Web-based education limited by publishers' restrictions

04/01/04

Publishers rather than course directors could end up determining the core content of medical web-based courses, according to an article published this week in BMC Medical Education. Studies published in Open Access journals, or in journals with well-organised and liberal permissions policies are more likely to make it onto course reading lists.

In the study, Michele Langlois and her colleagues describe their experiences of developing a web-based Masters programme in Population Health Evidence at the University of Manchester. They found that it took a long time to secure publishers' permission to reproduce articles or article extracts on either a CD-ROM or a secure server.

Only half of the publishers approached were wiling to grant permission to store electronic versions of articles without levying charges additional to the institution's journal subscription. Fewer than 60% of publishers granted permission to reproduce extracts of published work at no fee.

The authors write: "There may be a tendency for web-based course providers and universities to favour readily available 'one-click' resources. The dissemination of original research may therefore be disadvantaged by factors other than its intrinsic validity and relevance."

Although the course leaders did secure permission to provide free access to 75% of the full-text articles and 80% of the extracts they chose as required reading, some publishers requested fees from 50 pence to GBP15 per student to reproduce extracts. The negotiations with publishers took between one day and six months, and several of the publishers never responded to the authors' enquiries.

"Considerable resource costs were incurred by the exercise," write the authors. These included the time it took course organisers to identify who held responsibility for permission requests at the publishers, to chase up requests, and to find alternative passages of text or full articles if permission was denied. Moreover, permission was often granted for one year only, so course organisers would have to repeat the whole procedure on an annual basis.

The authors suggest that, "these resource costs could be minimised for both parties if publishing houses would openly and clearly state on their websites their current permissions policy for various requests, along with contact details for these requests." They continue: "After the experiences encountered during this process, we encourage and support Open Access initiatives."

According to the authors: "Web-based delivery of educational programmes is becoming increasingly popular and is expected to expand, especially in medicine. The successful implementation of these programmes is reliant on their ability to provide access to web based materials, including high quality published work"

They conclude: "We would like higher educational libraries' electronic journal subscriptions to either enable a method to allow simple access to individual articles or, if this is not possible, the ability to store on the institution's server a copy for password protected access by students without incurring additional charges."

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This press release is based on the following article:

Restrictions impeding web-based courses: a survey of publishers' variation in authorising access to high quality on-line literature
Michele Langlois, Richard Heller, Richard Edwards, Georgios Lyratzopoulos and John Sandars
BMC Medical Education 2004, 4:7
To be published Wednesday 7 April 2004

Upon publication this article will be available free of charge according to BMC Medical Education's Open Access policy at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6920/4/7/

Please quote the journal name in any stories you write, and link to the article if you are writing for the web.

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For further information about this research contact Michele Langois by email at Michele.Langlois@man.ac.uk or by phone on 44-161-275-1612, or contact Professor Richard Heller on 44-161-275-7718 or by email at dick.heller@man.ac.uk.

Alternatively, or for more information about BMC Medical Education or Open Access publishing, contact Gemma Bradley by phone on 44-207-323-0323 or by email at press@biomedcentral.com

Source: Eurekalert & others

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