9 Unit summary

The course on which this unit is based was the Open University's first release of archived course material into the commons in April 2005. It was then withdrawn with the intention of releasing it again once the OpenLearn project was established. I can only apologise for the delay in getting it out again. Thanks for your patience, especially those of you who have emailed me regularly from various corners of the world wondering when the course would be up again. Now it is over to you in the spirit of OpenLearn and ccLearn to use, share, re-use, adapt and share again.

We will not be updating the unit regularly as we did when it formed an active part of our undergraduate curriculum, but John and I regularly write about any updates to cases, for example, at our respective blogs, http://memex.naughtons.org/ and http://b2fxxx.blogspot.com/. Nevertheless, should it prove useful and fruitful to do so, we may review the decision not to update here and perhaps there is some mileage in exploring a Wiki format for the course material.

"The thing that troubles us about the industrial economy is that it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend, and that it is dependent upon much that it does not understand."

(Wendell Berry)

Now you have completed this unit, you should be able to:

  • understand the value of a ‘commons’ or ‘free’ resources in facilitating innovation and creativity;

  • understand the four main influences or constraints on behaviour – law, social norms, architecture and market forces;

  • understand the particular importance of law and architecture to the future of the internet – developments in internet architecture backed up by powerful laws have serious implications for the future of ideas;

  • understand the three-layers model of the internet;

  • appreciate that the internet facilitated a lot of innovation;

  • appreciate some of the different factors which make the internet a catalyst for innovation, in particular:

    • the end-to-end architecture;
    • the regulation of the owners of the networks on which the Net runs (the phone companies);
    • the open code and protocols on which the Net is built;
    • the capacity of individuals to innovate/create;
  • appreciate the influence that the internet has had on commerce;

  • explain some legal concepts, such as ‘copyright’, in basic terms;

  • critically evaluate a range of perspectives on how the internet should be allowed to develop or be constrained.

This unit also set out to develop the practical, critical and analytical skills needed to participate confidently in debates about changes in law and technology and their wider implications for society. You should be able to:

  • critically analyse the material you read;

  • communicate about the social impact of, and policy making in relation to, the Net;

  • find, analyse and evaluate information on the World Wide Web;

  • apply theoretical concepts in the course to real examples.