Sunday, October 24, 2010

Open Education Resources Require Open Teaching

A Wikiversity Logo for Open Educational Resour...Image via WikipediaI have been reading though the Open eLearning Content Observatory Services "Roadmap 2012" and there are some very important points made in the report:

"OER are understood to be an important element of policies that want to leverage education and lifelong learning for the knowledge economy and society. However, OLCOS emphasises that it is crucial to also promote innovation and change in educational practices."

This is a very important distinction - we are doing more than just changing the medium from commercial textbooks to open textbooks. We are changing the way we teach. When we begin to decentralize the information, we have to adapt teaching strategies to decentralized learning.  For example, our math department has an face-to-face classroom but it uses a free, open textbook that they wrote, a video feed to a website that also streams to two television outlets, a phone number for students to call in questions. How does this not change the way one teaches? I have sometimes heard teachers talk about concerns with quality with open textbooks or of being uncertain about being able to teach with them. This is because teaching often becomes dependent on publisher's resources which can also be of questionable quality. What the instructors often need is the learning support materials that come with commercial textbooks. This too can be created in an open way. 

"In particular, OLCOS warns that delivering OER to the still dominant model of teacher-centred knowledge transfer will have little effect on equipping teachers, students and workers with the competences, knowledge and skills to participate successfully in the knowledge economy and society."

In other words, the same skills that the teachers are using to gather, evaluate, and share open education resources are the same skills that the students are going to need to get on in a world of networked information. This happens a lot already - the research of graduate students often goes into the textbook of the professor. Why not cut out the middle-man? Why teach someone how to write with a word processor and then ask them to turn in wax tablets? Or worse yet, evaluate them that way?

"This report emphasises the need to foster open practices of teaching and learning that are informed by a competency-based educational framework. However, it is understood that a shift towards such practices will only happen in the longer term in a step-by-step process. Bringing about this shift will require targeted and sustained efforts by educational leaders at all levels."

If you have not read this report, I highly recommend it. We need to start thinking about the cultural shifts that are evolving around us; the culture that is giving birth to OERs is already redefining teaching and scholarship. What if instead of passing tests, a student was evaluated on his or her contributions to the knowledge culture through an online "textbook" like WikiEducator? It is important to follow what is happening in other countries because the OER community is an international community and they are solving problems in Africa and Europe that we are only really beginning to look at here in the U.S.
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