A Practical (and Real) Question About CC-NC

The oer-community list is still buzzing about whether CC-NC is a good thing for openness or not. I thought I might ask a question that gives the conversation context and actually is a question that I am truly considering at this moment.


I’ve been interested in hybrid MOOC/F2F designs for a long while. Initially I thought I’d use Coursera courses, wrap some face to face instruction and project-based learning around them, and see how students liked it.

It turned out that you’re not not allowed to do that with Coursera courses. And while other MOOC providers may be marginally better on this front, on the whole current corporate xMOOCs are what Wiley used to call anti-BOGO — when you Buy One (even when you buy it by selling Coursera your eyeballs), you don’t *really* Get One. You’re not free to make the modifications you need to make to make it useful to your institution, or even your personal context.

The reason these rights (for example, the right to base a face-to-face class around a MOOC, or the students right to use an xMOOC as part of a class) are not granted by Coursera is likely that Coursera wants to charge non-profit institutions for these rights. So Coursera, in this model, becomes sort of like a textbook publisher, selling services to universities. And we get the same BOGO problem we had with textbooks, except now it’s embedded even deeper into our model.


Ultimately, though, this is a solvable problem. The same way we have a OpenCourseWare Consortium today, we could form an OpenCourse Consortium — a group of universities and colleges committed to making our own damn xMOOCs. Ones that obey open principles, and allow other institutions to build and innovate on them at no charge. Thus we avoid the meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss silliness that we seem to be headed toward where we replace a destructive dependence on textbook publishers with a destructive dependence on Coursera, and this opens up a new age of online course innovation, one that happens not just in for-profit companies, but on every campus that decides to remix an open xMOOC architecture and make something brilliant.

The way I am seeing these are as course architectures — a Common Cartridge export of videos, questions, assessments, activities and discussions that anyone can import into an LMS and run an xMOOC.

Great. Now, question: What license do we put on these Open xMOOC things (isn’t it sad we need that redundancy? “Open” xMOOC?).

So, should they be CC-BY-SA? Or CC-NC-SA?

My initial thoughts

I was going to write my initial thoughts here, but in thinking about it, I realize how fast it gets complex. So let me just say that I gravitate to the NC for one main reason.

Say Coursera is offering 300 courses. And let’s say my tiny band of rabble-rousers puts together 50 courses.

Here’s what I’d do if I was Coursera — I’d say thanks very much, we’ll add those 50 courses to our collection, and now we have everything you have, plus 300 more courses of our own. What’s more, I’d say (again, as Coursera) we’re licensing these under the same anti-BOGO terms.

So the more successful we are at developing truly open xMOOCs, the bigger Coursera’s catalog gets. And when institutions decide whether they are going to use truly open materials or go with Coursera — they are going to go with Coursera purely on breadth of offering.

Eventually my consortium crumbles, because people notice that none of our stuff is getting used except through Coursera, so why the heck are we not getting a cut of the Coursera money? And people fold up their Open xMOOC projects, and sign contracts with Coursera. And the free option dies.

OK, so tell me — why am I wrong here?

5 thoughts on “A Practical (and Real) Question About CC-NC

  1. I develop open courses on Wikiversity, and legitimately link them from relevant wikipedia pages. I also create texts for these courses on Wikibooks, make sure the linked Wikipedia articles are up to scratch, and arrange all the media on Wikimedia Commons. I think its fair to say that Wikipedia is by far the most successful OER type project on the web, and that Commons, Books and Versity are on a similar path.

    You slap a NC restriction on your work, I can’t use it in my space. Simple as that. All because you were worried some fly by night, inconsequential-piss-ant Coursera was going to ‘steal’ your work. You go with SA, then Cousera must use that also, and I’ll copy it from them, and put it in a more meaningful space then you both together 😉

  2. I thinks it’s a bit of a misleading question. If you are really building a course in the open ed space, you are going to want to do it with a variety of resources, many of which will have different licenses. What we need are practices that allow us to work with multiple licenses rather than finding religion around a single choice built into a single platform. This is what we are trying to model with the Mechanical MOOC (http://mechanicalmooc.org). The core instructions for the course are posted on a blog under our preferred license (cc-by), and then we link out to the resources we want to use, which exist under their own license conditions (2 are cc-by-nc-sa and one is all rights reserved). This way we’re truly leveraging what’s out there, sharing as much as we can as openly as we can, and allowing the component parts of the courses to exist under the licenses and business models they choose.

  3. I’m revisiting this because Coursera is using NC creative commons stuff in the EDCMOOC. Surely if NC is not allowed for Wikiversity, it’s not allowed for Coursera?

    • Perhaps they licensed it separately? If not, I’d be curious of the interpretation as well. Is the stuff they are using NC-SA? If so, is their typical ToS enforcable?

      The Wikiversity issue is slightly different, b/c Wikiversity is trying to make sure there are *no* restrictions on reuse, so the NC is *too* restrictive…

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