Having done a considerable amount of research on student learning and digital learning tools to build my capstone experience for my graduate work, during and prior to my edTech MOOC experience, has solidified the idea of open education for me. I can imagine what Buckminster Fuller, a strong influencer in my thinking and work, might say about all this connectivist methodology. People connecting with people to learn, grow and solve the worlds problems. What a great idea! Lets go! The only problem I see, lies in the nature of our perpetuated paradigm of westernized education, and it’s futile, and illustrious mission to educate everyone the same way, through a closed and proprietary system. More on this to come in this reflection.
Sir Ken Robinson, a noted Ted Talk invitee, makes a case around the idea that creativity is the key to successful learning, and by our very nature we are social beings. All day, every day, we work with other people in some fashion to operate our lives. Most of the time, these interactions are not deliberate, and seem commonplace such as making deposits at the bank, and chatting with the teller, or sitting in traffic with other people in other vehicles. Even though we are not sharing the same immediate space, we are still working together to get traffic moving. To bring it back to our broken educational paradigm, we need to be thinking of how we fit mentally, emotionally, creatively and personally into a larger context of culture. If we are all social beings naturally, how come we we focus so much now on applying a mass-produced curriculum to each individual student, expecting we can all learn the same way (basically in a vacuum or solitary confinement)? Well, it is pretty evident now, that flat out does not work to create and cultivate a growing culture, nevermind an individual.
Note: Before we move on together here, I want to point out that I am a university professor of visual design at a four-year, private art college. I take great pride in my students and the ways they teach me as much as I teach them. I’m not making a case saying all universities are this way, its just from my experience so far, and also from my experience teaching I can say that the best way to facilitate and operate at a university is to put aside the university politics, and focus on learners. I often include elements in my courses that seem un-orthodox or progressive to others, such as using digital tools to make student process evident.
So please keep this in mind, and I am not blanketing some statement on all universities. I do beleive some are more progressive than others, and the more progressive, faster moving ones will be the winners of this game of natural selection.
What this all comes down to is design. Bucky was many things, and a self proclaimed ‘Design-Scientist’ – meaning he was not just a designer of ideas of things, and not just a scientist. I believe design is the glue, pathway and connective tissue that holds our culture together. Our current model of public education is designed the way it is for a reason. It is a by-product of an industrial revolution model for training factory and machine workers for the tasks of mass production. Students come out in batches (9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade) and the bell rings when it’s time to move from one place to another (is it quittin’ time yet?!). This model became so widespread, implemented, bureaucratic and bloated, that we are now suffocating under our own (brilliant for the time – about 1760-1840 C.E) invention.
Fast forward to the early 1990’s – AOL, Prodigy and other internet service provider spring up, and your computer and phone jack become your gateway to limitless information. I can remember connecting for the first time to the internet, and finding out that my Netscape Navigator browser came with chat rooms. While exploring, I could not believe that the other people in the chat room were from the other side of the planet. I remember feeling like our world was not quite as big as I thought, and that the only way to contact Italy or England was by expensive long distance phone calls. More importantly, now that I reminisce, I now realize how that, and further internet experiences such as Napster, Bit Torrent and Facebook have radically shifted not just my learning, but the way I consume and my overall attention span. I’m sure if you are reading this, you can relate in some fashion. In design, when you have a closed system that seems to operate just fine the way it is (education), and a huge wrecking ball (the web) comes in and smashes down the factory walls, it will eventually cause long term effects on the factory. Eventually, the workers see the outside light and want to discover it’s possibilities. We, naturally, are curious and social beings.
Online courses from universities, held in traditional fashion, while make the university hand-over-fist cash, are not the saving grace and or silver bullet to this problem. Universities have been trying to emulate the classroom space online for over a decade now, and it’s still a hodge-podge of bad software, poor user interface and, more importantly, bad instructional strategy. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “Well, we want to take xCourse101 and put it online so anyone can take that course– Even in your pajamas! At Home! 24/7!”. This is how it is marketed to the students of the university, and to the student’s disappointment, they have a less than favorable experience, and or feel they have been participating in a bait-and-switch tactic when they find out that assignments are ‘due by Wednesday’ and they have to ‘comment on others works by Friday’. The universities seem to look at online courses as quick money makers, and thus sacrifice some really important design decisions in the process, such as cognitive load (just received three new emails, ‘event in 15 minutes, ding-ding! Alert, Alert! – Shhhhh.. Im trying to write on a ‘discussion’ board!), and the nature of social interaction. In a classroom, you are again naturally interacting with others directly or indirectly, and can not just interpret words, but read moods, facial expressions and connect with feeling and intensity.
So to me, it’s no wonder that something like a massive online course model has come to be, and is taking the education world by the throat. It’s fresh, social, open, personalizable and 100% yours to control.
A break for a moment of casual reading–
“Wait just a damned minute!”, said the executive staff of the established university “How could some free online course be more popular and engaging than our online courses on our tried and true Learning Management System? We offer credits and degrees! We’re expensive and that make us a top tier school!”
“Woh there!” said the eager undergraduate student, “What’s all the racket about? I was just on my phone, reading a tweet from a P.HD professor in Brazil, who suggested I check out a YouTube video on how gravity affects the mass of objects on earth v.s. the moon.” said the eager undergraduate student. He then replied, “And look!” he exclaimed, “the professor even dressed up as Sir Issac Newton! Check this out, he linked to his research paper, and I just downloaded it to my phone to read on the train ride back to my dorm.”
So what is this all about? The student in this case is already accustomed to content creation and consumption in a very different fashion than his tenured P.HD professor or seasoned executive university staff. The student is used to gaining knowledge on a 24/7 basis, from many outlets, peers and media.
This massive-open notion is highly desired by students, as it feels very natural to them, but makes the universities nauseous at the thought. Universities are scrambling to find a way to fit the new model (open) into their old (closed) system beacuse they see it as ‘hot’ and ‘now’. But in reality, they are like two magnets repelling, and can not coexist when facing each other. So the universities are in a pickle, as they want to appeal to the new generation of information gatherers, and their fondness for open learning, but can’t (and probably won’t) find a way to integrate them for real into their existing system without radically changing their old-model paradigm. This is why MOOC’s and other open course models like CodeAcademy and EdX will only continue to grow and evolve, and the slow-moving, bureaucratic, top-down university model will eventually have to shift, or even radically change, to meet the needs of learners, and not the needs of the overall university’s status.
The key word, I believe, in all this open-course movement soup, is the idea of evolution. Again, the universities seem to be treating MOOC’s like they are some silver bullet solution to getting more people to pay tuition. It used to be ‘Online courses, 24/7 access!’, but the reality of that is dwindling fast, as strategies are not in place typically that take into account the very different nature a person has behind a computer, as they do in class. Instead, I like to think of the current MOOC idea as just an iteration of a fast moving, and growing idea. Much like Friendster was the precursor to MySpace, and then Facebook, the current iteration of MOOCs has proven that open, online learning can happen, as long as the learner is in the drivers seat.
The connectivist MOOC I has participated in this spring was a fascinating experience, and I learned a lot from a wide range of people. I used Twitter and Blogging mostly to connect with others, and was even able to gain feedback on projects I had been working on that I thought the community would enjoy, and they did! This MOOC iteration of online learning (the first being an attempt to put face-to-face courses online), has set the framework for even more possibilities for people to learn and grow, and without a university gateway, this concept of massive open courses can grow at an exponentially faster rate than the universities can develop. Industries such as computer science for example, can’t wait around for universities to catch up their curriculum to the needs of companies.
I do believe open education is here to stay, and quickly we will see it evolve to meet the needs of learners from all walks of life.
Read: R. Buckminster Fuller - Education Automation
“Buckminster Fuller’s prophetic 1962 book Education Automation brilliantly anticipated the need to rethink learning in light of a dawning revolution in informational technology – “upcoming major world industry.” Along with other essays on education, including “Breaking the Shell of Permitted Ignorance,” “Children: the True Scientists” and “Mistake Mystique” this volume presents a powerful approach for preparing ourselves to face epochal changes on spaceship earth: “whether we are going to make it or not… is really up to each one of us; it is not something we can delegate to the politicians – what kind of world are you really going to have?””
Changing Educational Paradigms – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U