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D’Arcy Norman started a lively inter-blog conversation like we haven’t seen in the edublogosphere in quite a while with his post on the false binary between LMS and open. His main point is that, even if you think that the open web provides a better learning environment, an LMS provides a better-than-nothing learning environment for faculty who can’t or won’t go through the work of using open web tools, and in some cases may be perfectly adequate for the educational need at hand. The institution has an obligation to provide the least-common-denominator tool set in order to help raise the baseline, and the LMS is it. This provoked a number of responses, but I want to focus on Phil’s two responses, which talk at a conceptual level about building a bridge between the “walled garden” of the LMS and the open web (or, to draw on his analogy, keeping the garden but removing the walls that demarcate its border). There are some interesting implications from this line of reasoning that could be explored. What would be the most likely path for this interoperability to develop? What role would the LMS play when the change is complete? For that matter, what would the whole ecosystem look like?
Seemingly separately from this discussion, we have the new Unizin coalition. Every time that Phil or I write a post on the topic, the most common response we get is, “Uh…yeah, I still don’t get it. Tell me again what the point of Unizin is, please?” The truth is that the Unizin coalition is still holding its cards close to its vest. I suspect there are details of the deals being discussed in back rooms that are crucial to understanding why universities are potentially interested. That said, we do know a couple of broad, high-level ambitions that the Unizin leadership has discussed publicly. One of those is to advance the state of learning analytics. Colorado State University’s VP of Information Technology Pat Burns has frequently talked about “educational Moneyball” in the context of Unizin’s value proposition. And having spoken with a number of stakeholders at Unizin-curious schools, it is fair to say that there is a high level of frustration with the current state of play in commercial learning analytics offerings that is driving some of the interest. But the dots have not been connected for us. What is the most feasible path for advancing the state of learning analytics? And how could Unizin help in this regard?
It turns out that the walled garden questions and the learning analytics questions are related.The Current State of Interoperability
Right now, our LMS gardens still have walls and very few doors, but they do have windows, thanks to the IMS LTI standard. You can do a few things with LTI, including the following:
- Send a student from the LMS to someplace elsewhere on the web with single sign-on
- Bring that “elsewhere” place inside the LMS experience by putting it in an iframe (again, with single sign-on)
- Send assessment results (if there are any) back from that “elsewhere” to the LMS gradebook.
The first use case for LTI was to bring in a third-party tool (like a web conferencing app or a subject-specific test engine) into the LMS, making it feel like a native tool. The second use case was to send students out to a tool that needed to full control of the screen real estate (like an eBook reader or an immersive learning environment) but to make that process easier for students (through single sign-on) and teachers (through grade return). This is nice, as far as it goes, but it has some significant limitations. From a user experience perspective, it still privileges the LMS as “home base.” As D’Arcy points out, that’s fine for some uses and less fine for others. Further, when you go from the LMS to an LTI tool and back, there’s very little information shared between the tool. For example, you can use LTI to send a student from the LMS to a WordPress multiuser installation, have WordPress register that student and sign that student in, and even provision a new WordPress site for that student. But you can’t have it feed back information on all the student’s posts and comments into a dashboard that combines it with the student’s activity in the LMS and in other LTI tools. Nor can you use LTI to aggregate student posts from their respective WordPress blogs that are related to a specific topic. All of that would have to be coded separately (or, more likely, not done at all). This is less than ideal from both user experience and analytics perspectives.Enter Uniz…Er…Caliper
There is an IMS standard in development called Caliper that is intended to address this problem (among many others). I have described some of the details of it elsewhere, but for our current purposes the main thing you need to know is that it is based on the same concepts (although not the same technical standards) as the semantic web. What is that? Here’s a high-level explanation from the Man Himself, Mr. Tim Berners-Lee:
The basic idea is that web sites “understand” each other. The LMS would “understand” that a blog provides posts and comments, both of which have authors and tags and categories, and some of which have parent/child relationships with others. Imagine if, during the LTI initial connection, the blog told the LMS about what it is and what it can provide. The LMS could then reply, “Great! I will send you some people who can be ‘authors’, and I will send you some assignments that can be ‘tags.’ Tell me about everything that goes on with my authors and tags.” This would allow instructors to combine blog data with LMS data in their LMS dashboard, start LMS discussion threads off of blog posts, and probably a bunch of other nifty things I haven’t thought of.
