Posts Tagged ‘MIT’

the MIT budget-crunch cheer

RAH RAH REE! KICK EM IN THE KNEE!
RAH RAH RASS! DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE WAY OUT!

As an employee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I regularly receive email communications from MIT President Susan Hockfield. Recently, I got an end-of-year message that made a strong attempt to put a positive spin on what’s been a very difficult year for the Institute.

The letter starts by acknowledging the pressures of operating during an economic recession, pointing to successes in meeting those pressures without mentioning, in this opening paragraph or anywhere else, the number of MIT employees who have been sacrificed in the name of this success. Hockfield writes:

Around the world and in every sector, fundamental economic assumptions have dramatically changed over the last eight months. At MIT, we responded swiftly to the evolving economic downturn. Last November, anticipating a dramatic decline in our endowment’s value, we set out a plan to reduce our $1 billion General Institute Budget by $150 million, or 15%, within two to three years. Thanks to extraordinary work in every MIT unit, we have achieved 5% cuts for Fiscal Year 2010 (FY10), which begins July 1, 2009; some units and departments have already reached or even exceeded the targets set out for them. In addition, we have in place a thoughtful, deliberate process to achieve the full $150 million reduction by FY12.

We can take enormous pride in the ongoing work across the entire Institute to reset our base budget for what may be a protracted period of slow economic growth.

It’s tough, admittedly, to acknowledge the human cost of belt-tightening at the institutional level. And it’s likely that this letter isn’t the place for it. But in addition to the innovative cost-cutting approaches deployed by MIT (convening a 200-member task force, opening up an Idea Bank where faculty, staff, and students can submit and rank ideas for increasing MIT’s operating efficiency), administrators relied on a tried-and-true approach to budget cuts: layoffs.

Layoff numbers are not readily available–in fact, may not be available at all, as far as I can tell–but my experience and my colleagues tell me that layoff numbers are at least in the dozens and probably much higher. As far as we can tell, no faculty have been let go (though an Institute-wide pay freeze means that faculty and staff alike received no pay raises this year), which means the burden of these layoffs rests on the shoulders of administrative and support staff.

The tone of Hockfield’s letter is “we did it, together.” The little people who have fallen by the wayside in the “doing” of “it” get no mention, here or anywhere else. (As I wrote in an earlier post, previous letters from Hockfield take the same “we’re just going to ignore the fact that we have to lay people off in order to meet our financial goals” approach.) This makes it mighty hard to get into the team spirit mode that Hockfield would like to see.

Things are tough all over, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair or right to pretend to the world that everybody at the Institute banded together in a joint innovative approach to cutting costs. In this respect, MIT is no different from any other bulky, expensive institution, as much as it would like to make the world believe otherwise.

Awesomeness: Project New Media Literacies’ spring conference: Learning in a Participatory Culture

There was awesomeness going on at MIT this weekend, as my colleagues and I at Project New Media Literacies put on a conference called Learning in a Participatory Culture.

If you’ve never planned a conference before, I can’t say I recommend the experience–though when one goes well, as this conference did, the stress and exhaustion that pile on top of you in the lead-up suddenly turn into a fair trade-off. All day, my coworkers and I got to be surrounded by the smartest educators and educational researchers ever, and we got to hear them say all kinds of insanely awesome things.

As part and parcel of the pure awesomeness of the day, I scored two key personal / professional victories: First, I slam-dunked an opening presentation on design and development of Project NML’s Teachers’ Strategy Guide, garnering not one, not two, but three separate thumbs-ups from the people I most hoped to impress: My sensei Dan Hickey, my boss Henry Jenkins, and my close, close friend, colleague, and fellow Fireside Moonbat Katie Clinton. I only wish Katie had received more recognition for her contribution to the project–somehow, I’ve been given her share of the credit and I want to find a way to put it back where it belongs.

I’ve included a QuickTime version of my presentation below, though it admittedly loses something without the audio. I’ll see what I can do about adding the audio in once we have it processed from the day.

A second key victory was in getting a back channel going, via a #NML09 hashtag on Twitter, for the day. We had set up a TweetGrid and the hashtag going into the conference but had no specific plans for supporting and integrating the technology, but before I gave my opening presentation I offered up a quick tutorial on how to Tweet using hashtags and my colleagues and I spent the day monitoring and engaging in a rapidfire Twitter conversation that extended participation in really nice ways. As the man Henry Jenkins himself said to me midway through the day, the fact that we didn’t need to plan for or organize participation in social media but that it worked anyway when the tools and the energies were in place proves something important about the nature of participatory culture.

