Saturday, January 16, 2010

Online Education the next public education

"...the fact remains that digital educational enterprises are to the 21st century what public universities were in previous generations: accessible and more affordable means for people to better their minds and their lives"

John Meacham, Newsweek, January, 2010.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The World is Open-- Open Courseware is Just the Beginning--6

Providing access to lectures, notes and other course materials means that lots of information is available to others interested in these materials, but Curt Bonk reminds us that this is really just the beginning. He says,
"We can all see that entry into the world of higher education, whether as an individual, department, organization, or community, just became easier. However, this content is typically not credentialed and often is simply lecture material or associated content to review. As such, it is what I call Level One Knowledge-- basic facts" (p.177-178).
His point is that for someone who is willing to teach him or herself or for an instructor who is seeking supplementary material this content is helpful, but in most cases it is not possible to have access to teachers and to get feedback or clarification about ideas in these open courses without enrolling in the course or the university.

Kevin Kelly on the Internet & Knowledge

In this article,AN INTERMEDIA WITH 2 BILLION SCREENS PEERING INTO IT Kevin Kelly, describes the way in which the Internet has affected our "knowledge." I have highlighted sentences that capture the spirit of his thinking.

"But my knowledge is now more fragile. For every accepted piece of knowledge I find, there is within easy reach someone who challenges the fact. Every fact has its anti-fact. The Internet's extreme hyperlinking highlights those anti-facts as brightly as the facts. Some anti-facts are silly, some borderline, and some valid. You can't rely on experts to sort them out because for every expert there is an equal and countervailing anti-expert. Thus anything I learn is subject to erosion by these ubiquitous anti-factors.

My certainty about anything has decreased. Rather than importing authority, I am reduced to creating my own certainty — not just about things I care about — but about anything I touch, including areas about which I can't possibly have any direct knowledge . That means that in general I assume more and more that what I know is wrong. We might consider this state perfect for science but it also means that I am more likely to have my mind changed for incorrect reasons. Nonetheless, the embrace of uncertainty is one way my thinking has changed.

Uncertainty is a kind of liquidity. I think my thinking has become more liquid. It is less fixed, as text in a book might be, and more fluid, as say text in Wikipedia might be. My opinions shift more. My interests rise and fall more quickly. I am less interested in Truth, with a capital T, and more interested in truths, plural. I feel the subjective has an important role in assembling the objective from many data points. The incremental plodding progress of imperfect science seems the only way to know anything."

Shirkey on Participation & Openness

In "The Shock of Inclusion," Clay Shirkey reminds us that our success in the age of the Internet will be determined by the ways we use this new tool or the ways we fail to use this new tool.

Using an analogy from the intervention of the printing press, Shirkey suggests that alchemists (who were working on turning lead into gold) failed and chemists succeeded in large part because of how they used the availability of printing to share their work. Shirkey writes,
"The problem with the alchemists had wasn't that they failed to turn lead into gold; the problem was that they failed uninformatively. Alchemists were obscurantists, recording their work by hand and rarely showing it to anyone but disciples. In contrast, members of the Invisible College shared their work, describing and disputing their methods and conclusions so that they all might benefit from both successes and failures, and build on each other's work."
In short, Shirkey suggests that developing a culture of "sharing" through print is why chemists and other scientists succeeded... not print itself, but a willingness to share using print.

Shirkey extends this thinking to the Internet writing,
"As we know from, the 20th century model of publishing is inadequate to the kind of sharing possible today. As we know from Wikipedia, post-hoc peer review can support astonishing creations of shared value. As we know from the search for Mersenne Primes, whole branches of mathematical exploration are now best taken on by groups. As we know from Open Source efforts like Linux, collaboration between loosely joined parties can work at scales and over timeframes previously unimagined. As we know from NASA clickworkers, groups of amateurs can sometimes replace single experts. As we know from Patients Like Me, patient involvement accelerates medical research."
He notes that although experts such as professor, physicians and others who have held a privileged position in regards to the ability to publish their ideas know longer have that position and that we will "will complain about the way the new abundance of public thought upends the old order, but those complaints are like keening at a wake; the change they fear is already in the past. The real action is elsewhere."

Shirkey suggests that we have the opportunity to use the Internet
"as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change, but to do this will require more than technology. It will require that we adopt norms of open sharing and participation, fit to a world where publishing has become the new literacy."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Using Research to Mis-inform

Too often news accounts of scientific research fail to inform the public or fail to use research in useful or helpful ways. This is often frustrating to scientists and at times these failures can be dangerous or damaging. (I have written elsewhere about the debate about the link between vaccines and autism as an example.)

But I find it particularly troubling when a source of information about higher education fails to engage scientific research in a useful and thoughtful manner. In this article,Facebooking Won't Affect Your Grades, Study Finds. At Least Until Next Month's Study Tells You It Will,
Marc Parry provides the worst example of reporting on scientific information.