But that’s not the only way you could use Caliper. The thing about the semantic web is that it is not hub-and-spoke in design and does not have to have a “center.” It is truly federated. Perhaps the best analogy is to think of your mobile phone. Imagine if students had their own private learning data wallets, the same way that your phone has your contact information, location, and so on. Whenever a learning application—an LMS, a blog, a homework product, whatever—wanted to know something about you, you would get a warning telling you which information the app was asking to access and asking you to approve that access. (Goodbye, FERPA freakouts.) You could then work in those individual apps. You could authorize apps to share information with each other. And you would have your own personal notification center that would aggregate activity alerts from those apps. That notification center could become the primary interface for your learning activities across all the many apps you use. The PLE prototypes that I have seen basically tried to do a basic subset of this capability set using mostly RSS and a lot of duct tape. Caliper would enable a richer, more flexible version of this with a lot less point-to-point hand coding required. You could, for example, use any Caliper-enabled eBook reader that you choose on any device that you choose to do your course-related reading. You could choose to share your annotations with other people in the class and have their annotations appear in your reader. You could share information about what you’ve read and when you’ve read it (or not) with the instructor or with a FitBit-style analytics system that helps recommend better study habits. The LMS could remain primary, fade into the background, or go away entirely, based on the individual needs of the class and the students.
Caliper is being marketed as a learning analytics standard, but because it is based on the concepts underlying the semantic web, it is much more than that.Can Unizin Help?
One of the claims that Unizin stakeholders make is that the coalition can can accelerate the arrival of useful learning analytics. We have very few specifics to back up this claim so far, but there are occasionally revealing tidbits. For example, University of Wisconsin CIO Bruce Mass wrote, “…IMS Global is already working with some Unizin institutions on new standards.” I assume he is primarily referring to Caliper, since it is the only new learning analytics standard that I know of at the IMS. His characterization is misleading, since it suggests a peer-to-peer relationship between the Unizin institutions and IMS. That is not what is happening. Some Unizin institutions are working in IMS on Caliper, by which I mean that they are participating in the working group. I do not mean to slight or denigrate their contributions. I know some of these folks. They are good smart people, and I have no doubt that they are good contributors. But the IMS is leading the standards development process, and the Unizin institutions are participating side-by-side with other institutions and with vendors in that process.
Can Unizin help accelerate the process? Yes they can, in the same ways that other participants in the working group can. They can contribute representatives to the working groups, and those representatives can suggest use cases. They can review documents. They can write documents. They can implement working prototypes or push their vendors to do so. The latter is probably the biggest thing that anyone can do to move a standard forward. Sitting around a table and thinking about the standard is good and useful, but it’s not a real standard until multiple parties implement it. It’s pretty common for vendors to tell their customers, “Oh yes, of course we will implement Caliper, just as soon as the specification is finalized,” while failing to mention that the specification cannot be finalized until there are implementers. What you end up with is a bunch of kids standing around the pool, each waiting for somebody else to jump in first. In other words, what you end up with is paralysis. If Unizin can accelerate the rate of implementation and testing of the proposed specification by either implementing themselves or pushing their vendor(s) to implement, then they can accelerate the development of real market solutions for learning analytics. And once those solutions exist, then Unizin institutions (along with everyone else) can use them and try to discover how to use all that data to actually improve learning. These are not unique and earth-shaking contributions that only Unizin could make, but they are real and important ones. I hope that they make them.
Matt Bury points us to "a quick, simple “ How to… ” guide for setting up instant, free, 'no frills', easy to use, multi-way video conferencing and chat in Moodle for up to 8 people at a time." The site is appear.in[Link] [Comment]
Rolling Jubilee, a group that grew out of the Occupy Movement, announced this week that it has purchased “for about three cents on the dollar, of nearly four million dollars’ worth of private debt from Everest College, which is part of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges system. The debts had been incurred by more than two thousand students.” The group then notified students that some of their debt had been canceled.
Missouri legislators are proposing that high school students take and pass a citizenship test in order to graduate.
The Texas State Board of Education has voted to require the state’s AP history classes to use state-mandated curriculum, not the new AP curriculum that has conservatives up in arms.
A New York judge has merged the two anti-tenure lawsuits in the state (much to the plaintiffs’ chagrin).
BC teachers are voting today on a new contract that would end the union’s strike.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed a lawsuit accusing for-profit Corinthian Colleges of predatory lending.
The FTC has fined TinyCo $300,000 and Yelp $450,000 for violating COPPA for improperly collecting kids’ data.
“In 19 states, it’s still legal for personnel in schools to practice ‘paddling.’”MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Coursera is pursuing MOOCs-on-demand.
Coursera has partnered with Brazilian universities the University of São Paulo and the State University of Campinas.
edX is relicensing some of its open source software, moving from the AGPL to the Apache license. The latter allows for more commercial and even proprietary software development. Because open.
“The MOOC Where Everyone Learned” is an actual headline.
The UT System will continue to offer MOOCs. (Of course, it’s invested $5 million in edX and earmarked $5 more for MOOC course development.)
