Sunday, December 9, 2007

Week 15

Week 15

I got much more out of this class than I ever expected. I had some knowledge of OER gained here and there over the last few years, but I find that there were gaping holes in my understanding. The history of the movement as well as the pieces that make up the movement were enlightening.

One area I would like to look at in more depth is whether or not there has been any research done what motivates a professor to contribute their work to OER. The one we read about in the Giving Knowledge for Free, where only 30 people from the United States responded, was a good start. There have been hundreds of articles written that look at the incentives and disincentives for a professor to contribute to distance education. OER is somewhat similar and yet has a different set of incentives and disincentives. It seems that the movement has come to a point in history when that should be looked at and a formal commitment to bringing more into the fold should take place.

One problem I had with the class was the amount of work. Thank goodness that changed in the end. Another problem was contact with fellow students. I did not know there was a wiki for students to discuss things until a family member pointed it out to me. He had googled my name which appeared in a list on the site. Unfortunately for me, it was at the end of the semester when I learned about it. How did other students find out about it? That was a great idea. And no, it wasn’t wetpaint.

Much of what I have learned over the last few months has been turned around and used with my students. They are pre-service secondary ed teachers who caught the OER virus. Yeah!

I think there should be a sequel to this class – where we actually do what was originally designed for the course in the beginning. With the knowledge we have gained about the movement, we should be designing ways to influence more professors to become a part of the movement. We could discuss inclusion of K-12. We could evaluate who is contributing and ask ourselves whether or not anyone is being left out and why? We could look at OER platforms and evaluate them. We could dig a little deeper into the copyright issues. Wow. I guess, from what I am saying, that the sequel could be an evaluation project, one that could help the future of OER.

I would love to stay in touch with this group in order to continue the discussion.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Week 13

I read Bryan Ollendyke’s blog that suggested K-12 not be brought into the OER movement until we (the collegiate ones) figure out how to do it in Higher Education. At least I think that is what he was saying. Then I read Karen Fasimpaur’s blog and Kurt Johnson’s blog .
They both have experience in the K-12 realm. It made me wonder about policy and content. Policy takes time. I am not an expert on policy, but it seems that it is formed after the experience has taken place not before. I agree with Bryan that Higher Ed is probably the place that is using students and grants to develop OER, but I think OER should be promulgated at all levels and at the same time, which is now.
And this is where I really get behind what Karen said: “In OER, there are more discussions about licenses, standards, and metadata than there are about content, learners, and outcomes. I believe that this needs to change if the OER is to be successful in fulfilling its enormous potential.”
I loved Kurt’s description of ‘learning objects’ in the elementary schools: “… I see learning objects being used in elementary classrooms every day. Teachers call them books, posters, pictures, videos, dvds, and 'stuff.' The best loved learning object[s] in elementary schools are any worksheet, lesson plan, or handout another teacher has and will let you use.” We sometimes forget that learning objects, by another name, have been around since the beginning of education.
The future. I agree with Karen’s discussion about OER but I would add one more thing. As we push forward, I am concerned that many are being left behind. With whom are we discussing OER? Who are we bringing into the fold? For me, OER is about opening educational opportunities to everyone, especially the underserved, the neglected, the poor, the people who traditionally face barriers to education. With that in mind, I ask again, with whom are we discussing OER? There are people in education now that once were prohibited from being there. Are they being asked to join? Are they being told about OER? Are they being brought into the movement? After all, they know how to reach the underserved, the neglected, and the disenfranchised because they are members of that population. I look around me at the conferences I have attended, the discussions online, the contributors to OER and I become concerned for all the faces that should be there, that should be contributing but are not. I believe the future will not be a good one unless we pull everyone into this movement and listen to what they have to say.
If I were to write a story about the future of OER, based on what I know about it today, it would not be a story about success. It would paint the picture of an OER movement that forgot to include/ chose not to include/ or just went nilly willy ahead without thinking about including all the players that make up the teaching professions.
Before we start building policy, we should make sure that all the important players are included; otherwise it becomes a movement by the chosen few, for the chosen few and sensitive only to the chosen few. Including educators from all grades, and from diverse populations, should be our goal immediately. We need to reach out in a broader sweep, being careful not to disenfranchise anyone. There are many ideas out there that we have not heard. It is at this point that we should still be open to the thoughts of many, not just a few. In the end, if we can do this, the rewards will be great; the culture of education will have a chance to change into something extraordinary for all.
I do not see any reason why OER can’t work for every grade level. I realize that each educational system has unique characteristics but I believe that members of those educational systems, if they believe in the movement, can overcome any problems. I come from a very, very rural area. As long ago as seven years, High School students in my town were able to get an Associates degree the day they graduated from high school because of some of the distance classes that were available, and a school district with vision. OER can fill the needs of unique problems found in any school district, not just rural areas. Think of the disabled, the sick, the rural, school districts that can't afford to include specialty teachers (i.e. languages), and students for one reason or another that just cannot physically get to a school that offers what they need. OER absolutely fills the needs. I also see in the future, if we are careful, schools completely changing because of OER.

