Last Monday, during her final week as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton commanded the attention of a global education force field from the State Department, the Arab League, the Department of Education, and a group of representatives from other national and international education organizations and institutions with a simple, but radical idea–education diplomacy–and a road map of how to achieve it.
The Open Book Project, which Clinton announced in one of her final acts of diplomacy last week, is a concept that some might call naïve and others, brilliant. The project entails a U.S.-Arab League collaboration to provide a high level of access to freely available learning resources in Arabic which can be adapted and localized, with a particular emphasis on science and technology higher education. Said Clinton, “At a time when extremists everywhere work to deepen divides across cultures, we see partnerships like this as one chance to bridge them.”
The Open Book Project is built upon the widely successful practice of providing free access to open educational resources (OER), along with the tools for the collaborative creation, adaptation and remixing of resources, and extends this practice into the Arabic-speaking world. The Open Book Project heralds more than just a delivery system of English materials translated into Arabic. The real value of this project is the potential for collaboration among educators trained in the use of open education resources to modify, adapt, and create their own open content.
I had the honor to represent ISKME at last Monday’s announcement in Washington, D.C., as a “trailblazer in open education [whose] work is already proving that it has the potential to transform the way students learn across the world.” The philosophy behind the open education movement and OER Commons, where ISKME has amassed and curated over 40,000 high-quality resources for teachers and learners, is to make knowledge freely available to all and to support information sharing and continuous improvement of learning resources by leveraging educator expertise and experience.
As one of the partners in the Open Book Project, ISKME’s Arabic version of OER Commons is freely available throughout the English and Arabic-speaking world. Within OER Commons Arabic, educators can discover and share content, as well as author, remix, and translate content for their local instructional needs. It will soon feature a custom Arabic Language Learning Resources community, developed jointly by ISKME and a consortium with partners from the Center for Languages, Arts and Societies of the Silk Road (CLASSRoad) and the Language Acquisition Resource Center (LARC) at San Diego State University, offering up-to-date, accessible information about instruction, course materials, and opportunities for Arabic language educators and students, designers and administrators of Arabic language programs, and the general public.
Efforts such as OER Commons Arabic represent more than a one-way street: they seek to provide access to OER for Arabic-speaking teachers and learners, as well as for those who wish to learn about Arabic language and culture. This is what education diplomacy is all about and why the Open Book Project has a legacy that could help create understanding and respect for each other’s cultures. In this case, there is everything to gain and nothing to lose in translation.
This post first published in Huffington Post, February 11, 2013.
This article initially appeared in the Huffington Post, June 12, 2012
Probably none of us have gone through high school or college without some relationship to that 20th century artifact of learning called the textbook. While I remember in high school not being allowed to write in my textbook, I also remember being delighted in college when I realized that because I bought my own textbooks I could scribble notes in them and highlight with abandon. For those of us who liked to read, purchasing (mostly used) textbooks each semester was exciting because they were chock full of the promise of things we were about to learn. My nostalgia about textbooks of yore, however, directly contradicts my firm belief that textbooks are being superseded by far better forms of learning.
Today’s students are not experiencing the same thing. Textbook prices have skyrocketed since the 1980s. And in the 1990s, the problem was exacerbated by publishers who tried to squelch the used textbook market by putting out new editions of books every 18 months instead of once every six years, as had been the tradition since the 1950s. Even more frustrating for students has been that as prices continued to increase, faculty would still require students to purchase an expensive textbook but then only use a third of the chapters. Because they were only required to read selections from a book, some students stopped buying textbooks altogether, hoping to either squeak by without reading the book, or hoping that one of the copies on reserve at their college library would be available the night before the exam. High school textbooks were not much better, except that the cost was absorbed by school districts, or rather, our taxpayer dollars.
These days the technology exists to create open textbooks at a fraction of the cost and offers content for free, assuming the student has Internet access. The textbook publishing industry has been challenged as new open textbook publishers hired authors (often educators) to create textbooks with content that was openly licensed and free. It is not insignificant that a textbook in almost every field of study is now accessible online and free of cost. Organizations such as CK12, for example, create open source textbooks to lower the cost of education in the U.S. and beyond. So far, the efforts have been widely accepted by school districts because they reduce costs for the school and allow teachers the opportunity to modify the textbooks and publish them through CK12′s platform.
Ironically, because teachers today can create and distribute their own textbooks, they also have the power to destroy the very notion of the textbook. Using the Internet, educators can easily co-create and share learning content. They can alter lessons on the fly. They can cut and paste and customize content for each student. They can, in other words, eliminate the textbook altogether.
Creating content — as the act of reading once spread rapidly centuries ago — has become a possibility for all. The Internet has disrupted many of our traditional institutions, from newspaper publishers to recording companies, and now textbook publishers. A great wave of disintermediation has done away with the notion of publisher’s profits and author’s royalties. Online, teachers can collaborate and create learning content that can be remixed to suit a student’s particular needs. They might not take sole proprietary authorship, yet experts in a particular subject can participate fully in the creative process. The top-down textbook hierarchy is inverted if not subverted. Content no longer needs to be delivered to teachers, as teachers can be part of the localization and adaptive process.