Marks & Spencer will offer a MOOC with Leeds University.
Oakwood University will launch the first MOOC developed by a HBCU.
AT&T will offer 200 scholarships to underserved students to enroll in Udacity MOOCs.
You can now sign in to edX.org with your Google or Facebook account.The Great LAUSD iPad Saga Continues
A 95-page report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has evaluated LAUSD’s “Common Core Technology Project.” Only 1 teacher out of 245 classrooms reported using the Pearson curriculum. (It’s costing the district about $200 per device for a three-year licensing deal.) 80% of high schools reported they “rarely used the tablets.” The report found that the district was so busy dealing with the distribution of the iPads, it never really addressed using them in the classroom.
In other LAUSD news, the district will return three grenade launchers to the Department of Defense, but will keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle.Meanwhile on Other Campuses
Powerful tech incubator Y Combinator will offer classes at Stanford. Because of course it will.
Several Washington state community colleges will soon offer a competency-based business degree, using OER materials and courses developed in conjunction with Lumen Learning.
Alberta high school student Keenan Shaw was suspended for two days for selling the banned substance Pepsi on campus.
6-year-old Salecia Johnson was arrested after she threw a tantrum at Creekside Elementary School. Any guesses on her race?
Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus VR, has made a $31 million donation to the University of Maryland, prompting this from The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Will the Next Classroom Disruption Be in 3-D? Facebook’s Virtual-Reality Company Thinks So”
The principal of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts has declined Nicki Minaj’s offer to come and speak to her alma mater.Go, School Sports Team!
Heisman Trophy-winner FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for half a game for vulgar comments.From the HR Department
Gillian McGoldrick, the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper Playwickian was suspended for one month and faculty advisor Tara Huber for two days without pay over student editors’ efforts to remove the word “Redskins” from their newspaper. More via the Student Press Law Center.
After news broke that Microsoft had indeed acquired Mojang, the company’s founder “Notch” says he quits.
George Bradley, the president of Paine College, has resigned. The HBCU was placed on probation by its accreditor earlier this summer.
Over 475 custodians are being laid off in the Chicago Public Schools (although these are not directly CPS employees as the district has outsourced custodial services to other companies).Upgrades and Downgrades
Via The Atlantic: “How Sugar Daddies are Financing College Education.” “The popular website Seeking Arrangement sets up ‘mutually beneficial relationships’ between wealthy older men and young female students. What the site doesn’t talk about is sex.” Oh. I see.
Textbook rental company (that now wants to extend its tentacles in all aspects of education services) Chegg has launched an online college counseling service.
Inside Higher Ed student affairs blogger Eric Stoller looks at the “hot mess” generated by the anonymous app Yik Yak.
Wolfram Alpha’s math software Mathematica is now available online.
When math educator Dan Meyer gives you “Five Reasons To Download Classkick,” you download Classkick.
Wikispaces will no longer offer free non-education wikis.
Learnsprout has partnered with Pearson, announcing in a blog post that the startup has “been given the proverbial ‘keys to the kingdom’ and now have access to PowerSchool test servers, APIs, demo data sets, documentation and support.”
Urban Outfitters has apologized for marketing a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt that sure looked like it was covered in bloodstains and bullet holes.
Google has hit the road with a traveling Chromebook Lending Library, that’ll lend college student Chromebooks for a week.
“At a New York state elementary school, teachers can use a behavior-monitoring app to compile information on which children have positive attitudes and which act out. In Georgia, some high school cafeterias are using a biometric identification system to let students pay for lunch by scanning the palms of their hands at the checkout line. And across the country, school sports teams are using social media sites for athletes to exchange contact information and game locations.” What could go wrong? More in The New York Times on concerns about data collection in schools. Marketplace covers the topic more gleefully.Geniuses
Congratulations to this year’s MacArthur Fellows.RIP
Terrance Paul, who created the Accelerated Reader software (which later became Renaissance Learning), died this past week. He was 67.Funding and Acquisitions
Microsoft has acquired Mojang, maker of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion. Ugh. Are we taking bets on how long it takes Microsoft to screw up schools' experiences with the game?
Newsela has raised $4.1 million in a Series A round of funding from Owl Ventures, with Knight Enterprise Fund, Cambridge Information Group, New Schools Venture Fund, and Kapor Capital. The startup offers news items written at various Lexile levels.
SchoolMint, a startup that manages applications to K–12 schools, has raised $2.2 million in seed funding from NewSchools Venture Fund, Runa Capital, and Crosslink Capital.
Kelase, “Indonesia’s ‘Yammer for education’ receives [an undisclosed] seed funding,” reports Techinasia.