Wiley is a man who always has a special insight into places and times. I believe he is right about the licensing issues that will plague OER efforts. My belief is that we must disentangle OER from the commercial world and the pirates who would continually fight to keep barriers to education blocked for their own commercial gain. Education is one area that should be kept separate from profit. The teachers are separated from profit, so why not all of the parts and pieces that make up education, like learning objects? The open source movement has taught economists that there are motivators beyond just dollars in some economies.

And, harp, harp, harp. As we discuss localization and colonization we need to be aware that some people are missing from the movement. Non-inclusion will one day come back to bite the butt of OER. What measures are we taking to make sure that all stakeholders are included?

*photo by Kiraia from Flickr

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Week 11

Some people believe that open educational resources “fix” many of the problems experienced by those who work with learning objects. Why do you think they would say this? Do you agree? Why or why not?

I never realized that learning objects – that innocuous and promising mix of words had such a dark and sordid life (or death). When I first stumbled upon the term I was pregnant with the possibilities. I have meandered through the field of Instructional Technology for several years without being a part of or taking part in its demise. I have associated with and worked for Wiley through all of my days in InsT. Learning objects seemed to be a mysterious part of him, a part that no one discussed with much depth, if at all. From this na├»ve perspective, I am still not sure who did what to whom or why. Learning objects seem to have caught a virus from “internet exposure.” Too many people saw the promise but tried to make it fit their domain to the exclusion of all others?

What a shame.

Maybe we have to leave the learning object behind, with all of its strangling tethers, and find a new name. If we do, what are the fixes that promise to breathe life back into the ‘movement?’

Wiley discusses two separate islands in the literature: One is about structures and standards and leveraging intelligent systems to do it all for the learner. The other is about just doing it and letting the users sort out the selection process (Wiley, 2007, p 351). The second island appears to be more about open educational resources (OER). He also stated that OER has alleviated the problems of copyright associated with learning objects (p 352); however, recent discussions of public domain, copyleft, creative commons, non-commercial etc., point to the many problems that still exist.

Systemizing learning objects and then freeing them from copyright strictures are plaguing problems. But even without those problems, learning objects still face the problem of localizing content. OER is a movement that many of us believe in because it breaks down barriers to education. We are concerned about sharing our knowledge with people who normally would not have access to learning material. Those learners could be anywhere in the world, developing or developed countries, cultures, ethnicities, genders. Some believe that the creator of content is also responsible for localizing it. Or maybe it is the responsibility of the Instructional Designer. It is a nice thought, but one that is beyond the scope of the content provider and beyond the scope of the instructional designer.

