Saturday, December 1, 2007

OpenEd Week 13: Looking into the Future...

An interesting question indeed. Personally I am all for personal flying cars, rocket jet packs, and vacation flights to the moon. Which brings me what I think the most important word for the future of OER and Open Education is... Practical.

If all that was predicted at Seattle World's Fair of 1962 had been accomplished, we would live in a world where...

people flew to work in their personal "gyrocopters" and lived in cities covered by giant domes (to control the climate -- not to play baseball in and later blow up). "TV telephones" were supposed to be as popular now as typewriters were then. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer click here

Predictions are fun, may provide some sense of direction, but have a difficult time providing substantive accuracy of the future. What I do think will happen with OER and Open Education will have much dependency on what is practical.

Jon Thomas' blog talks somewhat about this, in regards to financial implications.
Universities will latch on to OERs out of necessity, to reduce costs and to remain competitive with other establishments. Furthermore, as students become aware of other Universities reducing, and in some cases even eliminating, these costs, it will become more difficult for professors to require large expensive textbooks.

I think the concepts will stay around, be implemented into universities, adult education experiences, and other areas. But, only where someone sees the practical nature for such implimentation. To Jon, that comes as universities fight issues of rising education costs for students. Adreas looks at the issue from the student point of view, to which I agree. Students are driven by practicality. They choose courses that meet their schedule needs. Of course, they have more choices on delivery methods. They choose institutions from which to derive training and education from. They demand and expect the choices for more individualized education. Its the schools that are behind.

On a personal, practical note. I had the opportunity on Friday afternoon to deliver the Utah State Office of Education - Charter School Division the application for the Open High School of Utah (OHSU). I must admit that, at times, I felt I was carrying a sacred document. After all, how many proposals have been made for government funding for OER/Open Education support? How many at the K-12 level? How many that have actually been accepted and funded? To me the OHSU represents a bold step, yet also very practical at this time. I'm somewhat humbled to have been part of the initial application process. I look forward to seeing where it will go from here and my participation in it.

FYI- From the mission statement for the school...

The mission of the Open High School of Utah is to provide Utah students with an excellent education that will help them achieve their full academic and social potential.

The core philosophy of the Open High School of Utah is that education is a universal human right and that the most effective education is both hands-on and service-oriented. Because of this philosophy, OHSU is committed to using open educational resources – educational
materials that can be freely and legally copied, changed, and shared.

Open educational resources enable our educational mission by providing the greatest pedagogical flexibility possible to OHSU students, parents, and teachers. Open educational resources enable our service mission by providing the greatest number of opportunities to improve our communities and revolutionize schooling around the world.

OHSU offers a full college preparatory program and the opportunity for students to earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from the Utah State University, emphasizing computer science.

While I only helped with a small portion of the application, I think the concept of the OHSU demonstrates the practical nature of Open Education. The school is planned to meet the practical needs of students. Those students need a delivery system to meet their individualized needs. With today's technological abilities, such a school is a very practical move. It meets specific needs with available technology. Additionally, I think it will open up more areas for such development of OER and Open Education opportunities.

I suspect that we will be posting the application for review and comment to the Open Education community in the future. That's a decision left to David W and Bekir Gur, the primary authors of the application.

Friday, November 9, 2007

OpenEd Week 11: Learning Objects

From 1991-1993 I was working on MS of InsT at Utah State University. All the other students were going into the public/business sector. I was the lone (token) public education student. I was planning on teaching in the K-5 environment.

It was in the courses I first heard the formalized term, learning objects. Of course, with David Merrill teaching classes we tended to hear a lot, especially when it came to Knowledge Objects. Funny thing though... I don't recall ever hearing about them directly from Dr. Merrill. It was always through another course, professor, or student.

As I sat in the computer lab one day, I was tasked with building a 'unit of study' using software, ID Expert, created around knowledge objects and First Principals of Instruction. I think the experience was meant to help me better understand the philosophical foundation of the theory. What I really come out of the experience with was the question, "why would anyone spend so much time on such a lock/step formula for learning?" I agree with Wiley that
So whether learning objects are dead or not, I couldn’t say. And to some extent, who cares? As long as people are willing to (1) openly share (2) educational materials that will (3) render properly in most web browsers, and they also (4) provide access to the unobfuscated source for the materials (especially for Flash files, Java applets, Photoshop images with many layers, and the like), I certainly don’t care.

