Opening up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge
reviewed by Anthony Cocciolo - December 05, 2008
Title: Opening up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge
Author(s): Toru Iiyoshi and M. S. Vijay Kumar (Eds.)
Publisher: MIT Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0262033712, Pages: 500, Year: 2008
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Opening Up Education is a large edited volume with 30 articles by 38 authors. It is fully available online and in print. The editors asked the contributors to reflect on the framing question, How can we take full advantage of open educational, technology, content, and knowledge to create opportunities to improve the quality of education? Although the open in open education technology, content, and knowledge has several connotations, the word mostly denotes that the technology, content, and knowledge (or some combination thereof) is available for free over the Internet. And by education, the authors are specifically referring to higher education (as opposed to K-12 education). The book is framed by the notion that a confluence of events is creating a perfect storm for significantly enhancing education, as evidenced by the growing inventory of openly available educational tools and resources, and with an increasingly engaged and connected community (p. 2). The book is an opportunity to reflect on what has been done and what is currently being done within this domain, and how this work points to transformational opportunities for enhancing education. A key to this book is knowing that it is a reflection by the authors on the open education movement and where this movement is going, rather than an in-depth empirical assessment of the domain or of a particular project. Taken as a whole, the book creates the sense that the contributors are truly grappling with and trying to understand this movement and how to best harness it, rather than giving definitive declarations or scientific facts. This is both a strength and weakness of the book: if a reader was looking for conclusive reassurance that open education is the means for moving higher education forward, one is unlikely to find it. However, if one is interested in engaging in the conversation about open education and what it might mean for higher education, he is likely to find this volume a welcome introduction. As the title suggests, the book is divided into three major sections: Open Educational Technology, Open Educational Content, and Open Educational Knowledge. Although the editors admit that these boundaries are somewhat artificial, they prove to be a useful way for dividing the ambitious task.
The first section on Open Educational Technology discusses a number of specific projects, each with its own name and/or acronym, including VUE, Bodington and iLabs. These projects are interesting in that they are very different (e.g., Bodington is a learning management system where iLabs is a software package for remote controlling laboratory equipment) and each point to the ways in which what is open varies. For example, what is open about iLabs is the software for controlling the laboratory equipment rather than access to the MIT laboratory equipment. Similarly, the Bodington learning management system is open source software that can be downloaded, yet the course content is not necessarily open (this can be decided at the institutional level). As interesting as these projects are, what I was specifically looking for as a learning technologies researcher were in-depth evaluations of these projects. For example, what specific measurements can be applied to the uses of these technologies that point to greater access both within the community and to the greater community of users, which open educational technologies aspire to reach? There is a chapter written by Edward Walker on Evaluating the Results of Open Education, which begins the conversation on evaluating these technologies, yet I found myself wanting him to say more. He discusses the usage metrics for the MERLOT resource sharing system (e.g., users, items, time used) and the need to move from metrics to meaning. This is indeed a worthwhile topic, yet he only has the chance to do a rudimentary sketch of the kind of systematic method that is required to relate meaning with metrics (p. 85). As mentioned earlier, the scope of this book is not to provide the in-depth analysis of the outcomes of these projects; however, such future work would seem essential for advancing the field and getting greater attention and resources from institutional sources.
The section on Open Education Content discusses a number of open educational content projects, some of which have become quite familiar within the educational community, such as MITs OpenCourseWare project. Other projects discussed include the MERLOT project, Open Learning Initiative (OLI), and the OpenLearn project at the Open University in the UK. Of these sections, the section by David Wiley is particularly inventive in that he imagines writing his autobiography in 2045 and reflecting on the open education movement. He foresees a number of events that push open education forth by removing the non-commercial part of the Creative Commons license (provoked by Chinas use of materials in a non-commercial, governmental capacity), causing a great stir in higher education and publishing sectors. This chapter is very interesting because it points to a potential future and how present day movements could or could not make this future possible. However, the pragmatic empiricist in me (which sometimes wins over the inventive/creative part) would be really interested in an in-depth economic analysis of how open educational content will be paid for, especially in difficult economic times where students, parents, and policy makers are demanding more accountability from higher education institutions. For example, if students, parents, and taxpayers underwrite the cost of developing open educational content, and such content is simply reused by profit seeking higher education corporations (such as University of Phoenix, Capella, and Walden Universities), or used as a way for countries to avoid the costs associated with creating educational opportunities for citizens, how is this a desirable situation for the U.S. populace? It would seem that an in-depth economic analysis or forecast that integrates the ambitions of the open educational movement and calculates its cost on higher education on a global scale should be attempted. Such an analysis (and any competing analyses) could begin to point to the ways in which open educational content is a desirable outcome for the world at-large and what the costs associated with it would be. Although such a project would be difficult and would need to integrate many conditionals, it would help reassure institutions (and those funding such projects) that open content is a worthwhile investment.
The final section on Open Educational Knowledge mainly captures those discussions that dont neatly fit into technology or content but rather span these areas into practice domains such as teaching. For example, Diana Laurillard discusses Open Teaching and how learning technologies can help teaching as well as the present and past barriers to using new technologies to enhance education. This section also discusses a number of specific projects, including Carnegies CASTL project, which aims to understand and encourage, defend and disseminate, champion and support a scholarship of teaching and learning by making it visible and developing leadership for the field (p. 290).
In sum, Opening Up Education is an ambitious reflection on the open education movement with many example projects, theoretical insight, and a great deal of refreshing idealism. However, the two limitations of the book are that it doesnt provide detailed economic analysis of how open educations aims are financially feasible, nor is there enough focus on the empirical outcomes of open educational projects. As mentioned earlier, this is not the intent of the book and one could hope that forthcoming volumes will attempt to do just this. Further, it would seem that Opening Up Education would benefit from some dissenting voices rather than those already indoctrinated into the open education movement. This could have encouraged contributors to go well beyond idealism to the more detailed analysis that could bolster the open education position. As someone who finds the open education movement as having a great potential for humanity, it seems that this additional research, development, and communication are needed to keep the movement moving forward and not become diminished by very real economic concerns.