This insightful article about open source education is by Thomas J. Hanson. – with 31 years in education, Tom had retired after six years as a school superintendent. Now Thomas is the chief editor of Open Education.net. This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Eliminating Control – Mark Pesce on the potential of a shared and connected, opensource educational environment.
In the process of web surfing, there are times you stumble on some gems – some material so transcendent you find yourself spellbound.
Such is the case with the work of Mark Pesce at The Human Network. David Parry, assistant professor of Emergent Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, offers his assessment of Pesce’s work on his AcademHack blog:
“I find Pesce to be one of the more provocative thinkers on the internet and matters of cultural transformation. I am not sure I always agree with what he suggests, but this is also one of the reasons I find him worth reading.”
Parry also notes the recent Pesce posts, all of which are connected, are the rarest of internet materials.
“In this series I read each piece at least twice,” states Parry, “some three times. They are that good.”
To fully grasp how education can be transformed by technology, we begin by taking a peek at Pesce’s Fluid Learning. But before we do so we turn back to our trilogy from last February, our review of the digital commons.
We noted the Committee on Economic Development’s report, Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness, that touts the success of the “Digital Commons” approach. The report notes the “benefits of openness” and insists that continued openness is critical for further growth.
Most importantly, the report challenges the thinking of those who view the digital world in the same manner as that of the physical world. And if one can begin to think about how we might replace the current physical construct for education amongst this new digital age, we perhaps finally see where a new learning model emerges.
“It’s all about control.
“What’s most interesting about the computer is how it puts paid to all of our cherished fantasies of control. The computer – or, most specifically, the global Internet connected to it – is ultimately disruptive, not just to the classroom learning experience, but to the entire rationale of the classroom, the school, the institution of learning. And if you believe this to be hyperbolic, this story will help to convince you.
“Flexibility and fluidity are the hallmark qualities of the 21st century educational institution. An analysis of the atomic features of the educational process shows that the course is a series of readings, assignments and lectures that happen in a given room on a given schedule over a specific duration. In our drive to flexibility how can we reduce the class into essential, indivisible elements? How can we capture those elements? Once captured, how can we get these elements to the students? And how can the students share elements which they’ve found in their own studies?”
Pesce offers four recommendations:
When it comes to traditional college settings, Pesce notes succinctly: “Lecturers are expensive.” But the process of “recording is cheap.”
Of course, recording everything creates enormous new challenges. It “means you end up with a wealth of media that must be tracked, stored, archived, referenced and so forth.”
In Pesce’s eyes capturing everything means no front-end decisions as to the worthiness of any material. Just capture and let the natural course of events determine its value.
In a move analogous to the recent open courseware available from Stanford and MIT, Pesce also notes, “While education definitely has value – teachers are paid for the work – that does not mean that resources, once captured, should be tightly restricted to authorized users only. In fact, the opposite is the case: the resources you capture should be shared as broadly as can possibly be managed.”
In making this mindset shift, Pesce explains:
“The center of this argument is simple, though subtle: the more something is shared, the more valuable it becomes. You extend your brand with every resource you share. You extend the knowledge of your institution throughout the Internet. Whatever you have – if it’s good enough – will bring people to your front door, first virtually, then physically.”
Next instead of commercializing, Pesce suggests a look at the open-source solutions.
“Rather than buying a solution,” states Pesce, “use Moodle, the open-source, Australian answer to digital courseware.Going open means that as your needs change, the software can change to meet those needs. Given the extraordinary pressures education will be under over the next few years, openness is a necessary component of flexibility.
“Openness is also about achieving a certain level of device-independence. Education happens everywhere, not just with your nose down in a book, or stuck into a computer screen.”
And Pesce means open, fully open – thus filtering must be eliminated.
“The classroom does not exist in isolation, nor can it continue to exist in opposition to the Internet. Filtering, while providing a stopgap, only leaves students painfully aware of how disconnected the classroom is from the real world. Filtering makes the classroom less flexible and less responsive. Filtering is lazy.”
