Tag Archives: Open Educational Resources

Examining Open Education

open lock

We Participate, Therefore We Are. ~ Brown & Adler

This past week, I had the chance to delve deeper into the idea of open education and open education resources (OER) thanks to both #ETMOOC and the #MediaLabCourse.

Before this week, I hadn’t spent much time considering the differences between “open” and “free” and the power they can bring to people around the world when they are combined together. Free is valuable for the accessibility it provides but open, I discovered, means much more than just making something accessible or available to the public. It also means providing transparency and the blueprint for how and even why something was created. This unique insight into how something was made (e.g., a website, a software program), allows users to make the transition from consumers to creators much more easily. Suddenly, the plans behind a product are not only visible but they’re also “unlocked” and available for re-mixing, mashing, and updating so that they can meet the needs of individual contexts and previously unimagined goals.

It’s quite literally like holding the “secret code” in your hands to a door you might never have known existed before and then being able to enter that code in, walk through the door, and start making changes to the entire architecture of a place, program, or site.

Of course, one of the benefits of the open learning movement and the open education community, is that you don’t have to walk through that door alone. It’s similar to the community that has evolved around #ETMOOC when we all walked through the “door” of this free, open course and began to collaborate together. You join a community of other users who have also entered into an open space and who subscribe to a philosophy of open, shared inquiry and peer-to-peer learning. One of the key takeaways from the open educator’s panel and the Open Learning session I watched was the value and power of the community.

These open source communities serve to provide a place for “legitimate peripheral participation” in the words of Brown & Adler, where the process of joining a community “counts” as learning and new students can “engage in ‘learning to be’ even as they are mastering the content of a field.” I find this so exciting and freeing – the idea that you can learn as-you-go without needing to start as an expert, with the expectation that you will fail sometimes, and you can do it among a community of new peers and colleagues who are eager to support your growth.

mozilla open school

One of the best examples I have found to help concretize and demonstrate open learning is the Mozilla project and specifically Thimble. I was excited to see all of the activity happening for Open Education Week including the launch of Mozilla’s Open Badge system. Of course, after I learned about it, I wanted a badge! So I started a Thimble project that I thought connected well with the open theme: Open Webville, which was created by the new School of Open. In the first project, you have a chance to play with the HTML code for a website while also learning about Creative Commons Licenses by adding new text and CC images.

To make my page, I had an opportunity to dive into learning about and researching Creative Commons (CC) licenses and also HTML and CSS code. Although most of the steps involved things I already knew how to do (e.g., use an href tag, find CC images) I loved the ability to click and learn more details about each piece of code and then add my own to add to it. For example from seeing the HTML in my own blog, I had put together that

  • (list item) is used for lists but I never knew that the
      tag above those meant “ordered list.”

remixed animal

Next, I tried out some literal re-mixing of animals to build a site about my fictional endangered species, the Enchidolmel. While making my page, I had the opportunity to re-mix code in a scaffolded environment, learn about new HTML tags and apply the knowledge I had learned/practiced while making my last page. I was also engaged in learning about real endangered species as I created my fictional animal and maybe most important, I was exposed to the idea that I can be a creator and re-mixer of websites. I was shown that I have the power to take code and images and hack them to create something new that makes sense and holds meaning to me and then I can share that with the world!

These are the types of activities that I think are vital for our students to experience. They hit on so many 21st century skills and breakdown barriers to learning, creation, publication, and sharing. I can’t wait to try another Thimble project … and collect some more badgesHave you tried any? Will you introduce this site to your students? 

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Considering the Power of Pull and Other Ideas

Before too many weeks pass (if only there were 48 hours in every day!) in the MIT #MediaLabCourse I wanted to write up a few scattered reflections on the topic of Interest-Based Learning.

I really enjoyed one of the recommended resources for this topic, Joi Ito’s Keynote to Open Educational Resources and many of the ideas he shared prompted me to think more deeply about education today.

He spoke about the “power of pull” (written about in this book), which I found intriguing. The idea is that people should avoid stocking up on resources and power and instead wait to “pull” on those things until you need them. This seems fairly contrary to much of American schooling, where students are told to “stock up” on a wide variety of knowledge, some of which they won’t use or apply for years to come (if they ever use it at all). Papert describes it nicely when he says “Many react badly to school because its emphasis on memorizing facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.” For example, why do we have students memorize states or countries if they’re not going to be traveling or needing that knowledge sometime soon? Before I travel to a new place, I tend to acquire and pick up a huge amount of information because I want/need to know it. I also feel like I retain more of the information when I learn it in that context because the knowledge holds more value and relevance and can be connected to my experiences.

At the same time, having attended a liberal arts institute for my undergraduate education, I can see the value of learning things that are broader than a specific unit of study or career track. Maybe part of the distinction between what’s meaningful and relevant comes with choice. When I have the ability to choose which courses I would like to join based on what intrigues or interests me, the learning inherently feels more relevant and exciting. When children are told what to stock up on and study, we create students like “Michael” who are labeled as needing special education and not successful in school even though Papert discovered he was primed to engage in mathematical thinking and engineering when he could direct his own learning and discovery.

And then there’s the idea of distributed innovation and the ability to create something amazing and powerful (e.g., the Internet) by bringing together little pieces of knowledge, skill, and talent from many different people around the world. Does that require a diversity of knowledge within each person, or just a diversity of knowledge among many? As Joi explains, the Internet has also been produced and continues to thrive due to a unique spirit where people work together, share and build new tools and sites for the sake of creation. They are motivated by the momentum created by sharing and the incentive of getting to create something. Via the Internet and technology, we are able to pull together amazing teams of people who together have more expertise than could have been assembled in any other way because the people are brought together not by money or a single organization/recruiter but by an intrinsic desire to collaborate, learn, and make something meaningful.

How can we create a similar momentum in schools? Is something missing from our current equation and if so, what is it? To me, it seems the learning-by-building or doing piece is a huge component that schools continue to avoid. Students are often not allowed to express their creative abilities and feel intrinsically motivated to collaborate and make something meaningful because we hold them back from open-ended creation. We don’t  want to “waste” too much time in the act of making or engaging in student-inspired projects that are not in the curriculum and we’re busy trying to meet set standards, which (at times) can mean every child has to do the same thing.

What if, instead, we could allow for the “rough consensus” that Joi speaks about? What if schools created a rough model of their curriculum and then constantly built upon it each year, continuing to change and develop it as an iterative guide for teachers and students but one that is responsive to individual classes’ interests and passions. Instead of trying to plan every lesson before teachers meet their students or having teacher feel unprepared because the week is not planned out minute by minute, classes could become more resilient by being able (and encouraged) to shift and adapt to changing needs and goals.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Krissy.Venosdale

Sometimes I like to imagine a classroom where everyone celebrates diversity and interdisciplinary work, a place where students are “aggressively creative” as Joi describes the MIT Media Lab and students are pushed to think for themselves and even question authority. Instead of learning that school is a place to focus and ignore the periphery – those new ideas just starting to take shape on the boundaries of a new unit or or those collaborations between home/school/community that have tentatively taken shape – students and teachers are asked to embrace them. One of the challenges of cMOOCs seems to be that people can feel overwhelmed and even shut down when faced with such an open model of learning where they decide their own goals, pace, and instruction. If our classrooms where more allowing of community learning, each student named as a teacher as well as a learner, and there was constant serendipitous creation of new ideas and projects, would cMOOCs be such a difficult learning environment?

I’m left wondering and imagining and most recently, thinking about constructing powerful ideas. Are there any in the mix in this post? Are there ideas that I have begun to ignore as those ideas have become disempowered in schools and education?