Open Ed - Week 15: Wrap Up

Dr. David Wiley's Introduction to Open Education course has been an amazing experience. I took the course as part of an Independent Study option in the last semester of my Master's Program in Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. I had no idea what "open education" was before the semester started and guessed that it was about openly licensing instructional content. While I later came to realize licensing is a significant consideration, the possibilities of open education reach far beyond content distribution.

Because of my involvement in the course, I also decided to attend the 2007 Open Education Conference hosted by Dr. Wiley and the great folks at Utah State University. This provided me the opportunity to work closely with a great Professor at Indiana University, Dr. Anne Leftwich, to develop a presentation on what evolved into our interpretation of an open learning environment, as highlighted in my week 13 blog post. That presentation has become far more than an assignment in a class or a discussion at a conference. I consider the concepts of openness (the removal of barriers to participation), connections (to peers, to facilitators, to the world), and support (the "someone", the "something", or the"network" there to help) to be a crucial part of the next iteration of my personal theory of learning and instruction.

The most valuable aspect of this experience is the connection to others that I have made through this journey, both within this class and at the conference. My blog roll now has over 50 new "voices" who share a common passion for openness, connection, and support in learning. Each person I have met (in person or virtually) is truly passionate about not only learning, but also the possibilities. We live in a very exciting time where openness, connection, and support in learning has never been easier. Yet, unfortunately, opportunities are being blocked, filtered, banned, or placed behind walled gardens. Sometimes out of greed. Sometimes out of the fear of the unknown. It is so inspiring to know that there are kindred spirits in the world who share my desire to plow though those walls and take advantage of the endless opportunities made possible through greater openness.

Beyond personal connections, I have been happily overwhelmed by the vetted content that was shared this semester. Certainly, on my own, I would never have stumbled upon the reports, presentations, and web sites that we have been exposed to this semester. Specifically, I found the following reports from the first weeks of the semester to provide excellent overviews of the open education movement. I consider them "must reads" for those dipping a toe into the open education waters:


As I noted in week 4, the themes within the OLCOS report resonate most with me as the authors get to the heart of the open education practices that I feel show the most promise. The recommended future actions
consider not only the content, but also the open context in which the
content is used to support learning. The authors extend the focus
to contemplate the broader open educational
practices
to support learners, as well as need for more open
participation
within the learning process.  - see p.29:

 "OLCOS sees a critical lack of educational innovation for
learner-centered and collaborative learning practices and
processes
in which ... individual and groups of learners (including
teachers) will actively use tools and content to understand problems, discuss
approaches and methods in problems solving, and share study resources and
results." 

Further, they emphasize the importance of the role of the learner and learning
communities
within which the learners participate- see p. 24:

"A key problem of current open access educational repositories may be that
despite their philosophy of sharing, they see teachers and learners as
consumers of content who primarily want to download useful material. A better
approach would be to support communities of interest around certain subjects."

In addition, the OLCOS report considers the possibilities of using freely available
social software (social bookmarking, RSS feeds, wikis and blogs) to support open
educational practices and to create personal learning environments controlled by
the learner. Using open source software and Internet based technologies to
support learning is something I have been covering with
great
interest on my personal blog for some time now
. The report also provides a vivid picture of the differences between open
education and closed (or canned) education. The examples of "canned" versus
"open" education within the table on p. 46 contrast the practices within each
system on such measures as:


  • the roles of the teacher and learner (dispenser / receiver versus
    facilitator / active learner),
  • services provided to learner (databases versus RSS feeds),
  • content management (institutional LMS versus PLEs), and
  • tools to support learning (desktop tools versus wikis, blogs).


I also gained an appreciation for the possibilities of a producer driven production model which runs contrary to the consumer driven production models touted within both my MBA and instructional design courses. I did not contemplate the value of a producer driven model when preparing my week 8 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 re-thought my observations.
Contrary to my assertions in my week 8 post, a producer driven model is created for an important end user .... the producer. An "a-ha" moment came for me as I read David Wiley's suggestion that:

"...
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."

As I stated in my week 9 post, 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 week 8 post, not being preoccupied with the needs and
concerns of the broader audience may be a good thing for the
sustainability of open education.

In terms of items we did not cover, I wish we had more time to delve into the issues surrounding the recent release of the Cape Town Declaration. Considering the concerns and rebuttals expressed by Stephen Downes, Martin Weller, Thomas Hoffman, David Wiley, and others who have added their voices to this discussion, is it good document? Does it express the ideas of the greater "community"? Is such a document needed? Will it change any hearts and minds? Does it need to? While I appreciate that the pesky devil always resides within the details and usually more debate is better than less, regarding this particular document, I am less in favor of loading it up with details that highlight points of community dissension (commercial vs. non-commercial licensing, formal or informal education, etc). Instead, I am in favor of an abridged mission statement that simply calls for greater openness, connections, and support in learning. Unfortunately, when we start parsing what "learning" and "open" means (formal / informal, commercial / non-commercial, etc.) within the context of a mission statement, we quickly lose the interest of the other 99.9% of the population who have no idea what we are talking about. Also, I agree with Martin Weller's sentiment that "there are more people aligned against open education than behind it, so
the last thing we need to do is factionalise within our own camp."

Also, I would like to explore where the foundation money should be headed (or is likely headed) in the future. So far, it seems firmly planted in building and maintaining open content repositories and directories. However, I wonder the extent of plans to support open learning networks ... dare I say open online learning ... supported by open educational resources and practices. I was so disappointed to sense (maybe due to my over-sensitivity) the lingering negative stereotypes about online learning during the Open Education conference. Even within this group of "open" minded educators (I couldn't resist), online learning still is discussed as the "alternative" to "real" face to face learning. Also, as I mentioned in my week 9 post, I heard suggestions to hire students (cheap
labor) to sit and "convert" a professor's lecture content and other face to
face course materials into a digital formats. Why? Will learners or teachers use this digitized material? As I have questioned before, isn't this the same mistake made when online courses first came
into being? Will "converted" face to face content support user's needs in online contexts? I think anyone who has attempted to listen to a recording of a 90 minute lecture captured from a small microphone in a lecture hall may agree with me when I say, "I don't think so." Instead of trying to recreate face to face experiences for an online audience by capturing the artifacts of the face to face experience, I suggest we consider a completely separate exploration of how to create and foster new forms of open online education. I wonder if I am a lone wolf in this regard?

On the process side, I loved using my personal blog (my Drupal based PLE ) to conduct the reflective writing assignments for this course. It allowed me to maintain my writings in an open and connected format on a platform that I control. Further, the course wiki provided a great way to present the syllabus. The OPML file of blogs made it very easy to track the writings of others. However, I am not certain all students were familiar with using an OPML file and may not have taken advantage of it. Therefore, in the future, it may make more sense to also offer an aggregation of the blogs on a sharable feed reader such as a link to Netvibes page of blogs or to a link to public Google Reader page. In addition, I think an expanded social networking platform might help to expand and extend the conversation. An asynchronous discussion board or an "always on" IM chat room would be a nice feature for an aggregation of "side bar" discussions. Also, even with time zone differences, an attempt at a synchronous Skypecast or two might be interesting. Yet, I really appreciated the simplicity and "openness" of the current set up!

I want to thank David Wiley, Anne Leftwich, and all those who participated in the discussion ... both inside and outside of the "class ... for making this a wonderful learning experience! Please keep in touch - or at the least ... keep me in your RSS aggregator ... I'll keep you in mine :)