What is Open Content?


The movement toward open content reflects a growing shift in the way academics in many parts of the world are conceptualizing education to a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed in their courses. Information is everywhere; the challenge is to make effective use of it. Open content embraces not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of instructional practice and experiences as well. Part of the appeal of open content is that it is also a response to both the rising costs of traditionally published resources and the lack of educational resources in some regions. It presents a cost-effective alternative to textbooks and other materials. As customizable educational content — and insights about how to teach and learn with it — is increasingly made available for free over the Internet, students are learning not only the material, but also skills related to finding, evaluating, interpreting, and repurposing the resources they are studying in partnership with their teachers.

Open content, as described here, has its roots in a number of seminal efforts, including the Open Content Project, MIT’s Open Courseware Initiative (OCW), the Open Knowledge Foundation, and work by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and others. Many of these projects focused on creating collections of sharable resources and on devising licenses and metadata schemata. The groundswell of interest in open content described here is differentiated from early work by its primary focus on the use of open content and its place in the curriculum. The role of open content producers has evolved as well, away from the idea of authoritative repositories of content and towards the broader notion of content being both free and ubiquitous.

INSTRUCTIONS: Enter your responses to the questions below. This is most easily done by moving your cursor to the end of the last item and pressing RETURN to create a new bullet point. Please include URLs whenever you can (full URLs will automatically be turned into hyperlinks; please type them out rather than using the linking tools in the toolbar).

Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - Sam Sam Jul 21, 2011

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • For example, there is a course on the Open University on the French Romantic painter, Delacroix: http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=397141&direct=1 Why not link to this site from the Louvre site? Why not encourage those looking to learn more about Delacroix visiting the Louvre to have a look at these great learning resources? Perhaps the museum could even reward those who have taken the course with free admission etc and deputize them in some way to help visitors to the museum learn about Delacroix? Why not use the Louvre's resources of high quality images and curatorial expertise to enhance the OU course? - beth.harris beth.harris Aug 16, 2011
  • If spreading knowledge, as well as generating new one, are among museums’ missions, then opening the use, mix and reuse of the data about collections is, in our current digital world of sharing and cocreating, nothing more than a logical step in fulfillig this mission that should be encouraged - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 25, 2011
  • Relevant to virtually all museums, the connection between providing open content and serving institutional mission may be especially evident in the case of university museums; for a timely case in point, see below under (4) re: Yale's recent exemplary move in this direction. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 29, 2011

If the vast storehouse of knowledge in museum collections of all kinds are to be accessible to the broadest possible audiences, then I believe the embrace of open content is a necessary step, as challenging as it will be to many museums. Yale is a good example; other museums are also working to these ends. I believe that the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walters Art Museum, and the Walker are three other examples. - marsha.semmel marsha.semmel Aug 30, 2011
  • - erin.coburn erin.coburn Aug 31, 2011 This is a really important issue for museums. I interpret open content as open data; this is a separate issue, in my opinion, from open access to public domain images -- although equally important. Beth describes open content quite well throughout this section. Museums have a responsibility to create access to their collections. Mission statements often talk about encouraging the study of art, advancing knowledge, and being in the service of the public. Open content is about facilitating this. But this means museums opening up metadata, as well as descriptive and interpretative content on their collection for people to do whatever they want with it. Opening up content could produce fantastic educational resources, it could also mean someone producing an app or a book with museum content. - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 +1

  • Great points, Erin. I think this item might benefit from clarification of scope and focus (if providing legally unencumbered, open access to images of works in the public domain is out of scope here, my comments on Yale probably aren't relevant). Three candidate technologies this year may make up a kind of linked chain, with meaningful domains of overlap or connection: Alternative Licensing --> (?overlapping re: open-access images with) --> Open Content --> (?overlapping, or at least connecting, via Open Data with) --> Semantic Web. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 31, 2011 I agree, Rob. I think it's difficult to separate alternative licensing from open content, and it's certainly a short leap (as Erin suggests) from open content to full-on Linked Open Data. - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 - susan.chun susan.chun Sep 1, 2011It would be silly to disagree with anyone who has chimed in here, but I think that Koven's note about the relationship of open content/open data/alternative licensing/semantic web technologies, traditions, and methods is especially important in defining the landscape as it will most likely evolve, which is what we're trying to do here. Agree too that while fully open linked data and images is desirable, it seems to me unlikely that we'll get there within the time frame for the Report, which makes treating this subject with the kind of nuance and flexibility that is suggested by most of the contributors on this page essential. I'm encouraged by signs that the community is beginning to understand that "open" isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. At the recent LOD-LAM summit in San Francisco, the participants developed a 4-star classification scheme that ranks open data on a scale and also describes the relative value for the publisher of data of different levels of openness: http://lod-lam.net/summit/2011/06/06/proposed-a-4-star-classification-scheme-for-linked-open-cultural-metadata/.

