Openness in the Information Economy

This thought first came up in a keynote at OpenEd 2008…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Then it came up in David’s New Media, Social Media and Learning course last semester…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Then it came up in a discussion in Cape Town with Mark Horner about his Siyavula project…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Yesterday, it came up again…alright, alright, I’ll blog it!

Having come into this sort of second-generation of open education, I’ve heard a lot about sustainability. I’ve heard about the challenges of incentivizing quality content creation within the reward structures of schools and universities…and the headaches of license incompatibility…and the looming funding crisis. But so far, it seems like we’ve been diagnosing and treating an assortment of these micro-issues–symptoms of our larger, deeper sustainability issues–without doing as much to address the root requirements of sustainability.

Whereas traditional commercial ventures are forced to face the sustainability question from their inception, non-profit/NGO/academic ventures start life in a kind of artificial reality–grants and donors (never expecting to be repaid) offer their support based on the theoretical merit of the idea, the reputation of the players, and the warmth points or positive PR they receive in return. Most such projects are never required to articulate a value proposition or hash out their competitive advantage.

What is it, really, that open education offers the educational community with all its idiosyncratic (but very real) economic, social and political pressures that would make it worth the massive outlay of time, talent, resources and–perhaps most significantly–change required to sustain it?

Unless we can answer that question concretely, consistantly, compellingly…and soon, we might not be fretting about license compatibility for long.

Cool stuff from OpenEducation 2008

Just some highlights:

  • Siyavula Project from the Shuttleworth Foundation: A comprehensive curriculum that meets all the requirements of the South African government developed by an online community of teachers contributing OERs to an easy-to-use opensource authoring platform.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to build a collection of content and pedagogical modules that could be filtered according to the curriculum standards and requirements of any given country in the world!? How hard would it be to get efforts like Open High School and High Tech High to contribute to the same library? How critical is that, really?

  • Open Med School from the University of Michigan: Don’t freak out, it’s not actually online med school. A cross-discipline team from the IT programs and Med School at UMich has set up a unique [potentially very scalable] interface and management system for using volunteers/employees they affectionately call “dScribes” [distributed scribes] to clear content objects [from diagrams to simulations] in medical courses for publication as open educational resources.

Starts my mind going crazy with visions of creating an ‘OER marketplace’ where graphic design, film, information systems, interaction design and illustration students come together to create content objects for use in courses across disciplines, campuses, countries…my students in Paraguay making a video about composting that can be used by a professor of crop science in Nebraska, whose students then contribute comparative charts of turf grass varieties studied as part of an open courseware lecture series by students starting a sod farm in Ukraine.

  • Case Studies as OERs: The ISKME team conducted thorough case studies of 6 different open education projects, tagged them, stored them on YouTube and the OER Commons, and even created a Case Study Toolkit to encourage others to incorporate this simple method of self-evaluation.

The best part of this for me was the idea that, when well-tagged and made public, the case study itself becomes an OER–something that others can learn from, use, re-use and adapt. Talk about maximizing the potential return on investment! Also underscores one of the challenges that came up over and over at the conference–how deeply Open Education efforts are currently rooted in and dependent on altruism. More on this later…

Cool stuff, eh?