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.

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