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Open Education and the Free Technology Academy

February 24th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

The open education debate has gone a little quiet in the last few weeks. It is an important debate in that it centres on the development of new models for education, both pedagogically and in terms of organisation.
One of the more interesting developments at the moment is the Free Technology Academy (FTA), financially supported by the Life Long Learning programme (LLP) of the European Commission, and based on collaboration between the Free Knowledge Institute in the Netherlands, the Open Universiteit Nederland (OUNL), the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain and the University of Agder, Norway. According to the project web site, the Free Technology Academy aims to contribute to a society that permits all users to study, participate and build upon existing knowledge without restrictions.
The FTA offers an online master level programme with course modules about Free Technologies. Learners can choose to enrol in an individual course or register for the whole programme. Tuition takes place online in the FTA virtual campus and is performed by teaching staff from the partner universities. Credits obtained in the FTA programme are recognised by these universities. The full master programme can be concluded at one of the universities.
The programmes are based on Open Educational Resources (OER) and the software used in the FTA virtual campus is Free Software and is built upon an Open Standards framework.
The FTA Consortium partners aim to accelerate the adoption of Free Software and Free Knowledge by working on strategic projects like the FTA, the international SELF Project, and other initiatives. They collaborate with parties to set up a solid ecosystem for the production of free educational materials.
The courses are not free – according to the website the “FTA charges tuition fees to cover only the marginal costs of running the courses and tries to keep costs as low as reasonably possible to make participation in its tutored courses accessible to those interested.” This year the fee has been set at 380 Euro a module. But it is particularly interesting that the consortium has agreed a standard fee, which in many cases is substantially lower than that usually charged by the participating universities and is justifying this through the use of OER and open source.

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