Renewable Energy for OpenEd

Several dozen entries in the Dell Social Innovation competition (which I have become mildly obsessed with over the past several days since entering—yes, that was a shameless plug…check it out) proposing everything from human-powered nut butter machines to low-cost solar panels cum water purifiers, plus the numerous billions of dollars allotted for “exploring” it in the nation’s latest stimulus package have got me thinking a lot about renewable energy.

As said entries make abundantly clear, there are numerous interpretations of the term “renewable;” from the denotative take of a resource replenished by natural processes at a rate comparably faster than its rate of consumption (the windmills sprouting like towering minimalist daisies along I-80 in Wyoming) to the more pragmatic idea of an abundance that’s not likely to go away (the mechanism that would transform traffic racket to electricity proposed by this guy.)

So what could “renewable energy” mean in Open Education?

I know! Freshmen!

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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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“Why we say we’re open…”

Jared presented a good broad categorization of open ed motivations (Philanthropic, Strategic, Pedagogic, Economic) and I liked the framework Michael proposed as well; motivations based on values and motivations based on value. Picking up from there, here’s a little analysis on the “whys” (at least the public ones) of some top open education initiatives…

MIT OpenCourseWare : Unlocking knowledge, Empowering minds. “MIT OpenCourseWare is an idea – and an ideal – developed by the MIT faculty who share the Institute’s mission to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship to best serve the world.”

Values: excellence in instruction, universal access to information, education for service
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution, competitive advantage, indirect sales (support recruiting)

OER Commons : Free-to-use Teaching and Learning Content from Around the World “expand educational opportunities by increasing access to high-quality Open Educational Resources (OER), and facilitating the creation, use, and re-use of OER, for instructors, students, and self-learners.

Values: improved OERs, improved instruction, improved access, multi-culturalism
Value:

C()SL at Utah State : Open and Sustainable Learning “is dedicated to increasing access to educational opportunity worldwide…we believe that all humans beings are endowed with a capacity to learn, improve, and progress. Educational opportunity is the mechanism by which we fulfill that capacity. Therefore, free and open access to educational opportunity is a basic human right.”

Values: rights-based access, humanism, education for service, advocacy
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution

Commonwealth of Learning : Learning for Development “helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training”

Values: humanitarianism/charity, access
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution

Carnegie Mellon OLI : Working to help the World Wide Web make good on its promise “Using intelligent tutoring systems, virtual laboratories, simulations, and frequent opportunities for assessment and feedback, OLI builds courses that are intended to enact instruction – or, more precisely, to enact the kind of dynamic, flexible, and responsive instruction that fosters learning.

Values: innovation, relevance/effectiveness/flexibility in learning
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution, research platform, technology integration/exploration

WikiEducator : Free elearning content. Just try it! Our community will support you. “The WikiEducator is an evolving community intended for the collaborative planning of education projects linked with the development of free content; development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning; work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs. networking on funding proposals developed as free content.”

Values: community organizing, improved OERs
Value: cost-savings for participants

“Ye Have Need of Patience”

I’ve been vexed all week. Really, vexed.

Here’s a selection of the blog posts I didn’t write this week: “Why Open Education Won’t Save the World,” “Lurking and Ignorance in Qualitative Research” and “The Malignant Delusion of Educational Assessment.”

Like I said… vexed.

I don’t know how to take the mass of largely useless lecture notes that is open education today and turn it into something that will create intrinsic value for universities AND actually contribute to the self-actualization of a micro-entrepreneur in Mozambique. I don’t know how to get useful instructional direction from formulaic “objective” statements or how to write a test item that actually taps higher-order thinking (heck, the textbook can’t even do it!) Let alone how to change the morally and logically bankrupt system that says standardized tests somehow indicate the worth and quality of schools, teachers, and children. All the problems just seem too complex, too convoluted, too entrenched, too intractable, too freaking HUGE.

David told us a story this week about a time when everything got to be too much and Stephen Downes just sort of disappeared for 6 months. He got choked up talking about how it changed things, how he needed that foil, that critique. I haven’t struggled with these problems long enough, let alone come up with any ideas or opinions significant enough to be needed or missed, but I was vexed this week. And sad. And already tired.

