TLT Symposium 2009: David Wiley’s keynote on Open Education


Don’t you squirm when you get introduced like that? Sit in your chair. Feel kind of uncomfortable, but thank you very much for that great introduction. And I have to say that I’m humbled and I’m honored to be here with all of you.
It’s incredible to think about this conference and the nature of it.
Being something that only Penn Staters can come to and you can fill a space this large it really shows a kind of commitment to teaching and learning with technology that I think is really impressive. Thank you for the opportunity to be here. For those of you who have your laptops or iPhones or other device, this is the hashtag that we’re using on Twitter today. If you do have questions, or comments you’d like to make you can use the tag in Twitter to tweet those thoughts. And we have a separate laptop set up here they’ll be checking periodically. It’s refreshing itself so I can see the things you’re saying. Kind of an informal back channel and will help me maybe be a little more responsive during the keynote to the things you’re thinking about. So I want to begin by telling a story. I think you’re always supposed to begin with a story. A story or a joke. We’ll start with a story today. This is the Polo Parable. About the move to teaching and learning online.
Once upon a time there was a water polo team at a university that did very well. They’d won conference three years in a row. And one morning the AD of the university walked into the coach’s office and said, coach, were so proud of you. Your team is the pride of the school. You know as well as we do you’re the only team that really does anything here. Not Penn State, obviously. He said, you’re the pride of the school and I have this incredible opportunity for you to really do something new and innovative. It turns out next year in the conference that there’s a new kind of polo that’s gonna be played here. And with the defensive strategies and the offense that you have and the recruiting and all your experience, I’m sure that if we take you off of water polo and put you coaching this new polo team, that you’ll do just as well and we can win conference the very first year. So just take your playbook and get ready for this new opportunity. Thanks for your commitment to the university and the AD leaves. Now the idea that you could run the same plays on the backs of horses that you could in the pool, with any measure of success, is sort of ludicrous. And as we think about moving our teaching online it’s sort of like saying, that we’re swimming on horseback. In other words, to think that you could do the same things online that you can do in the classroom, is just ludicrous. It’s a different kind of space. It has different affordances, different opportunities, different pitfalls, and even though at a high level it is about scoring points and playing defense at a very, very high level. Below that the individual tactics and strategies and things you might try to do. I would probably want to be very different on the backs of horses than they would in the pool. So just having said that, I want to use that story just to frame the conversation today. That things really change very quickly. So if you’ve seen this video, you know, Did You Know?, you know what this next slide says, but in terms of the country that’s the richest in the world, with the largest military, and the strongest education system, etc. The answer to the implied question here is Great Britain, of course. Just a hundred years ago.
And things do change very, very rapidly. Galadriel said in Lord of the Rings, “The World is Changed.” But it’s actually worse than her statement It’s changing. All the time. And the pace of change, the rate of change, seems to be increasing significantly. I want to talk about six kinds of specific changes. First the change from things being analog to being digital. And this one should be fairly straightforward to understand. Most of us don’t get our music on vinyl anymore. We get it in digital format either on CD’s or by MP3 downloads. TV, of course, almost transitioned completely to digital in February, I suppose that’s gonna happen in June now. Our phone service, the way we read newspapers, the movies that we get on DVD instead of VHS, things are moving or have move from being analog to being digital. Things are changing from being tethered to being mobile. So I don’t have to have my phone plugged into the wall anymore to use it. I’m not connected to the wall that way. I don’t have to have my computer plugged in to be on the internet or even to be powered for that matter. And I don’t have to show up in the office every day to work either. And things are changing from being isolated to being much more connected. And I think there’s a whole semester course here that maybe we ought to think about it at some point. But if you think about all the kinds of different connections between people whether it’s by email, by instant message, by Skype, or however. The way that content is all connected to one another. Hyperlinks being the definitive feature of the web, which is a way of connecting some content to other content. And then the way that systems are connected to one another and that they talk to each other. And then the way that content is connected to systems and systems are connected to people and people are connected to content. This massive inter-connection is really defining feature of our time. A change from things being generic to things being personal. So when you go to buy a car or when you go to buy a computer, particularly in the case of a computer, you don’t walk into the store and pick a computer up off the shelf. You go onto a website and say, I want my monitor to be this big and this much RAM and want this kind of hard drive and want this version of the operating system. You want it to be just the way that you want it to be. And want you car, if you’re gonna buy a car you may as well get the color you want. If you’re phones were to go off, we would hear different ring tones on every phone in the room. Because we want things to be ours. We want them to be personal to us. And there’s been a big change from a culture of really consuming media, primarily, to one that’s where we’re all much more involved in producing media. Whether that’s instead of only listening to the radio, also podcasting. Instead of just reading the news, also blogging or creating videos and uploading those to YouTube. We’ve become a culture that’s much more participatory and that invites creation in a way that is different from before. And then finally it changed from things being closed to things being open. Both in terms of software, so if you think of Linnox in addition to something like Microsoft Windows or in terms of applications something like Open Office compared to Microsoft Office. And data, all kinds of GIS data, weather data, that’s openly available to us. Data from NASA. And then content as well available on the web in a very open way. So if we lay these things all out side by side and look at the way things kind of worked then and the way that they do work now or the way they’re increasing to work now. The really disappointing thing about this slide is that you can easily change the tops of the columns here and still have a pretty effective description.
