Open Education Course: week 1 reading

The following are my notes made while reading the first 3 articles for the Open Education course facilitated by David Wiley. The reading list (and links to the original articles) is available at the course wiki page. (I’ll clean up the categories/tags asap, but the course wiki and David’s blog are down at the moment, so I don’t have the exact course tags handy right now…)


Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education: Panel on Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies
February 2 – 3, 2006
David Wiley

General shift toward individual-centric, collaborative and connective styles of communication. Reminds me a bit of this blog article titled “we are living in good times”.I’m unsure of the need to have a concerted need to force these shifts to be reflected in higher education – appropriate communication strategies will emerge in pockets and spread as needed. Did Gutenberg and his colleagues need to push the printing press as an agent of change in higher education, or did it become adopted because it was a valuable shift in communication technology? Or did modern higher education emerge because of the development of technology…I would argue that a good classroom has never been truly tethered to a place, forcing students to act as consumers to the teachers knowledge producer. Yes, that has been a common pattern, but effective classrooms have always been different.

As students adopt technologies in their personal lives, they apply it to their academic lives as well. It is the job of educators to adapt to the needs and abilities of their students, including technologies and paradigms that are in the students’ repertoires.

I agree that the importance of degrees and credentials is changing, but universities are more than simply job training programs. The goal is not to come out of university after 4 years with a piece of paper to get a job – the goal of a university education, at least a successful one, is to gain experience and understanding that is difficult or impossible to attain outside the context of an academic campus.

On distance learning as a non-solution, Wiley makes a good point – typical online classes are merely digital and mobile versions of dysfunctional traditional classrooms. Sage-on-stage, but online, without the social supports of face-to-face classrooms. Not the way to go.

Open courseware will become more important and relevant if teachers and students are able to separate content from teaching. MIT’s OCW project doesn’t devalue an MIT education by making many of the MIT course materials freely available online. It does extend the reach and relevance of MIT’s instructors. But, the natural extension of this is not having every school release their own versions of course materials in hopes of reproducing this effect, it is in instructors from different schools collaborating to develop a shared set of resources. The power of open courseware is in the potential to bring classes together to build a common library of domain specific content, which can be taught in various ways by individual instructors (or utilized by individuals without an institutional context or teacher).

It can’t really be argued that higher education has “fallen out of step with business, science and everyday life” – but that might not be a bad thing.


Removing obstacles in the way of the right to education
K. Tomasevski

Question: Would education as a human right require the creation of a United Nations Department of Education? (an extended or reformulated UNESCO?) Other human rights are relatively straightforward, but education is extremely culturally based – what might be considered education in one culture might be considered propaganda in another (beyond some universal definition of “the basics” – reading/writing a language, basic math, etc… )

Thought: If compulsory education is an artifact of the industrial revolution in the first world, it may be an artifact of the global information economy in the remaining nations.

Universal access to education goes well beyond having available textbooks, or even open courseware resources. There may be political, economic, and social factors that must be addressed before education can be possible. It’s as simple as just fixing the entire world in order to ensure access to education. Not sure why that hasn’t been done yet.

Thought: The concept of universal basic education is attractive, but I worry that it sets up just another arena for imperialism and cultural domination. Countries without resources will have to adopt freely available materials or face potential sanctions. This essentially hands control over global education to the countries that can afford to create and distribute free educational resources – the same countries that would be imposing sanctions if these resources were not effectively adopted. There’s a dangerous potential for conflict of interest and sociocultural imperialism there.


Free and compulsory education for all children: the gap between promise and performance
K. Tomasevski

Thought: if implementation in local countries is left to the respective local governments, there will be too many individuals left out through the use of exceptions and caveats (either to protect economic hegemony, or through corruption). The alternative is an externally controlled and implemented education system, which would be universally rejected.Thought: if a human right can be diminished through reservations, exceptions or caveats, it’s not truly a human right. Human rights are non-negotiable. If education is a human right, there can be no exceptions.

