Reponses to the DIY U Thread

Yesterday Michael tweeted:

@opencontent Would be grateful for your input to this conversation:

He’s referring to a thread of conversation around Anya’s new book, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. In his initial post, Michael says,

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think the DIY U vision is a bad one. To the contrary, there are many aspects of it that are good, necessary, and overdue. I just don’t think it’s a complete vision.

Agreed. Completely.

Let me comment briefly that the individuals working on improving access to education work on the parts of the problem they know how to solve. Because the majority of the people actively involved in “open education” are technologists, they work on the problems they are comfortable solving, leading Michael to rightly comment that “the open education discussions I have seen focus [on] increasing access to educational resources and to educational conversations.” This is true because most of the people having these discussions “do” resources and conversations for a living.

If you’ve ever heard open education advocates who aren’t technologists talk about what’s important to the movement – people like Chuck Vest (former MIT president) or Gary Lopez (Executive Director of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education) or Gary Matkin (Dean of Continuing Education at University of California, Irvine) – you’ll know what I mean. Their approach focuses more on the administrative, policy, and business problems of moving open education forward than RSS, Yahoo Pipes, wikis, or collaborative authoring, because those are the things they know.

This is why, like it or not, the movement would be very greatly benefited by some technologists getting some first hand administrative experience, or some administrators getting some first hand new / social media experience. This is a complex, multi-faceted problem we’re trying to solve, and the better people are versed in all its aspects, the better off we will be.

Coming back to Michael’s idea that the “provide lots of resources for people” way of thinking is incomplete, I have to also comment on Norm’s contribution to the conversation. Norm lumps me in with those who claim that the university is irreversibly doomed, pointing to a newspaper article with a outrageous (and misquoted) headline. If you actually read the article, it says:

“Institutions that don’t adapt, he says, risk losing students to institutions that do. The warning applies to community colleges and ivy-covered universities, says Wiley.”

In other words, only universities who cannot muster the institutional will to evolve together with the society in which they are embedded are “doomed.” It me chuckle that Norm contrasts my supposed cry of “the sky is falling!” against the more thoughtful conclusion of Anya’s…

The protestant reformation did not destroy the Catholic church, and the DIY educational revolution won’t eradicate verdant hillside colonial colleges, nor strip-mall trade schools. DIYU examples will multiply. Most likely, in bits and pieces, fits and starts, traditional universities and colleges will be influenced by them to be more open and democratic, to better serve their communities and students.

…when she is borrowing this metaphor from conversations with me (see, for example, We Survived the Book, Why Worry about the Internet?). And the “doom” I’m talking about in the slides is the same kind of drop in prestige and influence the church suffered during the Reformation. I guess a number of people missed the post in which I said:

I am concerned that open education is on the path to becoming as radicalized as the free software movement had in the late 1990s…. Perhaps I’m just not sufficiently radical to be involved in this field anymore?

I’m really not a burn-institutions-down-and-plant-something-new-in-their-ashes lunatic like some seem determined to believe I am.

Anyway, back to Michael’s point about OER only being part of the future of education story… You only need to spend 15 minutes in your local mall to realize that the “roll your own PLE” + “a bunch of high quality, open education resources” + “social media” is not a sufficient recipe for learning for many people. Anya comments,

I am explicitly talking about “the other 85 percent” of students, dropouts, non-elite institutions. I find it somewhere between amusing and maddening the extent to which discourse around higher education is focused on the Ivies.

And the brilliant students who attend them, we might add. But why should we really be surprised that they dominate the discourse? Who are the big higher ed players in open education in the US? The list would have to include MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, Duke, and Yale. See a common thread here? The “here’s a bunch of curriculum materials, genius, go figure it out” approach of many institutional open education projects works for many of their brilliant students (autodidacts, as Michael calls them). And if these institutions are doing something that works for their students, who are you to complain or criticize?

