Earlier this year, while George Siemens and I were working our way through teaching the Edfutures course, we were contacted by the fine folks at the Educause review and asked to contribute an article on ‘the open course.’ I’ve been fortunate enough to run a few open courses now, some inside and some outside of the academy, and while we’ve yet to do formal research on the topic, I felt pretty comfortable taking a run at what is, in the sense that we mean ‘open course’ a very recent development. The article has recently been published, and while there has been some positive response ( willrich45and courosa for instance) one particular blogger has raised some valid concerns about some issues that may have been taken as read for that particular issue of educause… I thought i might address them here.
The post and the context
White i was wandering around looking for responses to the article I came across Suifaijohnmak’s Weblog post (well known connectivism thinker) and the first commenter struck a note with me and it occurred to me that talking a little about the reputational economy, the value of things being free and how ‘capital’ is more than simply throwing bits of change from my bucket of gold into your bucket of gold. I’ve tried to cut out the claims that the critic has made and structure them into three basic questions.
- How can we assess ‘value’ to an open course? How is an open course ‘different’ from ‘commodity education’?
- What are the motives of people who are hosting an open course?
- Why do so many people ‘leave’ an open course?
A few notes on our critic
Our critic ‘Ken’ has gone private on his blog since yesterday, and while I can’t imagine that the reason is because of this issue, it does seem fitting the anti-openness blogger has gone private. I will say that ‘Ken’ has been following this issue for a while as this post from google cache attests, which makes me feel like there is an issue here that is worth addressing. While the tone (as the author himself suggests) could have been a bit more productive
“A short ways into it [the open course article], what I starting reading/hearing was blablabla. (Started to gag).”
“Perhaps I offended some with my somewhat brash claims?”
The issues are important ones and are critical to resolve if the idea of openness is going to avoid some of the pitfalls pointed to in the Jim Groom and Brian Lamb article in the same educause issue.
The ‘Value’ of an open course
“Because commodities are little valued if they are free.”
“Sure, open courses up, make them free. Then they approach the value that their zero cost would suggest. “I still think that humans place high value on items that are scarce; when commodities become free-ish (I’m thinking about potable water in Canada) we tend to undervalue them.”
“And isn’t education a commodity in our systems?”
Leaving aside the issue of ‘how people are going to make money’ to a later question, what is the difference between the MOOC model and the commodity model. In thinking about an example for this distinction i came back to Socrates again for some reason. In ancient Greece, there was a distinction between the ‘sophists’ who were paid to teach people, and people who would speak to people who would listen to them, Socrates being an example. I think there is a reification of the idea of ‘education’ in Ken’s comments that make the discussion more complicated. Education is a complex word that includes the content of the course, the structure of the institution, the teacher and their expertise, and the accreditation that goes with it. Of these, the accreditation seems to to have the most ‘commoditiness’… followed by the content.
The MOOC model, really the openness model generally, takes the commodity out of the content of education. It does not address accreditation. Maybe it should, but I don’t think we have that sorted… and I’m not sure it should be sorted out.
What are the motives of people who are hosting an open course?
No, this term was actually created by Siemens and Downes as part of the salesmanship in relation to the course. “(Now I’m guessing you’re going to say they don’t intend to get rich from their endeavours!)” “But at the end of the day, aren’t these [gnu/linux, open courses] both still business models upon which some people make a living/profit etc?”
I wont speak to the motives of anyone other than myself. I would love to make lots of money doing the work that I love doing. I have two kids, I love to travel… I like having the income to be able to do the things that I like to do. I have a company that does some consulting on education, and have found that my openness has lead to contracts and connections that have been very useful to me. I am working on a career, and the work that I do in open courses will probably positively contribute to that career.
That being said, there is no specific connection between that and the work that I do on a given course. I freely contribute my time to some courses, and am paid to teach others. I ‘believe’ that working in the open makes my own work better, gives me broader access to other people’s idea and, well, i find it fun.
Why do people not stay in these courses
So bragging about a large initial enrolment number is just b/s and illusory. “The section on filtering that you refer to seems to be merely conjecture on your part. I could equally ‘conjecture’ that participants left the course because it held little value for them. Spinning this as ‘filtering’ seems to sugarcoat this issue.”
I think there are a number of issues that contribute to the decline in participation. First, i think i need to better understand how to facilitate to 1000 people. There are a number of things that we’re starting to believe might work, and I’m part of several research projects right now exploring those ideas and trying to find better ways to get people involved. Second, the goal of an open course is NOT to have everyone finish the course. It’s open, people can choose to take as much, or as little of the course as they like. The responsibility for the course resides with the student. Third, either the open course is ‘not for everyone’ or people are going to take time before they are able to take accept the responsibility for finding their own way in a course. It is a very difficult kind of learning for some people. Fourth, and finally, i think the filtering thing is true. I believe that people take an open course without spending much time considering it, only to find that they don’t really want to study for whatever reason.
Some final thoughts.
Because we want the content to be open, and we want people to be able to participate, does not mean that we are offering ‘charity’. Openness is usually even more valuable to the person being open. Some people call this ‘karma’ and others are more cynical and claim that ‘openness’ is disingenuous. Maybe that’s because those of us who are open aren’t clear enough about why…
I am open because i believe that working in the open makes me better. It makes my ideas better. It helps me professionally. It makes me friendships.