Open as standard! But what does “open” mean?

Chelsea Hegner/ November 8, 2021/ Open Source, Unkategorisiert/ 0 comments

We encounter openness in various contexts: The German government wants to do more for open data, open source software is supposed to be better and literature is supposed to be accessible online through open access – what is actually behind this?

“We are open!”

When something is “open”, it expresses an idea, a conviction. At its core, openness is based on an egalitarian understanding of collaboration and thrives on the conviction of the quality of the many. In short, openness means that something is accessible, free and transparent. This is intended to enable, for example, more communality and accessibility. The idea comes from software development: software packages such as Microsoft Office have to be purchased, and fixing bugs in the software and developing new functions is the exclusive responsibility of Microsoft. The source code, in a sense the “blueprint” of the software, is secret. Open alternatives such as LibreOffice publish their source code so that bugs can be worked out and new functions can be programmed worldwide. With open software, the risk of viruses is minimized and costs kept low.

Free as in free speech, not as in free beer

Open does not necessarily mean that something is free. Rather, it’s about being able to make better use of data and media: Take the example of open science. Behind the term is a scientific practice in which access to scientific publications, research data and software is facilitated through collaboration – with the simple aim of advancing research. Quality assurance and improved information supply are just some of the keywords when it comes to sharing research data worldwide. This process encompasses a whole range of implementation possibilities: from publishing lab reports and datasets in open networks, to making scientific materials available as open resources, to opening up scientific processes to the public. However, if all this is done under the condition of dissemination and copying, the question arises as to how intellectual property can nevertheless be protected.

How can this be compatible with data protection?

Openness as a lived ideal clearly excludes an obligation to freely use one’s own data and media. Everyone should decide for themselves to what extent something can be used. This is made possible by Creative Commons licenses (by the way, the copyright symbol is not legally valid in Germany!): Different license categories specify, for example, whether something may be used for commercial purposes, whether something may be multiplied, or whether the source must be named.

Data security, comprehensibility and transparency, but above all the topics of accessibility, barrier-free access and flexibility guide the complex OPEN.

What does that mean?

In schools, for example, teaching materials can be improved by teachers sharing their lesson plans, proofreading each other’s work, expanding assignments or adapting them to age groups. In this way, the same subject matter can be taught better and better, instead of having to start from scratch every time to prepare a lesson. The key here is not just to use the findings of others for your own purposes, but to contribute something yourself. The digital transformation that everyone is talking about does not simply mean that texts are being digitized and more computers are being used in schools. Rather, it is accompanied by an essential change in values that relates to various professions, but also strongly to personal attitudes. Therefore, an awareness of digital events and a critical reflection with current topics around media and digitization are of great importance.

A look into the future

For sustainable societies, the following will apply: Openness as the fundamental engine of all social practices.

Open is innovative because it always creates new spaces for collaboration, and open is disruptive because it always overturns established ways, systems and structures. Openness is the real core competence of the so-called “21st century skills.” As a social practice, openness is always political, never private. Especially not when we are increasingly talking about topics like quantancomputing and artificial intelligence, open data and borderless data traffic. When we talk about promoting digital education, this alone is far from sufficient, because simply transferring educational resources and processes from analog to digital in fact builds up barriers to competence and in many cases makes access to education more difficult due to the predominantly profit-oriented offerings.

In order to advance free access to knowledge, political and economic incentives are needed to place open access software, open education and open science at the center of education policy action. UNESCO put the topic of OER on its agenda a long time ago, and the EU should do the same. At OESA, we see ourselves as an independent institution for which openness is a top priority and we drive it as part of our work.

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