Rockit has raised $500,000 from Learn Capital, John Katzman, and Formation 8 for its online education platform, currently focused on the test prep market in Vietnam.
Salesforce has made a $5 million gift to the San Francisco public schools and a $1 million donation to Code.org.“Research"
“Computer tutors can read students’ emotions,” says Annie Murphy Paul. Hmmm.
“PhD gender gaps” visualized.
“According to the latest figures from UNICEF, nearly 30 million children worldwide are not in school because their countries are embroiled in conflicts or have suffered other disasters.”
COSN's latest “K–12 IT Leadership Survey” found that just 34 of those working in IT leadership positions in are women. 48% of men surveyed said they earn $100,000 or more, while 36% of women reported earning that amount.
Spotify has data-mined what music college students listen to. Among the findings: BYU students do not listen to Iggy Azalea, something should all aspire to not do as well.
Much of the focus of the open education movement has been on Open Educvational Resources and MOOCs. But just as important, in my humble opinion, is opening up research to a wider public. This is not only confined to opening up access to the results of research but allowing access to a wider audience than acandmicsx to raw research data. And there are a growing number of web sites that are doing this. One of the sites i am loving is the Understanding Society website based on the UK Households survey and run by designed and managed by a team of longitudinal survey experts at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), at the University of Essex.
Understanding Society, they say, “is a unique and valuable academic study that captures important information every year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people living in 40,000 UK households.
It also collects additional health information from around 20,000 of the people who take part.
Information from the longitudinal survey is primarily used by academics, researchers and policy makers in their work, but the findings are of interest to a much wider group of people including those working in the third sector, health practitioners, business, the media and the general public.”
One study based on the survey and recently posted on the Understanding Society web site looks at Gender differences in educational aspirations and attitudes land examined the ambitions and approaches to study of 11-15 year olds participating in the British Household Panel Survey.
The sudy says that “while girls have more positive aspirations and attitudes than boys, the impacts of gender on children’s attitudes and aspirations vary significantly with parental education level, parental attitudes to education, child’s age and the indirect cost of education.
Boys are more responsive than girls to positive parental characteristics, while educational attitudes and aspirations of boys deteriorate at a younger age than those of girls.
Girls also acknowleged the impact of the recession and increased youth unemployment by working harder. Boys however appear unresponsive to the business cycle. This might reflect misplaced confidence where they believe they will be able to find a job independently from the economic climate. Policies targeting boys with more information on the benefits from investing in education will increase their awareness about the consequences of an unfavourable youth labour market, which may improve their educational attitudes and aspirations and consequently their educational attainment.”
I’m not sure what is make of all this. But I wonder if there is any comparative data from other countries? No doubt it would be a chnallenge to norm such data, but it could greatly help in understanding why boys in the UK are underperforming. If you know of such data plese just add a comment or drop me an email.
In the first week of September, I attended two conferences – the Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C) at Warwick University in the UK and the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) hosted by Porto University in Portugal.
I guess there were some 500 people at ALT-C. Most seemed to be juggling two devices online at most times. And there were literally thousands of tweets using the Alt-C hashtag. the ECER conference was mush bigger with over 2600 registered delegates. I didn’t see too many onine. And there were very few tweets using the ECER hashtag. It was suggested to me this was because a singly hashtag is too broad to encompass the woide range of topics covered in ECER’s different networks. But I don;t think that was the reason. Although for those of us working with technology, online immersion has become a way of life, the culture of educational researchers has not yet embraced such an idea. Of course most – if not all 0 educational researchers are computer literate and of course teh internet is a key tool for accessing documents and for communication. But for most that is it.
A personal reality check
plugin by robHigher Education is not a provider of content but rather a source of cultural capital says Cristina Costa in this engaging 50 slide romp through digital theory and practice.
Como otros años el curso escolar arranca con uno de los grandes eventos relacionados con la tecnología, el Software Freedom Day [FSD] o Día de la Libertad del Software.
La veterana asociación Gcubo, que lleva desde 2003 trabajando por la difusión y promoción del software libre, lidera una vez más las celebraciones del Día de la Libertada del Software en Granada. Para ello ha convocado una jornada festiva para el próximo sábado 20 de Septiembre en la que, a partir de las 10 de la mañana, desarrollará talleres, charlas, mesas redondas, exposiciones y otras actividades lúdicas y de aprendizaje en torno al software libre.
El programa de este evento incluye, entre otras actividades:
- Presentación: Qué es el Software Libre, y por qué estos frikis quieren que lo use.
- Mesa de Experiencias cotidianas: El Software Libre que usan tu tío, su hija, mi chica y vuestro compañero de piso.
- Mesa sobre Ciencia Abierta.
- Charla práctica: Seguridad y Software Libre.
- Charla: Cultura Libre & Creative Commons.
También habrá tiempo para el intercambio de ideas en un formato más informal gracias al Hack&Tapas por la Chana. Además se proyectarán a lo largo de la jornada diversos cortos libres.
Si no vives en Granada pero quieres participar puedes localizar el evento más próximo a tu localidad consultando el mapa del FSD para 2014.imagen | Software Freedom Day en Shutterstock
Long-time readers (really long-time readers) will know of my affinity for similarity - it was similarity that led me to connectionism and networks. To me similarity still forms the semantic basis for categorization, causation and other predictive events. So this sort of article, which outlines a proposed similarity measure for clustering web pages, speaks to me. And it's not a long jump from calculating keyword weights to calculating weights of connections between them. More from the most recent IJICT, just out.[Link] [Comment]
Tim Klapdor, [Sept] 18, 2014
I think it's a bit backward, but Tim Klapdor responds to a recent post by arguing that not caring about time is anti-student. "Who’ s time don’ t they care about? The students. They can take as looong as they like, why would they care, it’ s not their time and it’ s not their expense. I think framing competency based education like has an air of contempt for the student and the value of their time." I think his interpretation of the meaning of "don't care about time" is different from the author's original intent.[Link] [Comment]
Your chance to influence global cultural policy. A little, at least. "From now until November 2014, UNESCO is asking for inputs and research around this global questionnaire on Internet-related issues in the four areas of access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy, and ethical dimensions of the information society."[Link] [Comment]
The opposite of the headline appears to be the main story here - while educational applications capture the attention of those under nine, as they grow older they tend to shift to "more open-play adventure games, casual/social games and puzzle/creative games." Of course there's no reason these can't be educational games in their own right, but they're not overtly educational, and while the author suggests that some titles retain their popularity with the older crowd, it seems to be a losing proposition. Anyhow, there are some good links to popular applications here, as well as a number of top ten lists.[Link] [Comment]
Within higher education, we tend to talk about LMS solutions based on an institutional perspective – which systems can serve as the official LMS for an entire institution. While this view is important and forms the basis for my LMS graphics, the emergence of new educational delivery models has led to the development of some interesting program-specific LMS models. One example that I have already written about is 2U’s platform (built on top of Moodle and Adobe Connect) for their specific Online Service Provider (OSP) business.
One educational model that is becoming more and more important is competency-based education (CBE). One of the challenges for this model is that the traditional LMS – based on a traditional model using grades, seat time and synchronous cohort of students – is not easily adapted to serve CBE needs. As described in this CBE primer:
OBE [Outcome-based education] can be implemented in various modalities, including face-to-face, online and hybrid models.
Competency-based education (CBE) is a narrower concept, a subset or instance of OBE, where the outcomes are more closely tied to job skills or employment needs, and the methods are typically self-paced. Again based on the Malan article, the six critical components of CBE are as follows:
- Explicit learning outcomes with respect to the required skills and concomitant proficiency (standards for assessment)
- A flexible time frame to master these skills
- A variety of instructional activities to facilitate learning
- Criterion-referenced testing of the required outcomes
- Certification based on demonstrated learning outcomes
- Adaptable programs to ensure optimum learner guidance
In 2008 Altius Education, started by Paul Freedman, worked with Tiffin University to create a new entity called Ivy Bridge College. The goal of Ivy Bridge was to help students get associate degrees and then transfer to a four-year program. Altius developed the Helix LMS specifically for this mission. All was fine until the regional accrediting agency shut down Ivy Bridge with only three months notice.
The end result was that Altius sold the LMS and much of the engineering team to Datamark in 2013. Datamark is an educational services firm with a focus on leveraging data. With the acquisition of the Helix technology, Datamark could expand into the teaching and learning process, leading them to rebrand as Helix Education – a sign of the centrality of the LMS to the company’s strategy. Think of Helix Education now as an OSP (a la carte services that don’t require tuition revenue sharing) with an emphasis on CBE programs.
I asked the Helix team to give me a demo of their tool, with permission to do screen grabs, to get a better sense of the system design and inter-relationship with CBE. The goal is to understand some of the nuances brought about by a CBE design focus, based on 3 of the 6 components from SPT Malan. I am not trying to judge better or worse in terms of LMS design but rather to get a better visualization of the implications of CBE.
First – the main page:
The learning outcomes are embedded throughout the course, including the ability to allow a pretest and determine the starting set of competencies.
From a faculty and / or course designer standpoint, there is also a view to determine the coverage of competencies within the course.
The system gives estimates of the time required for most tasks and allows the student to choose their own course plan. The “schedule” then adjusts based on the course plan.
