Shoelacing open education

April 22, 2007 § Leave a comment

Last Friday, we held a small roundtable on open education at the Shuttleworth Foundation. The idea was to do some ‘shoelacing’ (Rich Fuchs’ term for threading things together) between South African and international projects working on open education. Highlights and notes …

Mark Horner, who leads the Free High School Science Textbook project, talked about the
opportunity to get text books into the hands of South African kids who don’t have them. He’s doing this by producing volunteer written physics and maths texts that will be released royalty free. These will be printable at a fraction of the cost of traditional
commercial texts. Oh, and, the whole thing is written using an open source-y online peer production process that involves physics and maths teachers.

Also, Mark really hammered home the idea that we need to “… stop talking about open curriculum and just do it! We need create teacher evangelists and get them out there recruiting other teachers.” I am in 100% solidarity with his idea that the community building we need to be doing is amongst teachers and grad students who actually want to get involved in this stuff. He is doing a small gig on May 5th at University of Cape Town to doing something along these lines, telling the story of the FHSST and doing a hands on barn raising to move the project closer to completion. Also, other people wanting to lead text projects in other subjects will be there. This guy rocks!

Trudi Van Wyk from the Ministry of Education talked about making making open and collaborative curriculum a core part of how educational materials are produced in South Africa. The cool thing is that their Thutong portal already has a workflow for getting textbooks approved by the DoE. So, if people like Mark wanted to get their textbooks accredited, they could just pushit through the portal. Trudi is a real advocate for scaling the collaborative curriculum idea here in South Africa and plugging it into the official education system exactly this way. Super visionary. The Shuttleworth Foundation has committed to this idea of building a mix of real resources that teachers can use (Thutong portal with more stuff) and building up a culture of collaborative curriculum production in South Africa (creating real text books). Karien Bezuidenhout, who quietly and passionately leads the Foundations open ed efforts, talked about this commitment. She also said: “We want to fill the gaps and link all
this together. That’s why we’re having this meeting. We need to link these things together.” I suspect Karien will become a key shoelacer in this space.

Bobbi Kurshan provided an overview of Curriki, a project to create a huge wiki like platform for collaborative curriculum. There are at least two things that inspire me about Curriki. One: it is jumping straight into all the tough questions around teacher motivation, trust, quality, accreditation and licensing right from the start. Two: it is driving ahead quickly and fearlessly. It could be a leverage point for a lot of people who don’t want their own platform, they just want to get on with creating open curriculum.

Larry Lessig introduced the emerging CC Learn initiative. The two aims of this project are to: 1) promote license interoperability for curriculum (boring but important); and 2) lend capacity to other open curriculum projects that want to leverage lessons and projects from the broader Creative Commons community (e.g. CC Mixster). The second
part part is especially interesting, especially as Creative Commons is very good making complex licensing and peer production concepts easy to understand.

Last up, iCommonsHeather Ford talked about the need to connect and organize people working in this space. With backing from Shuttleworth, Hewlitt, Curriki and IDRC, iCommons is going in the right direction by producing a series of critical case studies about collaborative curriculum development projects. They are also convening a kick ass open education track at this year’s iSummit (that Karien, Gunner and I are helping to organize). All in all, a great conversation that more than met it’s goals of putting these projects on the radar for each other. Mark and Trudi swapped business cards, which should get FHSST on the fast track to Thutong. Trudi and Bobbi are having dinner (could Curriki become the collaborative backend that eventually feed Thutong?). Larry has offered to help Curriki tap into CC wisdom and CC Learn. And, iCommons now as connections with all the people it wants to connect.

A personal reflection: it’s good to doing these international shoelacing exercises, including the one coming up at iSummit in Dubrovnik. However, we also need to get our
nose to the grindstone in terms of community building amongst teachers who want to produce real curriculum. Mark says he knows of at least five budding projects with real people ready to move. This is where the juice is.

Regrets: No enough teachers or real content producers like Mark. We need more. Oh, and we should have recorded the conversation and sent it out as a podcast.

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