Pretty accurate description of what it is that we’re all doing. And to me I think this idea, not the digital divide, where people have computers and people don’t, but the daily divide. The way that education is so different from the rest of our lives. In particularly our students lives. Is a problem for us. They come expecting a certain kind of experience based on the experience that they have with government and with business and with other things in their life. And then they get to school and school is so different. In his new book Remix, Larry Lessig gives a great example about the Book-ification of TV and I think Lessig was your keynote speaker here last year or maybe just the year before. If you haven’t had a chance to read Remix I would highly recommend it to you. But the idea about the book-ification of TV is imagine going into the library and as you walk into the library you ask to be pointed towards science-fiction and they say, I’m sorry, science-fictions only open from 7:30 to 8:00. You know it’s do- it-yourself right now. The do-it-yourself books are available right now if you’d like to look at them. You have to come back at 7:30 if you want science-fiction. You would just, yeah, I mean the faces you’re making at me are the right faces. It’s just a ridiculous idea. And if you talk to young people today about television and tell them did you know there was a time that if you wanted to watch Lost you actually had to be in front of your television at 9:00 or you missed it. It would seem just as ridiculous as the idea that you had to be at the library at a certain to use types of books. So things like Tivo, things like Hulu really book-ify television programs and make them so that they’re available to us whenever we want them. The obvious application to us here is this idea of probably book-ifying courses. And an online course, I mean it’s online, so it’s sort of book-ified already. It’s not really a challenge to talk to you about that, but I do want you to think about book-ifying our online courses, sorry, our on campus courses. Why do I have to be in certain room from 10:30 to 11:30 to hear you broadcast your lecture? And if you’ve been watching Inside Higher Ed and Campus Technology and some of these magazines lately you’ll be seeing a increasing trend of people reporting on experiments where they bring some of their students to class and other sections they disallow from coming to class and they give them podcasts of the lecture and say, stay home and listen to this podcast. And then what they find later on when they test them on the material covered either in class or covered on the podcast, is that the kids who sat back in their room and listened to the podcast actually learned quite a bit more than the people who attend lecture. And if you think about this for two reasons it’s very clear, if you think about Tivo and you’re watching sports and miss a play and you hit that seven second skip back button on your Tivo. Imagine being able to just skip back and catch what you missed in the lecture. You’re taking notes. You missed that. You look up. It’s gone. And you’re not gonna raise your hand in one of these hundred person seminar classes and stop the conversation and ask them to go back. And another thing we know about the way students use iPods is they tend to listen to podcasts somewhere between one and a half and two times normal speed. Now that maybe because we speak like this in class. One and a half times is like normal speed for a person. But when you listen to one and a half or two times speed, you attend to it a little more. So if you’re attending more and you can go back and listen to the things you missed a second or third or fourth time, it shouldn’t surprise us that those students have the book-ified version of the course tend to do a little bit better. But this on campus/off campus dichotomy that we talk about online and on campus in terms of the way we use media I think is sort of a false dichotomy. I think we can have our cake and eat it too. Despite what I said earlier about the difference in strategies with the Polo Parable. Now when I say that things are changing, but education is lagging behind, one way you might be tempted to respond is well, that’s great, but we’re education. I mean you gotta have a college degree to get a job so really who cares. Where are they gonna go? Why do we need to respond to that? Because historically we really have had a monopoly position. In terms of providing access to the kinds of education and the kinds of credentials that get students better employment. To get them any employment at all in some fields. But this monopoly that we’ve enjoyed is really being pressed hard in a variety of ways. If you think about why students come to the university, I think they come four at least four reasons. I’m sure there are more reasons than ones on this list. But they do come for access to content. Whether that content is teaching materials, the textbooks, and the notes and things that you put together and provide to them. But they also come for research. The access to the books in the library and the journals and those collections of databases. They come for access to support services because you and I both know that there’s no textbook around that as you’re reading through it at some point you don’t have a question. That you want to turn to another human being and say, I’ve read this three times now. I still don’t get it. Can you