I'm currently enrolled in a hybrid classroom/online course called Open Education Practice and Potential in Harvard University's Division of Continuing Education. The course is taught by Vijay Kumar, Senior Associate Dean and Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Office of Educational Innovation and Technology (bio) and Brandon Muramatsu, Senior IT Consultant in the same MIT office. Both are incredibly accomplished learning technologists dedicated to the "Open Education" movement -- a movement aimed at improving education access and quality by enabling educators to develop, use, re-use, and share digital learning resources. Although the class isn't over yet and I'm by no means fully educated on this expansive topic, I thought I'd make an attempt to describe this movement and detail just a few of its components that challenge the conventional educational content landscape.
Here are the sections of this article:
- The Basic Premise
- Brief History of the Open Movement
- Open Content Repositories
- Component: Access
- Component: Sharing/Re-mixing
- Component: Technology
- Open in Practice
- Additional Resources
THE BASIC PREMISE
The Open Education 'movement' has several facets. A primary facet is access from the learner perspective -- it seeks to ensure broad access to content by making it freely available and easy to procure. Another is sharing from the educator perspective -- the ability for educators not just to create content but to then disemminate quality online resources, or "open educational resources" (OER). Another facet is re-use. The movement does not simply aim to allow educators and learners to share materials, but additionally seeks to empower those users to edit the content and customize it for their own context/environment (sometimes referred to as 'remixing').
This challenges current academic content paradigms on a number of levels. At a fundamental level it challenges the concept known as the 'iron triangle' binding access, quality and cost -- the notion that these are fixed relationships. The ideals of the open content movement propose that we can have greater access without diminishing quality and can have great quality without increasing cost. (See Sir John Daniel comments on Open Education.)
This movement and OER in general have been escalated to a new level this year with the introduction by the Department of Education of a $2 billion via the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCT) grants program, which openly calls for the development of open educational resources (more here).
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE OPEN MOVEMENT
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a book based on community discussions called OER Conversations in Cyberspace. That book details the history of that movement which I'll dramatically over-simplify here. Wayne Hodgins coined the term ‘learning object’ in the mid 1990s, thereby introducing the idea of small components that could be reused across various contexts. Then in the late 1990s David Wiley coined the term 'open content', applying the principles of the open source software movement to educational resources. Wiley's early work on creating a license for open content was built upon by Lawrence Lessig and culminated with the founding of Creative Commons in 2001(see 'Challenges: Intellectual Property' section below).
Around the turn of the millenium, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was trying to figure out to create an online, distance-learning presence. An internal initiative eventually concluded that replicating the school's educational experience online was not feasible. They therefore concluded that they should create a web-based publication of all MIT course content, make it freely-available as a public good, and sustain that effort as a permanent activity. Thus MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative was launched in 2001. This work eventually inspired a collective of institutions with the same goal, culminating in the creation of the OpenCourseWare Consortium in 2005.
The movement has since grown to include responses from nations and non-governmental organizations. India's National Knowledge Commission cited OER as one of its recommendations. And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)addressed the topic in their report: Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources.
OPEN CONTENT REPOSITORIES
Here are some of the more prominent repositories for OER content:
- Connexions -- "a place to view and share educational material made of small knowledge chunks called modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports, etc." -- run out of Rice University.
- HippoCampus -- provides "high-quality, multimedia content on general education subjects to high school and college students free of charge" -- run by the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education.
- Flat World Knowledge -- a for-profit company that offers a 'freemium' model whereby primary textbook content is open-licensed and then ancillary services/products for students are offered for sale.
- Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) -- "a free and open online community of resources designed primarily for faculty, staff and students of higher education from around the world to share their learning materials and pedagogy."
- MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) -- "a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity."
- OER Commons -- a resource developed by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education
- OpenCourseWare Consortium -- "a collaboration of higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model."
- OpenLearn -- repository of the Open University UK.
- Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative -- "Using intelligent tutoring systems, virtual laboratories, simulations, and frequent opportunities for assessment and feedback...(OLI) builds courses that...enact dynamic, flexible, and responsive instruction that fosters learning."
- PhET -- interactive physics simuluations from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
- Wikibooks -- "a Wikimedia community for creating a free library of educational textbooks that anyone can edit."
One of the primary drivers of this movement is the desire to provide more equal and open access to educational content to those who need/desire it. As described by the OpenCourseware Consortium:
We envision a world in which the desire to learn is fully met by the opportunity to do so anywhere in the world - where everyone, everywhere is able to access affordable, educationally and culturally appropriate opportunities to gain whatever knowledge or training they desire.
This is a complex goal that encompasses several fully-charged subtopics and issues including the soaring cost of education, the globalization of education, pedagogical and incentive models for faculty, the nature of current academic content publishing models, etc. But it is a crucial principle that then guides every additional component of the movement. See the JISC page on Open Access for an overview on this component.
The ability to share and re-mix (modify/re-purpose) content is a major componet of open education. Therefore the proliferation of social learning and Web 2.0 technologies and platforms has also contributed to the movement -- the two models resonate with regards to removing central publishing authorities and enabling and empowering users. (For more, see Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0, John Seely Brown and Richard Adler, EDUCAUSE Review 43(1), 2008.)
One of the major components of this movement that challenges existing content models is the manner in which intellectual property must be treated to fully enable sharing and re-use. Creative Commons is the culmination of efforts to address this challenge. It's a non-profit organization that offers a series of flexible licenses for creative work -- licenses that give alternatives to traditional "all rights reserved" intellectual property copyright and protection options. Its mission is to "develop, support, and steward legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation."
