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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Models, What Models?

This week’s quest asks merchants to explore the long-term sustainability models of each of the main players in the OER field and discuss the rationale behind them. Pending the return of some emails that might give me a more insider perspective (I don’t blame them for the delay–they just might have something more important to do, like, oh, worry about the long-term sustainability of their jobs) here’s what I can gather:


There are hints at diversification, inklings of refined value propositions, and some definite short-term cobbling going on, but nothing (in my opinion) unified and coherent enough to be called a “model.”  MIT, arguably the flagship of the OER movement, has placed considerable effort of late into moving supporters into more active, (financially) committed roles: there are “why I donate” snippets on every page, an ever-present “donate now” button and a newly formed corporate sponsorship campaign (two levels $10K and $100K–right now one company is listed on the site.) To be honest, these efforts give me a not-so-subtle vibe of desperation. This does not bode well for the organizations following in their wake.

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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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“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?



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.


H.O.P.E.S. Development

Disclaimer: This is the response to another prompt on the Third World Development final–about what advice you’d give president-elect Obama about turning around the dismal and disintegrating reputation of America abroad and conquer poverty, hunger, and social injustice at the same time. It’s a bit long, but I’d honestly love feedback.

Hopes are what the American Dream is built on—what brought, and continues to bring, millions of immigrants from every continent by land, by sea, and by air to this country. And despite our own past specters and present demons of corruption, hypocrisy and injustice, the American Dream is still real. We still hope that children of all colors and creeds will live together in security and respect. We still hope that opportunity and hard work will open doors and break generations-long chains of poverty and oppression. We still hope that this grand experiment of liberty will indeed enlighten the world.

But this liberty was meant to enlighten the world, not subject it. The shackles at the feet of Lady Liberty are broken—it’s the torch she holds high. This is the embodiment of soft power, as much as the so-called “gun-barrel democracy” of recent decades is the embodiment of hard power. Both types of power can be used to “export democracy,” but they accomplish it in fundamentally different ways. Where hard power seeks to command and coerce, soft power seeks to co-opt. The tools of hard power are force, sanctions, payments and bribes; the tools of soft power institutions, policies, culture and values. Hard power is authoritarian and self-serving. Soft power is neither. And HOPES development is built on soft power.

It’s not a cookbook recipe for poverty eradication, and it’s not a step-by-step guide for building world peace. HOPES development is an approach, an ideology based on bits of diffusion theory, behavioral change theory, world systems theory, and development theory (not to mention the blood, sweat, and tears lessons of some of the world’s great change agents) about what it takes to make a lasting difference.

HELP : Meet immediate needs, Give them what they ask for!
ORGANIZE : Design holistic solutions to authentic challenges.
PREPARE : Address financial, social, human and conceptual capital gaps.
EMPOWER : Confront social and structural barriers.
SUSTAIN : Implement long-term solutions for evolution and growth.
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Let the Games Begin!

Thank goodness for corporate types with money to throw around! The PWC folks are helping me make a first [slightly less complicated] attempt at freeing the puppets. [not cutting the strings per se, just giving them a chance to move themselves a little]

Apparently, the PWC teams from the past [this is the third to come and work with FP] created something called the “Ulysses Cup”—a soccer tournament complete with entry fees, food vendors and prize money. As seems common around here, the first year it was just for students, the second year they included staff and teams from the foundation central office, and last year [when there wasn’t a Ulysses team here at all] the tournament was no longer open to students. LAME.

Y por eso, this year’s team wanted to start a new tradition; something fun, something entrepreneurial, something exciting, something for the students, by the students. So, over a truly delicious dinner [working with them has ruined me in terms of the school food. sad day.] we came up with a plan:

Teams of students work together to develop a plan for an income-generating party. The teams write up a proposal and make an oral presentation, complete with PowerPoint, to a panel of judges [not school administrators or staff] who choose which party plan will be executed. [Citeria include: creativity, potential for profit, thoroughness of plan/risk management, and of course the professionalism of their presentation] PWC provides the budget [1,000,000 Gs : I know, it sounds huge, and it is, but just for perspective, it’s only about $250] and the whole student body works together to execute the plan. The first 1,000,000 Gs they earn from the party becomes the prize money for the winning team. The rest [and the students I pilot tested the idea on were pretty confident they could make about 3,000,000 Gs] goes to purchasing something for the student body; sport equipment, a stereo, software etc.

[My dogged American individualism got challenged again here. We had originally decided that the profit above and beyond the prize money would be divided equally among the rest of the students. Even if it was just 10,000 Gs, that’s more than most of them ever have in pocket at any given time. But with every student I ran it by, the response was the same: “Why would you split it up? We would much rather use it together for something we all want.” I guess I am not certain what the response would have been in an American High School, but I have my guesses.]

Anyway, we announced it last night—and with the exception of the headmistress’s remarkable talent for turning absolutely anything into a lecture [the word in Spanish is “sermon,” and she probably spent a good 20 minutes sermonizing about the evils of celebrating birthdays without including the whole student body, etc.] – it went pretty well. I think it’s sadly indicative that even though they gasped quite satisfyingly at the budget and the prize, they seem wary of getting too excited. Like they can’t quite picture it going the way I said it would.

But, it feels like progress, and I’m determined to do all I can to get the puppeteers to hold still long enough to see these puppets dance.