Where I’ve Been; Where I’m Going

Sometimes it helps to look backwards and figure out where you’ve been to get a clearer picture of where you’re going. As today is the first official day of my Shuttleworth Fellowship, I’ve been taking the opportunity to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I’m going. Upon reflection, it feels like I have some really strong momentum behind my work in open education. But where is that momentum carrying me? How can I leverage it thoughtfully to be more useful? (This thinking fortuitously coincides with a recent article titled Why Open Educational Resources Have Not Noticeably Affected Higher Education to which I have included a paragraph response to below. Spolier alert: we see the world very differently.)

Where I’ve Been

I’ve had the privilege of being part of several interesting events in the open education timeline. (Some of them were even successes!) But as I look through the list, there is a subset of events I can pick out from the others that suggest a fairly specific trajectory. In K-12, that list includes:

  • Launch the first high school committed to using OER exclusively across it’s curriculum in Fall 2009.
  • Launch the Utah Open Textbook Project in 7 classrooms in Fall 2011.
  • Take the Utah Open Textbook Project district-wide in Fall 2012.
  • Take the Utah Open Textbook Project statewide as of Fall 2013.

Where’s the momentum heading? While the vector may not be immediately obvious, I see it this way: demonstrate the effectiveness of OER in a lab-like charter school setting, then take those success to a few brick and mortar schools, then grow it to a district, then expand it statewide across Utah.

What to do with the momentum? Now that I have practical experience with regard to rolling out open textbooks in secondary school settings (including the state level), and data about the cost savings and learning impacts of doing so, I need to keep pushing here until the number of state offices of education promoting the statewide adoption of open textbooks grows from 1 to 50.

In higher education, the subset of events that point in a particular direction includes:

  • Help launch and run the first phase of the Kaleidoscope Project which replaced commercial textbooks with open textbooks in 10 courses across 8 schools from 2011-2012.
  • Grow the Kaleidoscope Project to cover 30 courses across 28 schools in 2013-2014. (We secured grant funding to do this back in 2012.)
  • Help launch the first Textbook Zero Associates degree – an entire Associates degree using only OER. This will launch in Fall 2013 – a launch announcement is coming next week. (Associates in Business Administration)

Where’s the momentum heading? This momentum feels very much like the momentum in K-12: start small in terms of numbers of schools and courses using OER, then grow that number, and eventually cover an entire degree program.

What to do with the momentum? First, I need to help more schools adopt the Textbook Zero model for their Associates of Business degrees. At the same time I need to help a school move to a Textbook Zero Associates degree of General Studies – the OER work necessary for the business degree gets us 2/3 of the way there. The Associates of General Studies has almost 100% overlap with the General Education sequence at four year schools, so the next obvious move is to help a university commit to a Textbook Zero model of Gen Ed. And by that point, we’re within striking distance of a four year degree in Business or Computer Science based exclusively on OER – I should help a university do that next.

Where I’m Going Next

If I can successfully go where the momentum is pointing, this would give us successful exemplars from the top to the bottom of the entire formal secondary and post-secondary ecosystem – making it possible to earn a high school diploma, Associates degree, and Bachelors degree without ever spending a penny on a textbook. More importantly, that entire experience would occur in the context of 4R permissions that allow customization, personalization, remixing, sharing, continuous improvement, etc.

So this is where I’m heading – connecting the OER dots all the way from 7th grade through the end of the Bachelors degree. I think we can get the initial post-secondary program launches done within three years:

  • Textbook Zero Associates degree in a community college, Fall 2013 launch
  • Textbook Zero General Education pathway in a university, Fall 2014 launch
  • Textbook Zero Bachelors degree, Fall 2015 launch

Of course, the initial post-secondary launches are groundbreaking and interesting, but we’ll never have the level of impact we want if we don’t scale this work. Post-secondary OER adoption needs to expand like an ever-broadening wake behind an OER boat moving purposefully upstream.

I think the secondary launches take longer, likely five years:

  • 1 state actively promoting open textbooks across its secondary courses, Fall 2013
  • 3 states actively promoting open textbooks across their secondary courses, Fall 2014
  • 15 states actively promoting open textbooks across their secondary courses, Fall 2015
  • 35 states actively promoting open textbooks across their secondary courses, Fall 2016
  • 50 states actively promoting open textbooks across their secondary courses, Fall 2017

Obviously, this is a monumental work. How to tool up in terms of capacity, coordination, and organization to get all this work done successfully and enable it to scale is another question. More thoughts on that soon.

And in response to Gerd Kortemeyer I would say only this: OER haven’t been impacting education as much as they could because with very few exceptions the open education community has been too busy creating materials and writing hype articles about their potential impact to do the dirty, almost thankless work of helping people adopt them. There was a time when I was as guilty of this as anyone. This is slow, slogging, culture changing work that has to be done one faculty member and one school at a time (at least until it hits a tipping point). I doubled down on my belief that this is the problem by applying for a Shuttleworth Fellowship focusing on doing this very “boots on the ground” work. I don’t believe faculty and students need another piece of magic technology that will solve this problem for them. They need good old-fashioned, hand-holding help. I’m doing it, and it’s working.

Post Script: The Deep Future; or, The End Game

So what’s the end game here? Certainly not OER adoption. Getting the open content infrastructure broadly deployed is just the first step. Once faculty and teachers are comfortable using OER, and these OER are widely adopted across entire secondary and post-secondary programs, who knows what other kinds of innovations – think pedagogy, support, assessment, credentialing – we’ll realize are possible to build on top of the open content infrastructure? I come back to one of my all-time favorite quotes:

Don’t ever make the mistake [of thinking] that you can design something better than what you get from ruthless massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle. That’s giving your intelligence much too much credit. (Linus Torvalds)

I pair that quote with what has been (for me personally) my most profound realization in all the years I’ve worked on open – “openness facilitates the unexpected.” OER empower and enable. Yes, we already know that OER adoption will lower costs and can improve outcomes. What we don’t yet know is all the other things that can be done by an innovative student, teacher, entrepreneur, policy maker, or anyone else who can assume the existence and broad acceptance of the open content infrastructure as a starting point.

If we succeed in broadly deploying this open content infrastructure, it will empower and enable people to do things we can’t even imagine today – the same way an open communications infrastructure (read: the Internet) allowed people to create things we could never have imagined a few decades ago. Think of the incredible things that have emerged in the past 10 years alone because creative people can now assume the broad deployment and adoption of the open communications infrastructure called the Internet. Imagine what they’ll do when they can make the same assumptions about the open content infrastructure. You really can’t – and that’s the beauty of it.

Thank you, Shuttleworth Foundation, for creating a space in my life that allows me to pause and reflect like this.

4 thoughts on “Where I’ve Been; Where I’m Going”

  1. David – incredible work. I look forward to watching the next years unfold and running to keep up.

  2. It is such a pleasure to have such a great seat for this voyage. Thanks for this crystallization of your thinking and work.

  3. ““openness facilitates the unexpected.” I may have to steal that. My awkward phrasings of this in the past have been “serendipity as an operating principle” and “while I can’t guarantee happy accidents will happen for sure if you do things in the open, I CAN guarantee they won’t happen if you don’t.” Yours is so much more succinct 😉

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