open content

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.

open content

Responses to the Rev and Stephen on “Openness”

I love these longer, more thoughtful discussions…

The Reverend contributes to the latest round of the conversation about “openness:”

The larger question in my mind is that what is under girding this discussion is an even more insidious logic than a denatured sense of open, and that’s a sense of entitled leadership. Fact is, the push to make sense of open as a term and discuss it’s meaning, future shape, and ultimate value seems to be the most definitive step in forming an institutional structure of power around it.

What is the alternative to ‘pushing to make sense of the term “open” and discussing it’s meaning and future shape?’ Studiously ignoring the term? Turning a blind eye to what is happening in the field? Is the concern about “institutionalizing a structure of power around the term open” that only a few get to participate in the discussions?

Who gets to discuss what open is? Where do they do it?

It is being discussed in the blogosphere by anyone who cares about it enough to type, right? George chimed in, I chimed in, the Rev chimed in, Stephen has chimed in… Anyone who wants to can take part. I’m sure many more will join the fray.

Importantly, there are at least two parts to this conversation. There is global part of the conversation, where we will discuss aspects of openness (openness of content, openness of research, openness of software, openness of credentialing, etc.) outside the context of specific implementations (i.e., individual institutions or projects). Then there will be the very concretely grounded discussions about specific implementations in specific contexts. The comparison is a little rough, but these will be akin to theory / practice conversations. Both are important, and they should inform each other.

Companies don’t really care to much about that discussion, they just care about appealing to users through a term, and if they make up the table, along with administrators at universities and the like, then why do we need to go to the table at all? Isn’t the push away from these legacies of power and privilege a part of what open is working against on it’s most powerful and truly transformative levels?

Why do we open education people need to have a seat at the table in department meetings, dean’s council, and when the VPs meet with the provost and president? The same reason that open source software needs a seat at the table with Dell, HP, Gateway, and Lenovo. Sure, the hackers of the world can blow away that Windows 7 install, repartition their hard drive, and do a clean Ubuntu install. But how many more people would open source reach / how much more influence would open source have if the major vendors shipped Ubuntu or Red Hat or (name your favorite distro here) straight to consumers? Significantly more – infinitely more.

And, of course, the radicals on each campus can put their course notes on their personal website with a CC license without engaging their administrations – just like hackers can write open source software without talking to hardware vendors. But how many more people would open educational resources reach / how much more influence would open educational resources have if the institutions themselves made wide-reaching commitments to the principle of openness? Significantly more – infinitely more.

Yes, we want a seat at that table. We need a seat at that table. And until we have it, the potential good of open education is going to be severely limited in reach – restricted to the educational equivalent of the computer user who is capable of repartioning his hard drive and doing a clean Linux install. Yes, those users are out there, but they’re the vast, vast minority.

Why does their need to be a continental congress on open? Why do we have to conflate it with system and then elect officials to define it for us? Part of the power and the hope of this space for me is a new scale of working though this ideas that is both hyper-individual and communally local at the same time. To frame the discussion around a table of designated players that move us forward seems in many ways contrary to possibilities these connections and relationships provide us.

Where is this conflated meeting of elected officials happening? The conversation I’m participating in about the meaning of openness is on publicly accessible, openly licensed blogs that have comments and trackbacks enabled. How much more open and participatory is the conversation supposed to be? What am I missing?

I don’t think of this so much as radical as an alternative to the models of leadership, promotion, and adoption of ideas that have utlimately placed them squarely within a system that is moving in a unilateral direction of progress in the name of growth and profit.

Isn’t growth the whole point of openness – growing the number of people who have access to educational opportunity? For an institution like BYU, that for years has had a “zero square foot growth” policy with regard to buildings on campus, wouldn’t a commitment to openness be all about growing the number of people the institution can reach, support, and bless? If openness isn’t about growing or increasing both the amount of educational opportunity available and the number of people who can access those opportunities, what is it about?

And – here comes the part where you can all throw things at me – if we want those opportunities to still be available 3, 5, and 10 years from now, shouldn’t someone worry about how we support them? I’m not saying that we need 2008-destroy-our-economy-and-take-the-world-with-it-style capitalism in open education. But we do have to get over this notion that any time we talk about money or sustainability we’ve tainted and contaminated ourselves.

In his summary of this round of the conversation, Stephen notes:

David Wiley responds to George Siemens’s post calling for more radicalism for open education. It’s a moderate response, reminding people to heed to the goals of education, and not the means. In this I agree – open education is not an end in itself, but part of the means by which we reach our goals of an education for all in a just and sharing society.

