Questions for Week 9 of the Introduction to Open Education Course for the book The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman:
What can the open education movement learn from the book you chose to read?
Harnessing the Power of Communities: Friedman lists bottom-up and self-organized community development as his "Flattener #4". He uses open source software development to describe the notion of "Community-Developed Answers" (see page112). This bottom-up and self-organized community development process parallels the open education movement. In addition, it helps to explain how an open educational model can be sustained.
Open educational content is often described in terms of pieces of information created by an author (or group of authors) for an audience. However, in a flat and open world, it is important to think about how these pieces fit together, how the users contribute, and how the loose pieces influence each other. Instead of thinking of a global community "collaborating" on an "answer", Friedman describes a network of individuals connecting around common interests. In contrast, collaboration implies members of a group working toward a single goal. However, in the communities Friedman describes, each person brings individual contributions to the network based on individual needs and interests. While they may interact and in turn support each other, they are not necessarily focused on achievement of the same goal or for a specific outside audience.
This last point is an important one with respect to the open education movement and something I did not fully appreciate when preparing last week's post for this course. I made the observation that a producer driven model (that does not contemplate the needs of the end user) cannot be sustained. However, after reading David Wiley's blog post Producers, Consumers and Reuse and Friedman's observations about how global communities work, I have re-thought my observations about producer driven open education models. Contrary to my assertions last week, a producer driven model is created for an important end user .... the producer. As David Wiley notes:
"... every good work of open source software begins life as a producer-driven work ... The secret sauce in both the cases of the good open source software and the good OER is an actual, bias-riddled, context-bound, historical person located squarely in a concrete place and time addressing their own specific instructional problem."
Therefore, while not guaranteed, it is likely that those with common or shared interests will benefit, but not necessarily in the same manner, for the same purpose, or to fulfill the same need. That is the beauty of a flat and open world that I had not fully appreciated. While I may benefit from reading and interacting with another person's work, it may be for either the same or an entirely different reason. Contrary to my post from last week, not being preoccupied with the needs and concerns of the broader audience may be a good thing for the sustainability of open education. Go figure?!
Who owns What?: As part of what Friedman calls "The Great Sorting Out", "ownership" of intellectual property is going to get messier as the world get flatter. On page 253, he asks the following questions about intellectual property rights which are equally applicable to the copyright issues involving open educational content that we covered during Weeks 6 and 7:
"How do we build legal barriers to protect an innovator's intellectual property so he or she can reap its financial benefits and apply those profits into a new invention? And from the other side, how do we keep walls low enough so that we encourage the sharing of intellectual property, which is required more and more to do cutting-edge innovations?
As I noted during my reflection in Week 6, licensing of open educational content involves this trade-off between the needs of the individual and the needs of society to use and build off the original works. This sentiment was echoed in a quote on page 253 from IBM's chairman in which he states his belief that there needs to be a "new path forward" with regard to intellectual property rights; one that both protects the interests of creators, but also protects the communities who use and add to the innovation. While issues of copyright and ownership seem on the surface to be nuisance issues, they are unfortunately very critical to the openness of our ever more connected world and Friedman drives this point home.
Unfortunately, Friedman doesn't offer an answer to these complex questions. At the end of this section of the book, he begs, "Somebody, please, sort all this out." This is the same feeling I was left with after reading through the materials for Weeks 6 and 7. While Creative Commons is typically held up as the answer, it is not a silver bullet solution. Incompatibility across the various licenses and author imposed restrictions prevent a completely free flow of information. While Creative Commons licensing may help us get more works into the pipeline, I wonder if it provides the ultimate solution that Friedman seeks?
The Quiet Crisis - Friedman speaks of the gaps in education, infrastructure, and ambitions as America's "Dirty Little Secret" within Chapter 8. Friedman's answer is "compassionate flatism" which he describes on page 364. He assumes that the world will continue to get flatter, so we should capitalize on it rather than to fight it or keep on doing what we've been doing. Of the five prongs to his compassionate flatism approach, the following are the most applicable to open education:
"We cannot guarantee you any lifetime employment. But we can guarantee you that we will concentrate on giving you the tools to make yourself more lifetime employable ... more able to acquire the knowledge or the experience needed to be a good adapter, synthesizer collaborator, etc."
Which of the ideas presented in the book did you find hardest to believe or agree with? Why?
I found it ironic that Friedman's book is about recognizing and embracing the factors and technologies that have created a flat world, yet he falls back on stereotypes and tired educational traditions in discussing how to prepare students for this new flat world. While I appreciate and share many of the sentiments presented in the passage about "Parenting" beginning on page 385, I feel he is missing the mark on the solution.
In this section of the book he begins by discussing the need for "a new generation of parents ready to administer tough love." His assertion that kids need to appreciate that learning is their responsibility and that it often involves hard work is very much in line with my views that I expressed in a blog post titled, "Be a good girl, have a good time, and learn a lot." These words were my marching orders from my mom every time I left the house as a child. They were more than words. They were expectations about my behavior, my attitude, and my responsibility and a lifelong learner.
However, instead of embracing the same connective processes and technologies that create and foster this new flat world we live in, Friedman says we must "shut off the iPod" and avoid the "instant gratification" that technology has to offer in order to prepare students for this new flat world. He spends an entire book describing countless examples of how
connective technologies are flattening the world, but then recommends
that students put away these technologies when they learn. Given that the thrust of Friedman's book is about embracing the factors and technologies that have created and now foster this flat world, I find it troubling that Friedman does not make the connection that these same connective processes and technologies can (and should) support education.
Instead, Friedman cites a tired example of how kids are using technology to cheat in school. In an example on page 458, a student uses a cell phone to take pictures of a test. Friedman focuses on the fact that schools are now in the position of banning cell phones to prevent cheating. However, he misses a golden opportunity to consider the broader and far more important impact that technology can have on eduction in this new world he describes - a far more interesting discussion than an assessment of how technology is providing new ways to cheat. Could it be that in this new flat world, instead of banning technologies, teachers should embrace them as new means to educate and assess students? Instead of finding ways to prevent cheating on a test (which has been going on long before cell phones), let us instead focus on developing assignments and assessments which embrace this new flat world - just as we are doing in our global reflective writing project in this class. I would like to know how Friedman thinks we can prepare students for this new flat world by not encouraging them to participate in it.