The history of Instructional Technology as well as the designs we have been taught to use are filled with many clues to the dilemma of localization. Instructional Technology professes to be as old as the day humans used tools to teach. But it is a young field as far as being organized into a ‘department.’ Some say that the most immediate organization of teaching into efficient and effective methods began with teaching soldiers in the war. Instructional Technology was developed by white males for white males. Culture, gender, ethnicity – in other words – localization, were never a part of those designs. And nothing much has changed toward that end. How many of you, who design instruction, have designed with the actual members of the class in mind? If you did, how did you localize the instruction? What guidelines were you using?

Since a very young child, I learned to ‘localize’ content that was never designed with me in mind. Western language was/is all about gender, unlike some Eastern languages that have no interpretation for he/she. I grew up always having to adjust content to fit me. He (him, his) was the only student. Not only was Johnnie the gender but so were the samples/examples – well you know the rest of the story. If someone has come up with a theory on how to localize content, even in Logan, Utah, I have not heard it and I certainly have not seen it or been a part of it. So I tend to go to the second island, where my belief that the user, or student, is more capable of applying context to learning objects than an Instructional Designer. Only the student can know for sure what the needed parameters might be. It seems that it is only the white male that thinks he can localize anything, and that’s because he has dominated for so long that he is blind to ‘others.’

This whole discussion of learning objects made me start thinking about all of the classes that I have taken. Could each one of them be broken down into smaller objects? Of course they could. And like a library, I believe I can wade through the masses of books to find what I need in order to understand what I am trying to learn. Of course, that does not happen without training on how to use a library. And, there will always be a need for a mentor, a guide so that my errors are not so vast.

I see more hope in OER than the ‘other’ which is busy creating rules. But even OER is weighted down with the virus of ‘internet exposure.’ Too many people see the promise but try to make it fit their domain to the exclusion of all others. How nice it would be if we could, just for a moment, try to engage in a Wikipedia mindset. Let the people build the content. Let the people build the folksonomies. Let the learners find what THEY need. And let the geeks keep working at the ‘other’ way, but keep their mentality away from learning objects (or whatever name they might be given) until they come up with a viable solution.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Week 9 - Can't Make Up My MIND

QUESTIONS: What can the open education movement learn from the book you chose to read? Elaborate on at least three points. Which of the ideas presented in the book did you find hardest to believe or agree with? Why?

I have decided to do this a little differently and comment on several of the books instead of just one.

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C.K. Prahalad. This is a book about economics, financing the poor at the bottom of the pyramid and creating a diamond out of it (creating a middle class). Knowledge procurement is discussed (as in information about crops) but education is never brought into the formula. ICICI Bank wanted to lend money to rural India in a sustainable way (p.117). They had to challenge existing assumptions about market development, capital intensity and managerial cost structures.

Part of the success of ICICI Bank is its philosophy: “If you are going to gain sustainable competitive edge, you have to leverage technology in a big way.” They could see that moving from “physical-branch banking” to “virtual banking” would be a lot more profitable. This is a fact that Distance Education has yet to learn. USU has been doing Distance Education for a couple of decades – reaching out to the very rural areas of Utah. They did it by building ‘brick and mortar’ buildings around the state and then piping in the ‘virtual’ part, causing students to sit in F2F classrooms that utilized expensive technology. That was understandable in the beginning, but as rural areas gained access to home computers and connectivity, the university failed to make changes and continues to invest in even more expensive equipment to replace the stuff that is getting old. Rural students have to leave their home computers and travel (an hour or two) to an outreach building, to attend ‘virtual’ classes, synchronously. The investment in unneeded technology is proportionate to the inability to let go and let virtual.

And many institutions are stuck in that same holding pattern. Over the past few years Distance Education classes have been cut out or eliminated because of the incredible expense. It doesn’t have to be that way. If India can trust in the ‘virtual’ in rural areas, why can’t the United States? Oh, you say that virtual banking is different than virtual schooling?

This book discusses micro-financing and reaching out to the very poorest. Loans are made that most companies would never consider. The very poor have always been seen as a waste of capital: poor risk with little return. However, according to the author, the program has had great successes. I want so much to believe all that he says, but sometimes it just seems too good to be true.

