Access Is Not The Same As Ownership: Retaining the Fifth R

2 min read

Darren Draper has a post summarizing some thoughts on David Wiley's proposal for a fifth "R". Both David's and Darren's posts provide context around what I'm writing here.

Textbook rental companies are sprouting like weeds. Publishers have done this to themselves, by positioning themselves as gatekeepers and selling for as high a price as possible. Most of the large textbook companies, like Pearson, have engaged in some strategic moves that blunt some of the impact of textbook rentals. These strategies - openwashing, and diversification into student records, accountability reporting, adaptive learning, and credit recovery, allow them to embed sales of their content under a veneer of "21st Century Learning."

However, the need for the ability to retain access to material we pay for can be seen anywhere these services are used. For example, under the terms of the Los Angeles Unified School District contract with Pearson, the district is spending millions of dollars to lease professional development material. When the contract is up, the content goes away. Similarly, when college students rent a digital version of a text, they lose access at the end of the rental period.

If there was a compelling technical reason why access needed to be revoked, this would be a different conversation. But there is no technical reason driving expiration dates on content. Publishing companies are attempting to sell us on the idea that our access to information should be constrained for their need for a business model. Without a focus on the right to retain access, we reduce our options. Four years ago, when Amazon defined irony by removing copies of 1984 from people's devices, there was some outcry. We haven't made much progress - in terms of our rights to retain the material to which we have access - since then. By recognizing the right to retain our access to the tools from which we learn, we situate control where it should be: with the learner, and their inquiry.

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