1. He presents two studies that on the face of it seem to come to different conclusions about the impact of "Facebook" on student grades without any consideration of the methods or approaches.

2. He then compounds this weak exploration of the issue with the citation of the relationship between the use of Facebook and divorce. In this case, he cites no research, but merely provide links to other news articles as if these were sources of evidence.

3. Finally, he concludes with a flip statement that next month's research findings will make counter claims and that all of this is just a matter of "he says, she says" and not really a matter of science.

Rather that provide any sort of thoughtful discussion of the evidence regarding the impact of social networking activities on personal relationships or educational outcomes the reader is left with the idea that scientists studying this issue have nothing really useful to say on this topic.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The World is Open-- Growing Content--5

The first "opener" in The World is Open, is the growing availability of information on the web and the fact that much of this information is completely accessible without subscribing to the material, enrolling in a course, and so forth. In short, the content is available and accessible.

In this chapter Bonk highlights the increased availability of books noting the efforts by Google to scan in books and other projects such as the Open Content Alliance and Open Library that are working to make more books available to people on the Web.

He also highlights efforts to create free open-source textbooks such as those developed by the Global Text Project.

This is truly a revolutionary aspect of the Web as more content becomes available each day. This is a powerful foundation on which to create educational and learning opportunities.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

World Is Open-- UCLA Summer Digs Blog is Closed--4

Curt Bonk's, The World is Open, begins with an interesting and exciting story about the way in which web can bring science into the lives of many people outside of universities. The example is the UCLA Summer Digs program.

Bonk highlights a number of articles in the UCLA magazine about this project and writes,
"The Summer Digs Project is also a virtual apprenticeship for thousands or perhaps millions of online Web surfers....It is quite plausible that many people stumbling on their blog posts from Chile or Peru a few years, decades, or even centuries from now might become energized by them..." (p. 4)
Whoops.... if you click on the UCLA Summer digs, you get the message "this blog content is no longer available." This is a reminder that the Web content is fragile and that it isn't always reliable and engaging.

It is not clear what happened to this content or why it is no longer available. You can find a blog about a current UCLA archaeological dig in Egypt... but it seems less inspiring than Bonk's description. For one, there is no mechanism to comment or ask questions to the students or faculty. It looks like there are 5 posts over the course of the fall semester. Nice, interesting, but not exactly inspiring.

None of this means that Bonk is not correct that the Web creates the opportunity to bring the scientific discovery process into new places and engage new people. I have described Folding@Home" as an example of this type of work, but the disappearance of this blog and the limitations of its current Web presence reminds us that this type of learning is very much a work in progress and not well understood.

Monday, January 04, 2010

World is Open-- Informal Learning--3

In my continuing reading of Curt Bonk's, The World is Open, he identifies what I think is the most important development within educational innovation-- the expansion of informal learning.

He writes,
"There are no credentials that this worker receives from going on the Web to learn what a wiki is, or to view a map of a country she intends to visit, or perhaps to buy [Jay] Cross's book [on informal learning]-- yet each of these information searches entails learning" (p. 40).
I continue to think that the most powerful transformation in learning is taking place in this invisible process of informal learning. Just as most of us have been learning a lot informally from television we are now learning a lot informally on the web. The unfortunate part of this is that just as most educational institutions have not actively participated in the creation of television material (other than through athletics!), our educational institutions are currently missing the opportunity to create great Web material.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration challenges educators to actively participate in the creation and use of open educational resources, authors and publishers to release their resources openly, and higher education and other institutions to make open educational activities a priority.

These are the important challenges in the creation of informal learning.

World is Open-- Macro Trends--2

In my continuing reading of Curt Bonk's, The World is Open here is an important perspective he has about the "macrotrends" related that will have an impact on learning and education:

These are:

1. the availability of tools and infrastructure for learning (the pipes);
2. The availability of free and open educational content and resources (the pages);
3. a movement toward a culture of open access to information, international collaboration, and global sharing (a participatory learning culture). (p. 52).

Bonk writes:
"The convergence of these three macro trends has put in motion opportunities for human learning and potential never before approached in recorded history" (p. 53).
There is a lot of evidence that these trends are moving in the direction that Bonk suggests, but it is far less clear that most of the educational institutions are contributing towards the development of open educational content and a participatory learning culture. Bonk correctly cites some of the important developments (Connexions, MIT Open Courseware, and a few others), but these are still limited efforts.

In fact, these are relatively old (2-3 years ago) developments and there have not been significant other developments in terms of institutions following their lead or in innovative new versions of open educational resources. Perhaps these developments are smaller and less visible, but there have not been any major developments.

What are the real trends in these areas? Are major educational institutions joining the open education trend? To what degree are online learning platforms fostering a participatory learning culture?