One of the lessons learned from micro-financing could be helpful in OER: “…the incumbents in this space were all struggling to turn profits since they were used to working as donor-funded and –supported institutions. This dependence often affects scalability and sustainability (p.118).” Sound familiar? What they needed was a ‘point of presence/distribution point’ in the rural area. Instead of brick and mortar and staffing expenses they leveraged the relationships, knowledge and rural networks already in existence.

OER is such a great idea that many have been working on it all over the world. But we seem to be at a crossroads. Nothing is set in stone and direction is still up in the air. Some things have been defined, but still we are not happy. Licensing is an issue and so is platform. My thoughts keep going to the way Wikipedia began and has grown. It makes the most sense. So I took a look at WikiEducator to see if they were doing what I had envisioned. I saw lots and lots of effort at building a structure but no content for learners. That isn’t what I had in mind. If Wikipedia started the same way, it is possible that we would still be waiting for the content.

There are lessons to be learned from BOP (bottom of the pyramid). We know the virtual piece is important, we just can’t figure out the content. Give the responsibility to the SHG’s (self-help groups), those who have the greatest reason to see it succeed. Just start building, as in Wikipedia, and let the village grow.

more to come............................................

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Economic Models of Open Education

QUESTIONS: How can you build a sustainable business around giving away educational materials? How can you build a sustainable business model around giving away credentialed degrees? Should governments fund open education? (Do they already?)

I don't like the questions. The first one seems to assume that things are right the way they are, now how do we keep solvent? I don't think 'things are right the way they are.' We have seen a lot of different OER models emerge. The discussion in the readings compares different models. Each have varying degrees of funding support and end-product. But are any one of them the way of the future or sustainable into the future? Each brings to the table varying degrees of control over OER's. That control costs money and control implies that the commons cannot be entrusted with creating educational products. I am very much in the same court as Downes: "Scalability and sustainability happen more readily when people do things for themselves." We have much to learn from Wikipedia. We need to let go of the idea that only a few know better.

The funding that concerned and leading OER universities are getting should be going towards building the software for a truly open educational resource repository. It should look just like Wikipedia, with the same amount of employees. In other words, let the commons grow OER. It should be situated in cyberspace, not at a specific university. Let the commons regulate, create, add to, add on, subtract, what ever. Let go and let learn.

Along with this model goes the belief that students need to learn to be responsible for their own learning. Take the content and localize it. No one can know exactly what localization is but the student who is consuming. No, teachers cannot know it all.

If we continue to think that the only answer is lots of funding, OER is doomed. MIT gave us the gift of an idea, but they can't give us the gift of their funding.

As to the second question - How can you build a sustainable business model around giving away credentialed degrees? The Dominican Republic offers higher education for free and that in a sense is giving away credentialed degrees. Is that what you mean by this question? Public universities may as well be free? I fail to see how this question fits into the discussion of OER. It clouds the issue - going back to the dislike of the first question. Giving away credentialed degrees is not what OER is about, is it? I was thinking more in line of offering free courses, but if you want a degree, you must pay for it and that is how OER could be sustainable. Maybe I just take all of this a bit too seriously. Okay - give away credentialed degrees through the public universities. Let school be free to the student, it practically is already. See the following answer to the following question.

Last question - Should governments fund open education? (Do they already?) My question is whether or not the income derived from tuition (at a public university) actually pays for much of anything anyway. It seems that tuition is just a tiny drop in the bucket of cost per student. If that is true, why bother? Why not let whomever is interested in getting a degree, get one. It is enough that a person going to school has to support themselves. Why do they also have to come up with thousands of dollars to pay for it? Public universities offer grants (government money) to undergrads. If you qualify for those grants you are poor. This does look like the funding of open education.

