But I still feel the debate is to narrow and too focused on Open Educational Resources. Don’t get me wrong – I am delighted at the way in which OERs have entered the mainstream of teaching and learning activities. But Dave Wiley, in an excellent paper entitled ‘Open for learning: the CMS and the Open Learning Network‘ and co-written with Jon Mott, explains the failure of Technology Enhanced Education as being due to the way technology has been used to maintain existing practices:
“by perpetuating the Industrial Era-inspired, assembly line notion that the semester-bound course is the naturally appropriate unit of instruction (Reigeluth, 1999).”
The paper quotes Herrington, Reeves, and Oliver (2005) who argue that course management software leads universities to “think they are in the information industry”. In contrast to”the authentic learning environments prompted by advances in cognitive and constructivist learning theories”:
“the industrial, course management model has its center of gravity in teachers generating content, teachers gathering resources, teachers grouping and sequencing information, and teachers giving the information to students.”
Yet the moves to Open Education through Open Education Resources have perpetuated that model. Yes, open educational resources are a good thing in empowering and assisting teachers, yet they remain wedded to the idea of teachers gathering resources, grouping and sequencing information and giving the information to students.
Of course there have been attempts to advance Open Education beyond OERs through opening up courses to non registered students. Dave Wiley himself has run courses on Open Education, George Siemens and Stephen Downes have for the last two years run Open Online courses on Connectivism.
Essentially these courses aim at opening up Higher Education to all those who wish to participate. And indeed the idea of increasing participation in higher education is not limited to the educational technologists. In many countries there has been a long tradition of what in the UK is called Adult Education, run buy a variety of organisations such as the Workers Education Association and sometimes receiving state funding. In the UK, government policy has been to increase the proportion of young people attending university (although this policy seems to have broken down in the present financial crisis).Yet all these initiatives appear to have ignored the issue of class. According to an analysis in the UK comparing achievement in examination results to those receiving free school meals (due to low family incomes), the percentage of pupils getting free meals who achieved the equivalent of five or more A* to Cs was 49% in 2009. For those who did not get free meals, the result was 73%. Another report in the Guardian revealed that:
“children from the richest 2% of all households, are more than four and a half times more likely to study at high-ranking universities such as Bristol and Warwick than children from average neighbourhoods. They are twice as likely as the average child in Britain to go to university at all…..By contrast, children from the poorest 25% of households, typically living in terrace homes or flats, make up less than 6.3% of the student population of these universities.”
The Milburn report, Unleashing Aspiration, recently highlighted that many top jobs are dominated by privately educated people. Although they form only 7% of the population, they account for 75% of judges, 70% of finance directors, 45% of top civil servants and 32% of MPs.
Thus policy attempts to open up higher education to wider social groups have basically failed. And any bottom up approach to Open Education needs to take such failures into account and consider what the aim of such a campaign is. In that light, I understand George Siemens’ frustrations with the prersent movement when he says:
“We need some good ol’ radicals in open education. You know, the types that have a vision and an ideological orientation that defies the pragmatics of reality. Stubborn, irritating, aggravating visionaries.”
The problem is that the existing education systems are wedded to societal structures aiming to perpetuate class differences. In a paper entitled ‘Critical and Vygotskian theories of education: a comparison’ , Willem Wadekker says:
“Transmission of objectified knowledge has displaced personality formation as the aim of education. Its primary function is to ensure the production of persons that fit into existing societal structures.”
Merely using technology to open out existing Higher Education to non registered students will not overcome existing divides of class and race. As early as 1971, Ivan Illich pointed out:
“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education.”
In an excellent analysis, Danah Boyd points out that the digital divide is not just a question of access:
“We’re closer to universal access today than ever before, but access is not bringing us the magical utopian panacea that we all dreamed of. Henry Jenkins has rightly pointed out that we see the emergence of a “participation gap” in that people’s participation is of different quantity and quality depending on many other factors. Social media takes all of this to a new level. It’s not just a question of what you get to experience with your access, but what you get to experience with your friend group with access. In other words, if you’re friends with 24/7 always-on geeks, what you’re experiencing with social media is very different than if you’re experiencing social media in a community where your friends all spend 12+ hours a day doing a form of labor that doesn’t allow access to internet technologies.”
Boyd goes on to say:
“I’m much more concerned about how racist and classist attitudes are shaping digital media, how technology reinforces inequality, and how our habit of assuming that everyone uses social media just like we do reinforces social divisions that we prefer to ignore.”
If Open Education is to mean anything, it has to address the question of social divisions including class, gender and race. I am unconvinced this can be done from inside the existing educational institutions, although of course is will need the support of those working in those organisations. Instead I think we need to use the power of the internet to provide opportunities for education and learning outside the present system and to embed those learning activities in wider communities than the present institutions address.
Open Educational resources are a good starting point in providing free access to learning materials. But we also need to go beyond the present focus on higher level academic knowledge. My own research on the use of ICT for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises suggest people are using the internet for informal learning. And, contrary to expectation, whilst some of that learning was driven by need in terms of work based activities, much of it was driven by personal interest. In other words, many people are motivated to learn if they have the opportunity.
However, motivation and access to materials are not enough alone, nor for that matter is access to a Personal Learning Environment. Many learners will need support to help them overcome problems and to scaffold their learning. The idea of a Personal Learning Network is good. But once more, many learners will not have access to the people they need to support them, nor will they know where to go to get such support.
In Deschooling Society, Illich proposed using technology to overcome this problem through “learning webs.”
The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.
Illich argued that the use of technology to create decentralized webs could support the goal of creating a ‘good educational system’:
A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.
Illich’s idea of a good educational system could be the basis for a truly radical movement for Open Education