explain to me what this means? Or they want to know which course they should take first. What sequence they should do things. They need these kinds of support. Obviously, social life is a huge reason that people come to university. And then they want to earn a degree. They want this credential that gets them a job that is some third party, supposedly objective third parties, guaranteed to the employer that yes, this person does know the things that they claim to know. So if we look at these one at time if you think about content and the access to content that students gain by coming to the university and you’ll look around at things like MIT Open Courseware. The things like the Public Library of Science or Archive.org. Google Scholar, there are a variety of places that students can go these days where they can get free and open access to really high quality either instructional content or research content. They don’t have to come to us anymore for that. If you think about support services in terms of a student getting their question answered, there are a dozen places that they can go. Dozens of dozens of places they can go to this as well. If you’ve never use ChaCha, it’s absolutely brilliant. You just take out your phone and you text message a question to the ChaCha number and sixty so seconds later some person using Google and some array of tools in a back room somewhere has found the answer to your question and texted back to you at no cost to you. So go ahead and get your cell phones out. I know you’re gonna do it. Don’t hide them under the table. Just pull them out and then try it. Yahoo Answers, I assume most of you have seen before. A board you can go ask a question and people compete to provide the best answer. And they do like a million questions and answers a year. There’s some really great research in ’07 out of the University of Maine, about Rate My Professor that professors tend to hate. But it turns out that the data on ratemyprofessor.com when compared to the smiley sheets that students fill out at the end of course, actually correlates at around .65.7 level. So you can actually make, as a student, if you want to know who’s easy, who’s hard, who’s understandable, and especially the little chili pepper, who’s hot. Who do you want to take class from? Rate My Professor is actually a pretty reliable source of data for this. And we could mention Twitter as well. Social life almost goes without saying. I’ll just say Facebook. I’ll say MySpace. Danah will tell us more about social networks later in the day. But then degrees. You might think well there might be places they can go for content. Well there might be people they can ask their questions to. Well there might be places they could meet other people and socialize, but we have the degrees. Well it turns out that there are places that people can go and other kinds of things they can get than an undergraduate degree. Particularly the examples here in the technical area. So if you are a Microsoft Certified systems engineer or a red hat certified engineer or a Cisco certified network administrator. If you have one of these credentials and you’re competing for a network administrator job versus somebody with a bachelor’s in computer science guess what, you’re gonna get the job. Because these credentials are more valuable in that particular kind of employment. And there are other areas emerging that we can talk about where there are credentials that compete either well or better than. They compete very well with undergraduate degrees. We don’t have a monopoly in this area anymore either. So to wrap this all up, everything that we provide as a university is being provided my someone else.
This wasn’t the case before. And it tends to be the case that when institutions specialize on just really getting your questions and answering them or just providing you with access to research content or something. When an institution specializes in tends to do a better job than the generalist in terms of quality. And it also tends be able to provide that service at a lower cost. Because that’s all they do. They really focus and they hone in. Now higher education on the other hand has had an average tuition increase in cost to like seventy-six percent over the last ten years. And in terms of our quality, if you haven’t seen this video of a vision of students today, I’d highly recommend to you. You know a hundred fifteen people is my average class size. So as we look around us and we see industries either completely failing or on the verge of failure everywhere. Whether it’s automobiles or insurance or banks. What makes us so snobby as to think higher education is immuned to everything else that’s going on around us. Because if I, I won’t, but if I asked by show of hands who in here really feels that your university’s existence is actually threatened by what’s happening in the economy. I doubt very many of you would actually raise your hand. But I will tell you that there is no bail out coming for us. What is coming for us is double digit budget cuts. They’re probably already here. And we will probably see them again. So there’s no monopoly for us any longer and there’s no bail out coming, so we may actually have to behave like other people that exist in competitive markets and we may have to innovate. We may have to change what we do in order to stay relevant. Now earlier I went on this left to right to saying that education is lagging way behind. And you may have thought to yourself, well, what about E-learning though? I’ll say it to you that E-learning was really innovative fifteen years ago. But if you think that web based courses which we were doing in ’95 are your response fifteen years later to everything that’s happened on the internet. Everything that’s happened with the social web, if E-learning is your response, I think we’re kidding ourselves. If we look at E-learning in terms of these changes, it’s true the E-learning is digital. And it’s true that I can stay at home in my bunny slippers and do it. I can be mobile. But E-learning is famously more isolating than even an on campus class. Where you at least have informal interactions with other students in the hallway before and after. In an E-learning kind of experience you generally get exactly the same content that everyone else in the course gets. So that it’s still very generic experience. Your interaction