“Education should be compulsory until children reach the minimum age for employment” – I find this more than a little depressing. Education is about so much more than just job-training. I’m not sure how to describe that in the form of a requirement, but it’s important that education is seen as more than just preparation for employment. Children need to know that they are more valuable than just as future wage slaves.


Overall reactions

I’m realizing that I’m a little squeemish with the idea of mandated universal education. The idea of education-as-right is a great one, but I worry about the implementation. Who gets to define “acceptable basic education” and who gets to provide the curriculum and supporting materials? How will countries and states be convinced to play along? Education is often a state or provincial domain – how to convince everyone that it’s a global/UN concern (even if it is)?

Given that the main obstacle to globally universal access to education isn’t education, but rather political, social, economic and cultural pressures, I am not sure what the initial impact of open education will have. The problem largely isn’t access to content, it’s the role of basic education. If education isn’t valued in a country or region, all the free educational resources in the world aren’t going to make a difference.Having “open access” to materials may also be complicated, as access may be defined differently. If we assume everyone has a computer with internet access (or can reasonably access such a computer) that implies one type of access. The vast majority of the global population doesn’t have access by that definition. Is “access” more along the lines of Google Book, where a truck travels through a region with a satellite dish to download and print books on demand for individuals without internet access? Do we wait for OLPC to hit critical mass? If education is a human right, we can’t wait to fulfill it.

4 Replies to “Open Education Course: week 1 reading”

  1. “Given that the main obstacle to globally universal access to education isn’t education, but rather political, social, economic and cultural pressures, I am not sure what the initial impact of open education will have. The problem largely isn’t access to content, it’s the role of basic education. If education isn’t valued in a country or region, all the free educational resources in the world aren’t going to make a difference.”

    I understand where you’re coming from. However, if educational resources are free and easily localized, doesn’t that significantly lower the barrier to entry for reformers and radicals within country who want to try to change things?

  2. It does lower the barrier for entry – as long as the available materials are culturally appropriate. Otherwise, the lower cost hides a much higher long term cost, in terms of cultural imperialism.

    A not-directly-education-related parallel example: Any kid growing up in Canada has access to all Canadian and US TV networks. They are all provided as part of the basic TV package, so the cost/barrier to access either nation’s culture is essentially the same. As a result, Canadian kids are well versed in American culture, history, politics, etc… often at the expense of their exposure to Canadian culture. Canadian kids of my generation grew up with Schoolhouse Rock, teaching us about the US legislative process. With no counterpart available for the Canadian process, kids grew up knowing how a bill becomes law, according to the US system. They are also likely to be able to name most (or even all) of the US states, list the last several Presidents, and know at least the names of the major US political parties. Many Canadian kids struggle to do the same for Canadian politics, and most American kids have little or no understanding of Canada, nevermind the political parties and their leaders.

    Although this isn’t directly education-related, it does demonstrate how “free” materials bring cultural bias with them, intentional or otherwise. And may displace local culture and context to the detriment of that local culture.

    If truly unbiased educational materials were available, there would be no risk of this effect. The irony is that culturally neutral materials are meaningless and irrelevant, and are less useful for education…

  3. ”On distance learning as a non-solution, Wiley makes a good point – typical online classes are merely digital and mobile versions of dysfunctional traditional classrooms. Sage-on-stage, but online, without the social supports of face-to-face classrooms. Not the way to go.
    Open courseware will become more important and relevant if teachers and students are able to separate content from teaching.”
    In my country, The Netherlands, we are trying to educate people from 30 to 50 years of age about law. A non-popular topic. Three years ago we started with online distance learning, with topics like home-ownership, marriage etc. It didn’t get the attention that we expected. We recently launched Open Courseware covering a wide variety of interests in different resources like lecture notes and exams. And it really works.
    Now that I have read the above articles about Open Education Course, I am even more convinced that we are going in the right direction.

  4. I think that a combination of two forms of learning are important:
    – the old style
    – the new style

    Old style of learning is important for the informal way to directly train students on material important for their development. The new style of learning is important to better fit the new requirements of information processing in both private as business life.

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