I’ve just finished up three days at my first Open Education conference in Park City, Utah, and it was an amazing experience, made even more so by being in the middle of ECI 831. It was pretty inspiring to be in a huge ballroom full of people who all “get it” — from teachers to vendors to bureaucrats. I wish all of my co-students could have been here to share in the experience — everything was directly relevant to what we are studying, and so many people were knowledgeable about so much, and were eager to share. Fortunately, in the finest spirit of openness, all of the presentations were recorded and will be made available soon (including mine, ugh, where I fear I talked way too fast due to being a little nervous — my slides are here). Here are a few of my highlights:
There was a lot of discussion of open textbooks at the conference. When you look at the numbers it seems like such an obvious choice. Each school, division, city, province, state, country (or whatever unit funds textbooks) is paying each year thousands or even millions of dollars for the same basic textbooks for their schools. A more fiscally-responsible alternative would be to pay an expert or two in each field a couple of hundred thousand dollars to write the authoritative textbook (e.g., Biology 101, Psych 101, etc.), and then make the results openly available for everyone. The potential cost savings are pretty staggering. Fortunately, the tools and services are now being put into place, such as Flatworld Knowledge and Connexions that can make this possible, and, it seems, policy makers are starting to listen. How can they not? Apparently, some traditional textbook publishers are fighting back, trying to get legislation passed that would block this, but it doesn’t seem likely to pass. One speaker quoted Gandhi as saying “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then… you win”. Much of the open movement (source, education, access) has matured to the fighting stage, so its just a matter of time before we win (and, in fact, in many ways we already have).
Does anyone know of any initiatives in Saskatchewan in this direction? I learned that BCCampus is quite involved in moving forward.
There were several sessions on new tools for open educators. A couple that stood out for me were OERGlue and OpenStudy. OERGlue allows a teacher to pull together open resources from across the web into a course, and build online interactions around those. They’ve developed a useful widget that lets you basically surf the web and grab content into your course. The web site has a helpful demo. By providing a quick and easy way to integrate a wide variety of content into a single course, it looks like a great piece of infrastructure to help expand the use of open educational resources. OpenStudy provides a social network of learning support for students. Anyone can set up a study group for their course and invite others to participate. I was impressed to learn that it already has over 70,000 users in 170 countries. Due to the large size of the community, students often get answers to their questions in minutes, not hours or days. It makes use of a reward system, so that good behaviour is encouraged and bad behaviour can result in banning, and a very positive, helpful culture has been established. This is another good example of a tool that facilitates the connectedness that we know is so important to effective learning (online or off).
A common theme throughout many of the sessions was the importance of building connections and communities. One statement making its way around the twitterverse was “education is more about connecting than content”. This fits very well into what we’re learning in class.
Another piece of good news is that Open Education 2012 will be in Vancouver, which is much closer to home for many of us. I’m definitely planning to attend. I was very fortunate to have my employer pay for this trip, but I’d definitely self-fund a visit to the coast to participate in this next event. The community of people were all enthusiastic, positive, full of ideas, and wanting to talk and share. It is a great way to spend a few days!