In my first learning tomorrow post I spoke about the importance of open educational resources (OER’s) in the shaping of learning in the future. I was able to offer a definition of OER’s from the Cape Town Declaration as resources that are “freely shared through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone” and “published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms”.
But the term “open education” is increasingly being used. Some salient recent uses in 2011;
Each of these associate open education resources with open education.
So what is “open education”? There doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory answer to this question. Wikipedia’s brief claims to distinguish the term from open educational resources: the entry begins “Not to be confused with Open educational resources”. The entry goes on to claim: “Open education is a collective term that refers to educational organizations that seek to eliminate barriers to entry. Such institutions, for example, would not have academic admission requirements.” While quaintly anachronistic the insistence on one of the meanings ascribed to the term in the 1970’s meaning of the term, doesn’t seem historically accurate since in the same era the terms was contrasted to “Traditional” education, as a process “founded upon contingency and uniqueness; each student, teacher and event is suie generis”.*
Graham Atwell argues for a radical definition of open education, without actually offering a definition but suggesting that the starting place should be the claim made by Ivan Illich:
“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.”
The preface of the Cape Town Declaration on Open Education offers a useful way of thinking about the relationship between open educational resources:
“Open education is a living idea. As the movement grows, this idea will continue to evolve. There will be other visions initiatives and declarations beyond Cape Town. This is exactly the point. The Cape Town signatories have committed to developing further strategies, especially around open technology and teaching practices.”
Perhaps the Wikipedia entry is useful after all in the suggestion that what is important is the elimination of barriers to education. Open educational resources eliminate one eliminates one barrier to education: highly priced learning materials. Thinking about open education in this way draws our attention to the second concept in the term “education”. When something is considered extraneous to education but nevertheless limits education in some way it can appropriately be described as a barrier. Eliminating a barrier to education makes education more open. That doesn’t provide a definition of open education but it does provide some practical guidance; when in doubt eliminate barriers.
Different pictures of education will necessarily yield different answers about what constitute extraneous barriers and what constitutes inherent features of education. It will make dialogue clearer when we recognise arguments about these differences not as arguments about openness but arguments about education. For some education may necessarily involve some kind of formal assessment, while other pictures of education would regard that as extraneous.
But opening educational resources has never been only about 0 cost, it has been about increasing freedom, freedom to remix and not just copy, freedom of teachers but also of learners. What is valued is freedom but also the kinds of co-operation enabled by freedom. The Cape Town Declaration refers to this as “planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.”
One of the first seeds to sprout is Peer to Peer University (P2PU), a volunteer driven project to create a peer to peer driven learning community**. P2PU bills itself as the “social wrapper around open educational resources.”
Peer learning may well be the key innovation that helps resolve the crisis which tertiary education is experiencing worldwide. It may enable a education vibrant with free co-operation.But each new development in open education is only possible because of the development before it; peer learning is only possible with open educational resources; open educational resources are only possible with open licenses such as the Creative Commons licenses used for OER’s. Effective use of open licenses requires open protocols, open formats and the Internet. The Internet relies on layers of openness, including HTML, the URL system, and TCP/IP. Connection to the Internet often uses wifi, which uses a protocol; 802.11. that in turn relies on using unlicensed spectrum. Each layer relies on the continuing openness of the layers which it builds on.
It won’t have escaped the well caffeinated reader that I don’t offer a definition of open education either. I’ve (re)raised the question because it is an important question. The Cape Town Declaration specifically and the Open Education movement more generally seems to point to an emerging answer, a picture of education characterised by free co-operation.
* Open Education: An Operational Definition and Validation in Great Britain and United States Herbert J. Walberg and Susan Christie Thomas, American Educational Research Journal Spring 1972 Vol 9 No.2.
** Full disclosure: I am one of the volunteers.