This is the artifact of my tutorial:

Finally, I want to shout out to all the participants who made the conference such a roaring success. Energy, enthusiasm, and engagement were high from beginning to end. I don’t have the words to articulate what an amazing experience it was.

Beavers do it loaded

MIT’s pistol team, 7 other sports, eliminated

It turns out that my employer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not only has varsity sports teams, it has 41 of them. Well, it used to have 41, until pressure to cut spending across the institute led to the elimination of eight different sports teams.

The eliminated sports are: Alpine skiing, golf, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s ice hockey, pistol, and wrestling.

In a letter to the MIT community, Costantino Colombo, the Dean for Student Life, writes: “We make this decision with sadness and with great awareness of how painful it will be to many members of the MIT community.” Colombo also explains, however, that the financial burden of supporting so many teams has weighed heavily on the Institute since before the economic downturn–mainly because sponsoring 41 sports is simply extremely expensive. According to Colombo, even after the cuts MIT still offers twice as many varsity sports as the average Division III university and will sponsor more sports than any Division III university in the nation.

Cutting sports teams is completely lame, of course, especially for the participating students. That doesn’t mean I’m going to just ignore this from Will Hart, MIT’s pistol coach:

“We’ve been a varsity club since 1937, so this is something entirely new for us,” Mr. Hart said of the pistol program, one of the top-ranked in the country and one of the institute’s most popular physical education classes.

“M.I.T. has a certain culture,” he added. “The students need release. I hope they find something else that was as close to enjoyable as their sport was.”

This sounds ominous. Do you think it was intentional?

What would a fireside moonbat do?

I just caught the last several minutes (I was going to say “the tail end” and thought better of it) of the 2008 film “Zombie Strippers!” starring Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund. If you haven’t figured out the plot yet, then there’s no point explaining it to you. I only want to focus on a scene late in the movie where the Army commandos have shot the heads off of the zombie strippers and walk into a room where two people are clutching each other in the corner. It’s not clear to the commandos whether these guys are humans or zombie strippers, so one of the muscleheads walks up to the pair and says “Say something human–and it better be ontological.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVkQCDfIe38&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0]

I’m officially claiming this quote as the motto of my reading group, the Fireside Moonbats.


Two key members of the Cambridge, Massachusetts,-based reading group, the Fireside Moonbats
You know how Art Garfunkel keeps a running list of every book he has read since the 1960′s? I think I may start doing that for the Moonbats, too–especially since, if our motto is public, our reading list should be as well. Below, I’ve included the beginnings of that list. I hope to continue to build this for anybody who wants to follow along.

The Fireside Moonbats Reading List: First Draft

Shirky,Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Penguin Press, 2008. Introduction and chapters 10 & 11.

Ito, Mizuko, Heather A. Horst, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Patricia G. Lange, C.J. Pascoe, and Laura Robinson (with Sonja Baumer, Rachel Cody, Dilan Mahendran, Katynka Martínez, Dan Perkel, Christo Sims, and Lisa Tripp.) Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, November 2008.

Latour, Bruno. On Interobjectivity. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 3.4, 1996. Available at http://educ.ubc.ca/faculty/bryson/604/Latour.pdf.

Latour, Bruno. On Recalling ANT. Keynote speech for the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, Nov. 30, 2003. Available at http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/sociology/papers/Latour-Recalling-ANT.pdf.

Barton, David, and Mary Hamilton. Literacy, reification and the dynamics of social interaction. David Barton and Karin Tusting (eds.) Beyond Communities Of Practice: Language, Power And Social Context. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Clarke, Julia. A new kind of symmetry: Actor–network theories and the new literacy studies. Studies in the Education of Adults Vol. 34, No.2, October 2002

Leander, Kevin M., and Deborah Wells Rowe. Mapping Literacy Spaces in Motion: A Rhizomatic Analysis of a Classroom Literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2006), pp. 428-460

Francis, Russell. The Predicament of the Learner in the New Media Age (2009). Dissertation being prepared for publication.

Wertsch, James V. Mediation. The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky, Daniels, Harry, Michael Cole, & James V. Wertsch, Eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Nardi, Bonnie, Steve Whittaker, & Heinrich Schwarz. NetWORKERS and their Activity in Intensional Networks. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 11: 205–242, 2002.