Because the course is essentially self-paced, Helix adds some features to allow peer assessment and discussions, often in an asynchronous manner (based on current and past discussions of students at the same point in the course, but allowing real-time faculty interaction).
Students can ‘like’ and choose to ‘follow’ different discussions. I asked if students can ‘follow’ other students, and the answer was no (but possible in roadmap).
This one was interesting, as Helix allows students to select different levels of guidance – hints, examples, step-by-step, etc.
- I am doing some research to see if I can get other examples from CBE programs, but there seems to be movement of newer educational models, including CBE, becoming more likely to develop program-specific LMS solutions.
- While the Helix team stated that the assessments (formative and summative) can be set up with essays or other non-multiple-choice formats, the overall view of this platform gives a good view of the fairly prescriptive, objectivist nature of CBE.
- Helix stated several times during the demo that the LMS could be applied to non-CBE programs, but my focus was on the CBE nature of the system.
- Helix is building up its management team, including several key hires with a background at eCollege (acquired by Pearon in 2007), Western Governors University and DeVry University.
- Finally, this feature is not CBE-based, but I do like the ability for students to provide feedback on lessons within the course itself.
- More on that sad tale in this post as well as this Chronicle article.
- See Tony Bates article for more on this topic.
The post Helix: View of an LMS designed for competency-based education appeared first on e-Literate.
The following is a pre-print of an essay set to appear in Bonk et al.’s forthcoming book MOOCs and Open Education around the World. It may undergo some additional editing before publication. Unlike the rest of the content on opencontent.org, this article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license v4.0, as per my contract with Routledge. This essay remixes some material that was previously published on opencontent.org.
In this piece I briefly explore the damage done to the idea of “open” by MOOCs, advocate for a return to a strengthened idea of “open,” and describe an open education infrastructure on which the future of educational innovation depends.
MOOCs: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Open Education
MOOCs, as popularized by Udacity and Coursera, have done more harm to the cause of open education than anything else in the history of the movement. They have inflicted this harm by promoting and popularizing an abjectly impoverished understanding of the word “open.” To fully appreciate the damage they have imposed requires that I lightly sketch some historical context.
The openness of the Open University of the UK, first established in 1969 and admitting its first student in 1971, was an incredible innovation in its time. In this context, the adjective “open” described an enlightened policy of allowing essentially anyone to enroll in courses at the university – regardless of their prior academic achievement. For universities, which are typically characterized in metaphor as being comprised of towers, silos, and walled gardens, this opening of the gates to anyone and everyone represented an unprecedented leap forward in the history of higher education. For decades, “open” in the context of education primarily meant “open entry.”
Fast-forward 30 years. In 2001 MIT announced its OpenCourseWare initiative, providing additional meaning to the term “open” in the higher education context. MIT OCW would make the materials used in teaching its on campus courses available to the public, for free, under an “open license.” This open license provided individuals and organizations with a broad range of copyright-related permissions: anyone was free to make copies of the materials, make changes or improvements to the materials, and to redistribute them (in their original or modified forms) to others. All these permissions were granted without any payment or additional copyright clearance hurdles.
While there are dozens of universities around the world that have adopted an open entry policy, in the decade from 2001 – 2010 open education was dominated by individuals, organizations, and schools pursuing the idea of open in terms of open licensing. Hundreds of universities around the globe maintain opencourseware programs. The open access movement, which found its voice in the 2002 Budapest Open Access initiative, works to apply open licenses to scholarly articles and other research outputs. Core learning technology infrastructure, including Learning Management Systems, Financial Management Systems, and Student Information Systems are created and published under open licenses (e.g., Canvas, Moodle, Sakai, Kuali). Individuals have begun contributing significantly to the growing collection of openly licensed educational materials, like Sal Khan who founded the Khan Academy. Organizations like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting an idea of open education grounded in the idea of open licensing. In fact, the Hewlett Foundation’s definition of “open educational resources” is the most widely cited:
OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge (Hewlett, 2014).
According to Creative Commons (2014), there were over 400 million openly licensed creative works published online as of 2010, and many of these can be used in support of learning.
Why is the conceptualization of “open” as “open licensing” so interesting, so crucial, and such an advance over the simple notion of open entry? In describing the power of open source software enabled by open licensing, Eric Raymond (2000) wrote, “Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.” Those never expected uses are possible because of the broad, free permissions granted by open licensing. Adam Thierer (2014) has described a principle he calls “permissionless innovation.” I have summarized the idea by saying that “openness facilitates the unexpected” (Wiley, 2013). However you characterize it, the need to ask for permission and pay for permission makes experimentation more costly. Increasing the cost of experimentation guarantees that less experimentation will happen. Less experimentation means, by definition, less discovery and innovation.