But maybe that is not the question. Maybe the question refers to the changing of all schools (public universities) to look more like the Dominican Republic. I was shocked when first told that higher education was free there. I spent time talking to the teachers and walking around the public campuses. Classrooms were dark and dank, covered in graffiti where the walls were not punched out. Teachers did not have technology. Even though free, not everyone in the population could attend. You have to have the brains to attend and some way of supporting yourself while there. My thoughts took me to the future of that country. This was a government that was serious about its future and success.

Coming from a capitalist country I never thought about what it would be like to have a free education (higher education). Maybe we haven't to this point because of our industrial roots in education. For many years it was important for masses of people to be willing to work on factory floors and assembly lines. If we educated our populations, who would want to do that kind of work? But now that we are in a 'knowledge and service' era, maybe we need to educate the masses and open education is the answer. Maybe the time has come for free and accessible education for all. Think how different the world would be if the greatest majority was highly educated.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ockham's Razor

QUESTIONS: Can you think of license options that CC is currently missing that would benefit the open education movement? As the CC and GFDL licenses are incompatible, how can OCW content be legally remixed with Wikipedia content? Some people claim that the Creative Commons ShareAlike clause provides most of the protections people want to secure from the Creative Commons NonCommercial clause. What do you think these people mean, are they right, and why? Is copyleft good for the open education movement? Why or why not?

Creative Commons ought to have a completely different section of works for OER or get out of the picture. Licensing OER should not be complicated or available on multiple levels. It is time for us to work together on this issue. If you are going to submit work to OER, submit it freely – knowing it will be modified, remixed and redistributed. The only limitation should be that your work cannot be copied by someone else. Modify it or don’t mess with it. Remix it or don’t mess with it. Redistribute it…………………you get the point. Back to my belief that localization has to happen for any class, you cannot simply copy someone else’s work for your own class anyway - if you know anything about teaching. I think this deals with the NC issue. Anyone who is going to use OER to create a commercially offered class better modify it and/or remix it in order to redistribute it. It’s about letting go of what you place in the OER domain. I see it like an offshoot of OSS. There is a certain hierarchy, global contribution that builds upon the original work, flaming when necessary, and the ability to create an income around the work. "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate.''

I have pondered over this mess for weeks, thinking of all kinds of ways to do it. But in the end it is just simple. The readings had me running to the pool of public domain. All of the other levels of protection were about selfishly holding on. OER is about giving something up for the betterment of all. That does not mean you have to give up all that you are and all that you have created, but if everyone just gave a little to OER, think how it would grow. It simply means contribute a little and let the global community build on it until it is a lot, until it is miraculous. The hard work of this global community is for free use – not for commercial use. I believe that income can be created around this copyleft mentality of mine, just like OSS has found a way. Pondering these questions from the perspective of the giver (the creator of content) and the taker (who would take and make money from) is what makes the questions difficult. If we think about OER from the perspective of the user – the person who wants to learn, the answer is simple: free to modify, remix, or redistribute. That is it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Creative Commons vs Public Domain

Works that find their way into the public domain are available to everyone and no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests. It is for the common good and can be used or exploited for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Once a work is in the public domain it cannot be reestablished as for copyright (there have been exceptions). It is believed by many that without public domain progress would not occur because innovation is often the result of building upon previous innovations.

Others believe that innovators need to be assured that they can benefit, economically, from their innovations. If time, energy and money are spent to create something, the creator should be allowed a certain amount of time to recoup their investment. Both the public domain and copyright (as first written in the United States) created a balance between the public good and encouragement of innovation.

But copyright laws have changed dramatically over the last 200 years. The founding fathers did not make copyright a lifetime deal nor did they intend it to be renewed in a perpetual way. Yet that is what copyright law has come to. Also, one no longer needs to register a work for it to be copyrighted, and nothing inadvertently ends up in public domain. The balance has been lost and copyright seems to be more about perpetual profit than about the common good.

Society over the last two hundred years has also changed. In the present we have a digital world and an information/service economy which have contributed to the need for change.