Nardi, Bonnie A., Diane J. Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht, and Luke Swartz. Why We Blog. December 2004/Vol. 47, No. 12 Communications of the ACM.

Nardi, Bonnie A., Stella Ly, & Justin Harris. Learning Conversations in World of Warcraft. Proceedings of the 40th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2007.

Davydov, Vasily V., and Stephen T. Kerr. The Influence of L. S. Vygotsky on Education Theory, Research, and Practice. Educational Researcher, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Apr., 1995).

Edwards, Anne. Let’s get beyond community and practice: the many meanings of learning by participating. The Curriculum Journal Vol. 16, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 49 – 65

Engestrom, Yrjo. Knotworking to Create Collaborative Intentionality Capital in Fluid Organizational Fields. Collaborative Capital: Creating Intangible Value Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams, Volume 11, 307–336 (2005)

Gee, James Paul. A 21st Century Assessment Project for Situated and Sociocultural Approaches to Learning. Grant Proposal for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

Gee, James Paul. Human Action and Social Groups as the Natural Home of Assessment:Thoughts on 21st Century Learning and Assessment. Draft paper for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

This is just the beginning of the list, and I’m going to summon the Fireside Moonbats to help me build on it. Stay posted for an longer and more detailed list.

the sleeping alone review of books: Opening Up Education

Good book on the open education movement: Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge (2008, Toru Iiyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar, eds.). You can purchase the book through the MIT Press, though an electronic version is available for download under a Creative Commons license here.

What makes this book so useful is that it offers up a framework, from inside of the world of open education, for analyzing–and, if I may be so bold, at times criticizing–the early fruits of its own movement.

Below, I summarize and review one chapter from the book, followed by a critique of MIT’s OpenCourseWare, one of the flagship projects of the Hewlett Foundation’s Open Educational Resource Initiative; if you want, you can skip the review and jump down to the meaty stuff down near the bottom.

The Review
The book is divided into three sections: Technology, content, and knowledge. As the authors explain, this division is intended “largely as a convenient and easily understood framework. Naturally, the three categories are not mutually exclusive. In fact, their natural interrelationships become evident from the very beginning.”

I want to skip ahead to the very last chapter of the book, “What’s Next for Open Knowledge?” by Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings. The authors point out that the vision of open education–”dramatically expanded educational access, more widely effective teaching models and materials, and ongoing, systematic improvement in teaching and learning as educators generate and share new pedagogical knowledge and know-how”–is more than just a vision. In fact, many educational institutions have embraced and joined in on a shift toward open educational resources (OER’s), and have assisted in the building of what Huber and Hutchings label, borrowing from their own earlier work, “teaching commons: an emergent conceptual space for exchange and community among faculty, students, administrators, and all others committed to learning as an essential activity of life in contemporary democratic society.”

How, then, the authors ask, do we continue to expand and preserve the ethos of open education and the teaching commons? “It is well and good,” they write, “to make as many educational resources as possible accessible to as many teachers and learners as possible. But, to borrow a line from the movie Field of Dreams, if we build it, will they come?”

Promise, Tool, Bargain
The Field of Dreams question is one echoed by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody, only for him, the question aligns with entrepreneurial impulses to build and market the next killer app. The question, then, is something closer to “What can we build to make people come?”

Shirky’s answer is simple: “Promise, tool, bargain.” These three elements, properly aligned, he argues, will lead to success of a group relying on a social tool; improperly fused, they lead to failure. (For an example of how this does or does not work, take a look at my blogpost on the promise, tool, and bargain of Facebook here.)
Given that there are really only three things to worry about, then, why do so many new groups or movements fail? Two reasons, according to Shirky:

First, because getting each of these elements right is actually quite challenging, while getting all of them right is essential. Second, as with groups themselves, the complexity comes not just from the elements but from their interactions.


The application of promise, tool, and bargain of open education: Promise

Though Huber and Hutchings use different language, choosing to focus their efforts on two distinct categories–”Knowledge that Matters” and “Inviting and Maintaining Openness”–they are essentially considering the categories Shirky identifies. (Know that aligning Huber and Hutchings with Shirky is a somewhat arbitrary move; I might just as well have said that Shirky essentially considers the categories identified by Huber and Hutchings.) The promise, Shirky writes, is the “why”–why a person would want to join a group or use a tool. For Huber and Hutchins, the “why” is more aptly described as “knowledge that matters”; in considering this point, they explore the promise of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), a program that

seeks to support the development of a scholarship of teaching and learning that: fosters significant, long-lasting learning for all students; enhances the practice and profession of teaching, and; brings to faculty members’ work as teachers the recognition and reward afforded to other forms of scholarly work.