Here's a good recap of the statement of need, from the CC website:
The idea of universal access to research, education, and culture is made possible by the Internet, but our legal and social systems don’t always allow that idea to be realized. Copyright was created long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network: copy, paste, edit source, and post to the Web. The default setting of copyright law requires all of these actions to have explicit permission, granted in advance, whether you’re an artist, teacher, scientist, librarian, policymaker, or just a regular user. To achieve the vision of universal access, someone needed to provide a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws. That someone is Creative Commons.
When a content producer opts to protect their content using a Creative Commons license, they can still ensure that their product is attributed to them while also optionally granting the right for others to commercialize and/or create derivative works from their original product (here's a sample license). The licenses are built upon the foundation of existing copyright law and are legally binding. This is related to how the open source software movement treats open source software licenses.
There are a number of challenges for the open movement on the technology front, but also a number of models that can serve as best practices. From a design perspective, course elements should be designed with openness in mind in order to truly achieve the potential of the model. David Kahle outlines the principles of openness that shoudl inform technology design in his "Designing Open Educational Technology" chapter of the Vijay Kumar and Toru Iiyoshi (Eds) book, Opening Up Education (MIT Press, 2008). These include designing for:
- ACCESS -- Not just ubiquity and affordability, but also accessible in terms of learning styles and needs (think Universal Design for Learning).
- AGENCY -- Designing to enhance user action and control over the learning resource.
- OWNERSHIP -- Anticipate adaptation and modification -- embrace that the content resource will be 're-mixed'.
- PARTICIPATION -- Agency and ownership ensure that user feedback continues to improve the product.
- EXPERIENCE -- Kahle notes that "Open educational resources and technology have long been high on substance and low on appeal", much like the early incarnations of the open source software platforms that inspired them. Focusing on user experience, including visceral design interfaces, is critical.
Obviously this list reads as a series of best practices for designing usable and elegant technology of any kind. And you can see how the challenges and opportunities of open technology from a design/usability standpoint are a subset of larger considerations around eLearning in general.
There are some significant technology challenges associated with the sharing and re-use of learning resources. Learning object interoperability has been a failed goal for years. Proprietary learning management systems (LMS) and competing technical protocols and standards have contributed to the difficulty in deploying and sharing learning content in predictable and standard ways (see early blog entry on one example of this: an exploration of the SCORM and IMS standards). Even the strict role-based architecture of LMS platforms doesn't facilitate the easy sharing of content across what could potentially be shared relationships that don't adhere to those roles (see the Sakai platform's Open Academic Environment for a platform designed for openness). In this sense the issues and opportunities are akin to those explored when considering Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) vs. LMS platforms.
Some notable thinkers in the Open movement feel that rather than trying to create/herd people into any one of the competing platforms/standards, we should instead focus on adopting and using those platforms and standards that are already ubiquitous among students and educators. So use: Google instead of complicated repositories; tagging instead of complicated technical metadata standards; RSS feeds instead of complex cataloging protocols; HTML and ZIP instead of protocols like SCORM and IMS; folksonomies instead of 'official' ontologies; and wikis/blogs/social networks instead of LMS platforms. David Wiley makes this point (along with many other great points) in a Slideshare presentation entitled Openness and Analytics: The Future of Learning Objects.
OPEN IN PRACTICE
There are many facets of this movement not covered here. The best way to get a sense of the promise and challenges associated with open education is to review some of the places where it is being put into practice. Here are just a few examples of open in practice, and folks talking about how and why they pursued this path.
- Open University UK -- "The Open University was the world's first successful distance teaching university, founded on the belief that communications technology could bring high quality degree-level learning to people who had not had the opportunity to attend traditional campus universities."
- Peer-to-Peer University (p2pu) -- "...a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements."
- Open High School of Utah -- an example of a school designed on the premise of open education.
- The Many Good Reasons for Open Educational Resources: Why Universities Should Adopt Open Policies -- a Slideshare overview good for high-level talking points.
- A Pathway for Open Education: Education-Portal.com Speaks with the University of California, Irvine -- a nice interview from a school's perspective on why they'd adopt/participate in the open movement. This is part of a series of interviews on the subject. (Also see the UCI OpenCourseWare Project blog.)
- Harvard University Library's Open Collections Program -- an example of how a university can start by opening up limited resources.
- It's amazing how much was NOT covered in this post. I'd urge interested parties to continue to dig deeper.
- I highly recommend the Open Education Practice and Potential online course that inspired, and provided just about all of the info/sources for, this post. Hopefully it will be offered again - check the Harvard University Extension School course listing page. But regardless, the class resources from this Spring 2011 class are themselves open to the public -- you can browse the syllbus, class slides, etc by visiting the course page. And you can find additional info on related subject matter by reviewing David Wiley's Open Ed Syllabus wiki page.
- Vijay Kumar and Toru Iiyoshi, Eds, Opening Up Education (MIT Press). This is an amazing collection of essays on this topic -- a great 'one stop shop' to begin getting educated on the topic.
- David Wiley's blog: Iterating Toward Openness
- Open Educational Quality Initiative (OPAL) -- best practices that ensure that open initiatives support teaching and learning.
- EDUCAUSE OER Resources -- EDUCAUSE has been growing their collection of links and resources.
- Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER)