Sunday, April 5, 2009

Openness and higher education-- how do we get there?

Title page to Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning...Image via Wikipedia

In a great Slideshare presentation, Openness and the Disaggregated Future of Higher Education, David Wiley asks: How might we open things up? Higher education needs to figure this out.

I started giving this some thought and decided to make a list:

  • Video cameras in every classroom-- Streamed and archived video of everything. The world is invited into every activity of the academy. This is a first step. Eventually we have to lose the whole concept of a classroom and even a campus. Learning is not place-bound.
  • Intellectual property-- Close the university intellectual property offices. All formerly copyrightable materials are released into the commons: Creative Commons 3.0. Patentable discoveries are released into the public domain. It's that easy.
  • Open textbooks-- No commercial textbooks allowed. Faculty are strongly encouraged to contribute to and participate in open-textbook projects. Every faculty member is evaluated today on a public service component. A simple question could be added to all faculty evaluations: What are you doing to support the commons?
  • Open-courseware-- All course materials are released to the commons. No exceptions.
  • Credit hours-- Anything based on a measurement of time is meaningless. Time-based learning is a throwback to the industrial age. Some things we learn fast, some things take longer. One thing is certain, none of us learn at the same pace. Openness requires freeing learning from these types of artificial constraints.
  • Embrace open-learning-- Being learner centered requires the use of the tools used by the learner. So embrace blogs, Facebook , and other forms of social networking. Go to where the students are, and stop expecting them to come to us. Higher education needs to embrace the concept of Personal Learning Environments and ditch the whole Course Management System thing. Stop spending millions on Blackboard and Moodle too. There is nothing social constructionist about Moodle-- so stop the lie. The only people who should be managing learning are the learners themselves.
  • Tuition--If credit hours are absurd then so is a system of paying for an education based on that artificial unit. Students are paying for a lot of things when they decide to attend a university. That the payment is bundled into the unit of instruction is nothing short of odd. Openness mandates that the payment for education be done entirely different.
  • Peer assessment-- Faculty who teach no longer assess. Assessment needs to be separated from learning. In a world where most learning is socially constructed the competitive model of assessment is a severe impediment.
  • Departments/disciplines-- Eliminate them entirely. Move to self organizing communities of learners and scholars that are not discipline-based. Silos are so last century.
  • Open research-- Open data, open notebooks, open labs... Complete transparency from start to finish.
  • Tenure-- Employment for life? Yeah right. Openness requires a much more porous movement of intellectual talent both in and out of the academy. In addition, the costs for managing the whole process are obscene. These cognitive cycles should be focused on something more important.
  • ...

This was done off the top of my head. What'd I miss? What doesn't belong on the list? What can't possibly work? The floor is yours...

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Peg Boyles said...

Well done!

I'd also move on to emphasize the distinction between education and schooling. Legislatures and professional bodies legitimize schools (colleges, universities) as gatekeepers of the credentials essential for most jobs,including teaching and research jobs.

Why not mobilize support for laws that would make it illegal for any employer to even ask about higher-education credentials as a prerequisite for any job.

Let employers determine fitness for a position by devising appropriate tests of competence.

That would open up the universe for many new models of teaching/research and learning.

Kevin Gamble said...

I'd agree with that. There are lots of out-of-bounds subjects in job interviewing already. This might help to open the monopoly to new forms of learning. It's going to happen regardles, and sooner would be better than later.

Eloise said...

I did a discipline (Biomedical sciences) as an undergrad, and immunology as a pre-doctoral student) that required a fair degree of lab work.

Whilst I think a lot of what you're saying here makes sense, how do you cope with disciplines that require lab-based learning if you don't have a place for them to congregate? Although not at first, by the end of my batchelor's degree we were routinely handling stuff you wouldn't want sending through the post.

And I'm not going to take "you can watch it on video" as a plausible alternative to quite a lot of lab work. Would you like to have your blood taken by someone who has only watched it on video? Your inflammed appendix removed by a surgeon who has never actually cut someone before? There is certainly stuff that can be done in simulation, anywhere, but there are still kinaesthetic skills that we need out there.

Kevin Gamble said...


I too have a couple of degrees that relied heavily on lab work. I deliberately excluded laboratories from my comments.

I do think that laboratory based learning could be done quite differently. For example, maybe students could rent dorm rooms more like hotel rooms? Maybe they live in residence for only a few days or weeks at a time while they do lab work. Maybe the full time residency is reserved for graduate students doing research? Perhaps labs would be better distributed across a state in various communities rather than concentrated on a central campus?

I think we could get far more creative about how hands-on learning is accomplished, and cut costs for students in the process.

Thanks for your comments!


Peg Boyles said...

I'd like to weigh in on this one, too.

These new open models of teaching and learning (divorced from conventional ideas of schools and credentials, and from words like undergraduate and graduate student and post-doc) could and most certainly would have to incorporate all sorts of opportunities for hands-on learning and skill acquisition. Not only in laboratories, on farms and ranches and construction sites, but also in settings involving sensitive human interactions, e.g., courts, hospitals, clinics, and other professional care settings.

These opportunities could involve apprenticeships, intense job-shadowing, and OTJ training in private or publicly funded facilities/establishments of many sorts.

Freed from the straight jacket of academic/professional gatekeeping, many people could learn their way into a skilled professional slot. Other open-access learning situations could involve peer mentorships in which skilled practitioners in different fields agree to teach each other for mutual benefit. Etc.

John Dorner said...


I'm assuming you are referring only to public higher educational institutions. Would this apply to private higher ed institutions.

If credit hours are absurd (and I agree they are), then could these institutions become credential granters? Credentials would be based on knowledge demonstrated - regardless of how many hours you put in a classroom or where/how you learned? And in the case of hands on requirements, these would have to be demonstrated and tested in person.

Just came across this on twitter @skrabut "Every student is different, and every education should be different".

If tuition isn't based on credit hours, would it be based on the credentials/testing?

Would the face-to-face classroom participants pay for the benefits received by those attending at a distance and asynchronously? If so, what would happen if there were no face-to-face classroom participants to teach? How would the institution get paid for the cost of delivering to the distance student? Public funds? Testing fees?

Thanks for the mental exercise :)

Eloise said...

This article produced some deep thinking and a rather radical agenda. Rather than hijacking 10 pages of comments with it, I wrote it up over on my blog.

Kevin Gamble said...


I really enjoyed your blog post. It's posts like yours that make this whole blogging thing so fulfilling. Thank you!