with the content is frequently download the powerpoint. Download the lecture note. Download the PDF. It’s very much a consumption kind of model. It’s not one that as a student you participate in creating the content that’s used in the course. And then of course if you don’t pay your tuition, if you don’t apply for admission to the university and become formally admitted, you just don’t get in. So I want to suggest to you that we don’t even make it half way with E-learning. It gets us about a third of the way there. I want to suggest to you that openness actually underpins, from this slide here, openness underpins these three other values that education ought to be thinking about that we’re missing. And let me try to suggest why. The first is that the most obvious one, you can’t connect to something if you don’t have access to it. So if you have a student that took a math course a year, a year and a half ago, and you’re getting ready to teach them a principle and you’d like them to go back and review that, I believe Penn State’s an ANGEL user right? So if that course has been blown away out of ANGEL, then what are you gonna connect them to? Or even if there’s a section of that course meeting right now, that students not enrolled in it, how are you gonna connect them to it? There are a number of us that have a little joke that says what if Facebook worked like your learning management system? And every fifteen weeks Facebook deleted all your friends, deleted all your groups, deleted all your photos, forgot everything about you and made you start again. That’s not the way you build a community by blowing everything away every fifteen or sixteen weeks. You can’t connect to something if it’s not open. If you don’t have access to it. It terms of personalizing you might be able to actually go in and make some changes to some digital content, but if you don’t have permission to do that, strictly speaking, it might not be the best idea. So not openness in terms of technology, but in this case openness in terms of licensing. If you really want to personalize something, change it maybe into a different language. Change that language reading level up or down because it was written for grad students and you’re working with freshman. Any of those kinds of changes you might want to make you need something to be open for you to legally go in and make those modifications. And this maybe the most subtle one of all, but if there’s no outlet for your creative work, if there’s no place that you can go to share the things that you’re doing with other people, it can be really difficult to get motivated to produce creative work. So for example, four or five years ago, who in the world was producing video? And it’s not just about access to flip cameras and things that are inexpensive. The existence of YouTube, the fact that there’s some place you can go that’s open to anybody coming and posting any video they want and sharing it with their friends, the existence of that space is what’s largely responsible for the fact that people create so much video now. Because there’s something they can do with it. There’s a way to share it. There’s a place that’s open to catching and receiving that. So if it’s true that openness underpins all these other things that are missing from what we might be doing, then we can ask ourselves well, how? How do we as higher ed go about opening things up? And of course MIT Open Courseware is probably the poster child for opening things up in higher education. I’m gonna go ahead and say, but by raise of hand how many of you know what MIT Open Courseware is? Ok! So you know that there’s access to exams and quizzes and video content and some things like this. I think this approach to doing open education we might call Open 1.0. Kind of it’s a first generation try. There are hundreds of universities around the globe now operating on this model that are sharing over six thousand courses. And if you think about it if someone gets on Google on looks for I don’t know, biology, and there are twenty biology courses from different universities around the world that are shared completely in the open. When they search for biology, if Penn State doesn’t have an open biology course when they go to do that search they’re not gonna find Penn State. They’re gonna find the universities that do have these courses published out in the open. So even though we might say that this is kind of Open 1.0, in a world where people go to Google to look for things. If you don’t have some material out there that Google can index when people search Google, you just don’t show up. And if you don’t show up, then there’s, if you don’t show up in a Google search result then you’re a tree that fell in the forest. Are you there or not, if you don’t show up in a Google result? Do you exist? These Open 1.0 kinds of projects are very inspirational. Obviously because you can see hundreds of people followed MIT’s example. But they’re not very sustainable. And in the case of MIT Open Courseware, this is a four million dollar a year operation. Only two million of which is committed from the internal budget. They have to raise two million dollars every year from now to eternity to keep that project running or change their business model. I think it’s true that when we look at these open courseware projects, like the one at MIT, like the one at my previous institution at Utah State. These Open 1.0 projects sort of said, we’re gonna do something great for the world. We’re gonna release our material. We’re gonna share. We’re gonna do all these things for them. And then some where along the way we figured out that by sharing with them there are some happy kind of accidental benefits that came to us on our own campus. I think what you see now in a new generation of open projects that are starting is people are switching that around to say, we’re gonna do some things that are open, but we’re gonna do them primarily for the benefit of our own core constituency on campus. But we know that by doing those things in the open, that there will be benefits that accrue to people outside the university. And just making that small change to say, we’re gonna do this for the benefit of ourselves, for the benefit of our students, and let people outside enjoy kind of a peripheral benefit instead of the other way around. I think will make a bit difference in how these projects