Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Open Ed Conference

OpenEd 2009, a conference on open education, just wrapped up in Vancouver. The program can be found here. There are sessions on methods, philosophy, politicking, and the economics of open education. Just picking through the session description, there's fascinating stuff.

Open Education is international. The Dutch have an "emerging national strategy," which you can see and hear about here. The UK is piloting the idea. Most interesting is that the Chinese are subsidizing their universities to create open content. From the description:
[T]he Chinese Ministry of Education has since 2003 been operating a national OCW program called China Quality OpenCourseWare. Chinese universities submit proposals, and can receive between $7,300 and $14,600 per course that is made freely available online. By 2009, there are over 10,000 courses available online, many of these with extensive resources, and video recordings.
It's interesting to note the contrast between this model and simply subsidizing students to attend college. It's like the old saw about teaching someone to fish rather than just giving them a trout. Providing need-based aid, for example, encourages institutions to raise costs. Paying institutions to create content that will be free potentially reduces costs. These overarching strategies play out in the grinding evolution of societal change, with economics playing the role of the grim reaper. I've read that our own Dept of Ed is interested in the openEd idea, but a quick search on their website for "open education" doesn't turn up much of interest.

On the technological front, there is the idea of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) replacing or augmenting a Learning Management System (LMS). From the Wikipedia page:

Personal Learning Environments are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to

  • set their own learning goals
  • manage their learning; managing both content and process
  • communicate with others in the process of learning

and thereby achieve learning goals.

This PLE idea seems to be undergoing rapid evolution. Take a look at this summary page of PLE diagrams at edtechpost. It looks like the Cambrian Explosion, 530 million years ago, when multicellular life exploded on the scene. You'll see what I mean if you scroll down the long page full of wild diagrams that try to capture what a PLE is.

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

In some ways, the PLE resembles a loose portfolio of a student's work combined with links to social networking communities. See this version (roll over the picture for explanations) for a good look at how this multicellular learning platform looks. I don't see much that refers to assessment, however. There is perhaps another "cell" that wants to look like the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology's Harvesting Feedback Project. I wrote about it last here.

It all looks terribly distracting, however, this PLE idea. It seems unfocused to me. Look at the one below, courtesy of D'Arcy Norman.
If my PLE means just the places I go on the web to find interesting stuff, it becomes to general to be of much use. But I digress.

Open education within bricks and mortar is the topic of this session:
[W]e propose that it is important to begin looking at how adopting open course models in traditional universities can offer benefits to both the institutions and the open education movement itself.
This is an interesting idea, partly because it would seem to be inevitable. Higher education isn't really about copyrights and restricted access, at least not philosophically. It's not because of a desire to hold knowledge close to their gowns that the hoary old university model is so poor at distributing knowledge efficiently. Rather, the traditional methods of delivery nearly require a physical presence to work, and this dramatically limits access and increases cost. I would venture to say that most professors would love to have their teaching reach a much magnified audience. You might even be able to talk them into it for free, as long as they didn't have to work any harder. The sticky part is the technology and practices that allow this to happen--both the creation of the infrastructure, policies, and content that are necessary AND the culture and acceptance in the general community that grant the pay off for the efforts. This comes back to the question I asked yesterday: what is the real value (and cost) of standardization through rigid processes and requirements that embody higher ed in the traditional ways of most institutions?

No comments:

Post a Comment