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • It seems to me that museums have been creating "open content" for years - if we define that as freely available, high quality, educational material produced by content experts. Some define "open content" or "open educational resources" as free educational content that carries a creative commons license. On wikipedia, OER's are defined as "digital materials that can be re-used for teaching, learning, research and more, made available for free through open licenses, which allow uses of the materials that would not be easily permitted under copyright alone." And yet, museum content is not available under a creative commons (or other) license, and museums never feature in discussions of OERs and open content. Bridging the gap between the OER/Open Content community and the museum community would be an important initiative I think. There may also be ways for learners to organize around the content on museum websites at social learning communities like OpenStudy. Obviously, Museums used to have a monopoly more or less on publishing content on their collections, but now that publishing is free, that's no longer true. Museums should embrace and encourage the volunteer academic content creators. - beth.harris beth.harris Aug 16, 2011 Right on. - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011
  • Absolutely agree wiht Beth's contribution. From the above description a clear reference to Open Data is missing - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 25, 2011
  • and I also would include under the Open Content umbrella a reference to the growing (and needed!) cooperation between museums and Wikipedia. Museus owning the expertise and the objects, Wikipedia having the volounteers force plus a worldwide reach, two worlds running parallel until recently (when not missunderstanding each other), now starting to fruitfully cooperate in benefit of the users. See GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums):http://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/GLAM
    and
    http://www.slideshare.net/museupicassobarcelona/museums-and-wikipedia-museu-picasso
    - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 26, 2011
  • Another perspective here.
  • I so agree with Beth and Conxa and actually see this as one of the museum's main challenges in the near future. Museums have been sitting in their silos for long enough - susan.hazan susan.hazan Aug 27, 2011
  • I also agree with Conxa and Beth that open content, alternative licensing, and making museum content easily transferrable/exportable to other platforms are intimately tied to one another and are critical for museums wishing to remain relevant in an information economy. - dana.allen-greil dana.allen-greil Aug 31, 2011
  • - erin.coburn erin.coburn Aug 31, 2011 Completely agree with Beth. Two additional themes: what museum content should be open, and what constitutes a museum's intellectual property; and second, how should we be creating access (e.g. linked open data; harvesting, APIs, downloads, etc.).
  • I agree with Erin, particularly around the issue of intellectual property. The concept of open data really challenges museums' traditional notions of what content ownership really means. Even just the idea of "our collection" in the digital realm doesn't really have meaning when I can combine, recombine, and slice up collections from multiple institutions on my institution's own website. - koven.smith koven.smith Aug 31, 2011 - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Sep 1, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Open Content has the potential to open up interpretations from various scholars and experts, and the museum can be a platform for aggregation and publishing of differing interpretations, so that, for example, art history (and the curatorial voice of the museum) can be shown to not be monolithic. - beth.harris beth.harris Aug 16, 2011 Agree - erin.coburn erin.coburn Aug 31, 2011 Yes. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 31, 2011
  • An open policy of museum data use means conferring these a quality of real social goods (which they are, indeed). To free texts, photos, audiovisual material is not, of course, exempt of copyright issues, but there exists a huge area where to harvest data open availability. I believe Open Government is on his way to museums. Public museums will probably lead the way. - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 25, 2011
  • Specific cooperation with wikipedia means for museums to guarantee the quality of museum interpretations and museum-object related info plus an impressive broadening of the reach of their content. - conxa.roda conxa.roda Aug 26, 2011
  • There are a few challenges to be considerate of. Obviously the effort involved in adequately documenting content so it is re-usable across platforms. In order to justify that workload, museums need to make the case that their content is exponentially more useful to its publics when they can find it where they are looking for it--whether that is Wikipedia, a collections aggregator, etc. This means that museums must be comfortable letting go of control that they are used to when operating only with their own websites and platforms. It also means that we need to continue the kind of work that is being done with Wikipedia et al. to partner and work together in way that is mutually beneficial. - dana.allen-greil dana.allen-greil Aug 31, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?


  • Another point here

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