To Huber and Hutchings, “knowledge that matters” is collaboration and sharing of scholarship and research around contributing to the improvement of teaching and learning both within individual classrooms and on a larger scale. This knowledge is built and shared around situated approach to teaching, a presumption that context matters. “In short,” the authors write, the momentum that the scholarship of teaching and learning has established over the past decade clearly points to the value of pedagogical knowledgte that is deeply contextual and closely tied ot the particulars of classroom settings.

We might say, then, that the promise of joining a program like CASTL–the “why”–is that it offers teachers the opportunity to draw on a bunch of lesson plans, assessment strategies, and so on to the immediate benefit of their own teaching practices, and at the same time offers a feedback loop whereby teachers can share classroom successes with other teachers. They give back to the community of educators and in so doing have an opportunity to influence teaching beyond their local environment.

Tool: the “how”
The tool, Shirky explains, is the “how,” and in open education this becomes a question of how to develop resources that invite and maintain openness without standardizing or allowing for decreased quality of the content. As Huber and Hutchings explain,

Where traditional views of educational reform tend to assume a small number of approaches that can be “scaled up” and widely adopted, open knowledge (and, more broadly, open education) offers a different path to improvement, eschewing the “fat head” for the “long tail” (to use Chris Anderson’s now well-traveled metaphor) in which many approaches find smaller groups of adopters and champions.

Often, the authors write, the “how” is ensured in development of tools that allow for “close-to-the-classrom knowledge” to be captured in ways that will travel to other settings.” The authors offer the exampe of the KEEP Toolkit, which they argue provides a useful model that combines user-friendly features with readable and usable temp
lates.

The bargain: What we expect from one anotherThe bargain, Shirky writes, is where things get tricky, “in part because it is the least explicit aspect and in part because it is the one the users have the biggest hand in creating, which means it can’t be completely determined in advance.” The bargain is the–ideally shared–agreement between users about community expectations.

For Huber and Hutchings, the bargain of open educational resources is, put simply, openness. Openness, in this case, means both access and the spirit of collaboration and community. As they explain,

The “stuff” of open knowledge for teaching and learning is on the rise, happily, both in supply and in the variety of materials and representations of teaching and learning…. But having good stuff is not enough. Those committed to this work must also push for policies and practices to ensure that what is open stays open in the fullest, most vital way. This means maintaining access, certainly, but it also means creating a culture in which people want that access, both as contributors to and users of knowledge in the teaching commons.

First, they write, it’s essential to allow the commons to remain open for teachers across disciplines who want to contribute to collaborative knowledge-building, even if they contribute only infrequently. This, however, gives rise to a second concern: Questions about who can (and can’t) contribute. “Open education,” they write, “does not necessarily mean ‘free.’”

Additionally, the bargain in education is not simply between users and makers of educational content; increasingly, teachers and learners are being held accountable by outside stakeholders. (Most significantly, we see this in the phenomenon of testing the souls right out of our young learners.) Huber and Hutchings express concern

about how to maintain a space for educational experimentation and exchange in a period that seems headed for increasingly bottom-line forms of accountability, with its concomitant calls for institutions to make evidence of student learning outcomes available to the public…. At one level, the value of evidence is something that any responsible educator would share. Faculty care about their students, and they want to know that the resources they find in the teaching commons will serve those students well. The danger comes when high stakes constrict people’s ability or willingness to explore new pedagogical ideas.

Case Study: MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW)
Promise, tool, bargain. It’s a difficult combination to get right, even when you have financial backing, institutional support, and a critical mass of contributors, as MIT’s OpenCourseWare project proves. Let me be clear: OCW is a success, at least in most important senses of the word. But in its efforts to succeed, it has had to sacrifice some of the most important tenets of the open education movement.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll once again make clear that I am employed at MIT, though I am not affiliated with the Hewlett Foundation, the group that funds the OCW project, and not in any way connected to OpenCourseWare.

The project is awesomely ambitious. As the OCW site explains,

MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity. By November 2007, MIT completed the initial publication of virtually the entire curriculum, over 1,800 courses in 33 academic disciplines.