Imagine you’re planning to experiment with a new educational model. Now imagine two ways this experiment could be conducted. In the first model, you pay exorbitant fees to temporarily license (never own) digital content from Pearson, and you pay equivalent fees to temporarily license (never own) Blackboard to host and deliver the content. In a second model, you utilize freely available open educational resources delivered from inside a free, open source learning management system. The first experiment cannot occur without raising venture capital or other significant funding. The second experiment can be run with almost no funding whatsoever. If we wish to democratize innovation, as von Hippel (2005) has described it, we would do well to support and protect our ability to engage in the second model of experimentation. Open licenses provide and protect exactly that sort of experimental space.
An “Open” Worth the Name
How, then, should we talk about “open?” What strengthened conception of open will promote both access and innovation? I believe we must ground our open thinking in the idea of open licenses. Specifically, we should advocate for open in the language of the 5Rs. “Open” should be used as an adjective to describe any copyrightable work that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:
- Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the work (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
- Reuse – the right to use the work in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
- Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the work itself (e.g., translate it into another language)
- Remix – the right to combine the original or revised work with other open works to create something new (e.g., incorporate the work into a mashup)
- Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original work, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the work to a friend)
These 5R permissions, together with a clear statement that they are provided for free and in perpetuity, are articulated in many of the Creative Commons licenses. When you download a video from Khan Academy, some lecture notes from MIT OpenCourseWare, an article from Wikipedia, or a textbook from OpenStax College – all of which use a Creative Commons license – you have free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities with those materials. Because they are published under a Creative Commons license, you don’t need to call to ask for permission and you don’t need to pay a license fee. You can simply get on with the business of supporting your students’ learning. Or you can conduct some other kind of teaching and learning experiment – and you can do it for free, without needing additional permissions from a brace of copyright holders.
How would a change in the operational definition of “open” affect the large MOOC providers? If MOOC providers changed from “open means open entry” to “open means open licenses” what would the impact be? Specifically, if the videos, assessment, and other content in a Coursera or Udacity MOOC were openly licensed would it reduce the “massive” access that people around the world have to the courses? No. In fact, it would drastically expand the access enjoyed by people around the world, as learners everywhere would be free to download, translate, and redistribute the MOOC content. MOOCs could become part of the innovation conversation.
Despite all the hyperbole, it has become clear that MOOCs are nothing more than traditional online courses enhanced by open entry, and not the innovation so many had hoped for. Worse than that, because of their retrograde approach to “open,” MOOCs are guaranteed to be left by the wayside as future educational innovation happens because it is simply too expensive to run a meaningful number of experiments in the MOOC context.
Where will the experiments that define the future of teaching and learning be conducted, then? Many of them will be conducted on top of what I call the open education infrastructure.
Content As Infrastructure
The Wikipedia entry on infrastructure (Wikipedia, 2014) begins:
Infrastructure refers to the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function. It can be generally defined as the set of interconnected structural elements that provide a framework supporting an entire structure of development…
The term typically refers to the technical structures that support a society, such as roads, bridges, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, and so forth, and can be defined as “the physical components of interrelated systems providing commodities and services essential to enable, sustain, or enhance societal living conditions.” Viewed functionally, infrastructure facilitates the production of goods and services.
What would constitute an education infrastructure? I don’t mean a technological infrastructure, like Learning Management Systems. I mean to ask, what types of components are included in the set of interconnected structural elements that provide the framework supporting education?
I can’t imagine a way to conduct a program of education without all four of the following components: competencies or learning outcomes, educational resources that support the achievement of those outcomes, assessments by which learners can demonstrate their achievement of those outcomes, and credentials that certify their mastery of those outcomes to third parties. There may be more components to the core education infrastructure than these four, but I would argue that these four clearly qualify as interconnected structural elements that provide the framework underlying every program of formal education.
Not everyone has the time, resources, talent, or inclination to completely recreate competency maps, textbooks, assessments, and credentialing models for every course they teach. As in the discussion of permissionless, democratized innovation above, it simply makes things faster, easier, cheaper, and better for everyone when there is high quality, openly available infrastructure already deployed that we can remix and experiment upon.
Historically, we have only applied the principle of openness to one of the four components of the education infrastructure I listed above: educational resources, and I have been arguing that “content is infrastructure” (Wiley, 2005) for a decade now. More recently, Mozilla has created and shared an open credentialing infrastructure through their open badges work (Mozilla, 2014). But little has been done to promote the cause of openness in the areas of competencies and assessments.
