Sunday, January 23, 2011

That crisis comes closer, as does the opportunity

Its interesting to note that the US State of California is about to cut $1.4billion from its education budget, believed to be coming straight out of community colleges and the like (UoP blog) while the US federal budget will be giving $2 billion to the development of open education (CCBlog). I suppose there's a high chance other states will be thinking about similar cuts, will Michigan be next? ... this $2 billion might be just a beginning, with more to come if open education can step up to the plate. The UK seems to be in a similar boat.

There is still a way to go before the formal education sector recognises the real and potential contribution that Wikipedia, Wikiversity and Wikibooks makes to people's education. They would sooner recognise mirrors of their own form, such as Open Universities, University of the People, and even Peer to Peer University, before seriously considering more radical alternatives. It will be the formal education sector that is consulted on how and where to spend that injection of money, and that's the worry.

The Wikimedia Foundation should look to a collective statement on the issue of affording education for all. A joint response with other open education efforts, libraries and repositories, smaller networked learning initiatives, and especially include those doing even more radical things. In doing so, they should be careful not to restrict the scope of their projects, and preserve if note expand the opportunities for people to work in entirely new ways of learning and education.

As an easy example, the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) seem to be attracting more interest now. After David Wiley's Intro to Open Ed course, Teemu Leinonen was one of the first to try this model on en.Wikiversity with Composing Free and Open Online Educational Resources, I followed with Facilitating Online (originally on Wikieducator). I think these early, and subsequent repeats of this model, offer an opportunity for developing legitimacy in the eyes of formal education. Perhaps the model's next phase is in establishing partnerships with multiple Colleges and Universities who are now more ready to consider these alternatives, and for them to play the role of recognition and certification to these courses, trusting the open and documented work of the networked educators who are offering these open courses and peer reviewed assessment (such as the process of custodianship replicating into course assessment for example). It seems to me that the Wikimedia Foundation platforms offer suitably neutral ground for such coordination.

As for post graduate level studies. Same thing. Wikiversity offers a platform and developing community, for open and networked research work, peer review and assessment, and even awarding honorary degrees that have some currency with partnering institutions. Yesterday, I started a portal for openPhDs for example.

At the University of Canberra, in the Faculty of Health, we have a number of academics primed for adopting such practices, but will need significant support to survive the coolness our institution shows these more radical innovation.

It seems to me, now might be a time to coordinate a plan, resource projects, and offer an alternative to the funding announcement and situation in the USA, the UK, and soon to be everywhere. Formal education in the West is approaching a tipping point, only a few people and a handful of initiatives are in a position to lead a way through the next 10 years.

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