuals or institutions with respect to content that is in the public domain. Such claims are wrongful because material that is not copyrighted is free for all to use, modify and reproduce." In the current case, copyfraud also applies to materials that are license CC-by. As Peter Murray-Rust writes in the GOAL mailing list, "Springer took all the images published in its journals and stamped COPYRIGHT SPRINGER over all of them and offered them for sale at 60 USD. This included all my publications in BioMedCentral, a CC-BY Open Access journal..." In another post he notes that Oxford University Press is "charging large prices for re-use of CC-BY articles (e.g. 400 USD for use in an academic course pack for 100 students."

Let's be clear, though. Far from being 'fraud', these actions on the part of Springer and OUP are not illegal. Even if you pay OUP publishing fees to license your paper as CC-by, OUP can turn around and charge $400 for it because this is allowed by the license. Currently publishers are saying these practices are "mistakes" (and Springer, for example, has removed the images). But how long before these 'mistakes' are 'policy'? And of course, "there is the additional ongoing problem when articles which authors have paid to have Open, are hidden behind a paywall." If only somebody could have predicted that CC-by licenses would be used this way!

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Is the Educational Games Industry Falling Into the Same Trap It Did 20 Years Ago?
Blake Montgomery, EdSurge, 2016/02/10


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Interesting look at the history of edutainment, a phenomenon that peaked in the 1980s and was dead by the turn of the century. There are lessons to be drawn for today's learning app market. For both, the problem begins in the marketplace - quality game-makers such as The Learning Company found  themselves competing for shelf space at places like Toys R Us and unable to make an impact against knock-offs and flip cards. "'Edutainment' became a toxic word' ... A euphemism emerged referring to the era's games that promised learning badly disguised by a thin layer of fun: chocolate-covered broccoli." After a series of badly executed mergers, the market collapsed. Today's app store is crowded with 80,000 apps labled 'educational'. " The fact remains, though, that you can crank out a hundred flashcard apps for the same price and in the same timeframe as it takes to make one media-rich game."

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Looking for digital whiteboard software
D'Arcy Norman, D’Arcy Norman Dot Net, 2016/02/09


D'Arcy Norman is looking for links to digital whiteboard software. I'm posting this here because I don't want to lose his Linky Linky summary.

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So You Just Bought an Arduino Starter Kit. What Now?
Joel Lee, MakeUseOf, 2016/02/09


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I think kits like this, properly done, are among the best learning tools out there. When I was a child you could buy crystal radio kits, but at $25 they were out of reach. Later I bought electronic components from Radio Shack (you actually had to provide your personal information to be allowed to do this) and messed around with LEDs and such, but I never knew what I was doing and mostly just burned out resistors. Having the parts you need, and some sense of what to do with them, is the ideal combination. And it is so useful to have a basic understanding of circuits and such, not because you'll ever build circuits in your future, but because it's a different way of thinking that doesn't really come up in other core subjects (engineering is like that too). Kids of the next generation will probably be tinkering with 'build-your-own-lifeform' kits. I envy them.

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Ed-Fi Alliance Releases Technology Suite to More Simply Connect Educational Systems
Press Release, Ed-Fi Alliance, 2016/02/09


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Some interesting developments on the tech side. A couple of weeks ago, "the non-profit Ed-Fi Alliance, announced the public release of the Ed-Fi Implementation Suite 2.0, a set of pre-built technology components that allow education agencies to develop and maintain integrated education data systems in their local or district-controlled IT environments." Today, that same organization announced an agreement with IMS Global to "take a unified approach to rostering so that school districts across the U.S. have the ability to allow class lists/rosters and basic student and teacher information to flow easily and securely among data systems and learning technology." This supports IMS's oneRoster specification, "One set of file formats and RESTful web services to exchange roster information." Obviously the combined impact of these announcements is that student information will be spread over the four winds to thousands of vendors, so it's not surprising to see Ed-Fi visit the subject of privacy on numerous occasions in its previous announcements.

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When the scaffolding shifts under your feet
Giulia Forsythe, G-LOG, 2016/02/09


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Is this true? Sean Michael Morris writes "Any effort on my part to scaffold (and effort to scaffold learning at all) would be colonial, patriarchal, and disempowering." It's a challenge that flies in the face of the educational enterprise as a whole (and especially the learner-empowering constructivists who employ scaffolding as a proxy for didacticism). Yet at the same time, it feels wrong to say that the act of providing support is inherently disempowering. Clearly there are different versions of what is meant by 'scaffolding': Giulia Forsythe writes "I thought of the many times I’ve used scaffolding as a metaphor for good teaching in many of my visual notes. None of the examples in the twitter debate used it the way I’ve imagined it. There are hanging gallows and references to stages." My rule is this: forget the definitions, and if the people who have the least privilege argue that my support is disempowering, then I listen, but if the people making the case are the most privileged, then I wonder why they want me to cease my support.