One interesting question, then, is what would open education look like if it were born in the Community Colleges instead of the Ivies? Unfortunately, many CCs have tried to simply adopt the Ivies’ model. The best answer to this question currently is the Washington Community and Technical College Open Course Library initiative. Where 34 community colleges are working with grant funding to build 81 open courses that accounted for 411,133 enrollments in 08-09. The goals of the project are not the goals of a traditional OpenCourseWare. Instead, they are “to improve course completion rates, lower textbook costs for students, provide new resources for faculty to consider using in their courses, and for our college system to fully engage the global open educational resources discussion.”

Notice the WA approach isn’t to just throw material out there… It’s to leverage it in classes, where faculty can answer questions and support student learning. The WA approach is “open educational resources as part of a more comprehensive offering,” with a focus on helping Anya’s other 85% actually complete their education.

The Open High School of Utah model can similarly be described as “open educational resources as part of a more comprehensive offering.” OHSU teachers have access to live data about student performance and proactively use that data to reach out to students to provide help, explanations, and support. If you think you could turn a high school full of kids loose with links to some OER and expect good things to happen for more than 5% of them, you’re just off your rocker.

So yes, I agree with Michael’s assessment that the whole DIY U vision is great for people with the ability to take advantage of it. For Anya’s “other 85%,” open educational resources can go one of two ways. If we provide them as part of a more comprehensive service, they can lower costs and improve quality. However, if we move wholesale to an independent study model of “have fun at the library, honey, I’ll pick you up at 3!” where DIY opportunities were the only opportunities offered, we’re going to fail (in both senses) the vast majority of our students. And yes, those failures would increase the social and other distances between the knowledge-haves and the knowledge have-nots.

2 thoughts on “Reponses to the DIY U Thread”

  1. So long as we depict open learning as some form of ‘independent study’, then yeah, it will appeal only to the fifteen percent of people (mistakenly characterized as The Ivys (but the conflation of wealth and achievement is an issue for another day)) that likes to study.

    But mostly the people behind open education – the technologists, at least – the administrators remain institution-bound – depict it as anything _but_ ‘independent study’. It’s depicted as more like creating art and music and games and other content, activities that engage far more than some elite fifteen percent, and when sufficiently equitable, attracts something more like 85 percent than 15 percent.

    But this is the reality you don’t see at the mall (or, for that matter, in the classroom). Maybe it doesn’t exist in the U.S., I don’t know, but in Canada there is a high level of engagement at all levels in all manner of social and creative activities. This is the proper domain for open learning (and not academia proper, which serves a very specific and far narrower purpose).


    > the movement would be very greatly benefited by some technologists getting some first hand administrative experience

    I suppose that’s more likely than hoping that any administrator would ever get any technical experience.

    But where is the institution who would hire someone like me (say) as a president or vice president (or even a dean)?

    In order to become an administrator, you must have already demonstrated your investment in the institutional structure (I have often remarked that the property most likely to propel a person into leadership is the ability to take orders and execute them without questioning them).

    Technologists engaged in open learning, however, have frequently had to demonstrate exactly the opposite property. They frequently have to work around, and often against, their mandate in order to make a difference. They are change agents in spite of the institutions they work for, not because of them.

  2. Dear Michael
    We the managers solve the problems of education not the educators. Education is science just as medical doctor or engineering. But problem solver and decision maker is always a MANAGER. Therefore you should thank to President of MIT and Executive Director of Monterey Institute. They are managers. They are problem solvers. You educators create and open up the problem but never solve the problem.
    Problem solving and decision making require ” management skills ” . Period.
    A teacher can be principle of a school. But if she is not a good manager Let God help that school.
    If a President of a University is not a good Manager Let God help that University.
    Even today President of USA should be a good manager. Fortunately he is .
    I do not mind teachers bring problem to open. They have to be solved. We the managers can solve it. But please do not undermind President of MIT and President of Monterey and similar.
    Good thing about USA every body talks as he or she wishes.

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