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Open Education content and resources as a continuum

August 3rd, 2010 · No Comments · Teaching & learning

I have spent a  little time thinking about who the open learners are that will want to engage with open learning resources and content. In the discussions of open learning content within the formal education sector the emphasis seems to be mainly on how to encourage the release of formally written teaching materials (my own efforts here are some lecture notes for instance) into the ‘wild’ – the whys and the hows. I think a much larger range of ‘content’ can be seen as open education content – websites, blogs, journals and newspapers, TV and radio and so on. These are open (with the sad exception of most journals) in the sense that they are in the public domain and accessible. They are learning content in that they can be organised and exploited by individuals and groups in the service of some learning exercise or project. These projects may be focussed and clearly defined, for instance students researching a particular topic in line with the requirements of a course they are taking, or they may be informal, like an individual trying to keep up with current economic affairs, or even vicarious (and so not really a learning project at all) as individuals learning through listening to the Archers, watching the news, or even ‘reality’ TV.

Some of the types of the open learning content listed above are actually more like learning resources. In fact it is likely that what we to refer to as open education content and open education resources lie along a continuum. Where any particular object is located along the content/resource continuum depends on who is using it and how it is being used. What counts as open learning content or an open learning resource is not something intrinsic to the object –  it depends on its context of use. So, for instance, an article in a history  journal can be seen as content in the form of an authoritative expert account of some event or circumstance or it can be used as a resource to demonstrate the links between intellectual output and dominant ideological world views. What do we make of the account written by three prominent American historians that says for thousands of centuries both the continents of America stood empty of humankind and its works and that the story of the Europeans in the empty New World is the story of the creation of a civilisation where none existed before (an example taken from Noam Chomsky’s book Hopes and Prospects 2010)? This ‘content’ would be used as a resource very differently by different groups and individuals with possibly very different learning agendas and projects.

Then there is the example of a political blog in the Guardian. The words of our most  respected journalists would probably not be as unquestioningly and deferentially accepted as those of leading  academics and scientists.  Our personal value commitments would probably guide us in our attitude towards a particular piece of political journalism. Many formal educators would argue that it lacks the imprimatur of academic rigour and objectivity. But in some contexts blog posts can be seen as great open education resources. How we make use of them, positively or negatively, depends on our perceptions of the the reputation and authenticity of the writer and to what extent they align with our value preferences. The great thing about blogs is that, in the best cases, writers’ values are visible to open inspection along with the process of their thinking and ideas in the making. As learners we can share in the process of knowledge creation as writers struggle to articulate and clarify their ideas and sometime respond to comments from their readers. We can even comment ourselves if we wish and join the discussion. Personally (despite often being driven to near despair by some comments on political blogs) I find comments add significantly to the value of blogs as open educational resources – blogs can be content, process and community all rolled up into one potent resource.

Which brings me to community. It is quite clear that the community of other open learners and scholars that we engage with is one of the most important, even indispensable, open leaning resources in its own right. I am fascinated by David Cormier’s ideas on Community as Curriculum. I will return to this when I have read his writings on this  more thoroughly (rather than the quick skim I have managed so far), but I feel there is valuable insight here.  David suggests that the open learners can operate in some way as a community that sets the ‘whys’ and ‘ways’ of their learning for themselves. My own experience fits with this. The learning trajectory I have been following for a number of years now has certainly been influenced by the community I follow and like to think I am a part of on Twitter and a relatively small number of blogs. My interests have shifted, my thinking has changed and my personal learning goals have quite different motivations than was previously the case before. Can this be seen as the my adoption of a personal curriculum that has somehow been constructed for me or ‘secreted’ by my interactions with a learning community? I think it is highly likely that my own learning journey and my personal aims and objectives (to the extent I am able to articulate them coherently) have tended to align themselves with others in my community that have influenced me the most and whose values and concerns have chimed in with my own. Have we developed a shared curriculum? The trouble with the term ‘curriculum’ is that it normally refers to an educational process that is planned and guided with strictly delimited aims, objectives and outcomes. I am sure within the extensive possibilities that open education opens up there will be examples where curricula in this traditional sense may well be approximated. For me at least the process has been far messier, ad hoc and open ended than the word ‘curriculum’ would suggest. But we have to take the language we have got and modify and develop it to our new circumstances and experiences. Much of our thinking is still dominated by the concepts and language of formal education. Escaping the sometimes baleful influence of this is an important part of our struggle – personal and collective.


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