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Power to the People

I'm enormously excited to hear that the People's Open Access Education Initiative is taking off. PLoS will do all it can to support this project, which aims to "to build public health capacity in low- to middle-income countries, using open education resources freely available on the Internet."

For example, the initiative has already used PLoS Medicine's child health collection in its course module on child mortality.

In the December 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Richard Heller and colleagues, all of whom are involved in (the other name for the initiative), explain how the open source movement inspired them to provide online public health e-learning for free.

Such e-learning could, they say, help to train the global public health workforce of the future. India alone, for example, is going to need 10,000 graduates with a masters in public health over the next 10 years, yet the country's universities don't have the capacity to train all of them.

In a recent phone call with Richard Heller, he outlined his long term vision for, which is to eventually offer an accredited online masters in public health.

"In a partnership across the global and digital divides, the People’s Open Access Education Initiative ( has been established to embrace three aspects," write Heller and colleagues. "First, identifying open-access materials linked to the competences required to tackle public health problems, with subsequent modifications to the materials by teachers and students to reflect local issues. Second, teaching through online facilitation by volunteers in conjunction with members of local universities. Third, accrediting learned competences."

Recent developments, says Professor Heller, have included the launch of a pilot of a course module on maternal mortality which enrolled 36 people from 8 countries and was oversubscribed. The UK Royal Society of Health has offered considerable support, a UK Management Group and an International Advisory Group have been formed, and a number of people have volunteered to join the initiative.

"In order to keep costs low and to ensure sustainability, volunteerism is a key to the development and success of the initiative," says Professor Heller. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact him through the web site.

  1. Thank you Gavin for this accurate and supportive comment. The is an example of how to utilise Open Educational Resources, the educational equivalent of the movement for the open publishing of research – of which PloS is such an important leader. The way in which open access to education and to research findings might come together is very exciting, and I am delighted at the interest shown by Gavin for PloS. calls for volunteers to help us realise the goal of providing low cost and credible education for capacity-building in the ‘South’, through open education. We require those with content expertise in Public Health (for course module development and for contribution to on-line teaching) as well as for those from the scientific and health professional communities who do not necessarily have such expertise, but who are prepared to act as on-line facilitators or in other capacities.

  2. Good time of the day. Interesting thoughts…
    Some days ago I saw a movie, so story was also about education… And relevant to your story about PLoS…
    Film is about A moving tale about the power of the human spirit, Peaceful Warrior is based on Dan Millman’s perennially best-selling autobiographical novel, Way of the Peaceful Warrior. In the film, Scott Mechlowicz plays Dan, a talented-yet-arrogant college gymnast with Olympic dreams and a golden future. The athlete thinks he has it all: bookcases of trophies, endless friends, fast rides and disposable relationships. But all that is about to change. One day, Dan’s world is turned upside down after a chance meeting with a mysterious stranger he comes to know as Socrates (Nick Nolte)-a man who holds the power to tap into new worlds of strength and understanding. After he suffers a debilitating injury, with the mystical help of Socrates and an elusive young woman named Joy (Amy Smart), Dan will grow to realize that strength of spirit is what leads a man to his true greatness. From a screenplay by Kevin Bernhardt, Peaceful Warrior is directed by Victor Salva and produced by Mark Amin, Cami Winikoff, Robin Schorr and David Welch.

    You can find preview here: Peaceful Warrior

  3. ..When I began recommending that people quit using OpenContent licenses [PS: which Wiley developed] and begin using Creative Commons licenses, I said it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. And it was.

    Today I take the lid off the next most difficult thing I’ve done. As I describe below, I hate the idea of license proliferation. However, I feel that there are several convincing arguments that we need a new license at this point in the history of open content, and specifically in the history of open education….

    The four main types of activity enabled by open content can be summarized as “the four Rs”:
    Reuse – Use the work verbatim, just exactly as you found it
    Rework – Alter or transform the work so that it better meets your needs
    Remix – Combine the (verbatim or altered) work with other works to better meet your needs
    Redistribute – Share the verbatim work, the reworked work, or the remixed work with others….

    [W]hile copyleft strictly requires that all future generations of derivative works be free and open, copyleft significantly hinders the remix activity….

    While promoting rework at the expense of remix – in other words, taking the copyleft approach – is fine for software, it is problematic for content and extremely problematic for education….

    If we are serious about wanting the freedom to legally and frictionlessly remix educational materials, we have one of two choices: either ignore the OpenCourseWares, Wikipedia, and other copylefted open content of the world (i.e., work only with open content that isn’t copylefted), or forcibly constrain ourselves to one subset of the “open” content universe. Do you see the irony? …

    If the appropriate goal for a license is, as it appears, to make open content available without any restrictions, why not simply dedicate the works in question to the public domain? There are a number of problems with a public domain dedication….

    The purpose of the new license is to create a way for people to license their works in such a way that:
    applying the license is easy for authors and understanding the license is easy for users,
    engaging in any of the four Rs of open content can occur in a completely frictionless manner,
    the license imposes no restrictions on licensees, decreasing the chances of accidental discrimination against persons or groups, and
    remixing is well supported, so that licensed content is legally remixable with any other content to which the remixer has rights, whether (c), CC, GFDL, or differently licensed, decreasing license incompatibility problems….


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