From the eleven years I spent in the elementary classroom, it was much more important for me to put learning objects in context for the student than to find the ideal object to use. Quite frankly, my students didn't care what photo, movie, or poster I showed them about a topic. Their learning seemed much more influenced by 1) Their interest in the topic and 2) How interested I helped them get about the topic. Sure, great resources helped immensely. However, learning was not dependent on them.

So, when I was first introduced to learning objects, I was less than impressed. It seemed like a lot of theoretical discussion to find out who was right about a topic that only those involved in the discussion cared about.

On the other hand, I see learning objects being used in elementary classrooms every day. Teachers call them books, posters, pictures, videos, dvds, and 'stuff.' The best loved learning object in elementary schools are any worksheet, lesson plan, or handout another teacher has and will let you use. Perhaps that is why the market for 'teacher help' books are so popular. Publishers like Frank Schaffer, Scholastic, Carson Dellosa, and many others have found that teachers will spend money, lots of it, for books that have pre-built material for them to use. For the US elementary teacher, a good learning object is anything they can use that doesn't take a lot of reuse.

What is the result? The teacher who...
  1. teaches one year 30 times.
  2. teacher for 30 years.

In some ways, the ability to reuse an object is a hindrance, in some ways it is advantageous. The teacher who does the same thing year after year will not want to remix. They want something out of the box, ready to go, plug and play. Having to modify takes too much time. The learning object is a constraint if it does not come packaged to fit in their schema.

Teacher type 2 seeks to modify, remix, and find new things to help improve their instruction. The learning object is not a constraint, but an element in better instruction.

Which leads me to my last point and questions. How much can open resources be utilized if they do not fit into the schema of a learning community? Specifically, NCLB in the United States has caused much more of an emphasis on dictated learning. Does this equate to less freedom to use and modify open educational resources? I had this same question when I visited school is Saga, Japan in 2001 as part of the Fulbright Teacher Program. The nationalized curriculum seemed prohibitive for teachers to improvise and look at other sources of materials beyond the 'official' government issue.

I would be interested to hear k-12 perspectives from other parts of the globe.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

OpenEd: OER

open educational resources are digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research (Giving Knowledge Fro Free, pg 30

I've been thinking about the days before the internet was popular and easily accessible, especially to the K-12 teaching community. As a former elementary school teacher, I use to get my fix of free educational resources through scouring announcements in magazines and finding addresses of businesses listed in I then would mount a letter mailing campaign to organizations I thought might be able to help.

My most successful mail campaign ended when a box of 40+ books related to Australia arrived from a specialty bookstore on the US east coast. The bookstore was going out of business. If I remember correctly, the letter said that as long as they had to get rid of their stock, it might as well be to a classroom who could effectively use them. Mind you, when I wrote to them originally I only gave a brief description of my 6th grade class studying Australia that year and requesting a catalog of what they might have available.

The 'production costs' for those materials was paid for by the publishers and the bookstore who donated them. My cost = $.28 for the stamp to mail the letter. As a matter of fact, about any educational resources I received cost me little or nothing. At the most, I paid for shipping and handling costs, a small trade off for the value of materials I received.

Times have changed. In a traditional sense, I can still find addresses on the internet and even request free material online. My costs = $.32 or $.00 However, if those materials are now made available online digitally, the burden of production cost now rests on my shoulders. For example...
I'm doing a unit on sources of energy. I find a nice lesson plan and poster on the California Energy Commission website. Old days... request a copy online or via mail. My cost = $.32 or $.00 Now... download a pdf. Print the pdf. My cost = $.05 x 28 ($1.40)

Now, in the above situation, if the poster is color, 2x3 ft, and not available pre-printed, my production cost goes up significantly. The same holds true for any material I want a physical copy of. What might have been shipped to me for little to no cost via the mail may now cost me to print out the pdf files on my machine. Many materials may not be easily converted to a 'physical' form. Video & audio files are easier to access on the computer. Digital photos are easily viewed on the computer screen but incur a cost to print, especially in color at larger sizes.

I realize this scenario does not hold true for a majority of OER materials. Many may not have been available for free in an earlier age. However, the burden of production cost to convert the material from a digital world to a physical world now rests on the consumer.

I think of this only because, as an elementary teacher, I was a hoarder. I loved having materials filling poster drawer, stacked on bookshelves, and hung on walls for students to look at. The paradigm is shifting.

