Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Open Education Movement

I went to a talk on Monday at FAC 21 on the University of Texas campus. It was entitled "The Open Education Movement: Transforming the Economics and Ecology of Education." The talk was given by Richard Baraniuk, who gave a similar talk, albeit one that now is 2 years dated - a two years in which the technology has undoubtedly grown in leaps and bounds - at the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference in 2006. The TED talk can be found here

Anyway, the talk was interesting, especially given Mr. Baraniuk's background, which is as a professor of electrical engineering. He spoke of the sharing of academic material on the internet. Shedding light on Collective Commons and Open Licensure, Mr. Baraniuk presented academic material and its relation to Apple's idea of "create, rip, mix, burn." Basically, the idea is that academic information can be manipulated in the same ways so as to make texts specific to the class level, focus, profundity of inquiry, order of content, length of course, etc...

Mr. Baraniuk highlighted on the relatively low cost of working with online learning webs, citing the example of a 600-page statistics book which, when purchased from a university book store would cost an estimated $131.00. Through Connexions, Baraniuk's online learning community, the same book costs a mere $31.00. They accomplish this by taking book orders one book at a time, and allowing various textbook publishers, whose business is waning in the recent years, a chance to compete for the lowest bid for the printing of the book.

While the talk was interesting, I was somewhat disappointed. Not so much in what he said, but what he didn't say. This was largely due to my misinterpretation of his intentional message, and my assumptions about what he would be conveying. I was hoping to hear a more abstract discussion of the sociological, cultural, and institutional ramifications of the proliferation of online learning communities. I have a million questions.

Do these threaten the institution of schooling, as Ivan Illich predicted in Deschooling Society, some forty years ago? Will the idea of certification that has been so closely tied to employment, education, knowledge, and intelligence be challenged? How will various groups - i.e., neoliberals, neoconservatives - attempt to use online learning webs as a way of altering the public school system, and will these effects be seen trickling down into the lower grades? Who will end up benefiting from said online communities? How will publishers react to losing their grip on the minds and pocketbooks of our youth? Is the everyday, run-of-the-mill professor willing to spend the time creating a textbook which is tailored to their specific class and semester? Will their be a closing of the gap between the haves and the have-nots in terms of achievement, economic success, and political agency?

My word. Vamos a ver. Note-See in either The End of Education by Neil Postman, or I Won't Learn From You by Herbert Kohl for a reference to technology in education and its harm.

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