will play out over the next three to five years. And we also tend to think about open education resources or open courseware as being about something that’s all, it’s out there, it’s online, it’s at a distance, but there’s a nice comfortable home for OER in the campus classroom. I want to share a couple of examples of different experiments I’ve been trying. Some of which have been successful. Some of which have been utter failures. Of course you learn more from the failures. But things that I’ve been doing in my own teaching to try to be more open. And each of these is in an on campus class. So first example, in terms of thinking about connectedness and openness for about five years now in all of the assignments I’ve given to the students I’ve had in various classes, I’ve asked them don’t print off your assignment and hand it in to me. And certainly whatever you do, don’t email it to me. I want you to take the writing, I want you to take work you do and I want you to go put it on a public facing blog where the whole world can see it. And I’ll be part of the whole world and I’ll come and I’ll read what you wrote as well. And you can choose whether you want to openly license it or keep it copyrighted or whatever. You’re not giving away your IP to the world somehow by putting this on a blog. I mean the Wall Street Journal isn’t giving away its content by putting online the publicly accessible place. But all the writing that you do, put it out there, you know, where everyone can see it and I will just stick your blog in my RSS reader and when you turn your homework in by posting it. It’ll show up and I’ll come read it. Well there are a number of benefits to doing this. This is a homework assignment from a course I’m teaching this semester. And this semester three of the pieces of writing that have been done by students in this course have been picked up by a blogger named Stephen Downes. So I think many of you will know. Stephen has a newsletter that goes out to something like thirty thousand people around the world interested in education and technology. And so my students homework was then emailed out to thirty thousand people by a very well respected person in the field. And the effect of that is that next week everyone’s writing is a little more thoughtful. Everyone’s writing is a little bit longer. And there’s no kind of threat I could make to make that change in quality happen. There’s no kind of cajoling or persuading or anything I could do to make them really be more thoughtful about how they write other than demonstrate to them that their writing is actually part of this larger global conversation. That their peers are gonna read it. That other professionals are gonna read it and they want to represent themselves well. That one simple change of being a little bit more open, has had a huge impact on students and the kind of work that they’ve done. So that ones a success. Now in terms of personalizing, this ones been a massive failure. For several years now I’ve put syllabi into a wiki and I’ve invited students. The syllabus is in a wiki. If you want to talk about something other than what I’ve proposed for us to talk about, if you want to talk about it in a different order, if you want to weight the assignments a different way, I’m open to talking about all these things. I’ve taken a first stab at the syllabus. I think I did a pretty good job. I have a PHd etc., etc., whatever. I think I did a pretty good job. But if you, you know, the syllabus is in a wiki for a reason. Let’s change it around. Let’s do things with it as we go based on your interest. You know in five years I don’t think I’ve ever had a single student make a change to the syllabus. And I don’t know if it’s some weird power dynamic thing we have going on because I’m a teacher and they’re a student or what. But I have yet to crack the nut on this one. In terms of creating an openness, a couple years ago I taught a course about the design of learning objects, reusable education materials, and pedagogically what I really wanted to do in this course was I wanted to bring in five, six, seven, eight different kinds of people and set them around the table and have them argue with each other. And have the students just kind of sit back and listen to that argument happen. If you’ve been involved in the learning objects world at all, you know that there are technical standards perspectives on the way learning objects work. There are instructional design perspectives on the way it worked. There are perspectives of people that work at the curriculum development companies that produce and try to sell these things. There all these different perspectives and I really wanted students to hear those arguments. But I couldn’t figure out a way to get nine or ten people to come to my class twice a week for fifteen weeks. So over the summer I said, to myself, well, let’s produce a script for something like a sitcom that will just involve those nine people sitting down and having these arguments. So I went through and I made up the cast of characters and I spent the summer sitting in the office at my house writing, basically, the sitcom. Laughing whenever I thought of something extraordinarily clever. My wife poking her head in the door and kind of shaking her head at me. You know who laughs at their own writing. So I put this online and again I put it in the wiki because I thought I’m sure at some point I missed a period or misspelled something and the students will correct that. And what ended up happening was about the third week of class I was re-reading the stuff that I had written over the summer trying to get ready to come into class, I found there was a new character in my sitcom that I didn’t recognize. And the graduate students had said, hey, you know, we haven’t represented the public school teacher perspective here and a couple of us have that kind of experience and it needs to be represented in the conversation because I actually have some interesting things to say so they didn’t talk to me. They didn’t ask permission. They just got on the wiki and started writing in this new character. And at that point students were actually participating in producing the core instructional materials for the course. That other students were reading that they were being graded on. Their assignments were being done from. To me this is just a classical example of what