Last night, I thought of that story, and I listened to this. I still don’t have any answers. Nothing is any clearer, brighter, or easier. But “we are not of them that draw back,” are we?

Nope.

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.

“Made for Listening”

This one’s from Dewey:

“Just as the biologist can take a bone or two and reconstruct the whole animal, so, if we put before the mind’s eye the ordinay classroom, with its rows of ugly desks placed in geometrical order, crowded together so that there is as little moving room as possible…and add a table, some chairs, the bare walls with possibly a few pictures, we can reconstruct the only educational activity that can possibly go on in such a place. It is all made for listening.

I couldn’t agree more. Being in Paraguay this summer drove this home in a way I have never seen before–rows of students bent silently over notebooks transcribing the constant drone of a lecturer reading from a yellowing textbook. So, if such a classroom is made for listening, what then would my problem-based, amorphous, flexible, energetic, chaotic classroom be made for?

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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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You might be an early adopter if…

As if we needed more evidence that the education field has not, shall we say, fully capitalized on the potential of web analytics to improve instructional design and learning, I offer the following observations, in no particular order, from my recent search permutations on the subject:

  • #1 most common result: companies offering education and training on the subject of web analytics.
  • Second; pundits, bloggers and reporters bemoaning the dearth of educated web analyzers.
  • Next, a paper exploring what looks like an independently-designed user behavior tracking program for use in distance education evaluation. [If it turns out to be interesting, more later…]
  • Also, a big-news announcement that the world’s largest education company has chosen Omniture to help them optimize….their international marketing efforts.
  • Finally, Joseph’s post. Really insightful brainstorm on the subject and #3 in the google results for “web analytics in education”

This is not to say that there’s nothing out there…just interesting to see where the focus is right now–and just how much room there is for innovation in this area.

Collaborative Authorship as Negotiation

The pies de resistance of collaborative authorship in the online world today is, of course, Wikipedia. As would be expected, the behemoth is perhaps the best source of examples that decry the pitfalls of collaborative authorship; viscious edit-wars, discussion and talk pages that could make one ashamed to be a [fill in the blank; Cyprenian…democrat…MC Hammer fan], and plenty of just plain bad writing [though, truth be told, I spent 20 minutes looking for an example to link here and, well, failed to find one. Feel free to help me fill in this rather egregious omission].

On the other hand, Wikipedia also provides compelling examples of all the touted benefits of collaborative authorship; the challenged assumptions and resultant mind-broadening preserved forever in the edit logs, the synergistic effect on the writing itself [all articles are arguably better than they were on first up-load,] and as Jon Murray observed during his ground-breaking Murder, Madness and Mayhem project, argumentation, communication and interpersonal skills necessary to negotiate with the public sphere in this manner.

Collaborative authorship is truly a negotiation process; a complex and elegant one at that. As in any business or personal negotiation:

  • Coming in unprepared is the surest way to guarantee unsatisfactory results.
  • Understanding the interests and priorities of the other side is almost as important as understanding your own.
  • Interests are more important than positions; every interest could be satisfied by multiple different positions.
  • The pie is seldom really fixed. Shared or complimentary interests can create a bargaining zone even where there isn’t one.
  • Playing hardball is usually both painful and ineffective. Escalation and emotions usually just back you into a corner.
  • Making proposals and asking for proposals moves negotiations forward. Not arguing over positions.
  • Developing your BATNA gives you power.
  • Concessions are the exchange currency of negotiation; they can and should be used to communicate.
  • A refusal to share information limits your potential for influence.
  • A little humility goes a long way: asking for specific advice can turn an adversary into an idea [and therefore compromise] generating partner.

As in so many other cases [“underground” scientific reasoning in video game strategy, for example] it seems that in order to maximize the benefit of these natural processes, and make them more likely to be generalized/transferred to other potential real-world applications, the connections need to be made explicit. Students with fluency in a language that allowed them to strategize, practical experience applying those strategies and frameworks for analyzing the results of these “negotiations” would be well-prepared indeed for some of the most trying and potentially rewarding “collaborative authorship” experiences of life.