Sunday, September 23, 2007

Open Education: Past, Present, and Future

Several years ago while working on my MBA, I worked with a group of 3 or 4 other students on what turned out to be a 100 page marketing plan for Aggie Ice Cream. A friend of mine wondered how we could write 100 pages about ice cream. Those 100 pages seem to pale in comparison as I try to compile the several hundred pages that I've been reading over the last few weeks on Open Educational Resources (OER) into a blog posting.

The three reports are: Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD), Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS), and A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Hewlett).

OECD is an organization of governments focused on discussing and promoting policies to encourage democracy and economic growth around the world. They collect data and make forecasts to assist member governments in making decisions. The OECD report is fittingly a survey of OER movement, how it has developed over the past few years and some of the current challenges being faced.

According to OECD, much of the OER movement is driven by Higher Education, with some of that coming from institutional policy and some from individuals providing content on their own. Whether it is individuals or entire institutions participating in the movement, the purposes for sharing seem to be similar: reduce content development cost, promote lifelong learning and encourage more to seek a university education, return content to the taxpayers that funded it, compete for the best students, and improve content through transparency, among others. As content opens up, the traditional role of a teacher as one who simply provides content to students becomes out of date. If the content is already available, the teacher must become a facilitator and collaborator with students.

OLCOS is a project aimed at promoting the production and use of OER in Europe, targeting producers and users of such content, educational institutions that support them, and the technology developers and researchers who facilitate the sharing of OER through their innovation. The OLCOS report agrees with OECD that the shift to OER will bring along with it a decreased focus on a teacher-centered classroom, but points out that any change to the system will take time and sustained focus and effort by educational leaders.

As teachers begin taking a constructivist approach, allowing students to remix and reuse content, individual students will begin taking an active role in their own education, building on their existing knowledge and schema. There is much still lacking in terms of seamless support from technology to support collaboration; wikis do a good job in certain applications, but are not feasible in others. There are legal issues to deal with to allow a range of usage and remixing of content, as well as the unwillingness on the part of some educators to make any kind of change to how they have always taught. Creative Commons is a possible solution to the copyright issues, and a new reward structure may help with some of the traditional educators' unwillingness to integrate OER into the classroom.

The Hewlett Foundation is a grantor organization dedicated to addressing social and environmental problems and thus assist grantee organizations make positive contributions to society. The report to the Hewlett Foundation was the one that most drew me in. Although it focuses mainly on projects that have received Hewlett funding, that covers a lot of ground, since so much money has been made available to many organizations to encourage the growth of the OER movement. I liked seeing the specific projects that have been funded and the impacts they are making.

The Hewlett report provides a balanced view of the featured projects, pointing out that there are successes as well as items to keep working on. An interesting concept here is the meta-university, perhaps something along the lines of the WGU, where content may be provided from any number of sources, but then some central assessment or organizational structure exists to provide direction and verification of skills. An important consideration in providing open content is accessibility of that content through mobile devices or in remote locations.

To me, the most interesting piece of the entire OER movement has to do with an increase in direct participation in the learning process by students. Students will learn better as they take the time to invest in their own education. In addition, we should see more of the legal issues worked out as music, movie, and publishing industries fight to maintain copyright control while becoming increasingly irrelevant as the technology to share content becomes increasingly simple and available. The path ahead is long and filled with resistance, but change is already happening and will continue to happen. Hopefully the movement reaches critical mass (if it has not already) before some boneheaded senator is duped by lobbyists into passing legislation that cripples the growth that is already starting. Given the international nature of the OER movement, it seems likely to withstand the resistance that is to come.


David said...

You said, "To me, the most interesting piece of the entire OER movement has to do with an increase in direct participation in the learning process by students. Students will learn better as they take the time to invest in their own education."

I realize that open education is frequently about informal, outside the classroom experiences. But how would *you* do this in the classroom? What kinds of assignments or activities would you have students engage in?

robmba said...

Well, by getting students actually contributing, remixing, teaching, and really getting into the material, they're going to learn it better. You always learn something better when you have to teach it to someone else.

I've been reading a little about Problem Based Learning lately. I suppose in a PBL-ish model, you could provide a collection of messy, disorganized open material (and we know there is plenty of that out there) on a given topic and have a group teach the class that topic. The students' problem would not necessarily be how to, for example, protect a computer by setting up a firewall, but it would be teaching another person to protect their computer by setting up a firewall.

For me, anyway, most classes where there have been an element of student/group presentation in addition to the lectures of the instructor, it is generally the student presentations that are most entertaining and informative.