Thoughts about Open Education

November 2, 2009

I’ve been doing a lot of browsing around on the Internet since the last Tuesday session, taking a look at various open courses offered at various institutions, such as the MIT open courses compilation that Jon Mott linked our EC&I 831 class to during the last Elluminate session. (Howzat for embedding links…;) ?) While I have found some useful materials, and I think it’s just incredible that prestigious institutions such as MIT are opening up their courses and allowing free and open access to them, there are a few reservations I have about the practice of doing it myself in my job with Parkland.

One thing I noticed is that there were some things I could use, but there are many things I won’t be able to use, simply because the level of the material is so far beyond where my students are. Also, I don’t know if this is the typical sort of online instructional experience or not, but I find trying to use something someone else has developed has some big limitations for me.  What seems to be missing for me is the rationale for the instructional choices one person makes over another and if my instructional philosophies are at odds with someone else’s then odds are I’m going to find their materials of limited use to me.

As an example, the college I work for has “traded” developed courses with another college in an attempt to try not to re-invent the wheel and to develop more efficiently. This has only been partially successful as we’ve generally found that the courses we received in return for the course we gave required an extensive overhaul to be usable for us. (I’ve see the other college’s use of the course I developed and very little of my course was altered in any way on their site.)

There is another concern with regard to the college I work for and ABE in general. Parkland charges their ABE students a nominal registration fee to take the class and we have also opened up our courses to be offered to school divisions throughout the province so that they have an option for distance classes for their students. The demise of the correspondence school has left a gap and we are doing our best to fill it. Those schools get billed for each course that their high school students take with us and that money gets funneled back into ABE, where it is really needed to keep providing programming for a needy sector of the public. To make these courses open and free of charge will end up stopping course development and reducing vital services for adult learners.

So while philosphically I wholeheartedly agree with the principles behind open education and I believe that knowledge should be freely available, the realities of budget crunches and shrinking economies plays a definite role in whether or not opening up courses is feasible for many institutions. MIT may be in a far better fiscal position than many smaller organizations and campuses, such as Parkland, which has limited resources, and not just financial ones, but personnel, staff, etc.

These are just my thoughts on Open Education and I’m still forming my thoughts.. they tend to evolve over time and as I read more and learn more, I’m fine tuning them too. Please feel free to continue the discussion and comment on anything I wrote here. 🙂


11 Responses to “Thoughts about Open Education”

  1. starkg said

    Hi Michelle,

    I hear you about using materials developed by others – it’s more work to revamp some of them than to do it yourself from scratch… However some good stuff is out there – even if we can only adapt bits and pieces of it to our adult upgraders. I may be a little bold, but my project May be of some help to some of your students. I’m developing a math help page for anyone to access (my bit of open ed :)) and for this class I’m working on fraction help. Hopefully I’ll be able to add to this page even after the class is done and move on to other subjects. It’s nowhere near done, but I have a few pilot posts up if you want to check it out – – let me know if you think it would be helpful as a resource!


    • Michelle Clarke said

      Hi Greg! Thank you so much for your link to your wiki… I’m going to pass it along to my colleagues here at the college who are teaching math (for once I’m not this year.. I kinda miss it actually). It looks like you are compiling some great resources! I’ll keep my eyes open for you too in case I stumble across anything that might be helpful. You should take a look at the virtual manipulatives library at . They have all sorts of fun/interesting tools there that might be helpful for you as well (assuming you don’t already know about this resource already).

      And you are correct when you say there is some good stuff out there.. there definitely is. I completely appreciate the work that others do and take the time to share, no question there! I just find it would be a mistake to think it was a good idea to just slot something in “as is” into a program without making sure it fits our personal philosophies, practices, etc. Plus, I really like to take something and make it my own and that takes time, no doubt about it! Thanks so much for your comments and the terrific resource!

