There are many resources on the Internet dedicated to open educational resources. Some are sites, for example Curriki, that provide online communities for sharing such resources. Others are search sites such as CC Search that provide links to open licensed resources throughout the Internet. The one variant that I have not yet found is a Torrent site dedicated to open educational resources.
A torrent, or more accurately a BitTorrent, is a decentralized peer to peer file sharing network protocol that is very effective for quickly moving large amounts of data across the Internet. A user, known as a seeder, who wishes to share a file must have a torrent client. Then they submit their information to a tracker, a site that coordinates the file sharing. Through the client and the tracker, a user makes the file available to others users to download. In turn, those who have downloaded the file share the file as well. The files are hosted on each individual’s hard drive rather than a central point. Once enough users have downloaded the file (and become seeders), data transmission can be very rapid.
Torrents tend to have a bad reputation because they are often used to share pirated software, music, and movies. Illegal sharing of textbooks is becoming more prevalent and has been blamed for falling textbook sales and even the closing of campus bookstores. In fact, there are those that call for the systematic scanning of textbooks for sharing as a means of countering the outrageous prices of college texts.
This is not what I am talking about. It seems to me that decentralized peer to peer sharing could be a powerful tool for sharing and distributing open licensed education resources. It employs distributed resources and storage rather than a central repository.
One potential problem would be users sharing materials that are not appropriately licensed. This problem exists on other platforms as well. While perusing Curriki for a curriculum project, I encountered a number of resources that were of questionable or even clearly commercial copyright terms. Such an undertaking would require a diligent community that polices the available content.
Another problem is the temporary nature of availability of the content. Over time those sharing the file (seeders) tend to dry up making downloads slow or just unavailable.
I am not necessarily advocating the use of torrents for sharing open educational resources, but I find the possibility interesting. I am interested in hearing other’s thoughts on the matter.
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