An open letter to Dr. Joseph Henry Vogel, the University of Puerto Rico and THE WORLD

27 06 2012

I haven’t written anything for my blog in a year. But today, I couldn’t stay quiet so I let my mind, my fingers and my heart do what I felt was the best.

Today, I woke up with a devastating tweet via @msnbc: “Professor patents way to stop textbook sharing by students”. What the Digital Network explains in its article is that as a way to stem book piracy and ensure that publishers are paid this patent would require students to buy access codes with their textbooks to join in mandatory online discussion boards — and failure to participate would mean lower grades. But this is not the worst part, as a puertorican I feel so ashamed that this patent was made by Dr. Joseph Henry Vogel, member of the University of Puerto Rico’s faculty. Why the institution never talked about it? Not even when it had the press release on June 5!

On the other hand, I’m happy that this patent has not been put in practice yet although it is too soon to celebrate. The world is becoming extremely complex and hyperconnected, and with it, sharism – the philosophy of sharing knowledge and ideas – has become a new kind of society. Sharing content, says Bernadine Chuck Fung, is a first step in meeting the challenges of global education. But the more I try to understand the Higher Education system in Puerto Rico, the less I know it. This patent clashes with the reality of the digital world: OPENNESS. Terciary education communities must embrace the idea that sharism and being open not only is the future… it is the present we’re letting go.

Actually, the perfect example is the University of Puerto Rico. Where is it in the academic field, is it innovating? Can it compete with MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Kyoto University, Osaka University, Paris Tech, The Open University, Western Governors University and lots of other institutions? Most likely some people will say: “Yes, we have graduated students working at NASA”. But that is not the answer I’m looking for because that is not even the .005 percent. My questions are: Are we competing in the OPEN movement? Do we have Open Educational Resources or OpenCourseWare? Do we support the use of Open Textbooks or Open Content? What about Open Access Publishing and Open Media? Do we even let our students access courses they have already taken if they need some information they can’t remember? Being open and eager to deconstruct the educational system is a requisite to stand successful but when someone tries to innovate, a thousand obstacles come to his/her way.

Here are some more questions I want you to think about: Are we exposing ourselves to the world? Are we considering the role of technology and exploring solutions to critical economic challenges? Are we harnessing the power of sharing to become better citizens or are we overshadowed by pragmatism? Are we facilitating students the way they learn or just putting them into a box where they cannot be dissident of our thoughts because that’s what the textbook says? Are we going to continue being so arrogant to believe that remaining isolated will make us visible to the world? Or is it that publishers are going to save us using their greed? I don’t think so.

Everyone has the right to decide how open would like to be or if peer-to-peer culture will rule their lives, but please do not impose how locked up educational materials should be. Books not only should be open for distribution, they should be translated into different languages and they should be published in different formats for the plethora of devices available speeding up access to information and increasing the dissemination of ideas. This is why crowdsourcing exists, society is eager to do it and they are waiting for you. Authors like Hal Abelson, Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow, James Boyle and Eric Von Hippel, among others are witnesses of this shift. Plus, Dr. David Wiley makes an incredible reflection about the college textbook market.

Professor Vogel, I know as a fact that as an economist you have a lot of positive things to give out to the academic community, our island and the whole world. Tuition is ridiculously expensive for the crumbs it offers, do not contribute to the academic delusion. It is hard to believe that some universities still monetize scarcity through oligarchies when superabundance reigns. Both publishers and authors have to come to grips with the times they are living. Students will not find knowledge in just one book, they have the entire world to ask what they want, socialize, interchange thoughts, materials and this potential DOES personalize education.

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