Saturday, January 07, 2006

Learning should be free, its an education that can cost

I've used that line a few times before, but never, as far as I can remember, in this blog. Its an idea that's pretty simple, but an idea that I feel needs more discussion.

Before the Internet, there were/are libraries... Libraries were a place I used to go to do a school assignment. I'd browse the card index for my topic, take a pile of books to a quiet corner, and start reading, noting, photocopying, and revisiting the library index. Anyone could walk into almost any library and do this. There's still not much stopping your average Joe from walking in off the street, and into the university library, sitting in a quiet corner somewhere and learning. That Joe could even sit in on a few of the lectures going on at that uni if he/she was bold enough - most times the theatres are so huge, the only figure of authority in a lecture wouldn't have a clue! Not anymore, with the advent of learning management systems and digital resource repositories... more later.

This is how I learned to shoot and edit video in fact. When I was in art school, I wanted to do video, but the fees were too much, and I wasn't sure I'd see it through anyway. Instead of formally enrolling, I just fronted up for class.

My plan was that I'd attend as many lectures and tutorials as I could before getting found out. As it turned out, my lecturer didn't check my enrollment status until the end of the year, when it came time to mark the final works. He pulled me aside and explained to me that he couldn't give me a grade, or even credit me for doing the course because I was not enrolled. I explained to him that that was OK by me, and that I was grateful for everything I had learned.

Now, I realise many people might consider that steeling. In a sense I guess it was. But I sat in group sessions, I helped my class mates massage out an understanding and develop projects. I held the boom mics, and burned the mid night hours helping my class mates in the editing studios... do you see where I'm going? I would even go so far as to say I motivated the class somewhat, by organising film nights and social events. Did I pay my way then? Was I steeling?

Now days, the new libraries, the "resource repositories", the LMS courses, the closed universities, have shut that loop hole. Average Joe can't just walk in off the street and sit quietly in the corner of the library and learn. He/she has to first pay, enroll and get a login and password to do that. Bold average Joe can't sit in on lectures and tutorials (forums and online presentations) he/she needs that login again. Joe's opportunity to learn has been blocked. The more and more we digitise information and close it behind LMS servers, the more we shut out Average Joe, but who loses out? Its not like AJ can't learn somewhere else!

Back in 2003 (or was it early 2004) MIT started its open courseware initiative. For a while there, it generated quite a lot of attention, and certainly popularised the concept of open courseware. At least it did in my mind. At last there was something significant I could use to fight the rise of Intellectual Property and Copyright paranoia in Australian education. But early in 2005 I lost a job at a university for pushing too hard for open courseware. Since then I think I've avoided talking about the issue straight on, and instead tried to find a concept that disrupted direction a little less.

But there's no avoiding it. Open courseware needs fighting for. Open courseware is an educational organisation's opportunity to fulfill its broader social responsibilities, at no extra cost. In fact I think its proven that open courseware saves money, maybe even makes money!

Let's take my video example, and lets suppose that what I did wasn't steeling at all, what I did was simply do the video course by open courseware. By the university making the video course open, I was able to access the texts, I was able to see the assignments, and even participate in class discussions, I was even allowed to work in productions! But, being an open courseware student, I wasn't able to have my work assessed, I wasn't able to access various other services offered by the university, I wasn't able to receive the piece of paper.

But later in life, I found myself a job in video production - you know - just holding the mic. But I really wanted to hold the camera. But to do that, I needed a quaification... through holding the mic, I managed to save enough money to pay the university to assess my work from the open course I did years ago. I paid the fee, did a little bit of gap training, and got the piece of paper. Now I'm a camera operator.

What about Average Joe. She's just an old lady who likes to keep abreast with anthropology studies. Its one of her many self directed intellectual pursuits. Open courseware gives her the opportunity to do just that, and even offer her insights and experience for the younger kids to consider when doing the course for the first time. This post is getting pretty huge, so I won't type the 7 other scenarios for open courseware success.

Our universities, colleges, and even our schools are being reduced to overly simplified dollar value economics, when they obviously exchange much more than dollars. But I guess everything is being rationalised like that :( Intellectual property, copyright, digital rights management, learning management systems, and enrollment systems help to narrow our acceptance into these dollar units. As teachers or facilitators we need to consider the value of openness, accessibility, international participation, egagment, and transparency.

Here's 3 comic strip models I've already published before that fit this argument:

  1. Pay it forward learning
  2. Open courseware
  3. Networked learning

I'm currently working on some more.

And Teemu Leimonen of FLOSSE Posse recently posted his model for the Libre University:

A Libre University is a research and educational institution that is giving freedom for all to use, modify and redistribute the educational content used in the institution.
Are you helping your organisation fulfill its broader (if somewhat ignored) social obligation?

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license.


Bill Kerr said...

Great slides, good way to promote the concept!

Yes, I agree that it's very significant that MIT has released their courses to everyone.

Scroll down on this creative commons page to see two other institutions doing the same as MIT.

Leigh Blackall said...

Great isn't it Bill.

I have been keeping track of the various open courseware initiatives and maybe even libre universities in delicious:

perhaps, if you also use Delicious you could use this tag word, and if you come accross something that rates as Libre, then use libreuniversity as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Leigh. A longish comment in here:

Anonymous said...

Great post.

I've started an open university as a part time project.

It has so far to go.

What it does do is inspire some to learn.

about 50 free students so far.

Education can come latter.

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