An emerging model for open courses

So… a sea of faces who didn’t really get what i was trying to explain. They were willing to listen, but my presentation didn’t explain it to them. Now, part of that was that i didn’t have a particularly good session, but mostly it’s because i’ve not been able to explain the value of working in the open to people who are not in the industry. This is the challenge that I accepted, in a sense, when Nancy challenged me in March, but it’s one that i’ve taken more seriously this summer. There are a variety of reasons for that, but one of the critical issues is ‘how can the open course sustain itself’.

What I’d like to do here is crystallize my ideas of how to structure the idea of ‘open course’ through the use of three different examples, each illustrating a ‘purpose’ that an open course might serve for a given institution. (be that university, non-profit or for-profit corp) It became very obvious, minutes into the presentation, that i needed more concrete examples for people to understand the concept. The opportunity to talk to people who had no idea what i was talking about was VERY useful.

Open Courses for Strategic Planning
This version of the open course borrows heavily from, as you might imagine, established strategic planning processes. In order to do futures thinking as a strategic planning method, it’s necessary to dig into the organization, get a sense of what their needs are, and then structure a scenario process that allows for the exploration of how the industry trends interact with that organization.

The contribution of the open course is in the value that comes from opening your discussion to the world marketplace. What tensions begin to emerge when you explore these ideas with people from other cultures, other backgrounds? The edfutures process is an example of how an open course of this sort might work… but i think it would need more structure… more like the structured course that I taught in singapore where there are specific streams that people are assigned/assign themselves to and they commit to as part of the process. Some of that was developing by the end of the edfutures, but I think it needs to start sooner.

Open course for training
This is a more traditional look at educating people. The course example that I just described to a person sitting at the table was for ‘improving the social networking awareness of a member group’. I was speaking specifically to their member group, but i never asked permission to explain it. so, more generically…

The open model allows for broad participation and new people to interact with your membership group. In allows for areas of specific interest to find collaborators that might not currently exist inside of your interest group. The participation in the open creates an identity online for a use that allows them to continue their work after the course finishes. A traditional training model creates a one way power structure betweeen trainer and trainee which, in a lifelong learning situation, ENDS after the course does. In an open course, the students are assuming responsibility for their work during the course which offers for a much higher chance of sustained effect.

Open course for research
I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to join the facilitation group for the PLE course this fall that’s being run with George Siemens, Rita Copp and Stephen Downes. The course will assess the field of PLE, take a look at the existing research and dig into some of the critical issues that are contentious in the field.

The offers an opportunity for a variety of interest groups. There are some people who will follow at a distance, simply in order to get a sense for the field, maybe read a few articles, and follow the newsletter. For others, who may be more directly interested, they will study the materials in an attempt to become well enough acquainted with the material to apply it in their practice. For still others, already professionals on the topic, they get a chance to have an open debate on important issues in the field in an attempt to, if nothing else, separate important issues of difference from simple misunderstanding.

So, uh, what’s your point
These are just some draft ideas about how to explain the value of working in the open to people who are not ideologically aligned to the idea. I think there’s a middle ground somewhere where we can bring in people who aren’t exactly ‘opposed’ to the idea of openness to understanding the power of supporting networks and network creation. An open course can bridge the gap between those who are directly committed to an idea and those who are peripherally willing to understand it. It is a chance to create an event… a time to commit to the exploration of an idea, whether the future for strat planning, social media for training, or Bob Dylan for research.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

22 thoughts on “An emerging model for open courses”

  1. Dave,

    My thoughts in a unedited draft format:

    I really believe strongly in the value of an open course. The restrictions of a closed course are institutional affiliation and the domino is geographic affiliation. Sure, online delivery helps open borders but ultimately if one does not know a product exists, you are unable to consider it as an option. Even further, most courses are part of a program, and accreditation and transferring credits become limiting factors to taking courses outside of your program.

    Accordingly, the value of the open course is that it breaks the institutional barrier, it breaks the program barrier, and it breaks the geographical barrier.

