Sustainability Outside the Box

You pretty much would have to have been living in a cave for the past decade not to have picked up on the sustainability buzz sweeping through sectors from chemical production to health care to broadcast journalism. The Wikipedia entry on “Sustainability” has had almost daily editing activity for the past three years and includes more than 300 (top notch) citations/references. Still, the definition is far from universally understood and far from static.

Ratner (2004) points out that the whole concept may be expressed as statements of fact, intent, or value with sustainability treated as either a “journey” or a “destination.” In terms of media attention and general public awareness, sustainability is primarily an environmental issue. We think of “going green” and carrying cute canvas bags to the super market. But succession planning and resource utilization strategy are just as much part of sustainability as those cute canvas bags.

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Open Ed’s Not-Quite 95 Theses

We’re not planning to nail it to President Samuelson’s door just yet, but our class discussion on the evolving value proposition of open education yielded some intriguing results.

The premise here is that in order to remain viable, let alone accomplish its admittedly lofty goals, this next generation of open educational resources and practices must offer something to the institutions that support it beyond warm fuzzies…or positive PR…or 5-year infusions of funding. In short, it’s got to make a difference in the education of current, fee-paying, sitting-in-the-classroom students or the axe won’t stay hovering for long.

So what can openness offer the on-campus student? Here’s a start:

  • Better material used in courses
  • Faster/cheaper course development
  • Improved access to content (device-driven and adaptable)
  • Explicit connections/access to background material (instead of just saying “you remember linear algebra…right?” the instructor can actually link back to the foundational material from a previous course. Students with such access may even perform better in advanced courses.)
  • Increased efficiency in academic advisement (students can take on many of these functions themselves–more information up-front about a course will lead to lower drop rates, less time lost to resulting schedule inefficiencies and lower administrative costs.)
  • Faculty modeling critical skills of collaboration and team work.

State of the Movement…

I’m taking “Introduction to Open Education” from David Wiley this semester. Incidentally, you can too! (love it when people practice what they preach) And I would highly recommend it. Our first “quest” (the course is an erratic spin-off of World of Warcraft) is to research and summarize the history of the Open Ed movement…briefly.

Like almost any revolution, OpenEd began in almost pristine idealism. Again typically, the idea germinated and finally erupted in several tight-knit enclaves almost simultaneously right around the turn of the century (still have trouble getting that term not to conjure up images like this). Wiley obsessed about reuse and learning objects and drafted his own open license. Downes evangelized connectivity and information access as a basic right. Creative Commons plotted mass expansion of remixable resources from audio to images to law briefs and drafted their own set of licenses. And MIT sent spasms of shock and awe through the higher education world when it announced plans to make all lecture notes, syllabi and course materials free and open to the public. Meanwhile, the giants of the Free and Open Software movement looked on with that wistful mixture of love and pity that only a group 10 years further down the road could understand.

Things have since gotten a bit messier. I’m not suggesting anything like the Reign of Terror at MIT or slaughtered innnocents at Rice’s Connexions hub, but (perhaps significantly in the twilight of multi-million dollar funding grants from giants like Hewlett and Gates) Open Education seems to have moved past the riot in the streets; “death to copyright–free education for all!” and on to the hunkered-down, brutal-facts strategizing, consolidating, and compromising that we all hope will move these rabble-rousing edupunks sustainably into the mainstream.

Today, nearly everyone seems to agree that sustainability is the issue–then again, nearly everyone today seems to agree that’s the issue. But whether they’re talking about incentive and reward structures for content creation, the current license compatibility issues that keep real content remixing part of the sales pitch rather than the lived experience, or the dark question haunting the server banks from Palo Alto to Houston to Logan–“will this thing survive once the funding dries up?”–the main voices in the arena seem to be doing a little less talking past each other.

So, while we are likely years if not decades away from the complete expulsion of copyright and other vestiges of colonial closed-ness, and there are still some minefields to be navigated, I’d say the open education rebels have won some signficant battles and at least educational content is well on its way to revolution.

Relevance, Permanence, Social Discourse and Filtering …or… “If I Were a Middle School Teacher…”

Between the curriculum project for Teach a Man to Fish in my development class, sharing and social networking discussions (so often including references to “the younger generation” which I have been a little shocked—though not wholly disappointed—to discover I am no longer a part of) in the New Media course, and launching a blog this weekend for my Mom to record her experience teaching religion to 20 high-schoolers at 6:30am every school day (Mormons call that “seminary”) I’ve been thinking a lot about teenagers. Specifically, how to teach teenagers.
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