Planting seeds with open content

March 3, 2008 § 2 Comments

John Moravec of Education Futures posted today on the Cape Town Declaration, worrying that open course materials will do little to change education. He asks:

Is there something else that we should focus on where we can use new technological and social models to develop innovative tools for education?

The answer is: of course! There are dozens of things that pop to mind immediately: Tools that capture, share and evolve the tacit knowledge involved in teaching practices (LAMS). Peer-to-peer learning platforms where students support each other and teachers become more like facilitators (Kusasa). Sites that connect ‘amateur’ teachers with interested learners (The School of Everything). For-credit classes that embed students in the real time, hands on learning environment of an open source software community (Seneca College). Or simply DIY learning by doing, which is the point of the web and open source in the first place (Wikipedia). While most of these are nascent examples yet to scale or even prove themselves, they hint at where things are going.

It surprises me how many people jump to the conclusion that the Cape Town Declaration ignores all this. The people who wrote the Declaration — and I suspect most people who signed it — totally get how education can and is changing. That’s why the Declaration says things like:

We have a chance to nurture a new generation of learners who engage with open educational materials, are empowered by their learning and share their new knowledge and insights with others.

… and encourages people not only to think about content but also to:

… pursue additional strategies in open educational technology, open sharing of teaching practices and other approaches that promote the broader cause of open education.

We have a huge opportunity to transform what we mean by ‘education’ in the next 25 years. This will (hopefully) include a shift to more participatory, p2p, informal, learner driven approaches education.This shift may in turn totally transform how we deal with accreditation (can I prove what I taught myself) and even the whole way we organize publicly funded education (can me and my friends set up our own school with tax dollars?). While no one agrees on exactly how this will (or should) play out, one thing is clear: it won’t happen all at once.

This is one reason the Cape Town Declaration focuses on educational content. We need a place to start. Opening up the content we use for learning, making it not only accessible but also remixable, is a super important first step. Once we’ve got the political, legal and technical seeds of a remix culture spread throughout the world of education, who knows what else we can create? I guess the idea is that we get to invent it along the way.

§ 2 Responses to Planting seeds with open content

  • Rolf Kleef says:

    Hi Mark, the word “remixing” triggered me to point out as well, for two reasons:

    1) it has remixing content for your own educational work as an explicit purpose,

    2) it builds on existing structures, where digital media artists who do teaching to make a living, can help enhance open source tools with open source educational content, and give their students tools and expertise they are allowed “to keep” after their formal education has ended (rather than having to hand in their super-discount educational license, and being left with nothing to legally work with).

  • Mark Surman says:

    Good point, Rolf. I especially like that you underline the importance of perpetual access to the tools needed to remix. Just because you have cheap PhotoShop as an remix-obsessed art student doesn’t mean you will when you are a starving artist. Using open source tools in education means students get to take these tools with them. There is talk of a companion to the Cape Town Declaration dealing with open technology for education. The principle you raise is definitely something to highlight in that doc.

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