    As a traditional citizen in the USA, I consider my options when attending University based around the type of program I would like to participate in, the institutions that are reputable in the that program, that have geographic accessibility. Alternatively, I might consider an institution as an option, and then select a program that I might be interested in at that institution.

    As a result, I miss the opportunity to interact with faculty outside of my university, outside of my program, and outside of my geographic area. Very rarely do you have an opportunity to interact with “field leaders” outside of your institution. If your institution has an excellent program, but lacks leaders, you will completely miss out on “current dialog” and “program directional changes.” You are left perpetuating the system, and ultimately that structure fails the value of education for any student.

    Sure, this particular open-course environment without credits makes us function more like peers and less like students. However, true value is not restricted to the confines of credits in a university. In fact, I am presently not attending university at all. I simply appreciate the dialog in an active field.

    For me, the value then shifts from “not participating outside of my immediate contacts,” to having an opportunity to engage, without those university restrictions, with peers of similar interest across the globe, which I would contend to be far more valuable than any potential credits. This is my personal professional development, and it is extremely more valuable than signing up for any arbitrary 3 credit hours with a university to stay engaged.

    Certainly the structure, direction, and feedback that are planned into the course are all crucial elements to the success of the delivery.

    Cheers,
    -Mark Gbur

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  3. Well Dave, Mark’s comments seem directed to the educational industry.

    You’ve suggested three reasons for business to adopt open courses: strategic planning, training and research. I won’t speculate as to what interest business might have in opening those areas up.

    Have you thought about plain-old product advertising and marketing? It seems that twitter, blogs etc. are great for advertising and marketing educational industry product (e.g. ‘open courses’). Would these affordances work for business products? Could twitter/blogs etc. used in open courses help to advertise and market a business product? You’ve hinted at this a bit in terms of ‘branding’ and community.

  4. Hi Dave,
    Well said – on the three reasons on open courses – strategic planning, training and research.
    I think it is worthwhile to reflect on the value of open courses also from different perspective – including institutions.
    How would institutions perceive open courses (for free)? In Australia, there are still severe competition amongst RTO (Registered Training Organisations) and many private RTO are operating on a profit basis. So, open courses may not be appealing for RTO operating on such a basis, as there would be significant “loss” of competitiveness when course content or process are all open to others (including the competitors) and learners around the world. Critical questions also include: What are the institutional policies and strategies in open courses in institutions (RTO)? What are the responses of educators, technologists and consultants involved in open courses? Are open courses sustainable when operating (free)? These are all very sensitive questions that are seldom asksed, as many people (educators, consultants, administrators) may be affected or influenced by the decisions towards openness. Besides, a quick survey of students could reveal their concern of their “paid course learning” could be impacted when the course is open to the outsiders who don’t have to pay, and could be registered in the open course. I am not sure if I have brought up any significant added value to open course, but surely I think there are many values that are still not yet fully institutionalised, conceived and exploited as yet.
    Finally, I agree with your three reasons, and I think there are much values that could be added to open course. There are implications with the introduction of open courses into instituions though.
    Greatly appreciate your insights into open course.
    I will post this to my blog too.
    John

  5. Here is my post:
    Well said Dave on Emergent Model for Open Courses – on the three reasons on open courses – strategic planning, training and research.
    I think it is worthwhile to reflect on the value of open courses also from different perspectives – including institutions.
    How would institutions perceive open courses (for free)? In Australia, there are still severe competition amongst RTOs (Registered Training Organisations) and many private RTOs are operating on a profit basis. So, open courses may not be appealing for RTO operating on such a basis, as there would be significant “loss” of competitiveness when course content or process are all open to others (including the competitors) and learners around the world. Critical questions also include: What are the institutional policies and strategies in open courses in institutions (RTO)? What are the responses of educators, technologists and consultants involved in open courses? Are open courses sustainable when operating (free)? These are all very sensitive questions that are seldom asked, as many people (educators, consultants, administrators) may be affected or influenced by the decisions towards openness. Besides, a quick survey of students could reveal their concern of their “paid course learning” could be impacted when the course is open to the outsiders who don’t have to pay, and could be registered in the open course. I am not sure if I have brought up any significant added value to open course, but surely I think there are many values that are still not yet fully institutionalised, conceived and exploited as yet.
    Finally, I agree with your three reasons, and I think there are much values that could be added to open course. There are implications with the introduction of open courses into institutions though.
    Greatly appreciate your insights into open course.
    I will post this to my blog too.
    John
    Open Learning

