Tag Archives: website

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? 

Optimization for Education?

Googlebot from page 5

SEO or search engine optimization is increasingly on my radar these days. Almost daily, I see posts about it on sites like Mashable and tweets about it in my various Twitter streams. It wasn’t that long ago that I was still trying to learn and remember what the acronym stood for but over the past few months I have come to see how valuable SEO can be.

For those of you who are new to this term, search engine optimization refers to “the active practice of optimizing a web site by improving internal and external aspects in order to increase the traffic the site receives from search engines” as defined by SEOmoz. This means that you examine your website to ensure that there is consistency in your naming practices, that your links are updated and active, that your content is original and new, and that you have social media sharing tools embedded on every page.

Of course, there are a number of other factors that affect SEO, many of which I am still learning. Luckily, there are a lot of helpful resources on the web to find out how SEO works. For example, I attended a great webinar by Kuno Creative titled “Inbound Marketing: The New SEO Facts, Figures, and Data” which helped clarify the connection between inbound marketing (if you’re new to this term, check out this great infographic) and SEO. Through that webinar, I was able to find out about updates to Google’s search algorithm and how it rewards sites for providing good content that people want to share across the web. I also learned more about the importance of having numerous keywords appear in search engine results that will drive traffic to your site. Other resources, like SEOmoz’s extensive “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” and Google’s “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide” have also been invaluable in my journey to understand SEO and its effect on my websites.

Yet, the more I learn about SEO, the more I begin to wonder about the implications of SEO for educators and educational organizations or nonprofits. Many of these groups have few employees and little funding and most of the educators I know dedicate much, if not all, of their time to designing lesson plans and preparing innovative and engaging projects for their students. All of which leaves little time to learn about SEO and apply the related practices to their company websites or personal blogs. Meanwhile, large companies hire full-time “search engine optimizers” or companies like Hubspot to help them with this work.

Does this difference in SEO resources and management capacity matter? Do educators, schools, and educational organizations need to be concerned with SEO? A few months ago, I would have said no – SEO is something that only businesses and companies trying to sell products deal with and need to worry over. Now, I’m not so sure. As I prepare to launch my own new website for early childhood educators to learn about using technology to create global learning experiences, I’m conscious of the fact that I would like my site to be easily found in search engines. I want educators to be able to find the free resources and tools I have collected without having to search ten pages of Google results before stumbling upon the site.

Watching the analytics for this blog, I can see how much traffic search engines can bring to a site and I want other educational websites and blogs to be accessible and easily found by families, teachers, and administrators who want to learn about educational issues. So, I’m left wondering about the importance of SEO for education and about whether there is a way to make information about SEO more accessible and understandable for educators and their related organizations. I want to optimize education so that it is a topic that has a fighting chance at being ranked in search results. I think educators easily have the “fresh” content that Google is looking for, I’m just not sure if they are always aware of how that content has to be coded and marketed to be optimized for search results.