For a report on ICT and learning, I have been asked to contribute on ‘really open learning’.
In the spirit of the topic, I thought I would share my thoughts here and ask for your feedback and comments…
It is often tedious, terribly political, takes way too long and I think much of the standards work is too self-centered and misguided in proposing separate standards for learning, rather than just acknowledging that ‘the web is the platform’. However, I do think that adopting open standards is key, in order to avoid lock-in and to enable learners and teachers to use the tools they want in their own Personal Learning Environment.
My favorite example is … plain old email: I mainly use gmail and apple’s Mail client, but can send emails to my students who can use their mail client of choice (hotmail is back with the young crowd!). Very few of use need to worry about SMTP, IMAP and the like. Yet, without these standards, we’d still be stuck in our own islands of email – very few of you will remember how hard it could be to send an email to someone on AOL…
Now, imagine that we could do the same for learning environments: if one of my students would like to use Blackboard and another one would want to use Moodle and I would want to use neither. (In fact, I think both are very broken…) Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all use the tool that we like and still learn together?
One of the reasons I got started in open standards was to enable the ‘share and reuse‘ of content. The basic idea made a lot of sense to me in the 90′s and it still does: why would each of us start from scratch to author new content? Why do we not make use of what others have already done before us?
This idea has arguably been widely adopted, through the Open Educational Resources movement, though I again worry a bit that this movement has erected walls between ‘learning content’ and ‘the Internet’ and may have actually made it harder for many to make use of the abundance of content on the web.
I often use youtube videos, ted talks, slides from slideshare, photo’s, etc. from the Wild Web. I link to that content. I think that’s fine. I don’t think I should only use Creative Commons licensed content? And I’m a bit at a loss to understand why so few of my colleagues leverage the abundance of Great Stuff out there…
Open to the world
The much deeper and more important part to openness for me is the one about teaching in public, without barriers between ‘the course’ and ‘the rest of the world’. My course sites are wikis, my students communicate about their work through blogs, etc. Some of the MOOCs I participated in had a very similar attitude.
This approach creates very valuable opportunities for serendipity: ‘strangers’ make comments on student blogs and trigger unexpected conversations. This is a Good Thing and something students should learn anyway. My students are mostly engineering students and I think it is important that they learn to interact with society.
This open approach can also help to overcome the feeling that many of my students have that what they do in class is totally disconnected from The Real World. By solving authentic problems, internal motivation gets unlocked. BTW, we have a demofest next Friday to showcase the results of a course on multimedia programming. You’re welcome if you want to join us – we already have five outside guests who will participate in assessment of their work. (As an aside, the students also get to assess me – that seems kind of Fair Game to me…)
What do you think?
This is still a bit rough, but I hope it summarises my thoughts on ‘really open learning’… I’d love to get comments - preferably here, but email, twitter, facebook or google plus is fine too…
BTW, this section of the report will be part of the “freewheeling section”… Not sure what that says about how the report will position really open learning ;-)