I think one of the primary reasons competency-based education (CBE) programs have been so slow to develop in the US – even after the Department of Education made its federal financial aid policies friendlier to CBE programs – is the terrific amount of work necessary to develop a solid set of competencies. Again, not everyone has the time or expertise to do this work. Because it’s so hard, many institutions with CBE programs treat their competencies like a secret family recipe, hoarding them away and keeping them fully copyrighted (apparently without experiencing any cognitive dissonance while they promote the use of OER among their students). This behavior has seriously stymied growth and innovation in CBE in my view.
If an institution would openly license a complete set of competencies, that would give other institutions a foundation on which to build new programs, models, and other experiments. The open competencies could be revised and remixed according to the needs of local programs, and they can be added to, or subtracted from, to meet those needs as well. This act of sharing would also give the institution of origin an opportunity to benefit from remixes, revisions, and new competencies added to their original set by others. Furthermore, openly licensing more sophisticated sets of competencies provides a public, transparent, and concrete foundation around which to marshal empirical evidence and build supported arguments about the scoping and sequencing of what students should learn.
Open competencies are the core of the open education infrastructure because they provide the context that imbues resources, assessments, and credentials with meaning – from the perspective of the instructional designer, teacher, or program planner. (They are imbued with meaning for students through these and additional means.) You don’t know if a given resource is the “right” resource to use, or if an assessment is giving students an opportunity to demonstrate the “right” kind of mastery, without the competency as a referent. (For example, an extremely high quality, high fidelity, interactive chemistry lab simulation is the “wrong” content if students are supposed to be learning world history.) Likewise, a credential is essentially meaningless if a third party like an employer cannot refer to the skill or set of skills its possession supposedly certifies.
For years, creators of open educational resources have declined to share their assessments in order to “keep them secure” so that students won’t cheat on exams, quizzes, and homework. This security mindset has prevented sharing of assessments.
In CBE programs, students often demonstrate their mastery of competencies through “performance assessments.” Unlike some traditional multiple-choice assessments, performance assessments require students to demonstrate mastery by performing a skill or producing something. Consequently, performance assessments are very difficult to cheat on. For example, even if you find out a week ahead of time that the end of unit exam will require you to make 8 out of 10 free throws, there’s really no way to cheat on the assessment. Either you will master the skill and be able to demonstrate that mastery or you won’t.
Because performance assessments are so difficult to cheat on, keeping them secure can be less of a concern, making it possible for performance assessments to be openly licensed and publicly shared. Once they are openly licensed, these assessments can be retained, revised, remixed, reused, and redistributed.
Another way of alleviating concerns around the security of assessment items is to create openly licensed assessment banks that contain hundreds or thousands of assessments – so many assessments that cheating becomes more difficult and time consuming than simply learning.
The Open Education Infrastructure
An open education infrastructure, which can support extremely rapid, low cost experimentation and innovation, must be comprised of at least these four parts:
- Open Credentials
- Open Assessments
- Open Educational Resources
- Open Competencies
This interconnected set of components provides a foundation that will greatly decrease the time, cost, and complexity of the search for more effective models of education. (It will provide related benefits for informal learning, as well). From the bottom up, open competencies provide the overall blueprint and foundation, open educational resources provide a pathway to mastering the competencies, open assessments provide the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the competencies, and open credentials which point to both the competency statements and results of performance assessments certify to third parties that learners have in fact mastered the competency in question.
When open licenses are applied up and down the entire stack – creating truly open credentials, open assessments, open educational resources, and open competencies, resulting in an open education infrastructure – each part of the stack can be altered, adapted, improved, customized, and otherwise made to fit local needs without the need to ask for permission or pay licensing fees. Local actors with local expertise are empowered to build on top of the infrastructure to solve local problems. Freely.
Creating an open education infrastructure unleashes the talent and passion of people who want to solve education problems but don’t have time to reinvent the wheel and rediscover fire in the process.
“Openness facilitates the unexpected.” We can’t possibly imagine all the incredible ways people and institutions will use the open education infrastructure to make incremental improvements or deploy novel innovations from out of left field. That’s exactly why we need to build it, and that’s why we need to commit to a strong conceptualization of open, grounded firmly in the 5R framework and open licenses.
Creative Commons. (2014). Metrics. https://wiki.creativecommons.org/Metrics
Hewlett. (2014). Open Educational Resources. http://www.hewlett.org/programs/education/open-educational-resources
Mozilla. (2014). Open Badges. http://openbadges.org/
Raymond, E. (2000). The Cathedral and the Bazaar. http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/ar01s08.html
Thierer, A. (2014). Permissionless Innovation.
Von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation. http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/democ1.htm
Wikipedia. (2014). Infrastructure. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrastructure
Wiley, D. (2005). Content is Infrastructure. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/215
Wiley, D. (2013). Where I’ve Been; Where I’m Going. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2723