  2. donna said

    Hey Michelle,

    This is quality reflection. I think you’ve expressed an important insight – that open education has to go beyond sharing content, and connect educators with each other to also share their process, rationale, and over-arching education narrative for the courses and lesson plans… The reasoning behind these things sheds so much light on the content…

    I wonder if open education resources are really like playscripts, and teachers take on the role of director, fleshing out that script to be played out by their students…

    Thanks. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Donna, I love your analogy of the instructor as director. That totally makes sense to me. Each director will have a different vision for how the scripts can be enacted out and each production will necessarily be influenced by the individual visions of each instructor. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and comment on it. Your comments help me to further “flesh out” my own thinking too. 🙂

  3. Christian Long said

    No doubt MIT is the gold standard as far as resources and being able to front-end the open education movement. Tempting to showcase their example and assume that *presto* it can be done in all educational settings.

    All that being said, it is the canary in the coalmine. And I suppose that we must self-create the models we want, not necessarily buy or Creative Commons borrow those created by others.

    Perhaps you’ll — one day sooner than later — help deliver a model of open education classes/programs that others will tap into. This may be the true inversion of the classic educational model.

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Thank you for your very insightful comments. You are right.. MIT is the gold standard of open education and the rest of us are at various stages behind them. It’ll be interesting to see where open education goes and yes, you are right… perhaps one day I will be helping to deliver an open education program at some point in my career. It’s an intriguing thought and one that appeals to me on a number of levels. Thank you again!

      • Christian Long said

        I’m constantly reminded, Michelle, that there are no clear road maps for any of us (regardless of experience or discipline) when it comes to creating new models and delivery systems of education. I do believe, however, that the ‘scale’ does not matter. If one teacher can create one project that is shared transparently and ‘globally’, then open education models will thrive over time. All the best in your own search for examples and your own voice in the process.

  4. Gerry said

    Michelle, I think you experiences are pretty common. It also seems to be pretty easy to find examples of individuals and institutions that are willing to share, but not so common to find examples of others who have successfully reused/remixed the open content into something new. There were lots of examples of sharing, but few of reuse even at the OepnEd conference in Vancouver this past summer.

    I am working on some courses right now and am finding some useful resources to work in, but it is not a big time saver. What I have found valuable is using the outlines, activities, and evaluation tools that others have come up with. It’s more the ideas that I use than the content itself.

  5. Michelle Clarke said

    Oh I’m sort of relieved to find out I’m not the only one to feel this way then!! Somehow the notion that reuse is a challenge for others is comforting 🙂

    I agree wholeheartedly with you when you say that the ideas and not the content itself is what is valuable to take and reuse. Thank you very much for your comments and thoughts on this complex issue!

  6. Bettina Welsh said

    Michelle: The comments to this post reminded me of a map. If teachers are the map directors, we can assist students in navigating through the paths on the map. There are always several directions to go and more than one way to get to a destination. Not to mention, different means of getting to a particular place. I believe that content alone does not comprise ‘education’. We must localize and interpret the content to have individual meaning. The educators job than is to assist and support students in many ways, which path to choose, how fast to travel, where to stop, which transportation device (medium) to use, etc. I too have wondered about teacher’s job security and the practicality of open education. Maybe the term ‘open education’ needs to be rethought, perhaps ‘open data’. Because, data is only useful when it is compiled in a meaningful manner, then we call it information! Happy blogging, Bettina Welsh

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Thank you Bettina for your extremely insightful comments. You’ve articulated something I’ve always thought but never verbalized for myself in very concise terms here. You are absolutely right .. data is just data.. how we interpret and use it changes how we see it, and how others perceive it. The ways we interact with it, the mediums we choose to use to convey it all affect its “reality” and each method has its own uniqueness to it that in turn affects perception.

      As an instructor I try to give many options for my learners in terms of information compilation and representation, leaving the doorway to creativity open as far as possible. I’m always amazed by the things some students come up with when they do more “open ended” assignments that allow for a high degree of choice. Some students are threatened by this freedom, and that is when instructor guidance is definitely needed. (It’s needed all along for all students of course, but more is needed here, at least in the beginning stages so that learners don’t become overwhelmed and baffled and thus, discouraged.)

      You’ve give me a lot to think about here, not only in terms of open education, but you’ve given me a new lens through which to examine my instructional practices. So thank you! This is exactly the sort of mental stimulation every instructor should be so fortunate to enjoy!

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