Perhaps not surprising is that those who create or want to use open content are often asked to show proof that it works. You have to ask though, how many times has someone “tested” the learning outcomes correlated with the use of conventional textbooks. Yet we have seen that teachers who create their own materials are more engaged with their students. Needless to say, they are also more engaged with their peers. Their content and their professionalism are enhanced and heightened. In addition, students benefit from the greater enthusiasm and understanding their teachers bring to each lesson.
The narrow focus on the open textbook is distracting us from what is potentially most important in education: the conversations about new approaches to learning that are taking place in all corners of the world, thanks to the Internet and greater access to digital resources. Once it is shown that textbooks may not be the most effective way to learn, there will be no going back. The question will no longer be open textbooks versus limited access textbooks, but instead about the ways in which education content can be created, shared, and distributed by those directly engaged in the teaching and learning process itself.
Photo credit: CC BY SA Wesley Fryer
This post originally appeared in Opensource.com, January 29, 2010
I was asked to explain why the introduction of open educational resources into the education ecosystem might in fact be one of the most important things that has happened to education in the last 100 years. I guess in centuries before we might have said that it was the Socratic Method, or the advent of public schooling, or teaching to the agrarian calendar. Each of these has certainly contributed to moving some part of learning more visibly into the public sphere. Similarly, open educational resources (broadly defined as educational content that is made free to use or share, with the intention of being able to modify content and reshare it back out to the commons), has in many ways taken education by storm (and surprise in some cases). Why?
Because it provides a learner-centered platform that authentically marries technology with education, provides access and equity to education resources for all, and last but not least, is in some cases enabling the re-professionalism of teaching.
The concept, in some ways, is fairly simple. I create a lesson plan and activities for my class and I post it online. I license it in a way that allows others to use it for free, to share it, to adapt it to their own unique teaching needs, and then to re-post it for others to use. Teacher B comes along and says, “Hey, I like that, but I don’t think Teacher A really got that part right.” So Teacher B modifies the content, improving it in the process, adds some additional activities and reposts online. And so on. Why is this a great idea? Well, because now, not only has this material become a part of a continuous improvement cycle, it has also been made available for anyone else in the world to use. An added benefit is if you assume that Teacher A and B are paid by the state (such as a public school teacher or 2- or 4- year public college or university instructor), then we’ve even already paid for this content through our well-spent tax dollars. Either way, licensing content openly signals the start of the “commons” a place where all people, teachers and learners, can have access to the world’s knowledge. It’s free, sharable, dynamic, and remixable.
Early on in the open education movement, the case was made that free content would save the education sector millions of dollars if they didn’t have to buy expensive textbooks (perhaps there is something to be learned from the demise of the Recording Industry?). However, more affordable education is just one part of the package. But perhaps equally as important, to an educator like myself, is the potential that open education resources have to offer the professionalism of teaching. At ISKME, our research in open education and also in working with teachers and educators around the globe, we have seen that while reduced cost and ease of use have been initial drivers of use, open content also encourages new patterns of collaboration in curriculum development and in enhanced student-centered learning. It places the teacher back in the driver’s seat as the pedagogy expert. But best of all, this is no longer accomplished alone in a silo as many teachers currently practice their craft, but in an open space that encourages collaboration, improvement, access, and innovation.
One example of this is ISKME’s OER Commons, an open education network that focuses on the curation and federation of open content from over 200 content partners (such as NASA, MIT OpenCourseware, WGBH, and many others). This has evolved into the networking and professional development of teachers worldwide who collaborate on improving and creating open content. A key component of this work has been to help educate the educators about copyright and content licensing as well as to introduce social collaboration environments that serve as catalysts to encourage teachers and learners to the shift from a consumer culture of education (where teachers deliver and students buy) to one in which teachers and learners gain leadership and support to share and build expertise from within.
Now what would Socrates think of that?
Photo CC BY SA opensource.com
An international jury selected The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) as the winner of the prestigious 2011 OPAL Award for Bodies Which Influence Policy. ISKME was recognized at the OPAL Awards delivered at Online Educa Berlin on December 2, 2011, on the basis of its OER Commons Teacher Training Initiative. The Award for Bodies which Influence Policy is given to a global, regional or national organization providing the conditions or resources for open educational practices, or encouraging excellence in open educational practices.
ISKME’s OER Commons Teacher Training Initiative offers teachers a collaborative professional development model centered on engagement with Open Educational Resources (OER). Since 2009, ISKME has trained over 1,500 teachers from 25 countries in its program focused on collaborative innovation and social learning using open curriculum and open teacher-led approaches. In 2011, ISKME launched a Green OER Commons micro-site with Greek partner Agro-Know, delivering sustainability-related learning resources and interdisciplinary lesson plans, including a focus on STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) resources.
The OER Commons Teacher Training Initiative is rooted in the idea that equitable access to high-quality education is a global imperative. Open Educational Resources, or OER, offer opportunities for systemic change in teaching and learning through accessible content, and importantly, through embedding participatory processes and effective technologies to engage with learning for all. Partnering with key stakeholders and working with teachers globally, ISKME is addressing the central issues related to teacher roles and skills, and to the challenges related to access and customization of high-quality curriculum worldwide.