Undefended territory

July 23, 2007 § Leave a comment

My favourite Ubuntu Live slide so far was Stephen O’Grady‘s Sun Tzu quote: “You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.”

Ogrady

O’Grady intended this as a reminder to the Ubuntu community, highlighting the upside of taking unclaimed territory (e.g. simple, clean, easy-to-use window on web applications). However, it also raises some questions for those working on open (source) education. Should we go for big policy change, or  can we create educational materials and apps that are so good that teachers just use them?

I dug into this question a little bit with Mark Shuttleworth and Jeff Waugh over dinner. Mark’s opinion: you can only do the educational end run strategy if you ‘hit it out of the park’ with something like Wikipedia (is this Curriki?). My sense is that it’s still possible big leaps through smaller (or maybe the word is ‘narrower’) wins, as long as the idea is at once radical and useful.

If it works, Kusasa might be exactly this. It’s fun. It doesn’t look like anything else in education. It breeds curiosity, inventiveness and collaboration. And, it meets a real need: stronger analysis stills amongst students graduating from high school. It could be one of those things that teachers and students ‘just use’.
Having slept on it, I am now thinking that policy (slow and incremental) and end runs (fast and radical) don’t need to be an either / or proposition. In fact, they probably work together well in yin / yang-ish sort of way.

Radical approaches like Kusasa can work in positive tension with initiatives like Free Textbooks that are targeted at the current mainstream of education. While this interplay is already at work in the Foundation, it might be useful to think about it more consciously … and to open up to a few more radical change bets in the coming years. It shouldn’t all be about policy change.

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