The Internet Makes it Possible
The rapidly evolving system of open education has been revolutionizing higher education for more than a decade. The universal spread of the Internet has freed colleges and universities from the tyranny of the physical classroom, with tremendous impact not only on the new-found resource of top professors giving immediate on-line lectures globally, but on how schools everywhere are doing business. None of this was possible before the tech revolution of the 1990s, when personal computers began to reach everybody and the Internet made the world feel smaller than the most conveniently arranged college campus.
In 1994, Wayne Hodgins coined the term ”learning object” to propound the concept of designing coursework that uses digital systems to disseminate course materials. Almost overnight, it seems, curriculum design was turned on its head, allowing professors to easily reuse teaching materials in previously unimaginable ways. Learning objects are chunks of information that can be presented in 15 minutes or less and can stand on their own but also be integrated with metadata; this process means that every learning bit can be digested separately and then joined quickly with the main body of knowledge. Without the concept of learning objects, open education could never have developed, because information would still have been far too diffuse to encode in learning software.
MIT Leads to Way
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not surprisingly, was the first school to put online its entire course catalog, in 2002. This development opened the door to a new educational culture, in which knowledge and sources were suddenly open and available to all scholars everywhere. This free sharing of data generated a level of peer cooperation beyond belief; the cultural concept of cooperation, not conflict, is therefore revolutionizing both the accumulation and interpretation of data in every field.
UNESCO’s 2002 Forum adapted “open educational resources” as a descriptive term to describe the new process of using open coursework in Third World countries to accelerate higher education. Then, 2007 was the landmark year, in which the Open Society Institute joined with the Shuttleworth Foundation to produce a manifesto. Thirty scholarly advocates of open education joined together to publish The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which overturned many centuries of academic and legal precedent by strongly suggesting that schools and businesses share knowledge freely on the Internet.
Even though this policy may sound naively altruistic, both schools and businesses can benefit economically in the following ways:
- Open education creates career advantages for students, and therefore the businesses which hire them
- For all concerned, it is not only pragmatic and economical but good publicity
- The graduates who benefit from open education will create business opportunities for new markets and outreach
- For colleges and universities, open education will lead to granting more degrees in more places. This raises the profile of the school, generating publicity that leads to attracting better teachers and students combined with raising more research and foundational dollars
In summary, open education may be at the forefront of a political and economic sea-change, in which cut-throat competition is replaced by a kinder, gentler attitude of cooperation and mutual support.
Author info: Article submitted by Dr Simon Griffin who is currently representing a UK based OER project named Biology Courses. For more information please visit the website Biology Courses Open Educational Resources.