  6. Hi Dave

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    I agree with John’s point about the need for a sustainable business model for open education. I have worked on an OER (open educational resources) project in the UK and have found that people’s motivations to contribute range from the commercial (‘Publishing OERs will help us recruit paying students’) to the altruistic (‘We want to share knowledge with others in the global community – particularly those who wouldn’t normally have access to such resources’). Each of these attitudes has an implied underlying business model, with those in the altruistic camp often seeking external funding for their projects.

    Do we need sustainable business models at an institutional level for open education, or is this something that governments should be funding? John’s comments seem to point to the tensions around these questions in Australia.

    Thanks for raising the issues
    Gabi

  7. Dave, I’m with Nils – the post above as I read it is on the value of “openness” generally, not particularly about “open _courses_”. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I still want to seriously question why you and others keep on insisting on adopting the language, with all of its baggage, of “courses” when this baggage is particularly what runs counter to the benefits and effects of openness? The notion that it is a bridging strategy or an event doesn’t carry water for me, but I guess if it is working for you that’s great. So while I can see one advising an individual *institution*, organization or professor of the benefits of this approach, the benefits seem to me to accrue asymmetrically to them; because if I was going to advise any *learner* about pursuing their interest (and by definition, in an “open” situation the set of learners is not prescribed), I’d urge them to find an *existing* robust community of people already talking about that subject, and then focus on helping them develop skills to engage, as a newcomer, with existing coversations and communities.

    Having met a few times I truly don’t feel like we are “opposed” on this, but I just don’t get the insistence on artificial timelines and curriculum (which seem to me to define a “course”) when we are talking about open, network-based learning.

  8. Can the two ideas– open, networked learning communities and open courses affiliated with and/or products from institutions not only co-exist, but feed off of one another? I get the asymmetry aspect, I really do, but I’m not convinced that institutions have no worth or that the situation for continuing– maybe even increasing– that worth is hopeless, whereas a complete push away from courses and into communities that can’t provide some of the pragmatic resources and recognition pre-supposes that the institutions don’t have a place at the table. Maybe there’s still a bit of fight left in me after all.

    And my apologies to Dave, as I only skimmed this post and am mostly responding to Scott and what I glean from HIS response. That’s networked learning, baby.

  9. @Scott Leslie. Thanks for your comment on the language of ‘courses’, or in my case ‘modules’. It has helped me realise that my approach to open education post my looming retirement may be trapped in the wrong mindset. I have been trying to think of how I can convert a module I teach at Leeds Uni that dies when I retire to an OE resource ‘in the wild’. I have been thinking about how it can be packaged as an OE module that a community of network of open learners can engage with and exploit/re-purpose according to individual and collective needs. I assumed that I and others would somehow organically become mentors (open tutors?) and flexibly help out as required. Perhaps I should be trying to develop links with existing communities engages in discussions and project around the discipline of my module and try and contribute there somehow. I think your comment illustrates the difficult transition in moving between open education as content (based on a formal education model) and open education as process that engages disparate audiences with varied agendas and objectives.

  10. @ChrisLott. Institutions can play a key facilitative and coordinating role in an open learning ecosystem. I think Terry’s question can provide insight.

    @TerryWassell. I’d love for you to pose this question in a place where a community could work on it. I fear that dealing with it here in the comments of a post on another topic the very important question and discussion will get lost behind the wrong subject line.

    I’m sharing your question with colleagues here at Washington State U. Itsnone we need to answer, and I think we can answer it in a way that satisfies Chris as well (I don’t know and answer yet, but we have some ideas of the outline of the answer and younpose an interesting real case to solve)

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