And that’s the modest explanation. In a February 2007 report on Open Educational Resource projects funded by the Hewlett Foundation, Atkins, Brown, and Hammond exclaim:

This world-changing project emerged from MIT faculty and administrators who asked themselves the following question: “How is the Internet going to be used in education and what is our university going to do about it?”

The answer from the MIT faculty was this: “Use it to provide free access to the primary materials for virtually all our courses. We are going to make our educational material available to students, faculty, and other learners, anywhere in the world, at any time, for free.”

Fantastic premise, right? And MIT, backed by Hewlett, is putting its money where its mouth is, investing resources into the continued and ongoing development of OCW. The result is a fabulous early stab at an open education resource, one that really does offer high-quality content to the general public–absolutely free.

It turns out, though, that while OpenCourseWare is strong on promise (“You can access course content from some of the greatest minds of this generation!”) and bargain (“…and it’s all free!”), it’s still a little light on tool (“…but genius is not included.”). As I mentioned in a previous post, I read voraciously and omnivorously in my capacity as the primary blogger for sleeping alone and starting out early. One place I never, look, though, is on paid-content news sources like the Wall Street Journal. Another place I never look is OpenCourseWare. Why? It kinda…well, first, the download process is confusing, and once you successfully figure it out, you’re rewarded with a file folder that looks a lot like this:

Assuming you eventually manage to extract the relevant content, all you really get is a pile of .pdfs, a syllabus, and some course notes. The brilliance, the spark, the certain something that makes a class a mind-blowing experience…that’s not available for download.

And, of course, there’s the cost involved: Approximately $25,000 per uploaded course, according to the Hewlett report. Add it up: 1,800 courses means $45 million. (Just FYI, that’s enough to cover four years of public college for more than 6,800 students, according to stats from the College Board.)

OpenCourseWare is an admirable, but so far unsustainable, model for opening up education–especially since OCW seems to prohibit free appropriation and remixing of course materials. As the site explains under the FAQ category of intellectual property,

The intellectual property policies created for MIT OpenCourseWare are clear and consistent with other policies for scholarly materials used in education. Faculty retain ownership of most materials prepared for MIT OpenCourseWare, following the MIT policy on textbook authorship. MIT retains ownership only when significant use has been made of the Institute’s resources. If student course work is placed on the MIT OpenCourseWare site, then copyright in the work remains with the student.

These are meaty issues for Hewlett, OCW, and the ope
n education movement to keep working on. As goes OpenCourseWare, after all, so goes the movement.

Podcast: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Fluid Text: Versions of the Law

Recently, at my day job, I emceed a colloquium featuring textual scholar and Melville specialist John Bryant and intellectual property and First Amendment expert Wendy Seltzer. Over the course of the colloquium, these amazing scholars covered Moby-Dick, Edward Said, Shepard Fairey, fan fiction, Creative Commons, YouTomb, and how they talk about plagiarism and fair use with their students. This was a fun and fascinating conversation, and well worth the listen. I’m posting John’s and Wendy’s bios below.

To listen to the podcast, go to the link at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies page (http://cms.mit.edu/news/2009/03/podcast_authorship_appropriati.php).

Pictured above, left to right: Media scholar Henry Jenkins; Jenna McWilliams, blogger and Curriculum Specialist for Project New Media Literacies; textual scholar and Melville Specialist John Bryant; and Wendy Seltzer, attorney and intellectual property and First Amendment expert.

John Bryant teaches at Hofstra University. His work explores the larger applications of the notion of fluid text to culture, and in particular identity formation in a multicultural democracy. He is a textual scholar and Melville specialist, whose works include The Fluid Text and Melville Unfolding: Sexuality, Politics, and the Versions of Typee. He is the editor, with Associate editor Wyn Kelley, of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies and of the Melville Electronic Library (MEL). He is a Co-editor of the Longman Critical Edition of Moby-Dick and is currently working on a critical biography of Melville.

Wendy Seltzer is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and is a visiting professor at American University. She has taught Internet Law, Copyright, and Information Privacy at Brooklyn Law School and was a Visiting Fellow with the Oxford Internet Institute. Previously, she was a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializing in intellectual property and First Amendment issues. She founded and leads the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, helping Internet users to understand their rights in response to cease-and-desist threats, and to research the effects of these threats on free expression.