Lawrence Lessig put together a non-profit business that is working toward allowing copyright laws to mirror the original intent of our forefathers with the benefit of reflecting the present digital works and information/service societies in which we are a part. Creative Commons offers insight, tools, and services as well as creative options to think about when you create something. You can reserve some rights, put your work in the public domain, or even replicate a copyright as it was first introduced (for 14 years with an option to re-register another 14 years). The most important function that I see regarding Creative Commons, is the education one receives about copyright and how the present law is creating more harm than good.

Not many people would voluntarily give up their work to the public domain and so society suffers. That suffering is quite evident with digital tools. Fair Use was meant to mitigate the imbalance between public domain and copyright but Fair Use is a subjective, ever changing law (which some people argue it needs be). The digital age has made creative works easily produced, reproduced, available and distributed. It has also accidentally trapped a creative work in a background for which copyright holders have held many innovators hostage (not to mention the common good).

Educational materials and the present society have intersected in such a way that re-evaluation of copyright and public domain is inevitable. Thank goodness for Creative Commons that allows for varying degrees of copyright.

There are educators all over the world that believe the barriers to education should come down. They are willing to share their work and make it available to the world. But should they put it in the public domain?

As an educator what is the incentive of putting your work in public domain? Once there, you have no rights to it and no one has to give attribution for the work. Anyone can take it and turn it into something they can copyright and keep behind the very barriers the educator was trying to tear down. The incentive appears to be good will with no selfishness attached. The one thing that is nice about the Creative Commons License and the GFDL is that the person who uses the work has to keep it in the same state and cannot make it proprietary. That ensures that the barrier the educator was attempting to tear down will not be built back up with his works by someone else. I can understand why an educator would choose a Creative Commons license over putting their works in pubic domain, but either one is better than a straight copyright. Putting work in the public domain just means less tracking, less work. If one were to force the issue and make OERs subject to having to be in the public domain I think you would lose the good work of educators who care.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thoughts About Six "Open Education" Projects

What do these representative open education projects have in common?

All of these sites purport to be open. All but MIT required a login. They are primarily geared towards adult learners and offer things like statistics, RSS feeds, a way to rate courses, news items and how to donate. Most were easy to navigate through.

What differentiates them?

Rice - Their site is what I would call well thought out with features like: author profiles, computer checks, popularity ranking, statistics, RSS feeds, Tutorial on how to create content, learning journal, modules and courses, language options, a tech blog, and how to export files (to name just a few). They offer both modules and courses.

National Repository - I was a little disappointed in this site. It was linked out to so many places that I could get lost easily. Some classes seemed to be available, but there was mention of a cost between $3,000 and $25,000 per year that stopped me dead. The classes that I looked at had a ‘beautiful’ format but I felt I had stepped back in time to computerized lessons from the ancient past (1990’s?).

UNESCO - This is a great site for people who primarily want to deal with problems in the developing countries. I thought it was interesting that many of the courses I looked at were developed by Microsoft.

MIT - Provides the model and the foundation for OER. Their site is a peek into the syllabus/coursework with no login required. Books must be purchased and you sometimes get the feeling that important content is missing. The courses do give you a general idea of what MIT offers.

OpenEd – Had many great features including some mash-ups for fun (i.e. Google maps to see who was online at the moment). They seemed to have built a good path to sustainability in that they offered employee training, degrees, jobs, career planning – a few things that translate to income.

Carnegie Mellon – also has a very nice site, with lots of great courses made available. They have instituted some nice present day features like cognitive tutors, virtual laboratories, group experiments and simulations. They seem dedicated to doing research on every aspect of their courses, which will benefit us all in the future.

In the context of open education projects, what does “quality” mean?

This is a loaded question. Reading some of the comments made by my classmates leads me to believe they also felt the same about this question. The answer depends on many things. What MIT would consider quality is not what would work for UNESCO. Some of the sites were easy to navigate, one in particular was atrocious. Open is important, but each had a different idea of what that meant (for instance MIT is open but not all there and the National Repository charges). A few sites offered detailed tutorials, some did not. I think the tutorials add to the quality, but maybe it is the gatekeepers that have that say in the end.

