EdTech Opinion

Openness – Can the real disruptor please stand up?

With the discussion being centered on MOOCs have we missed the opportunity to focus on the real issue of openness? #csued2012

Me via twitter 

I tweeted this question during a plenary session at our annual CSUED conference. The topic was about openness in higher education and quickly traversed into MOOC territory. I didn’t get an opportunity to put the question to the panel so I thought I’d elaborate a little here.

MOOCs are part of the debate – but I don’t think it’s actually the issue to focus on – nor the one that needs the most attention. Instead I think what we really need to discuss is the idea of openness – because openness in education is the real  disruptive concept.

  • The Open in MOOC doesn’t actually mean open – it means free. They are not the same thing. These courses and the startups that are set up to “revolutionise” education are proprietary systems that lock you, your data, the content and any accreditation to their system. Free ≠ Open
  • What we should start discussing, and we can capitalise on the media coverage of MOOCs, is about openness – in particular in regards to the learning and teaching component of universities. Research has always been about openness – through collaboration, peer review, analysis and critique. However teaching and learning in universities has always been done within the walled garden. Lets open up the garden and invite review, collaboration, expansion and dialogue.
  • Openness is what challenges business models (not MOOCs!). OERs (Open Educational Resources) challenge the control that publishers have over content. Open initiatives could destroy the illusion that published text = quality, rather Review texts are a marker of quality.
  • OEPs (Open Educational Practices) challenge the ‘sandstone’ universities value proposition. If I can see what content you’re using and how you use it – I can ask whether the premium I invest in my education at an Elite university would actually be better spent at another cheaper uni.
  • Openness challenges the business of elite universities because it puts an emphasis on the transparency of learning and educational practice rather than research.
  • OERs and OEPs shift money away from publishers and proprietary vendors and back into the institution.
  • Openness provides an opportunity to expand our higher educational network globally in a collaborative and supportive way – one structured around collaboration, peer review and analysis. Working together in a collegial way akin to true academic practice (well one without the ego)  rather than the cut-throat business model being forced on us by ‘consultants’.

I want to start discussing these topics and associated areas, because I think these are the true challenges and the true disruptors higher education is facing.

Finally I just want to make a couple of ranty points – its the end of a long day and to be honest I’ve been holding back on MOOCs a little too long –

  • It’s interesting to see where the press coverage and the venture capital money are going – on systems and ‘innovation’ that maintain the status quo – ie stuck behind proprietary systems. The ‘revolution’ isn’t in the education practice – its that the power and control of education is being usurped and shifted into the private sector.
  • If learning is ‘personalised’ based on data points and analytics then it’s not personalised – its automated. Personalised requires an actual person to be on the other end. Oh yea – and clicking buttons and answering questions to a computer isn’t interactive, immersive or engaging.
  • The reason MOOCs have taken off at the elite level is because they can no longer compete in the current teaching environment. More often they actually don’t want to and teaching is seen a necessary evil – the real  money and  prestige come from research. MOOCs are not that far away from a $50 accredited course – $50 x 100 000 enrolments = $5 000 000. Using a system designed to have the most minimal of human effort this is an extremely easy way to fulfil a teaching requirement & help cover operating costs.

This last point presents both opportunities and challenges to the universities on the next tier down like us at CSU, so lets start talking about that space!


By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

3 replies on “Openness – Can the real disruptor please stand up?”

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