Wendy serves as an advisor to the Citizen Media Law Project and on the Board of Directors of the Tor Project, supporting privacy and anonymity research and technology.

why the Hewlett Foundation should toss some cash on over

A Modest Proposal: integrating Spreadable Educational Practices into Hewlett’s Open Educational Resources Initiative

Because of my interest in spreadable educational practices and in the open source movement, I’ve been drawn lately to the work of the Hewlett Foundation’s Open Educational Resource (OER) Initiative. The goal of this initiative is, as Hewlett puts it, “making high quality educational content and tools freely available on the Web.”

(Now you’re going to ask me why a foundation whose money is linked to Hewlett Packard, the largest technology company in the world, would fund an initiative that seems to run counter to its profit motives. Apparently, the Hewlett Foundation, though originally established by HP co-founder William Hewlett, is run completely independent of the company–which may explain why so much of its money goes to so many amazing projects.)

The Hewlett Foundation has invested a good deal of its resources into the OER initiative, funding research into three distinct categories of OER resources (these categories come from the OER movement in general, and not from Hewlett’s website, though they do apply to OER grantees):

  • Learning content: full courses, course materials, content modules, learning objects, collections, and journals.
  • Tools: Software to support the creation, delivery, use and improvement of open learning content including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and on-line learning communities.
  • Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design-principles, and localization of content.

A 2007 report, “A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement” (Atkins, Daniel E.; Brown, John Seely; & Hammond, Allen L.), discusses multiple resources made available through the OER Initiative and presents a logic model for the initiative itself:

The report identifies key projects that have emerged out of Hewlett’s OER Initiative, including MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, the Connexions Project at Rice University, open content work at Utah State University Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, and Creative Commons and Internet Archives.

Significantly, while these and other resources discussed in the report point to a great deal of enthusiasm for the OER movement (which, by the way, extends far beyond the funding of this single initiative), the authors also point to challenges to the movement. Aaaand here those challenges are:

  • Sustainability
  • Curation and Preservation of Access
  • Object Granularity and Format Diversity
  • Intellectual Property Issues
  • Content Quality Assessment and Enhancement
  • Computing and Communication Infrastructure
  • Scale-up and Deepening Impact in Developing Countries

At the moment, I’m most interested in the first challenge, sustainability. As the report explains,

A challenge of any fixed-term, externally funded initiative is long-term sustainability by an entity other than the original investor, in this case the Hewlett Foundation. In the MIT project, bringing a course to the OCW costs approximately $25,000 per course plus maintenance and enhancement. The MIT OCW model involves professional staff taking course material in almost any form from faculty and bringing it into a uniform, professional format. This was appropriate for the rapid startup of a large-scale, pioneering project but it will not work for many other places.

May I suggest…a consideration of spreadable educational practices? While it’s true that the above challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable–insofar as the work of open education focuses on fostering and helping to spread effective educational practices instead of disseminating effective instructional routines. MIT’s OCW and the other Hewlett programs work from an assumption that porting, curating, and maintaining instructional materials to a central online resource is valuable. And don’t get me wrong, it IS valuable. It’s also quite expensive and, by the way, only partially hooked in to the general ethos of the open source movement. As I explained in a previous post, open source culture

is the creative practice of appropriation and free sharing of found and created content. Examples include collage, found footage film, music, and appropriation art. Open source culture is one in which fixations, works entitled to copyright protection, are made generally available. Participants in the culture can modify those products and redistribute them back into the community or other organizations.

Hewlett’s work links up with the “free sharing” and “general availability of copyrighted materials” aspects, but so far it seems to be missing the link to the spirit of open source: the free, voluntary, and creative exchange of ideas and work for the purpose of helping the community. While the resources funded by Hewlett are a valuable–perhaps even essential–beginning to the work of the open education movement, the resources matter only to the extent that the practices contained within these resources can spread.

It does appear that Hewlett is headed in this direction with its current emphasis on research and development of open participatory learning environments and on teacher training. As the OER Initiative homepage argues,

The ability of users and experts to give feedback online and modify open content enables the rapid improvement, development, and adaptation of material to fit different purposes, languages, and cultures. This aspect of openness helps equalize access to high-quality and useful materials and engages users in making content changes that create efficiencies and reduce costs. Further, when students and teachers transform materials, this itself is a creative, powerful act of learning. Together, the two broad dimensions of openness give us opportunities to rethink traditional notions of where, when, and how people teach and learn, so that we can explore alternative paths to meet educational demand.

Agreed, agreed, agreed.