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September 15 2010


open-education - The University of Utopia

Opening Education Beyond the Property Relation: From Commons to Communism.

Paper accepted for the Open Education Conference 2010

Download PDF version


Open Education, and specifically the OER movement, seeks to provide universal access to knowledge, undermining the historical enclosure and the increasing privatisation of the public education system. In this paper we examine this aspiration by submitting the implicit theoretical assumptions of Open Education to the test of critical political economy. We acknowledge the Open Education movement's revolutionary potential but outline the inherent limitations of its current focus on the commons (property relations) rather than the social relations of capitalist production (wage work, the company) and because of this, argue that it will only achieve limited, rather than revolutionary, impact.


The opening of education beyond the property relation is distinguished by two terms that are often used interchangeably, yet retain subtle differences: Open Education and Open Educational Resources.

Open Education refers to recent efforts by individuals and organisations across the world to use the Internet to share knowledge, ideas, teaching practices, infrastructure, tools and resources, inside and outside formal educational settings. Through collaboration and experimentation, new pedagogies and curricula are emerging. Although the term Open Education has been used since the 1960s, the current dominant use of the term refers to co-ordinated efforts during the past decade to exploit the growing availability of personal computers and increasingly ubiquitous high speed networks.

Open Educational Resources (OER) refers to both the worldwide community effort to create an educational commons and the actual “educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses to re-mix, improve and redistribute” (Wikipedia). Typically, those resources are made available under a Creative Commons license and include both learning resources and tools by which those resources are created, managed and disseminated. As both a means of protecting and liberating research, teaching and learning materials, OER relies heavily on the use of open licenses, all of which are in one way or another derived from the General Public License (GPL) and Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) licenses first created in 1989. Since the 1990s, software has been created and distributed using such licenses and it is widely acknowledged that Creative Commons was inspired by, and drew experience from, the use of open licenses in the world of software.


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