Monday, September 24, 2007

More ramblings.....

In this last year three different reports have addressed the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. They each discuss the main facets such as who is involved, why people have become involved, the recent developments that have made it possible, what the inhibitors of further success are and recommendations for the future. OER is the basis for each report and although they discuss many of the same issues, each brings to the table a different emphasis.

One of the reports speaks to these issues as they relate to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that has backed the movement financially, creating the infrastructure needed for the movement to take hold. The authors take a look back and a look forward, making recommendations for further successes.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) report represents the perspective of 30 democratic governments concerned about issues relating to globalization and the information society with its technological developments that are creating an opportunity for change in the teaching and learning environments. Those unfamiliar with the OER movement can learn much about its facets by reading this report first. It will also help those who are trying to further the cause in that it maps out the movement and helps one understand what the many motivations have been to become involved.

The Open e-Learning Content Observatory (OLCOS) is a European e-Learning Program that fosters OER in Europe and beyond. This was one of my favorite pieces to read. They seem to have a depth of understanding about the future of teaching. E-Learning once had such promise when it began. But the F2F mentality, the industrial classroom proponents soon turned it into a huge financial burden (buying expensive equipment and brick and mortar buildings to house it in). It soon became all but an abandoned ship wreck (or a steam engine that is out of steam). OLCOS reminds us that the product-centric view of the past is a barrier. We have the tools, we have the digital students, we now need innovation. We need to follow the philosophy of open content to transform our classrooms into open practices. But we can’t expect to do this if we don’t invest in teacher training and support.

I could take up a lot of space talking about various pieces of OER. But the one I wish to discuss here is localization, with a twist.

Attempting to localize content is an exercise for teacher-centered domains. We can see, although it is like looking through dense fog, that OER is about changing the way we teach, letting go and letting the student learn. The localization of content needs to rest upon the shoulders of the end-user, the student and not the teacher. Nothing can be culturally neutral. Content is content and it must be good, but localization cannot be created in the content. Who can know what all the many components of localization can be? No one here on earth, that is for sure. So it becomes a matter of training a student to be a master student who can recognize when change is needed and know how to implement it to make the content relevant.

Now for the twist. I learned, as a child, to localize content. Every school book and every classroom treated me as though I were invisible. Everything was written to boys, about boys and for boys and everything they were interested in. Recently I sat in a lecture given by a ‘main player’ in the OER movement. All of the visual examples of teachers that this person presented in his powerpoint were exclusively of men. I had to localize content. I had to make a shift and tell myself that women are also among those in the teaching profession.

And then an interesting thing happened while I was reading about the opensource movement a few months ago. Many believe that the opensource movement is one of the contributing forces behind OER. Without it, the Hewlett Foundation would not have a reason to build the infrastructure. In one of the books I read, Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, edited by Joseph Feller, the author of chapter 2, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, presented the results of a survey from the FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) project that involved over 2,700 respondents. Almost all (98.9%) of the respondents who claimed to be opensource developers were male. This survey was compared with two other surveys that claimed the same kind of results: WIDI survey (6,000 respondents – 98.6% male) and the BCG survey of which 98% male (pp 30-31). That made me curious about what the figures were for who was contributing to the OER projects. I know they are very different projects, different kinds of players, but I still couldn’t help but wonder what the numbers looked like. At USU I found that out of 68 courses on the OCW website, four were represented as being created by women. That means that roughly 94% of the contributions were from males.

One of the goals of OER, as pointed out in all three reports, is the breaking down of barriers so that all humans can benefit from education. But unless we are very careful, this new “learning culture” may become a myopic product with all of its attendant tribulations. We have sadly learned in recent decades that the absence of attention to gender issues is actually a type of oppression, an inequality in itself. “Men often deny bias because they fail to recognize it. They usually don’t need to; it does not significantly affect their lives. As with race, part of the privilege of dominance is the privilege of accepting without noticing the benefit” (Rhode, 1997, p.3).