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It’s not Cyberspace anymore
Danah Boyd, Points, 2016/02/09


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Dana boyd has a short but effective 'Fear and Loathing in Davos' moment in this article laamenting the passing of John Perry Barlow's 'A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace' into a regime where "not only was everyone attached to their iPhones and Androids, but companies like Salesforce and Palantir and Facebook took over storefronts." Sure. It was Davos. What did she expect? "We all imagined that the Internet would be the great equalizer," writes boyd, "but it hasn’t panned out that way. Only days before the Annual Meeting began, news media reported that the World Bank found that the Internet has had a role in rising inequality." Twenty years ago when Perry Barlow wrote his declaration, we didn't trust the traditional media. We still shouldn't. "Digital dividends — growth, jobs and services — have lagged behind,” writes the New York Times. Is that the fault of the internet? Or is it the fault of the club at Davos? But here's the thing: there never was a 'cyberspace' as imagined by John Perry Barlow. I said so at the time. Some of is - a lot of us - understood that to build a better future you have to spend a lifetime building that future, not a weekend waging revolution. And you can't do that at Davos.

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The Internet is a Global Public Resource
Mark Surman, Mozilla Blog, 2016/02/09


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The Mozilla Foundation's Mark Surman writes a longish post describing access to the internet as a basic right, akin to access to food, water or shelter. On the eve of India's decision to prevent Facebook from creating its own proprietary version of he internet, his thoughts carry additional weight. "When in comes to the health of the Internet," writes Surman, "it’s like we’re back in the 1950s. A number of us have been talking about the Internet’s fragile state for decades—Mozilla, the EFF, Snowden, Access, the ACLU, and many more. All of us can tell a clear story of why the open Internet matters and what the threats are." It's hard to see the internet as being as important as water. But I'd rank it up there with freedom of the press or freedom of the speech.

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Education as a Political Institution
Bertrand Russell, The Atlantic, 2016/02/09


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Bertrand Russell: "The prevention of free inquiry is unavoidable so long as the purpose of education is to produce belief rather than thought, to compel the young to hold positive opinions on doubtful matters rather than to let them see the doubtfulness and be encouraged to independence of mind." Via Adam Goldberg. Image: India Times.

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MUN cancels 1,700 journals, as national association says libraries in 'crisis'
Laura Howells, CBC News, 2016/02/08


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Canada's Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) reports that "Journal publishers increase their price by five to 15 per cent each year." This is "compounded by the fact that MUN pays for 85 per cent of its journals in U.S. dollars." The two factors combined make journal subscriptions prohibitive. According to this report, "The Canadian Association of Research Libraries issued a statement Wednesday calling the situation a 'crisis.'" And yet - there are open access solutions. The mystery is why the universities (and especially their academic staff) will not embrace them. Forget about asking publishers to change, and forget about asking for more money to pay for subscriptions. "These publishers make profit margins of up to 40 per cent, since the authors of articles are not paid and online journals cost virtually nothing to reproduce."

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AutismFather is creating A Safe Minecraft Community for Children with Autism
Stuart Duncan, Patreon, 2016/02/09


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This is a fundraising page (where people pledge to contribute monthly, rather than one large donation all at once) for a Minecraft community that has been created for children with autism, Autcraft (Facebook). "He set up a server for kids like his to play Minecraft in a safe space," writes a longtime reader. "The Autcraft server is the only place of its kind in cyberspace -- other Minecraft servers for children with autism have come and gone since his was started in 2013. Autcraft now has over 5000 members -- and no money." Hence the fundraising initiative.

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Report: Make Textbooks Affordable
Ethan Senack, Robert Donoghue, Student PIRGs, 2016/02/08


I'll just quote the key findings from this report (24 page PDF) and let them speak for themselves:

  • Almost one-third (30%) of students replied that they had used financial aid to pay for their textbooks.
  • For those that used financial aid, the amount of financial aid dollars they put toward purchasing textbooks was more than $300 on average per semester.
  • Textbook prices disproportionately impact community college students.

None of this is any surprise; what is surprising is that we've just allowed the problem to continue to exist, even in the internet age when free or nearly free content should be almost a given.

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OpenStax already saved students $39 million this academic year
Press Release, Rice University, 2016/02/08


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The data is coming in, and it is as expected: open access saves students money. "Free textbooks from Rice University-based publisher OpenStax are now in use at one-in-five degree-granting U.S. colleges and universities and have already saved college students $39 million in the 2015-16 academic year." It's the same lesson learned from the BC Campus open textbook project, which has saved more than a million dollars for British Columbia students. The OpenStax library is the outcome of Rice University's Connexions project.

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Creating an Infrastructure for Open Access
Barbara Fister, Inside Higher Ed, 2016/02/08


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According to Barbara Fister, Rebecca Kennison and Lisa Norberg have come up with a plan "to build a new system for funding humanities and social sciences publishing that would make it open to all while preserving it for the future." The idea is that all academic institutions would contribute to a common fund that would pay for the publications. They point to the benefit of this model to universities by pointing out that "our graduates are currently shut out of the expensive resources that institutions provide to currently enrolled students at great expense. Wouldn't they be happier if that funding meant they had continual access?" It would make me happier. And ultimately institutions would reallocate their acquisition budgets to the support of open publishing, and help secure their position in society by providing for the common good.

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The OA Interviews: Kamila Markram, CEO and Co-Founder of Frontiers
Richard Poynder, Open, Shut?, 2016/02/08


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Frontiers began as a "researcher-led initiative envisaged as being 'by scientists, for scientists' the mission of Frontiers was to create a 'community-oriented open access scholarly publisher and social networking platform for researchers.'" After flirting with various business models (even including a business methods patent) it seems to have settled on a sustainable, if sketchy, existence based on publication fees. This article is a fascinating overview, and as a bonus there's a link to a full interview with Frontiers CEO and co-founder Kamila Markram (pictured) at the end.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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