happens when you’re open. You think you know that certain sorts of good things will happen, but to the extent that you’re open, you actually allow a wide range of other things to happen. And the unintended things, the unanticipated things are always the most interesting. And of all the experiments I’ve tried, this is far and away my favorite example of the way openness has really had an impact on what happens in my classroom. So each of those examples is probably two and a half or three years old at this point. About two years ago I asked myself, ok, I’ve been doing this for awhile now and I’ve tried some things. Some things have worked. Some things have failed. What could I do be even more open? Because I’ve seen now that when I was really open in this one way. This incredible thing happened where the students got in and started co-producing materials and writing in these other characters. Because then they added a graduate student perspective at some point along the way as well. And I thought what can I do? How can I be even more open? So I started emailing friends I had at different programs like mine around the country and I said, I’m gonna teach this course called Introduction to Open Education. There’s not another course like it taught anywhere. And if your students would get a kick out of taking this course, I’m gonna be teaching it in a classroom, but all the materials are gonna be available online. Out in the open for free. And I also have all my students do all their writing out on a blog for free. Something that’s free and open. So if you’ve got a student that would like to take this class, just have them register for an independent study with you. Send them over here. They can do the reading, do the writing. I’ll look at their work and at the end of semester I’ll send you a grade. And if you’re comfortable with that, then we don’t have to do all this cross registration. And trying to figure out how they register for credit at my school and how it will transfer to your school. And all these other kinds of things. And so we had eight students in the class at USU, and we had about another ten around the US that signed up for independent study with a professor at their school. But then I thought well as long as I’m doing this, let’s just really open it up. So I went on my blog and I announced to the world that hey, I’m doing this course this way and it you want to follow along, you’re more than welcome. Just come onto the wiki and put your name here and put the link to your blog so I know where you are what you’re doing. And we ended up with about sixty people from all over the world participating in this course. There’s a whole cohort of people from Italy. There was another cohort in Spain. There are folks in Asia. I didn’t know how that would work. And to be honest, I was a little nervous about how much time it was gonna take to look at all their stuff when there was sixty people involved. But it turns out that when all the writing is in the open and you’re assigning them to look at each other’s stuff anyway, they do start to kind of self manage at some point. And I found that I was looking at things they were writing. Kind of highlighting the best two or three things from the week. Maybe one of them was from the students in my on campus class and maybe some weeks non of them were. In fact this group from Italy, at the end of the course, got together and wrote and published a peer reviewed article about their experience in the course. And then sent me the article. But the richness of the conversation and of course there were fun issues around English as Second Language that everybody enjoyed. And they were practicing their English and that was a benefit to them in addition to learning about open education. But to hear the Italian perspective, to hear the Greek perspective, to hear the Spanish perspective to hear the Chinese perspective was something that my students never, ever, ever would’ve been able to do in any other way. But if you talk to them about the benefit that accrued to them from these other people being involved in the class they’ll tell you it was fabulous. And it was another kind of unintended consequence of the kind of good things that can happen when you’re just really open. So toward the end of the class I received an email from Antonio Feeney who was kind of the leader of the bandit group in Italy. And he said, we’ve been through this course, we’ve done all the work, what are we gonna have to show for it? Is there anyway we can get something? And I said, well of course you can’t get credit. I mean you’re not admitted to the university. You can’t do whatever. What I’ll do though is I’ll make a certificate that doesn’t have the university’s name on it any where, but it says congratulations Antonio, you completed Intro to Open Education and I’ll sign my name at the bottom. And he said, really, that’s great! I’d love that. And I said, well it’s just gonna be you know, it’s not even gonna be a piece of paper, it’s gonna be a PDF. That says congratulations and has the course and has my name at the bottom. But there are a bunch of people it turns out that wanted that. And Antonio told me later, he said, you know, I list that on my resume. I took that course. I took it from you. I have a piece of paper that says that I did. So word of this got around. Which led Jeff Young to write this article in the Chronicle. [ laughter ] Which my administration enjoyed thoroughly. [ laughter ] It’s actually pretty funny.
