Grad School Back in the Crosshairs

I signed up for my final two Master’s courses at George Washington University yesterday. I’ve waited two extra semesters for them to be available and they’re the last two courses for me. I look forward to having them finally done by mid-December and being able to concentrate what time I have for study entirely on doctoral work.

Speaking of, in an interesting twist to the story my prospective doctoral supervisor at the University of Pretoria isn’t at the University of Pretoria anymore. Johannes has taken up the post of Dean of Informatics at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town. I gather that as a university recently formed from the merger of the Cape Town area’s two technikons that CPUT isn’t as well known as the more established universities. However, Johannes seems keen to shift their emphasis from exclusively teaching to research, and he’s suggested I work their e-Innovation Academy, which is geared toward the intersection of technology, business, government, and society.

Conveniently, I’ll be in Cape Town next month for a meeting of OER practitioners sponsored by the Shuttleworth Foundation and by going a little early I get to meet Johannes in person and check out his new surroundings. It should be interesting!

Covering the Public Domain’s Back

One of the things I found surprising about international law was that it’s not always possible, or at least easy, for an author to place his or her work into the public domain. There are civil law countries in which so-called moral rights cannot be waived. This has been an issue for me, in that I wish to promote dedication to the public domain as the most practical way of releasing content that can be used, copied, distributed, and remixed without any possibility of conflict.

Now Dave Wiley of the OpenContent Foundation has proposed a license that reserves no rights at all. In other words, it’s a license the terms of which are functionally identical to a public domain dedication but with a completely different legal basis. While I’m not a lawyer, it seems to me that if other open licenses (such as those from Creative Commons) are valid throughout the world than this approach would be an ideal complement to a public domain dedication. For jurisdictions that recognize an author’s right to disclaim intellectual entitlements, the public domain dedication would apply. For those that do not, the license would take up the slack.

My only objection is that he’s referring to it as an “Open Education License”, stemming from his original intention to devise a license that would prevent incompatible copyleft provisions from keeping content segregated in separate unremixable silos. He’s right that this is a pressing issue for the open education movement, but I think that this license has much broader potential than for just educational materials, and hope that he ends up selecting a more generic name for it as discussion on the matter continues.

Excuse my French

There’s a lot of discussion in the free culture movement about the two definitions of “free” that we use to describe our work. Summarized well by Wikipedia, the definitions are often described as:

  1. “Free as in beer”, or gratis, where those using free content or software don’t have to pay any money to do so; and
  2. “Free as in freedom”, or libre, where those using free content or software have the right to make derivative works.

What I find interesting are the suggestions to use the words gratis and libre to make this differentiation clear. The argument is that it’s necessary to borrow these words from French because there aren’t separate words in English that denote these different meanings of freedom.

Whatever flaws the English language may have, however, a stilted vocabulary is not among them. Rather than import more words, why not simply use ones we already have? Specifically, I suggest that free as in beer can be described as costless, and free as in freedom can be described as unencumbered. They’re accurate, unambiguous, and already present in English. Let’s use them!