The Evolving Newcomer: Open Education

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The idea of Open Education is certainly one intertwined in a casting net of pros and cons, entangled in do and don’ts, leaving more questions than answers at the beginning stages of this endeavor. To begin, I shall start by briefly engaging in the definition of what an Open Education enviroment is. In a nutshell, an Open Education setting is one in which the classroom and teachings of the classroom are free for everyone to delve into. It is an expansive arena of information and knowledge that is shared with the masses rather than sequestered into the confines of a finite classroom. To expand a bit on this, Donk (p 163) goes on to say, “OCW (Open CourseWare) offers free, searchable and open access to university resources and course content. For instance, instructors might put up lecture notes, course syllabi, sample tests, media files, course schedules, and other course-related information. However, there typically is no instructor at the site to review or grade student’s work.”

The exciting premonition about Open Education is the availability of educational material to the masses. I agree that it is rather exciting to think of being able to study and learn, on your own, classroom material from universities around the country. To use my major and prior schooling as an example; I was a Communication major at CCSU. Say, for instance, there was a course offered at Northeastern such as “The Art of Powerful Speeches” that really interested me. In normal circumstances, I would have to become a non-matriculated student there to get one course under my belt and then hope it transfer in. With the new rendition of Open Education, optimally, I can search the Northeastern Open Education forum for the class materials and learn on my own. Sure, it may not be for credits, but if my interest is strong enough, the true value of the knowledge attained can’t necessarily be measured in credits. MIT is the originator of the Open Education movement and their thoughts echo the aforementioned ease of gathering information by claiming, “We very much hope Open CourseWare will draw other universities to do the same. We would be delighted if-over time- we have a world wide web of knowledge that raises the quaility of learning-and ultimately, the quality of life-around the globe” (Bonk, 164).

This transitions nicely to the simplistic and humanistic side of the equation. This expansion of knowledge through educational material can only better the lives of the people that have access to it. Being able to learn more allows for a better life and a better understanding of important subject matter and for the users that may not be able to afford the luxuries of college, this is an avenue to help educate themselves. As Bonk (p362) cites, “Bill Gates suggested that education needs to open up to the poorest two to three billion people on this planet.” To summarize his thought, Bonk goes on to describe that the reason behind this is to increase the standards of living for people on a more global level. To fortify the idea of “non-students” using the information provided, Bonk (p164) points to MIT’s database to show that ” Although MIT officials expected students and instructors to be the primary users, more than 50 percent of actual users happen to be corporate self-learners who reach out for information when needed or because it’s personally meaningful.” This goes to show the reach and power that Open Education environments have. Not everyone can afford the cost of going to school or getting into college so free Open Education Learning goes a long way in helping the intrinsically motivated students that either can’t afford these luxuries or the wants to brush up on meaningful information. 

Now as is the case with anything in life, there are always unforeseen consequences that can negatively impact a situation. In the case of the Open Education movement,  there are two cons that may negatively the future expansion of these Open Education environments. These detriments may never come to light, but they are certainly something to consider moving forward. First of all, in a direct counter punch to Bill Gates proclamation of educating the poorest people on the planet, while humanistically, he is correct, fiscally and logistically it may be impossible. “Currently, only one billion of the 6.7 billion people on the planet have Internet access” (Bonk, p362). Unfortunately, the best medium with the easiest access for such an expansive library of educational material is online, but this eliminates 5.7 billion people on the planet from having access and assuming that the poorest people on the planet don’t have access to the internet, it makes it difficult to follow through on that plan.

The other drawback of a potential explosion of the Open Education system would be the watered down effect this would have on degrees and universities. No longer would a degree hold the same merit when all the learned topics and subject matters are given to and studied by the public. Acceptance rates at school would need to drop in order to still operate with the maximum number of students because so many individuals would avoid the costs of college and simply turn to free schooling instead. This trickle down effect would create a shortcoming in the value of a degree and would have turn the hiring process into quite a mess. Hiring managers wouldn’t be able to distinguish true candidates based upon educational background due to the educational material being learned and applied by people that didn’t even attend school. 

With the pros and cons in mind, the learning project that has carried it’s way throughout this course, seemingly fits right into the idea of Open Education. In fact, I could argue that the creation of a website where teachers all post information, tips and tricks for fellow teachers around the country is in of itself a Open Education environment. On the site, teachers will be posting educational information, they will be posting course content and syllabi to help other teachers. These materials are not going to be exclusively for teachers and will have the feel of a social media/networking program with the main goal being to educate educators. Luckily, the definition of educators is rather fluid, allowing for interpretation and most importantly allowing anyone with interest in the subject matter, to acquire and utilize educational information.

Question to Think About:

If Open Learning education became a prominent course of education, do you think the necessity for teachers in the world would increase or decrease?

Additional Resource:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shimon_schocken_the_self_organizing_computer_course 

References:

Bonks, Curtis. (2009) The World is Open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publications

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