One of the first conversations I had, now I did this experiment at USU and transitioned to BYU shortly thereafter, but not there’s not even correlation here, yet alone causation. But it’s interesting one of the first conversations I had with the administration at BYU, the provost pulled me aside shortly after this article came out, and he said, you know, I think it’s really interesting what you’re doing. You do understand that when you give away that certificate you can’t put the university’s name on it anywhere. And I said, I would never come within a mile of the university’s name appearing on a sheet of paper like this. And he says, well, that’s appropriate. And as long as we understand that, I think these experiments you’re doing are cool and full speed ahead. And I thought, wow! This is great. So I went full speed ahead. So I’m teaching this course again this semester. And I wanted to try to understand I could help this larger number of students that would be participating. How I could help them support each other better. How they could really get something good out of the course without it taking an extra hour, extra two hours whatever of time every week. And as I looked around and thought around, I thought where can we see examples online of big groups of people getting together, but really supporting each others learning effectively. And I realized that massively multi-player games like World of Warcraft are the best example of where this kind of thing happens. Because how else do you learn to kill dragons and farm gold and do whatever it is you do in these massively multi-player games. You get in there and you join a guild and those people teach you and you help them and you work together and you start from a person that can’t even cut a flower down to somebody that can take on a castle siege over a period of time. Through this mentoring, through the tutoring, through the collaboration in these guilds. So I re-designed this Introduction to Open Education classes of massively multi-player game. Primarily to be played by my on campus students, face to face with basically no technology mediation. But also so they could be followed by students off campus. So basically I again spent some time during the holiday break saying if Intro to Open Ed was a game, what would the character classes be? So you need somebody that understands how to produce HTML. How to produce video. How to make podcasts. All the production side of things. That person we’ll call them the Artisan. We need somebody that knows all the lore and the history and the politics and who all the people are and understands that part of it. And so we’ll call that traveling minstrel the Bard. The sustainability issues of course you might imagine are big issues, let’s say. How do you support giving things away for free over the long term. We need somebody who thinks a lot about sustainability. So we have a Merchant class. And then of course you have issues of copyright, licensing, and in particularly defending the university brand. I had this as the palate in originally, but we came back to Monk. I could just imagine the Monk sitting down in his musty room reading the copyright code. Trying to understand this Creative Commons license. So the way the syllabus for this course designed is there’s two or three or four training quests in the first couple of weeks. Where you get some taste of what each of these different character classes would do. But then in week four you have to make a choice. The rest of the semester you’re gonna play one of these classes. And at that point the syllabus forks. And each class has it’s own set of quests that it has to do where you develop your own kind of expertise separate from what the others do. And the quests that you go on get harder and harder to the point that you have to guild form at some point. And you have to begin working together with other people or there’s just no way you can possibly accomplish the task that’s set out for you. So I put this all online again. Some of it in a blog. Some of it in a wiki. Thinking, without having learned my lesson the first time, that maybe people would insert a comma or fix a spelling error and one of the most interesting things that happened was someone decided that we needed a whole new class of character. The Rogue is like an Artisan, but instead of producing their own materials, they go around the web looking for things that by license are open, but are kind of trapped. They’re trapped technologically some how. So the goal of the Rogue is to go about jail breaking all these supposedly open materials and making them so that other people can actually reuse them. Absolutely brilliant. I didn’t come up with it. So that’s most of the testimony about how brilliant it is. But this class has been, has really been a great experience. We’ve had a large group from off campus play along with us again this semester.
And we’re just wrapping up. So I haven’t had a chance to really sit down and summarize everything that’s happened. But I can say to you that it’s been a great success. So having shared a couple of examples of ways we can think about being more open and ways that openness and open education resources can effect our classrooms on campus not just people out there in world. I just want to say really briefly that if we talk about a weather forecast for what’s coming in higher education, I think disaggregation is one word that we all need to know and understand. So if you think about the areas we mentioned before, of content, of support services, of social life, and of credentially, you can already start to see and I’m not talking about the private for profit space, already among public higher ed institutions we can see the pieces starting to pull apart. So you take something like MIT Open Courseware. MIT is a traditional school. Has a campus. Everything else. And yet this Open Courseware project, that they do, provides access to a whole class of content separate from being admitted to the university. Separate from paying a tuition. Separate from anything else. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Western Governors University. But the Western Governors University is an online university, in the west, established by the governors oddly enough. That is it works on a completely competency based model. What that means is, is it means that the Western Governors University offers no courses. They only offer assessments. They don’t care where you learned it. They don’t care how you learned it. They don’t care how many times you came to class. They don’t measure your learning by how long you can sit in a seat. But they have really good psychometricians on staff that write very valid assessment instruments. And if you can come in and you can take one of these assessments and pass it, you know what you needed to know. And if you can pass the test, you get the grade, which get ‘s you the credit. And they’re completely, they’re fully accredited online university. Now if there’s a test that you want to take that you can’t pass then given the nature of the involvement of the governors, WGU can refer you to Utah State or to Idaho State or to UDUB or some place else to go take an online course from them. to get the preparation you need, but at the end of the