As for the most transformative element, Pesce indicates it might well be the connective elements we now have available. His words mirror those of the recent Digital Youth Project survey, one that insists that social networking is fundamental to students using the computer and the internet as educational tools.
“Mind the maxim of the 21st century: connection is king. Students must be free to connect with instructors, almost at whim. This becomes difficult for instructors to manage, but it is vital. Mentorship has exploded out of the classroom and, through connectivity, entered everyday life.
“Finally, students must be free to (and encouraged to) connect with their peers,” adds Pesce. “Part of the reason we worry about lecturers being overburdened by all this connectivity is because we have yet to realize that this is a multi-lateral, multi-way affair.
“Students can instruct one another, can mentor one another, can teach one another. All of this happens already in every classroom; it’s long past time to provide the tools to accelerate this natural and effective form of education.
The Universal Solvent
As for how it all might work, take a trip down the “what if” of universal connectivity and sharing, of opening and capturing everything.
As one school places materials online, Pesce believes that a natural altruistic nature will prevail causing others to begin to follow.
“It’s outstanding when even one school provides a wealth of material, but as other schools provide their own material, then we get to see some of the virtues of crowdsourcing. First, you have a virtuous cycle: as more material is shared, more material will be made available to share. After the virtuous cycle gets going, it’s all about a flight to quality.”
Then comes a new frontier:
“When you have half a dozen or have a hundred lectures on calculus, which one do you choose? The one featuring the best lecturer with the best presentation skills, the best examples, and the best math jokes – of course.”
Of course, there would be a need to obtain student input to reach that level of information. We also would need a cataloging type site.
“Why not create RateMyLectures.com, a website designed to sit right alongside iTunes University?” asks Pesce. “If Apple can’t or won’t rate their offerings, someone has to create the one-stop-shop for ratings. ”
And the real possibility for transcending education as we currently know it?
“When broken down to its atomic components, the classroom is an agreement between an instructor and a set of students,” writes Pesce. “The instructor agrees to offer expertise and mentorship, while the students offer their attention and dedication.”
But schools as we know them – are they necessary?
“The question now becomes what role, if any, the educational institution plays in coordinating any of these components. Students can share their ratings online – why wouldn’t they also share their educational goals? Once they’ve pooled their goals, what keeps them from recruiting their own instructor, booking their own classroom, indeed, just doing it all themselves?”
Currently, students do not have “the same facilities or coordination tools.” Our structures mean that at this moment “the educational institution has an advantage over the singular student.”
In fact, that is what our current institutions offer for a strength, they exist “to coordinate the various functions of education.” But in the future, when we truly have an open school concept, we could well see a heretofore unheard of paradigm shift.
“In this near future world, students are the administrators,” writes Pesce. “All of the administrative functions have been ‘pushed down’ into a substrate of software. Education has evolved into something like a marketplace, where instructors ‘bid’ to work with students.
All About Control
When it comes to knowledge, the opensource, opencourseware movement is gaining ground. For Pesce, the rationale is clear and the benefits without limit.
Of technology and the internet, “The challenge of connectivity is nowhere near as daunting as the capabilities it delivers,” states Pesce. “Yet we know already that everyone will be looking to maintain control and stability, even as everything everywhere becomes progressively reshaped by all this connectivity.
“We need to let go, we need to trust ourselves enough to recognize that what we have now, though it worked for a while, is no longer fit for the times. If we can do that, we can make this transition seamless and pleasant.
“So we must embrace sharing and openness and connectivity; in these there’s the fluidity we need for the future.”
Some Thought-Provoking Work
We noted earlier that the recent Pesce posts, all of which are connected, represent the rarest of internet materials.
Like David Parry, we have read each piece at least twice. As a suggested order, we turn back to David for his suggestion for those interested in reading further: “Start with Fluid Learning the first in the series, then check out The Alexandrine Dilemma and Crowdsource Yourself, ending with Inflection Points.”
Flickr photos courtesy of ottonassar, nathanaelb, tujiguoman, and KK+.