See! It can happen! Stephen and I can agree with each other…

And he argues that, therefore, “the ideal [of openness] needs to mean specific things in specific contexts in order for it to be applied usefully in those contexts.” This is true as well – at the margins. But the examples cited by Siemens – Twitter, Blackboard, Facebook – aren’t marginal cases, and claims that they are somehow ‘open’ in a way that is conducive to a free education in a just and sharing society somehow ring hollow.

Perhaps I need to use all caps to make my point clearer than I have been able to in my past posts. MY DISCUSSION OF THE MEANING OF OPEN DOES NOT EXTEND TO SOFTWARE (LIKE TWITTER, BLACKBOARD, OR FACEBOOK). WHEN I TALK ABOUT “THE MEANING OF THE ‘OPEN’ IN ‘OPEN CONTENT’,” I MEAN I’M DISCUSSING THE ADJECTIVE “OPEN” AS IT MODIFIES THE NOUN “CONTENT.” This is the same “open” that occurs in “open educational resources.” This is the world to which the 4Rs framework applies.

It is NOT the same “open” that occurs in “open source software.” We don’t need to discuss whether software is open or not. “Open source software” is already a trademarked term with a vouchsafed definition. Twitter, Blackboard, or Facebook are not open source, full-stop, end of story. They can claim that their software is “open” in some other manner, but no one believes it – I don’t even think they believe it. (Facebook also goes around saying that they care about protecting your privacy. Do we need to define privacy? No. Everyone knows Facebook is doing whatever is in its best interest and that it could care less about privacy or openness.) There’s nothing to discuss here except to complain about companies who mislead the public to make a buck. But there is no special relation to openness in this regard.

Stephen writes that my claim “the ideal [of openness] needs to mean specific things in specific contexts in order for it to be applied usefully in those contexts” is only true at the margins. In this case, I think Stephen is simply wrong. (See, we can disagree, too!)

The differences between software and content are not marginal. The necessary and appropriate considerations of openness in these two contexts are significantly different. People taking the naive position of “OER is like open source software for content!” fail to carefully consider what they’re saying and consequently miss important differences. (It’s like when people used to say “learning objects are like LEGOs!” After some reflection, we can see that this metaphor stuck so powerfully in people’s minds – and was so wrong – as to have contributed meaningfully to the inability of learning objects to deliver on their (over-hyped) promise.)

Our inability to speak and write with precision and clarity about the differences in the openness of content and the openness of software is a huge roadblock to the progress of open education. The “OER is open source software for content” metaphor is so powerful as to be blinding. These differences are not marginal. The differences in the openness of research, the openness of data, and the openness of credentialing are not marginal, either. We need a more mature, more developed, and more precise discourse about open education. And I think that open blogs on the open web is the right place to have it.

open content

Of OpenCourseWare and Lowriders

George has written a thoughtful post about issues with OCW 1.0 projects titled Utah State OpenCourseWare, lowriders, and system design.

A few quotes and then some response:

Utah State University has announced the closure of its OpenCourseWare initiative due to budget woes. I call nonsense (or BS). Apparently OCW needed $120,000 per year. Given the size of Utah State University, I’m going to guess they have an annual operating budget somewhere in the range of $300-400 million. This is not a budget shortfall – this is a commitment shortfall. 120K is a fraction of a fraction in light of the larger university budget.

This illustrates my concern about centrally organized open educational initiatives – they have a single point of failure: funding…

The OER and OCW movement(s) are fundamentally flawed in where they assign openness. Openness is being treated as separate from curriculum development and delivery. Openness is viewed as an after market feature. And most universities aren’t too eager to pay for the extras.

George makes a critical point, and one that everyone needs to understand. The model I call OCW 1.0 he calls the “aftermarket” model. No matter what you call it, it’s impossible to sustain a program that incurs large, ongoing costs that are exclusive to OCW – which is why I predicted in the spring that the list of universities engaged in active OCW projects three years from now will look very different than it did back in May 2009 (yes, all the big names will be gone if they don’t completely reinvent themselves).

George writes, “Openness should be built into the process of curriculum design – it should be systematized.” In places where the process of curriculum design is practiced, like the campus teaching and learning center, this is absolutely true. However, how many faculty actually use such services? Unfortunately, the vast majority of faculty members don’t engage in a thoughtful process of curriculum design – they just do what they do.

In order for open education to reach its varied potentials, openness must become a core cultural value for each and every faculty member. This is a decade-long project if we’re lucky, and requires significant investment in faculty training (the way we had pushes on our campuses a few years ago to help everyone understand the importance of diversity). While we work on that (and we are working on that), the critical question for me is, what do we do in the ten years between now and then? Should we do nothing until we’re capable of doing it “right” in 2020, or are partial solutions (like OCW 1.0 and even OCW 2.0) better than nothing as we make that long journey?