day when you come back to WGU, they don’t offer anything but assessments. So here’s an example again of an accredited university where that credentialing piece has been pulled apart from the rest of it. In a world where content, now if we talk about the four profit providers and the other innovative things that are happening in the space, the story gets even more interesting. I’m trying to be conservative in what I’m talking about by talking about more traditional institutions of higher ed. But as content pulls away and as assessment pulls away and as these things start to pull apart the real question that we have to ask ourselves and given that almost everybody in this room, I think, except my and Danah, are Penn Staters, you know the question you have to ask about Penn State. Is what is the value of having all those things integrated in one institution? If it’s true that different people can take the content and the support and the assessment and whatever and they can do those separately and focus on them and through that focus maybe do it at lower cost and maybe do it at better quality. But if you want to keep the university in a way looking like it does now, you have to be able to tell the story to your potential students. What’s the value of a general practitioner as opposed to an oncologist? Why come to a place where all these things are bundled together? And I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question for you. I think I’m barely starting understand what it is for Brigham Young. The story will be very different for you in your position, in the state. Relative to the other offerings that there are here. This is a really critical question. What’s the value of keeping all these functions in one integrated organization? When we think about becoming more open you know, I was asking before how we do it? It should be pretty clear that if one guy like me can run all these crazy experiments just with some wikis and blogs that are out there available for free to be used. That opening isn’t a technology problem. Being more open. Allowing more connectedness. Allowing students to participate and be creative and co-create. In fact, not only is technology not a problem, but as we look around the technology that we need is either open source or being hosted for free by someone else at no cost to us. So the technology is there. It’s just like everything else. It’s not a technology problem, this is a policy problem, largely. Now you will get some faculty like me who will maybe not pay so much attention to policy and will do some experiments anyway, but the experimental environment is certainly a lot freer and more experiments happen when policy is structured in such a way to encourage these kinds of experiments. But as I go around and talk to people, what I see happening is, I see higher ed acting much more like the music industry than anything else. And by that I mean that we’re largely using policy to defend tradition. We’re using our policy to kind of resist some of these movements. Rather than using policy and creating policy frameworks and policy petri dishes where interesting things can grow. Now having said that, this is the Smokey the Bear part of the message. Only you can prevent forest fires. You are the university is you. So you are the only ones who can really think about policy reform. And I love this quote by Deming, you know I say here that ignoring the problem is not a strategy. Deming said this, [ silence ] What happens if we don’t change? If we don’t change, student learning may suffer. If we don’t close this daily divide between the rest of their lives and the ways that we work with them, it will be increasingly hard to reach them. And as we do a poorer and poorer job of meeting their needs, enterprising young capitalists will appear that meet their needs better than we do. And we will compete with them for students. Of which may eventually mean that your employment may suffer. When people go to Google and they look for the course that they want to take and you’re either not there at all or you’re on page twenty-four of the results then your employment may suffer. Now in Elliot’s re-telling of Beckett’s experience here toward the end of his life, as he’s waiting for the knights coming back to take him. He’s trying to decide if he should run. If he should stay. He’s having kind of a fight with church leadership. I guess you know the story. But he’s tempted in a number of ways as to what he might do. And the last temptation that is suggested to him, is just stay here the knights will show up. They’ll cut your head off. You’ll be a martyr. You’ll go straight to heaven. And then you’ll be a martyr looking down at the king as he’s crackling in the flames. You know you’ll get the last laugh. And this maybe the only I remember from high school English. Beckett says to himself, “this last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” So let me suggest to you that as you think about being more open and you think about innovating, please don’t do it to avoid this doomsday scenario of possibly bad things happening to your institution. Please do do it to fulfill the sacred trust that you have as a teacher. I’m highly encouraged by the prominent place that OER seems to have in this draft of the current strategic plan. I hope that you’ll take advantage of that. I hope that you’ll leverage it. I hope that you’ll do a variety of useful things for your students. And when you do the right thing for the right reason, then good things will happen.
Thank you very much. [ applause ]

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6 Responses

  1. Rovy Branon says:

    Fantastic! I am glad this was recorded and made available!

  2. sakthi balan says:

    Its a very useful session and openeness concept is phenomenal, possible to reach more people…..

  3. Martin Sauter says:

    This is a lucid analysis of the current development in higher education and a brilliant speech. Thank you very much for this!

  4. Rupert Russell says:

    Thanks David, some very interesting ideas. I am very tempted to look up your course and see if I can sit in. Regards, Rupert.

  5. MNDragonslair says:

    Fantastic content and ideas; thanks!

  6. Process Arts says:

    Great video, thanks for posting … its a shame/ironic there's no remix option on this?

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