EdFutures: First post

April 19, 2010, [MD]

Although I had been aware of open movements for much longer, and gradually gotten interested in the open education movements, my real involvement started with David Wiley's Intro to Open Ed in 2007. I learnt a whole lot, not the least about the translation of MIT courses into Chinese, and the production of Chinese "OCW" courses. I used this idea to apply to an MA in comparative education, wanting to look at what kind of cultural issues translating MIT courses to Chinese would entail. I ended up studying the courses produced by Chinese universities instead, which has been a very exciting journey. I've given a few presentations on this (all here), and should really be finishing my MA right now, rather than participating in this course.

Just before I started that intro to open ed, I attended iCommons in Dubrovnik, where in addition to finally seeing and meeting people like Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig, Joi Ito and many others, I attended an amazingly well facilitated education track. That's where I met Philipp, Neeru and Delia, and where we began to slowly lay the plans for what would become the Peer2Peer University. Fast forward three years, and P2PU was just mentioned in the New York Times this week, we have run two cycles of courses, the latest with 16 courses, including 3 in Portuguese, and had an amazing community meetup in Berlin, as well as met and partnered with lot's of great, inspiring people. And to figure out how we can do this kind of open teaching and learning online even better, I'm starting my PhD this fall, at OISE and KMDI.

So this course is a great opportunity for me to reflect on what has happened, and what will happen. One of our early thoughts with P2PU was to experiment – we acknowledged that we could continue going to conferences and present ideas and theories around open online learning for several years more, but we wanted to actually do it. Inspired by all the other great people in the open ed movement, who are doers as well as thinkers. And sure enough, we have learnt incredibly much, and discovered so many new problems and issues, as we've moved along with our project.

Is this kind of a learning experience really available to everyone, or only very highly educated people with self-confidence and metaskills in abundance (which I think will characterize most of the people participating in this class, as it did with Wiley's original class)? What, if anything, can we do to make it more accessible? What is the role of the teacher, and how much can we reduce the "load" on the teacher, to make these kind of courses scaleable as free courses (or will that never be achieved – will we always need government subsidy or tuition to maintain really high quality teaching and learning?) What kind of organizational models work best – for different kinds of learners, for different kinds of courses?

In our first cycle, we offered a wiki and a WordPress multiuser installation. Even within this limited framework, courses organized very differently. Some used only the wiki, some let everyone start their own blog, some had everyone blog on the same group blog, some used the wiki for collaborative writing in small groups, and then had the groups post the finished result on the blog, to be critiqued by other groups in the comments. Some of these courses were more successful than others (but – other than retention rate – how do we measure success, if every student coming in has a different background and a different purpose with taking the course?).

Then, stepping back from the microlevel focus on courses (although I am intensely interested in that, and I will certainly be following this course, not only to learn from the content, but also see what I can learn from the form and the organization of the interaction), what is the future of the university in society. (I will admit that I am biased, and mainly focused on post-K12 education, although certainly interested in what comes before). These two years at OISE, I've been doing Higher Education, and we have done readings about the history of the university, the precursors in ancient India, the shuyuan's in China, the Muslim seats of learning to the different European models that developed – the French and the German – to the different sociological roles that universities, professors, students, graduates have played. I think that this is all crucial background information, if we want to assess the future of education.

If we want to replace universities, we need to understand the role of universities in society – and there is not one answer to that question, but many. And we need to keep an international perspective, because the world is growing increasingly globalized. We need to keep in mind much of continental Europe, where higher education is still essentially free, there is much smaller difference between types of institutions, and it's much easier to gain entrance. India, which is chafing at a 5% enrollment rate, with a much higher population that would qualify for, and could benefit from higher education, or China, which exploded it's enrollment rates from 4 million to 30 million over 10 years, and went from 5% enrollment to 25%, with 40% projected in 2020.

Anyway, I whole-heartedly look forward to this course, and am excited to be doing it. I've also succeeded with something I've always wanted – to create a hybrid course. I invited a number of other people at my institution, who are interested in these kinds of issues, to take the course with me, and for us to meet once a week to discuss the topics of the course live. We're a neat group, including one professor of online learning, one lecturer in computer science, and several students from different departments. Time will tell if we will all manage to keep up with the course load, or if some will fall off, but I'm very excited – also to use this course as a bit of a lever, to induce people at my institution who don't usually talk together, to do that.

Let the learning begin!

Stian Thanks to  Tiagø Ribeiro, U-g-g-B-o-y-(-Photograph-World-Sense-), Musée McCord Museum* and Nationaal Archief for the photos.*

Stian Håklev April 19, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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