Additionally, I look forward to our discussions of accessibility and the need to get these OER materials into areas that truly lack. Those seems to be the areas where digital access in limited or non-existent. I assume they are also areas where the burden on production for materials would make them prohibitive. Places where a box of posters, workbooks and textbooks are more easily used than a vast digital, online library. I look forward to our discussions on how these two worlds fit in the OER world.

btw- I think this week's reading should be mandatory for any person involved in the OER world. Even my employment with COSL at Utah State University should have begun with this as required reading.

OpenEd: Irony?

When Reading Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources, did anyone else find irony when glancing at the first few pages and seeing this?
No reproduction, copy, transmission or translation of this publication may be made without written permission. Applications should be sent to OECD Publishing or by fax 33145249930. Permission to photocopy a portion of this work should be addressed to blah, blah, blah...

At what point does free and not free meet? Is it when a monetary value is assigned for access or does it deal with levels of access? Free may not equate to easy to access. 'Open' may not equate to free if the material is difficult to access or obtain permission to use.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Education, A Basic Human Right?

Questions of the Week: Is the "right to education" a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, is open *access* to free, high-quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to *mandate* education through a certain age or level?

I'm an elementary school teacher by both profession and interest. One of the reasons I joined this class was to explore the concepts of Open Education in relation to the elementary school world. With my background, upbringing, and work situation the obvious answer is, yes, education is a basic human right. Especially when it relates children ages birth - 12.

Asking a child not to learn would be as unnatural as asking them not to feel hungry or tired. Learning is a basic human instinct, especially strong in children.

I think the value in this week's questions comes from the consideration of:
  • "Any subject which is taught can be abused." Tomasevski's Primer #1 (p. 28)
  • Can an individual who's basic human needs are not being satisfied (food, shelter, safety, and belonging) expect to learn or see value in education?
  • How can education most appropriately be delivered, given the variety factors and variables in communities across the globe.

I may not be the best person to answer the questions above. While I think I am level-headed, able to see a variety of views, and understand situations from various perspectives, I have a skewed view. By the simple conditions of my existence, my ability to understand other perspectives is limited. (I grew up in a supportive family, live a comfortable existence, am able to make choices within a democratic environment, can choose & participate in educational opportunities easily) Viewpoints are a reflection of the situation an individual is in.

Paulo Friere shares a story that illustrates this point.
A poor woman was telling me about her problems and difficulties, of how great an affliction she was suffering. I felt impotent. I did not know what to say. I felt indignation for what she was going through. In the end, I asked her: “are you American?” “No,” she replied, “I am poor.” It was as if what was uppermost in her mind was her sense of being a failure. (Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom : ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.)
I enjoyed David González's blog entry and his reference to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I think it visually represents much of what Tomasevski discusses in Primer #1. Especially insightful were the references to the implementation of computer in decaying buildings. It remains a debate between funding and priorities.

Additionally, I find myself, perhaps even unconsciously, with a skewed perspective as one who acts as a conquerer.
History is written by the victor -Latin Proverb
To explain what I mean, let's consider the civil rights movement in the United States from 1900-today. Ladson-Billings states that
“Whites have been the primary beneficiaries of civil rights legislation”
Parker, L., D. Deyhle, et al. (1999). Race is-- race isn't : critical race theory and qualitative studies in education. Boulder, Colo., Westview Press.
It is a concept many are familiar with. It is relevant today in the United States, particularly in relation to current discussions on school choice, voucher systems, and charter schools.

The argument that a disadvantaged minority is best served by school choice is hypocritical. It is clear that parent in the best economic and socioeconomic situation benefits the most. They are the ones who have the resources to transport a child across town to a different school. They are the ones who feel empowered to demand more of a school through participation in school-community counsels. My experience with a minority culture has been a general hesitancy to seek more. Perhaps it is easier to leave a student in a local school than solve the logistics and economics of daily transportation across town. Perhaps a minority parent does not feel comfortable enough with the culture or language of a school to feel they have something to contribute. Many times it may be easier to leave things the way they are rather that fighting for change.

True, there are and will continue to be schools and school systems who, by nature of the community setting in which they exist, will battle issues of equality. Until society changes, this struggle will not change. However, individual teachers may seek equality within the walls of their classroom. The school system, administrative restrictions, and other school system issues may help or hinder an individual teacher’s quest. It cannot, however, stop the quest for equality.

So, to answer this week's questions...
  • Yes, education is a right of all citizens.
  • Race, location, and socio-economic status should not be a disadvantage for learning any more than the interests of individual students. A child’s like or dislike of science, math, language, or sports does not limit their ability to accomplish. It only helps define who they are. How that happens is a question of further reading for me.