There may be many reasons why women are not contributing to OER in numbers commensurate with their numbers in the educational professions. It has been suggested that they are more likely to be technophobic or lack the same amount of time that males have (because of their other, unpaid jobs or because they are involved in too many committees). Whatever the reason, I think it is worth investigating. One of the reports talked about the concern that most of the OER available is in English and from the United States. More people, of all genders, races and cultures need to be brought into the OER movement. Those of us who are part of the movement need to be very diligent about inviting a wide spectrum of contributors to OER, from the contacts we make around the world.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Educating the World

QUESTIONS: In your opinion, is the "right to education" a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, is open "access" to free, high-quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to "mandate" education through a certain age or level?

Is the right to education a basic human right? I do not believe that there is a simple answer to this. First of all, what are human rights? And then I have to question the concept of education and what it could mean when used in the same sentence with human rights.

Tomasevski assumes that we all know what human rights are, as if there should be no question about the definition. Having been raised in the United States, but also having lived in various other countries, the definition is not so obvious to me. The rights I have come to expect as a human in my own country cannot be assumed when I travel into a different country. Even the human rights I have come to expect in my own country have not, and still do not, extend to all of its citizens. So I ask, how can there be human rights defined and expected across the world when we cannot even recognize or secure them in our own country? But even more, one countries definition of human rights may defile the cultural and social expectations of another country. Who has the right to define others rights?

In the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are these words: “...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” What struck me, as I read the last few words, and peace in the world, was the feeling that if we were all the same there would be peace. The entire declaration seems to be about making everyone comply to sameness, or a general rule. But the world is made up of so many different cultures, so many different ways of life that I feel it is wrong to seek compliance in this way.

Which brings me to the word education as a human right. I have given much thought to the design of courses and how to make them culturally sensitive to the audience. One cannot strip culture from a course. The person designing it is immersed in culture, to the point of blindness. And the designer cannot be expected to know or understand every culture that it might reach and thus design accordingly. I am aware of the prejudices and cruelties laced in teaching that Tomasevski speaks about. We react in horror to hear how people are maligned in a language course, or that a math class can also teach genocide. Education has been used to indoctrinate or beat students into submission. I abhor any such use of teaching. But I have reservations about a general definition of education that is not sensitive to the culture. Too often our need to help is not help at all, but pushing our own beliefs into places where they don’t belong.

Tomesevski uses emotionally provoking words that on the surface I can buy into: Education unlocks the key to other human rights; you cannot have the right to education without also having rights within education; parents do not hold their children’s rights or recognize that children are the subject of the right to education.

I am not against the ideas that claim education as a human right but I can’t help but have reservations. Mandating anything, even primary education, or arbitrarily assigning a certain level or age does not address individual needs. Each country and each family must have the right to choose what is best for them, otherwise human rights are violated for the sake of human rights. The powerful need to reserve judgment, be cautious, and recognize when enforcement steps across cultural boundaries.

Access. Access to education. Access to education that is free and of a high quality. I am all there. How to carry it out is another thing. Mandating anything like this cannot work unless there is support. But there are problems. If there is support it seems to end up being used for meetings and overhead that do not spiral down to the intended. Or it is used to build buildings which then require furniture and security, again, to the neglect of the intended. If access is created, for instance internet in small villages, destruction or theft is possible. According to Tomesevski, cost is usually not even the reason for denying access. The denied are excluded because of gender, or lack of identity papers. They might be refugees or from nomadic cultures. How do we then create access? I hope this class will be enlightening. There is still so much that needs to be done. And how do we create education that is of a high quality AND usable in all the many different places that it might end up? Maybe it is done case by case, maybe someone has figured this out – but I think it is still in the hopper, awaiting a solution.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Does Everyone Have a Right to an Education?

We shall consider these things..................